In the early hours of Tuesday night (3rd of January 2012), I got a call at 3:00am that my beloved father, M. Afzal Khan, had peacefully passed away, at the age of 78, and his soul's journey had moved to the next stage of its journey. I made my way back to Manchester from the south of England by car and arrived by 11:00 am to find the process of communications between the coroner, mortuary (at the hospital) and the personal medical doctor were all underway, with my three brothers and two sisters being kept abreast of it.
Due to Islamic prescriptions of burying the deceased as soon as possible, we were all anxious that the body was released sooner rather than later. But owing to his excellent general health, the medical practitioner was unable to issue a death certificate. However, with some assistance from friendly local municipal councillors, who sent emails to the coroner, we managed to get the body by late Thursday afternoon. His body was washed on Friday morning, prepared for burial - only two sheets of cloths are required to cover the body - and then transferred to the mosque where the final prayers would be made over it.
The funeral was well-attended, some 2,500 people or so came from multiple sides, the mosque was over-capacity and so many had to pray outside in the car park area to ensure attendance.
The body was then transferred to the graveyard with some following the hearse vehicle and many others making their own way. His body was lowered directly to the ground six feet below onto the cold, wet earth, wrapped in the two clean white cloths, with his face showing, and then turned eastwards towards the direction of Mecca. Further involuntary prayers and supplications were read over the grave by Imam's who were touched by the whole scene and felt a close attachment with my father both in living days and on his departure from this plane of existence.
Now, here is what is more surprising, in a sense, than any of the procedures or indeed his sudden departure: the number, range and type of people who visited our houses to remember him fondly - women, including my mother, were in the adjacent house and men in my father's house. Since my arrival on Wednesday morning until Monday morning, apart from the burial day of Friday, I have personally been receiving people from eleven in the morning 'til eleven in the evening. Many expressed their shock and disbelief of his expiration, as he was so fit and healthy, whilst others recounted their times with him.
One of the oft-repeated aspects mentioned by them was my father's kindness and ability to make people feel warm, special and welcome when meeting them - both young and old. It'll be easier for me to copy here what I put on my facebook and Twitter statuses on the morning of January 6th:
"Dear Friends, the loss of any near one is a gap that cannot be easily filled, but even more if it was one who was a pillar of society: one who combines the secular and religious seamlessly such that the social and spiritual merge with grace, beauty, mystifying power and great resolve. One who crossed continents yet had deep care for one-and-all on both sides of the global hemisphere; one who gave his full attention, willingness and magical smile to both young and old alike to make each feel extra special, assured, centred and clear-minded; one who resolved conflicts, aided the insecure, helped fulfil the aspirations of the eager, and gave comfort to those in distress. A person of principles with huge self-dignity, his goal was to make people see the brighter side of life. This is just a glimpse of my dedicated Father, whose soul entered the next stage of its journey a couple of nights ago, and whose body will be buried by me and my brothers tomorrow on the glorious day of Friday. Please join me with your refined thoughts and prayers in earnestly asking Almighty God to have mercy on his soul. Thank you."
Esteemed people of the society came and sat with us at home and through this testing time, I managed to get right to the heart of why so many endearingly remembered him. This is what I want to share with you here as I feel it will assist manifold in the common relations we have amongst us whilst we attempt to tackle the issues of everyday life on top of the global concerns surrounding us. He was not the richest, most powerful or the most famous, but he was amongst the most caring, sincerest, principled and whole-hearted of people.
Until his last days, he was himself running a daily luncheon club for the elderly. Though we all told him to leave it and rest more, his view was that it provided him daily activity, a focus, and an opportunity to engage with others; something I only came to truly understand posthumously.
His affectionate concern for others stemmed from a deep appreciation for how sincere and useful others were towards him just as he was unreservedly towards them. Colour, creed, gender, role, status, socio-economic class were not barriers or his measurements for bonding, but moreover, the genuine application a greater value system within inter-personal relations.
This value-system is what carried him into the political arena where the Rt. Hon Gerald Kaufmann, MP has been a long-standing friend of his (for over thirty years). I believe given the right circumstances, he would have made a brilliant cabinet minister. But he had a young family to take care of in a new country, get them through education - which was his main priority - look after the household here in England as well as those overseas, including the needs of several relations who called upon him living in Pakistan, Canada and elsewhere.
Apart from these practical issues, another feature that kept him slightly away from committing fully-fledged to the political machinations was his deeper spiritual understanding, strong values of ethics and principles of morals ~ with truth and justice residing above all. Accordingly, political expediency was not his mantle, nor could he accept the "rule of the mob" at the expense of 'golden-mean' standards. Most of the national and international issues were clarified in his mind as he saw the extension of the 'great game' as a farce, a denial of International law and a rejection of the idea of principles over policy. Thus, he found an alternative way, his way, in the care world.
As such, the last and only one to be with him in the depths of that Tuesday night in his transference from earthly existence to the spiritual realm was my beloved mother (75), whom he was looking after. Since that moment, she has proven herself to be a solid rock in the midst of torrent rain, wind, and engulfing sea waves of trial and tribulation. Remarkably, she retains redness in her cheeks, a glowing testimony that it is her character which has come to symbolise the 55 year partnership she had with my father.
All their children and several grandchildren will remember this message well: that a lasting partnership has love, understanding and compromise at the root of its organisation. It is now up to us to continue such a wonderful legacy with both faith and benevolent determination as we journey on back into the same Earth and beyond.