Faith, As I Faced Death
Mohammad Ali Salih
A few weeks ago, my wife and I were safely pulled out of our car after a horrible traffic accident in which the car hit a metal object on a highway, swerved left and right, turned around and around, rolled over and over and rested up-side down.
Not only was the event a test of faith, mine and others, but it also taught me that faith comes in a variety of ways.
No, we were not drunk, fighting each other or even talking; she, the driver, was listening to the radio and I was reading a newspaper. For more than 30 years, we have been driving all over – before our three children were born, with them, and after they grew up and started driving their cars — and the worst traffic accidents we had were few flat tires. Nor was the weather a factor because it was a nice sunny autumn morning; and the Ford’s Escape SUV was few years old and had just been to the service.
We were driving from our home in
VA, a suburb of
NC, in the middle of the Appalachian Mountains, close to the borders with
Tennessee, to spend few days with my wife’s parents and enjoy the autumn tree coloring.
Near the intersection of Interstates 81 and 64 and suddenly, we felt the car drive over an object (we later learned it was a tow-hitch). I was aware when my wife tried to control the car as it swerved left and right, but I don’t remember what happened during the following few seconds; my wife later said that she also couldn’t remember what exactly happened and that, for a while, “everything was black in front of me.”
The first thing I remember was both of us hanging with our seat-belts. Somehow, I managed to free myself from my seat-belt, fell on the floor/ceiling of the car and tried to get out, come around and free my wife. But, the door on my side opened for only few inches.
I saw many men and women stopping their cars on the highway and hurrying towards us, and some of them were talking on their cell-phones, apparently calling 911. After few minutes, fire engines, police cars and an ambulance arrived and saved us, with the help of some by-standers.
First there was “faith in reality.” Two feelings overwhelmed me when I was trapped inside the car: helplessness and calm. I (and my wife) didn’t scream, didn’t call for help and didn’t talk to each other; but, of course, we knew that help would be coming soon on that busy highway.
The helplessness taught me that my faith in myself was limited because: (a) for few seconds, “myself” was not aware of what was going on, and (b) when “myself” became aware, it could not free me.
So, I “surrendered” and started to have faith in the reality that was surrounding me, in the fact that I was trapped and there was nothing I could do. Most probably, that was the reason I was calm.
That faith in reality seemed to have put my fate on luck. And I was lucky: the car, while swerving and turning around, was not hit by another; it was not engulfed in a ball of fire; my vertebrae column was not broken; my leg was not cut, and there wasn’t a single drop of blood. Everyone, thankfully and understandably, was saying: “You are lucky.”
Then, there were my Sudanese friends who said, without an exception: “Alhamadulillah ala salamatak” (Thanks God for your safety). All of them suggested that I buy a lamb and slaughter it as a “dhahiya” (sacrifice). The origin of this concept is the Koran’s narrative of God ordering Prophet Abraham to slaughter his son, as test of Abraham’s faith in God; when Abraham held his son’s neck, ready to slaughter him, God sent a lamb which Abraham slaughtered and, so, sacrificed the son.
My friends said the Sharia Law (which is not only about cutting hands and stoning people to death) prescribes this sacrifice because God saved my life and, so, spilling the lamb blood would replace spilling mine. A friend was a little extreme and suggested that the lamb meat should be divided into many portions and distributed to my neighbors. Another said I should distribute the meat to the poor — anonymously.
I went to All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) mosque, outside Washington, and asked its Imam, the Sudanese Mohamed Magid, who suggested that I donated money to the mosque, and called my brothers in my Sudanese village to slaughter a lamb on my behalf and distribute the meat to the neighbors, the poor or both.
Not that I was going to do it, but this advised saved me the embarrassment (and calls to the police?) of knocking at my neighbors’ doors offering them meat, or going to downtown
Washington and offer the meat to the homeless,
Then, there was the “angel”: as I was trapped inside the car, a beautiful golden-hair-blue-eyes-and-rosy-cheeks woman, like others before her, bent down on the asphalt to be close to me, asked whether I was alright and told me not to worry because help was on its way. She held my hand, and, noticing my foreign accent, slowly said: “I would like to pray with you my favorite prayer; I will slowly say a sentence and you repeat after me.” Then, she started: “Our Father who art in Heaven …”
I saw a surprise on her face when I, instead of repeating the Lord Prayer after her, rehearsed it with her. (About 30 years ago, when I came to
DC, in my current job, I started learning Christianity and was able to recite the Lord Prayer).
When we finished, I asked whether she would share with me my favorite prayer, and when she said she would be glad to, I said “Alfatiha” prayer (a short sura in the Koran) in Arabic, then she repeated after me the English version: “Alhamdulillah rab al alameen …” (Thanks to God, the Lord of the Universe …)
When we both ended by “Amen,” she looked over her back, said the fire-engines had arrived, squeezed my hand and disappeared — as the firemen came running with their water hoses, probably expecting the car to blow-up in a ball of fire.
Since 1980, Mohammad Ali Salih has been
DC, full-time correspondent for major newspapers and magazines in the
Middle East. His website: MohammadAliSalih.com