Somewhere amongst the politics, the money, and the wars that the world wages on itself, real people are forgotten. People whose stories are tales of inspiration are lost. The global race for wealth and sordid power has deemed them voiceless. Worthless. Their existence may as well be a non-fact. Collateral damage.
My grandmother was one of these people. The spoils of imperialism and West-sponsored dictatorial tyranny meant that the first time I ever met her was during the summer of the year 2000. There was little Yaz, in a Mickey Mouse T-shirt and a monobrow that only a Middle Eastern girl would be gifted with, meeting Wedad for the first time in Amman, Jordan. I was 10, and excited about the prospect of finally meeting my grandmother. Her name puzzled me at the time. Wedad. Thankfully, I have since become relatively well-versed in the language of Divinity, Arabic, but at that age of youth and ignorance, I had never heard of it nor had I bothered establishing and feeding a curiosity to know.
Wedad’s warmth captured me almost immediately. I fell in love with my Bibi (grandmother). I would sit in the kitchen gazing at this beautifully delicate woman while she taught me how to wash and prepare rice, animatedly recounting story after story about her life in Baghdad. Wedad spent her whole life in her house; cooking, cleaning, and praying. Her family life, career, social life, and hobbies, were synonymous. She didn’t have friends. Experiences that we take for granted like going to work, shopping, chilling in a cafe to catch up with a friend – all of these did not feature in her life. Every fibre of her being revolved around her house and her family, with God firmly at the centre. The axis point. Her only solace.
The way our lives have come to encapsulate so many embellishments makes what I’m saying sound utterly unfathomable, which renders Wedad all the more extraordinary. Imagine having no friends. Imagine that the notion of having a social life didn’t exist in your realm of understanding. Imagine not owning a bank account, not holding a penny to your name. Imagine that your wardrobe consisted of two outfits in total. Identical. One for when the other needs a wash. The point is, I could keep asking you, and myself, to imagine. But the truth is, it’s next to impossible to fully empathise with that which defies our very perception, and understanding, of what we have come to define as ‘life’. As such, hers will perhaps remain a mystery to me. A beautiful mystery.
Sadly, I only saw Wedad on six brief occasions throughout my life, during every other summer holiday when her, my grandfather, my uncle and cousins would drive from Iraq to Jordan, where we’d meet them. When I look back at the very little time I spent with Bibi, I get the feeling that her memories – those stories she would narrate to us over the kitchen table about her neighbour’s scandals, her Iraqi recipes, her family – were an escape from a sad truth; that she never had ownership of her life. She couldn’t chase her dreams because she wasn’t allowed to concoct them. It was precisely in those moments, as she vocalised those memories to her grandchildren across the kitchen table, in the vivid awareness that we were listening to her intently, that she could momentarily reclaim the freedom and luxury of free-spiritedness and agency that many Iraqi women just like her are robbed of.
Wedad’s final years were her most distressing. She woke up one night in 2008 to the sound of gunshots, only to find her son, my dear uncle, lying in a pool of blood in her house in Baghdad, murdered. The house she watched him run around in as a little boy, do his homework in, get married in, had now also become the very roof that would house his final breath. She was heartbroken, as any mother would be. But I guess for Wedad, her beloved son’s martyrdom was the most challenging predicament she could’ve been faced with, precisely due to the extent to which her home had defined her very existence and offered meaning to her life. She envisioned and lived her dreams through her family.
I saw her twice more after my uncle passed – a year following his tragedy, and finally in 2010, when I visited her and my grandfather in Jordan with my mother. She was unwell, bed-stricken and physically weak. She’d cry every night about not being able to stand or use her legs anymore. Not because she wanted to go out, but because she could no longer physically bow down to the Most High for the daily prayers that she never once missed. We spent two weeks there in the knowledge that this was the last time we would see her. God was soon going to rest her soul in Peace. She knew this was the end.
No one knew pain and suffering like this woman. No one embodied tenderness, patience, and God-consciousness like her. And I say that with the fullest sincerity – I’ve met a lot of people. Wedad is unrivalled. Her relentlessly difficult life proves one truth: the righteous will be tested with the hardest battles, and there will be no rest, because nothing worldly could ever appease them except but to return to the Most High. God prescribes the hardest battles to His strongest soldiers. Wedad was on the frontline.
Disaster capitalism and America’s sideman Saddam Hussein kept her and I physically apart, but Love allowed our hearts to beat as one, for the One. Her capacity to love was incredible. Her warmth was godly, heaven-sent. Her smile was always broken yet complete. And although I type these words with tears streaming down my cheeks, my heart smiles with the knowledge that God is enveloping my grandmother with the immeasurable mercy she devoted to every single person she crossed paths with, all those who had the pleasure of immersing themselves in her unbounded grace. Nothing in life is a coincidence; fate gave her the name Wedad. Love.
“And most certainly shall We try you by means of danger, and hunger, and loss of worldly goods, of lives and of [labour’s] fruits. But give glad tidings unto those who are patient in adversity who, when calamity befalls them, say, “Verily, unto God do we belong and, verily, unto Him we shall return” – 2:155-6