Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Grandfathers and oral history

Good Afternoon,

As a precursor to this post, I unfortunately come with bad news. My grandfather passed away today, to God we belong and to God we will return.

I am taking an oral history class, and every time I read any assignments or even think about the class, I think about my grandfather. So, I don't know, if him being on my mind for the last 2-3 weeks should have flashed signals in my head or it was just by coincidence.

Why oral history and why my grandfather? Well, he was one of the best storytellers ever, as well as the most influential man I have ever met. I think I've posted about him twice in this blog before, but to tell you about him, he was a man who went to work daily at the age of 92. He maintained his physical fitness to the best of his ability, and continued to exercise up until his 90's. Although he didn't formally study religion, he was a scholar, he knew so much on the differing opinions of different sects and so forth. He was an optimist, as well as down to earth when it came to the human condition. He love his human brethren and tried to do his best by them. This is not a bias as his granddaughter, but rather, the view almost EVERYONE who ever meets him has.

From what my grandmother told us, he died immediately after completing maghrib (sunset) prayer. He had just finished prayer and serenely passed away. Muslims always wish for that type of death, one where they are closest to God spiritually, and physically (through actions, such as prayer).

I committed a grave injustice by not recording his stories and experiences in life. He was a man who lived against the odds, driven by self-determination and faith. Nevertheless, he was never arrogant. He was a man, who upon reading a book, he would underline passages, just in case his grandchildren one day came across it from his collection of books, just so that it would trigger thought and intelligence. He encouraged us to fulfill our goals to the best of our ability, even if it seemed at odds with our parents (but to maintain that loving and respectful relationship). He argued that age is nothing but a number, you are never too young (when giving me advise), not ever too old (when talking about himself). His life was filled with incidents of trials, challenges, hopes, fears, odds, self-will, and figures who tried to force him away from his personal goals.

He lived during the French occupation, the coup de tats of syria, and onward. He'll tell you stories of World War I (even though it was just before his birth) and World War II, bringing in the perspective of the middle east. My grandfather blamed no one, but the self. Meaning, if people were true to themselves, the world would change to the better.

He studied by street lamp, due to the extreme poverty that he grew up in with a single widowed mother in the early 1920-30's. He worked full time to support his family from elementary age, as well as went to school at night to challenge his mind, when his uncles wanted him to just work for them. He was one of the top students in his class, only because of his personal will to succeed.

My grandfather, had his grandchildren truly taken the time to listen to him and document his life, lived the life of a true revolutionary. He inspired positive change, in every person who met him, both in the public and in the private life. He was a public speaker in his younger years (30-40's), and became more of a private man, in his elder (70's-80's), giving advice to his children and grandchildren. He was a humble man, who was content with whatever God had allotted him for his material life, but always wanted more out of spirituality and mental development. He was all about educating and challenging the mind (much like Dubois). He lived under colonialism as well as independence, and saw the various parallels of the worlds however intertwined.

I had a goal 2 years ago to write a book about his life and experiences. I know what he has told me, and will try to the best of my ability to recall all of those amazing details. I intend to write a book dedicated to a man who changed his society, without being a public image or face. I hope all those who were influenced by him, will be willing to share their experiences, thoughts, reactions, and beliefs about him. I know, that without a doubt, he impacted his grandchildren more than anyone else in the world. So many of us, especially those living in America, lived in a world of bias, that elders in the Middle East were backwards. But my grandfather was more modern in thought, more knowledgeable, and more charismatic than any modern theorist. We went overseas (the american/french grandchildren), and listened to his stories in SHOCK, realizing that our lives were a joke, in comparison to his. That real struggle comes from within, and manifests externally. That we inherited the experiences of a man of a legacy, that we should carry on within us, document for our future generations in the United States, and live by his amazing example. I do not advocate for the idolization of my grandfather, nor do I advocate that we blindly follow him. But I do think we need to respect and consider his main principles in life: self-education, empowerment, spirituality, activism, and social-change.

reem abou


Besher said...

Unforgettable person whom we loved
I'll keep trying to reach the amount of knowledge he had

Ala'a said...

I'm taking an Honors class right now titled Memoirs and will be writing my grandfathers memoir inshallah, so this reminded me of that.

This piece is incredible. I am always inspired by your strength and determination Reem!

Allah yir7amak Jido
3azam Allahu Ajrakum..


Anonymous said...

Simply by being yourself, your grandfather's legacy lives on. You are the change your grandfather sought. Never doubt and never forget.


ABS said...

I truly regret that I did not have chance to spend time with him as my trip overseas were very short. I know about him from others who knew him, friends and acquaintances.. I randomly once ran into an elderly, his age, was at sometime a high-ranking government official in the 50s. He told me so much about, my father-in-law (your grand father). He told me stories of leadership, sacrifice and activism, which I could not imagine.
Your grandfather never told me much about this part of his life – political activism. Your grandfather was truly considered by his friends and community, at the time, as a scholar, a leader and influential organizer-public speaker. In addition to mastering the sciences of Quran, Hadeeth and Fiqh, he read hundreds of books in history, philosophy, education, management, leadership, science and economy. He was connected with today modern thinking and engaged himself in continuous self development and education. He also excelled in his work as a pharmacist and carried a honorable living, despite all the hardship he was subjected to in his life. He shared his wealth with the needy and he never said no to anybody who asked help. He left imprints on the life of a large number of people. I wish he wrote somewhere the story of his life and he left it in his belonging where you or somebody else can pick it up to write a different image of the history of the region where he lived.

Secretly Identified said...

Subhanallah. That is a very well written piece mashallah. Allah yir7amo, wa yudkhiluhu faseeh jannatihi. Ameen.

Aya Sallat said...

MashaAllah I like your post. I do wish I heard more of his stories and I would love to read about it if you do write on it.

May Allah forgive his sins and enter him in the highest place in Paradise. Ameen.

Neighbour said...


That was a great post. Great job Reem

Dima sallat said...

I second what Aya wrote, I would totally love to read it if you wrote more :)

Constructive Attitude said...

InshaAllah you're able to write that book and able to keep your grandfather's stories alive.

Loved your post, it reminded me of my own grandfather.

Anonymous said...

SubhanAllah Reem, I wish I met him! Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi raji'oon. Atham Allahu ajrakum.

Jazakillahu khairan for bringing tears to our eyes and inspiration to our hearts. I ask Allah SWT to bless your every endeavor and to allow you and us to benefit from your grandfather, Allah Yarhamuh! Finally, may Allah SWT credit our benefit to his scale of good deeds, & inshaAllah you'll rejoin & rejoice in Jannah :-D


Anonymous said...

Ma Sha'llah. Nice article sister. May Allah elevate his status in Jannah through the righteous deeds of his offspring and the influence he had on those around him, and May He allow you to emulate the good character of your loved one in your society.


Fatima Y said...

This was so inspirational... makes me want to live up to that... may Allah grant him the highest Jannah