It was so unbearably hot. The air felt opaque as if you could cut it with a knife. The sun was beating down on the dusty and crowded streets. Salma found it impossible to stay outside for a moment longer as she looked for her husband in the crowd. Then, without warning, the sky turned dark and gray, a violent gust had started, the thunder boomed. People started racing indoors and she finally saw her husband in the distance and her stomach churned inside out as terror gripped her.
“Run!” She yelled out to him. “Run, or they’ll hurt you, they’ll kill you!”
Before she could finish those words the sky swallowed him up whole, he was dead, he was gone and she was watching on, horrified.
Salma jolted awake from her dream. Somehow she had dozed off. She looked over at the clock and it was still only 3:00 AM. It had been a week since she had slept through a night and when sleep did come to her it was in the form of nightmares.
What to do now? That simple little question had plagued her mind recently.
Salma tiptoed from the room she was staying in to her father-in-law’s study. The house was overcrowded with guests for the funeral and she had to be careful not to wake anyone. She crept into the study, the only room without a sleeping guest. She ran her fingers along the books on the shelf and pulled out an old photo album.
Pages upon pages were splattered with pictures of her husband, Musa. Pictures of Musa as a child, Musa playing cricket for his school team, Musa on their wedding day. The smiling face looking at her in the pictures forced a smile across Salma’s face. She closed the album and walked to the window in the corner of the study. She opened it and listened to the night. The nights in Lahore, Pakistan were never truly quiet; noisy buses playing loud music and dogs barking. And there was always a little stench in the air. Though she was born and raised in Pakistan, she didn’t feel at home here. The people of this country had violently betrayed her kind time and time again and the death of her beloved husband only confirmed this. Canada was here home now; she was Canadian and she took pride in that fact.
She paced around in the room, lost in her thoughts, until the Adhan for the morning prayer was called. Not long after, the house began to stir in preparation for prayers. She went to join the rest of her extended family and in-laws for prayer, trying to avoid their gaze.
“You were awake all night again weren’t you my child?” questioned her mother Anisa, with a worried look.
Salma just looked away without answering; she didn’t like people worrying about her.
After prayers, Anisa and Salma’s mother-in-law Fareeha, stayed awake with Salma to prepare breakfast for the whole family, who had come from far and wide to attend Musa’s funeral. As they cooked, the mothers discussed the arrangements for the funeral and the customary Islamic preparations.
“The funeral will be held after the midday prayers. What time will the body be washed?” questioned Anisa.
“The men will leave at 11:00 with the body for the washing and then we’ll have the visitation as soon as it arrives,” replied Fareeha as she suddenly burst into tears.
“Oh Fareeha! Your son was a good boy. He gave his life for something he believed in. You must be proud of him!” Anisa repeated this as she attempted to comfort Fareeha.
As her mother-in-law continued to quietly cry, Salma realized she hadn’t cried yet. Maybe she was still in denial, maybe she just hadn’t had the time yet between worrying about the future of her two now fatherless daughters and preparing for the funeral. Or maybe she simply just couldn’t understand, couldn’t understand how someone could murder her husband in cold blood just because of his beliefs.
Musa wasn’t like any other man she knew, a man utterly devoted to his family and compassionate for humanity. Musa and Salma had lived a good life together raising their family in the suburbs of Toronto. Though Musa was an engineer, his whole life he had dreamed about one day returning to Pakistan and opening a school for the impoverished children of his nation. He wanted those children to have the chance in life that he did. Salma fell in love with him for the dream he had and accepted it as her own. The two had worked tirelessly for years to save the money they could to build a small school. Through the help of friends and family, Musa and Salma had finally saved enough money to make that dream a reality. They had decided to open a school in the northern province of Baluchistan, one of the poorest provinces of Pakistan and home to many Afghani refugees.
Salma and Musa made arrangements to visit Pakistan in August, the hottest month of the year, so the whole family could accompany Musa as he scouted out which areas in Baluchistan needed a school most. They stationed themselves at Salma’s in-laws’ house in Lahore and they would make trips between the province of Punjab and Baluchistan. In late August, just two weeks before their return home, Musa decided to take one last trip to the province to narrow down his list of areas, which typically became longer after a trip.
Salma decided not to go this time so she and the girls could do some shopping and spend time with family. He called Salma every night during his weeklong trip, informing her of the children he had met, the places he had seen and about the potential areas for a school.
“Ah, I wish I could just open a school in every city!” Musa would exclaim.
Perhaps he would have been able to accomplish that dream as well. The day he was leaving to return home he had made one last stop to buy some small gifts for their daughters. While in the market, two men on a motorcycle drove by and shot Musa nine times. He died instantly.
Salma remembered how she and her in-laws grew increasingly impatient as the time for Musa’s arrival had come and gone. Later that night they received the life shattering call informing them of his death.
It became clear over the next few days what the motive of this attack was: Musa’s faith. Musa and Salma belonged to a minority sect of Islam, Ahmadiyyat. Some of their beliefs varied from other mainstream Muslims, thus they had been declared non-Muslims by the government of Pakistan in the 1970s. They couldn’t practice their faith openly and hundreds of people from their community had been murdered like Musa.
Musa’s killers had known who he was and that he was an Ahmadi. They had carefully calculated the perfect time to commit this act of hatred. It pained Salma to think that all Musa wanted to do was help his people, regardless of their faith, and the killers’ could not see that, their judgment was clouded by hatred. Her community preached nonviolence and compassion for humanity and yet how silly to think that people like this kept killing members of the Ahmadiyya Community. They say time heals all wounds but Salma knew no matter how much time passed, this she would never be able to understand.
Her husband’s killers were not found and most likely would never be. And Salma and her family would not retaliate. This was the tradition of the Ahmadi Community; they would not look for blood, would not spew anger and hatred. They would accept it, grieve and pray with patience.
The sun had risen in the sky and all the guests were now awake and eating breakfast. The day had gone by fast and before she knew it, it was time for the viewing. As she entered the room with her daughters Aleena, 10 years, and Raya, 7 years, a wave of immense grief washed over her. Her two daughters no longer had a father, they would go through life without his love and support. And finally the tears she had bottled up began to pour down her face.
The days following the burial, there had been an influx of relatives, friends and members of the Ahmadiyya community coming to the house to pay their respects. Salma had thought about extending her visit but all she really wanted to do was run back to Canada. Her family, parents and in-laws, had insisted upon her staying indefinitely. But the girls’ schools were about to start and she wanted them to have stability in life. Salma and her girls packed their belongings and boarded their plane to return home. Who knew she’d be returning to Canada without her husband?
Upon their arrival Salma waited for the relief and excitement to be back home but the house just felt lonely and empty without Musa.
“It’s ok, all will be alright when school starts again. We will be busy,” thought Salma, who was firm in her decision to return home to Canada.
Salma and her daughters went through the motions of everyday life preparing for the upcoming school year. In between their preparations, hoards of people from the community in Toronto would come to pay their respects to her.
A few days after school started, Salma decided it was time to go to Musa’s office and clear out his things. With a heavy heart she started boxing everything in the office. As she rummaged through his papers, documents and diaries, she came across a file with pages upon pages written in Musa’s writing. They were plans for the school in Baluchistan. Musa had thought out every last detail, from the curriculum to the amount of staff members to scholarships he wanted to give out for those wanting to seek higher education. And it wasn’t just for one school, it was for several schools Musa wanted to build across Pakistan. Salma was astonished. She knew how much this project meant to him but this was his mission, the true love of his life.
As she drove home, she couldn’t shake this feeling, couldn’t get this one thought out of her mind: she had to return. She couldn’t abandon his dream and she couldn’t let a few ignorant hateful people deprive those children from the necessity of a true education. Salma was not a coward and she wouldn’t raise her daughters that way either.
Salma gathered her daughters after school that day. She took a deep breath held both of her daughter’s hands and said:
“Your father went to Pakistan to do a very important and noble thing. To help little boys and girls who aren’t as lucky as you two. Did you girls know that?”
The two girls nodded.
“Did you also know that we as Ahmadi Muslims believe that a martyr never truly is dead? And your father was a martyr. He gave his life for something he believed in. That is why we must go back to Pakistan to keep his memory alive by carrying out his dream and seeing it through. We are going to be brave like your daddy. How do you feel about that?”
Aleena nodded, kissed Salma’s cheek and smiled; Raya followed suit. The room started to become blurry from the tears in her eyes but she felt relieved. For the first time since Musa’s death she truly felt like everything would be alright. She finally felt at peace.
Photo: Deposit Photos