The following article was written by Abu Shoaib Ashmead Choat, a very dear family friend of ours. He visited Houston a few years ago and gave some talks there; he’s a graduate of the College of Hadith from Madinah and an active da’i in Trinidad (where he runs his own full-time Islamic school). His daughter Nabiha passed away last year, while still a teenager. She grew up in Madinah and memorized significant portions of the Quran. She was an active tajweed teacher in her native land of Trinidad.
After her tragic death, her father Abu Shoiab wrote up this beautiful article. I’ve asked his permission to post it.
Nabihah My Love
But a Person is With the One Whom They Love
Even before we start to write about this glimpse into the life of our dear daughter, it is necessary to purify our intentions, hence the reason for the delay. This must not be for Shuhrah or fame or some Nahiha fan club, but it must be for, as Allah has said, “Ya ayyuha ladhina amanu itaqullaaha wabtaghoo ilayhil waseelah” (Oh you who believe fear Allah and seek out the means of approach to him). Great effort and attention must be paid in trying to purify our intentions and knowing precisely why we are doing this. It may be a wake up call for a lazy or sleepy Muslim. It may help someone to realize how short and fleeting this life is; how precious it is that we must take every opportunity to do good, no matter how small, and we must seek every opportunity to invite people to Allah and use all the resources available to us in that cause, even if that means the life and death of our dear baby.
How do we begin to describe the love of our life? If Allah had given us someone for one or two years and took her away, it would have been easier because of her short life. Or if she had been married with children and away from the home it would have softened the loss. But our baby girl was in the prime of her life, just at the age of marriage, and the decision is with the Lord of the universe. As our Prophet said at the moment of his death, when he was given the choice to go or stay, “Balir-rafeequl-‘alaa, Balir-rafeequl-‘alaa – certainly the highest companionship, certainly the highest the companionship.”
It was late 2004 when Nabiha discovered a non-healing ulcer on her tongue which became exceedingly painful and was preventing her from eating. In March 2005, she had her first operation for the removal of the ulcer and a biopsy, which showed a presence of malignancy. In retrospect, when a Muslim is faced with the news of cancer, he begins to think of the options available to him. Seeking treatment and medical care is encouraged in the Sunnah (called: “at-tadaawee – seeking treatment”). So over the next two years, we followed the full gamut of treatment of up to seven or eight surgeries together with radiotherapy in far away India, a return there for a review, then on to chemotherapy back in Trinidad. Despite huge setbacks, we were to see the Hand of Allah in everything that challenged us. He tested us but walked us through to the very end. Allahumma laka wa minka; O Allah to you and from you. Laa malja’a minallahi illa ilayhi; There is no refuge from Allah, except in Him.
Our daughter, for those who know her, loved Qur’an and its fine recitation. And even before her loss of speech, she began to slowly lose the ability to pronounce key letters in the Arabic alphabet. She was taught recitation at the finest “Tahfeedh” in Medina, where Salman, the son of Shaikh Thubaytee, was taught. One could imagine the pain she felt, and I remembered her last great effort to recite Qur’an after radiotherapy on her return from India; a moment in time that will not be repeated. Her speech slowly started to dwindle, and with great pain, I heard her say the words of the Prophet Sulayman, “Rabbi Awzi’nee an Ashkura Ni’matakallati an’amta alayya wa ‘alaa waalidayya wa an ‘amala saalihan tardaahu wa adkhilnee bi rahmatika fee ‘ibadikas saaliheen.”
During radiotherapy in India, in early 2006, she and her mother looked for appropriate gifts for her father to no avail. She thought that the best gift would be to memorize Surat Maryam. Every morning she would memorize a portion, and, while clamped on the cold stainless steel slab in the radiotherapy center in Trivandrum, India, she would revise what she had learnt that morning. While the rays from the linear accelerator machine were destroying the tissue in her neck and jaw, and, in the later stages, even with blood spewing from her mouth, she would be revising Qur’an.
We still remember one morning after she returned, she was anxious to recite what she had memorized, knowing how I loved that Surah. She sobbed bitterly in torment, not being able to pronounce certain letters properly. Her mother rushed downstairs thinking something was seriously wrong… ‘nothing could be more agonizing to Nabiha than not being able to pronounce the words of Allah’.
For a few months we thought all was well, until Eid-ul-Fitr 2006. While I stood on the Mimbar, my daughter was at the hospital in Trinidad going through another painful procedure.
All throughout life, people are faced with situations in which they have options in dealing with them. We are sometimes faced with good news and sometimes with bad, but in Naibha’s case, it was rare to hear good news. From then on it was constantly downhill. The family was being faced with one piece of bad news after another. The wound only became worse; the swellings increased, but our daughter Nabiha would continue to stand at night in prayer. It was not as though she became suddenly pious with the onset of illness. Rather, Nabiha continued to sail smoothly without missing a beat on a path that she had always tread. How Allah has blessed us with this privilege. Her sister remembers when we lived in Madinah in the nineties, how she would wake at nights, saying that she went to the washroom and thinking that was a long p….!
For days she would not speak because of the difficulty and pain. When she could not give Dawah with her speech, her fingers did the talking. Constantly admonishing people, worldwide and inviting them to Islam. Two Jewish Americans who became Muslims are living testimony to what she did. As parents we are only now beginning to realize the full extent of the people she advised, admonished, assisted, and supported. What is nice, however, is that the full extent of her work will never be known and is best left to Al ‘Aleem. Sincerity is best measured when hidden from people’s eyes. As our Prophet (saw) said when he performed Hajj: “Allahumma laa ri’aa feehaa walaa sum’ah – O Allah, let there be no ostentation in it nor fame.”
Patience took on a special meaning for this young woman, seeing her life, her beauty, and her youth gradually taken away from her. There would be intense sadness and tears, but she bore her illness with dignity and with the full conviction that if this is what Allah wills, then so be it. Even close to the end I probably lost it when I said “bint, where do you get all this strength” and lifting the frail hand into the air she pointed upwards, a move that words cannot do justice. One remembers laughing then at the relief and contentment for having a child of such Iman and ‘Aqeedah.
The ulama say Patience is of three types:
- Patience on the obedience of Allah
- Patience in refraining from Allah’s disobedience
- Patience in enduring the painful trials form Allah.
Patience is easier in the third than in the first two. If a Muslim or a Kafir is faced with Cancer they both have to endure it but in the first two types we have choices either to obey Allah or disobey him. We hope and pray that in her moments of solitude and months quietness that our daughter was Dhaakiratullah katheeran – a woman who continued to remember Allah much.
Despite the great pain and trauma that we, the family, felt at times, we would say to Nabiha that we are a team and that we would never desert her, not even for a moment. In taking care of our ill child we did our very best, but we knew that one day the angels would take over and that that would be the day when our privilege and source of great blessings would come to an end. As we would shroud and perfume her lifeless body, so too we had the full assurance that the angels would be clothing and perfuming her Ruh.
Her body continued to emaciate and yet she showed extreme patience and courage. Her little body was battling the disease, but as Muslims we know that the body is just a shell… food for the worms of the grave. As a matter of fact, Allah showed us a glimpse of the breakdown of tissue and necrosis even before she left this world. (He showed us just what we could bear; her brother and I both acknowledge that we were about to reach the breaking point. How easy it is for Allah, Al Jabbaar, the One who Overwhelms.) It was a solemn reminder of the fate that each of our bodies will face. The eyes and whatever was little was left of her face remained shining like a beacon in the night, as though the cancer could not touch it. Again, we saw Allah’s ease in the battlefield.
When Nabiha died, her feet glowed almost luminously, to a point that it startled us. Those feet that walked Makkah and Madina and stumbled between Safa and Marwa while fasting in Ramadan. Those eyes that cried incessantly when Abdullah Juhani and Salah Budair recited in Taraweeh in the Prophet’s masjid. She would not miss her stars in recitation; not for the world.
Allah took this family and pushed it through wave upon wave of difficulty. Yet even with the difficulty was ease, smiles, comfort, and the security of knowing that even though He pushed us to the ends of world, He never left us on our own, but was constantly with us, protecting us and nurturing us. We discovered within ourselves, our capabilities for coping with crises we never imagined we could survive. It was easy to visualize a grotesque image of Nabiha once the cancer took over, but Allah has protected us and preserved our beautiful memories of our dear daughter.
When Nabiha died I, the father, was not present. He, Allah, placed me in the heart of the forest out of phone contact. Even when the family tried to call, I would not be accessible. Herein lies my test: Would I blame myself for not being present when she most needed me or will I totally accept the plan of Allah? Alhamduillallah, the one who was absent was able to console those who were present at her passing, and Allah knows whether I would be able to bear seeing her life leave her body.
People comment at our strength, but in truth we are exceedingly weak. He is our source of strength, and we fear to think how those who do not have Allah in their lives can manage? How do they live? How do they face the world and its trials?
Nabiha’s life for us now is a bitter-sweet experience. We fear that after her passing, the chasm between us and our Lord will increase, and we will become more distant. Yet, we dare not say, “O Allah bring on the next test,” for possibly the next test might just be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. We only beg to stay close to Him and enjoy His sweet cuddliness; more than a mother can possibly show a child.
We would keeping telling her “my baby just as we helped your helpless body in this life, maybe Allah would allow you to help us on Yawmul Qiyamah.” You could not eat nor drink nor speak nor shift your head in those last few months, but on that Day, if we were to receive our book of deeds in our left hand, we would have no power to shift it to the right. What utter helplessness!
Nabiha, we love you dearly, but we love Allah more. Just as you loved us dearly, but you loved Allah more…… as you were trained. “And do not say of those who are killed in the path of Allah that they are dead, nay they are sustained by their Lord. They rejoice in what Allah has bestowed upon them of His Bounty and rejoice for his sake for those who have not yet joined them, but are left behind that on them no fear shall come, nor shall they grieve. They rejoice in a Grace and a Bounty from Allah, and that Allah will not waste the reward of the believers.”