Life is a dot for a living human being who has not developed any sense about the meaning of life. For him and those who cannot think of a line connecting these isolated dots of life, this existence we live in as sentient beings is a project. This was the opinion of some existentialists after the Second World War. Although there were distinctions among them, those who were philosophically materialist, this life needs to be seen as a project. Our destiny in this physical universe was here and no where else. This has always been seen as Dunyaism from a Muslim point of view.
To the practicing Muslim life has meaning and a purpose. Its purpose and destiny were enveloped in the letter addressed to humanity in the form of scriptures. These texts were not works of fiction and imagination. They were revelations from a Creator to us in this life. Therefore, life is indeed a mystery and a challenge for a thinking human being who engages in the endless search for the meaning of life.
These two sentences capture for me why my particular faith leads me to my belief in a life beyond the grave. Although I believe in a Creator and a life beyond the grave, my own encounter with death reaffirmed this faith.
Over four years ago, I went through what people now call “near death experiences” I had gone through a series of hospitalization in between the late days of 2001 and March 7, 2002. Though those moments at the hospital were painful and humbling, when compared to what I went through in the late May through July 4, 2004, it was like a picnic to the young and naive child.
As I have said to many people since my hospital experience, May 31 2004 will never be forgotten. It has serious consequences for me and the meaning of life. That day I had cardiac arrest and almost died. I survived largely because our Emergency Service 911 came to my rescue and the Beltsville Rescue Squad drove me safely to Holly Cross Hospital in Silver Spring, Maryland. Before my heart attack I lay in bed in the emergency room for almost three hours. They gave me pain killers including morphine to ease the pain. When the heart attack took place I lost memory from that Friday afternoon to Sunday morning after 10 a.m. This was my first experience with dying and with the thoughts about life beyond the grave.
This experience reaffirmed my faith in life beyond the grave because on my return to consciousness I had a strange feeling of journeying through white clouds that eventually ended with my realization that I was not on a bed in the emergency room but in an intensive care unit in the Holly Cross Hospital. As a Muslim growing through this evening, the only analogy I could draw from was Surah Nur (the Quranic chapter called Light). Upon regaining consciousness I told my wife through a piece of paper.
I scripted Surah Nur, that I saw light upon light before rejoining the social world. Here I was saying in writing what I could not say with my tongue because I was medically wired. This experience led me to believe that there is a mystery zone in our consciousness and neither religion nor science have been able to solve the mystery or address adequately the challenge.
My other encounter with death is not as sudden as a cardiac arrest. It is the slow journey to death. This took place on June 18, almost ten days after I had gone through a six-hour heart surgery. A few days after the surgery I had a relapse. This could have been the end of me. The story is striking and revealing to me. Apparently the machines attached to me told the nurses I was dead. Code Blue was reverberating in the firmaments of my consciousness. I heard it and I also had the words of the head nurse in my room. I also heard my wife and cousin crying. I also heard the attempt of my relative cheering me in the old Wolof song of valor and inspiration to make a courageous exit in this last moment of suffering and leading this life.
Indeed the deputy director of the hospital who visited me in the intensive care unit was astonished to learn what I just stated above. Code Blue, the statement of the head nurse, “it is over, it is over.” I also told her that one of my doctors on call at the time saved my life because upon my recovery he told me that he knew I was still alive and his decision to give me a last minute life restoring shock worked. This was a miracle to me and for this and other reasons, I have since decided to say that God is the Greatest Movie Maker. Here I am living many years after that near death experience and all these old friends and totally strangers I have come to know and fully appreciate in my humble way.
What can I say about this experience? It was not a gift from the Creator because I am among the best of his creation. To the contrary: I am one of the weakest links in the chain of human endeavor to serve and uphold his teachings. Each scene in my life today is seen by me as a piece of the Divine Theater where the mystery of life remains perplexing and the challenge of understanding and appreciating it remain our eternal companion. Indeed Islam in particular, and the Abrahamic religions in general, could well be described by an alien anthropologist from another galaxy as the most fervent promoters of belief in life beyond the grave. But as I have written elsewhere, such Abrahamics are faithfuls who believe that we humans have a one-way ticket to this life and unlike the Jains, the Buddhists, the Hindus and the African traditional religionists who embrace the principles of reincarnation, they do not accept the idea of a
multiple entry visas to this life.