The untroubled happiness of the early months of this year came to an end with the illness of Ibrāhīm. It was soon clear that he would not survive. He was tended by his mother and her sister Sĩrĩn. The Prophet visited him continually, and was with him when he was dying. As the child breathed his last, he took him in his arms, and tears flowed from his eyes. His forbidding of vociferous lamentation had made prevalent the notion that all expressions of woe at bereavement were to be discouraged, and the mistaken idea still lingered on in many minds. “O Messenger of God,” said ‘Abd ar-Rahman ibn ‘Awf, who was present, “this is what thou hast forbidden. When the Muslims see thee weeping, they too will weep.” The Prophet continued to weep, and when he could find his voice he said: “Not this do I forbid. These are the promptings of tenderness and mercy, and he that is not merciful, unto him shall no mercy be shown. O Ibrāhīm, if it were not that the promise of reunion is sure, and that this is a path which all must tread, and that the last of us shall overtake the first, verily we should grieve for thee with a yet greater sorrow. Yet are we stricken indeed with sorrow for thee, O Ibrāhīm. The eye weepeth, and the heart grieveth, nor say we aught that would offend the Lord.”
~Martin Lings, Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources
I do not know what it must feel like to lose a child, being that I’m a not yet a father and have no children of my own. I do not know what it must feel like to lose a sibling or a niece or a nephew or a cousin, for, by the grace and mercy of God, mine are still alive and well. I may of know the pain of an unrecoverable loss issued from an irrevocable decree – that of death, of being summon back to the dust and soil from which we – and I may be aware of its imminence; yet, somehow, even bearing this in mind, I believe the tears for the dead man or woman are not the same as those shed for the deceased child. We are even less reluctant to give our loved ones to Azrael when they are young and innocent. We are less able to cope with it, to accept it. “Go, go, go! Humankind cannot bear too much reality,” said the old bird. It indeed spoke the truth.
This past weekend I’ve given much thought to the school shooting in Newton, Connecticut. How did we, as a nation, get to the point where a disturbed, young man can walk into an elementary school with an assault rifle and shoot not only his mother, the very woman who brought him into the world in the first instance, but several other innocent children? What elements within our culture, our society, our historical narrative, even our meta-narrative allow for this acceptance of violence? I say acceptance not because we as Americans consciously condone such actions (at least, not against our own within the continental United States) but because our relative reticence and our inability to have fruitful discussions about the very issues plaguing us is implied acceptance: by doing nothing, by saying nothing, we thereby grant our tacit approval. We allowed this catastrophe to happen because we did nothing to prevent. We, therefore, are culpable and it’s high time we were honest with ourselves about our involvement. It’s also time to dispense with this popular notion that somehow our existence is independent from one another. The funeral bells for the slain victims are tolling, not just for them, but for all of us.
Nay, verily, man becomes grossly overweening whenever he believes himself to be self-sufficient.
At what point can we begin to dialogue with earnest intent about the welfare and well-being of our nation without being branded as unpatriotic or un-American or as agenda-driven automatons? If not after a massacre in an elementary, then dare I ask when? Are not even elementary schools off limits anymore? Are we so fearful and paranoid of the Other that all we need semi-automatic assault rifles to protect our families and loved ones? After tragedies like this, gun sales usually spike, perhaps rightfully so, as people become afraid for their safety. Isn’t this what gun manufactures want, us armed to the teeth so that they can increase their profits? Wouldn’t this represent a conflict of interest? And who exactly are these Others that wish to do us so much harm anyway? Where are they and what do they look like? If you know as much, then you should tell me so we can all go together and put them in their place. But I suspect the faces of these Other are most likely unknown – only a phantasms of fear and loathing in unsettled, imaginative minds. The fear which fear created is spiraling out of control and now even our very own children are being consumed.
I write this not because I have an agenda. I write this as a way both to offer my thoughts and supplications to the victims and their families and to spark some sort of meaningful dialogue about the direction our nation is headed. The Prophet Muhammad wept for his son Ibrāhīm while holding him in his blessed arms with tears streaming down his face, not as a spectacle but as an act of mercy: I feel should do less for those children who died in a hail of bullets. However, I firmly believe the people in Sandy Hook need more than just tears, prayers, and vigils; they need action, they need measures to be put in place such that no other family has to endure this magnitude of loss. Legislation isn’t a panacea, of course – I’m not so naive as to give this idea credence. Nor am I under the delusion that the powerful forces who profit from the status quo won’t unleash their specious dialects and mindless minions to fight their battles for them. Yet, we as a nation must seriously begin to talk our societal malaise if we are ever going to ensure the safety of our children. We must ask about the prevalence, pervasiveness, and potency of our gun culture; we must discuss the lack of affordable healthcare for those who suffer from mental illness; we talk how we our rearing our children. We must. We no longer have an option: the zero-point, the point of no return has been traversed and there is no going back.
I’m not one normally to say what I am about to say in the manner I am about to say it. I feel, given the gravity of the situation, that this is as appropriate time as any to break from my standard mold: if we can’t resolve these issues soon, you might be the one to have to bury your child next. Remember: do not ask for whom the funeral bells; it tolls for them, as well as for you.