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Monday, March 1, 2021

Immortality 101

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 For many of faith, death is a constant reminder of the need to be ‘human’. That death is a reminder for good living is not even an irony for they are hand and glove (not necessarily hand IN glove). Like the Abrahamic religious belief that investing in a “House of God/Allah” is more deserving of paradise than actual acts of charity, I find the belief of our people that someone must die for us to remember the true way of life to be rather disturbing. 

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The last few weeks have been fractious. It seems tradition now that October’s heat takes with it lives without number. Of the many things that we have learnt through scripture, the most disturbing for me has been that of age old history’s need for blood cleansing. We are taught that our God, who is Most Merciful, every now and then, as an act of compassion, cleanses our lands with the sacrifice of blood. He did it for Noah and his family and were we not taught that it was a cleansing of compassion in anger? 

When Adolf Hitler murdered 6 million Jews, he did so with strong religious conviction that he was doing “God’s will”. Even though a Christian world quickly distanced themselves from him by calling him atheist, humanist or Nordic paganist, Hitler used biblical scripture to make Germany “understand” he was doing God’s work. Of the Jews that lost their lives, there were many of faith who believed they were part of a Holocaust – a sacrifice – for a greater Jewish state. They believed that their God had chosen them to be martyrs for their people and even as they cried their way to their deaths, there is historical proof that many of them went through smiling and believing. 

A man once spoke to me of death and said, “It is not death we fear, but rather the uncertainty of life after death”. We have all lost people close to us over the years. There is a belief that October is one of the hottest months of loss in The Gambia. It has become so true for some that they fear it even more than death itself. I was at the beach when two young men lost their lives at sea; a tragic tale of brothers. Like the usual Bakau drowning story, the second had gone in to save the first. It was high tide, rough waves and evidently crazy currents. I couldn’t stand with the family as they looked into the vastness of the waters hoping for a miracle. That wasn’t the last drowning in October. Soon I heard of two others…all young men full of life. 

My mother hated the beach. I remember growing up she would threaten to “deal with me” if I went swimming. Truth be told, she dealt with me a few times for the more she insisted, the more I felt a curiosity to test the waters. Unfortunately I had terrible skin. A trip to the beach would be revealed all over my skin and I couldn’t lie my way through it. I loved the water. Perhaps it made sense to me that God had given us so much of it that we would waste in it. Year after year, I would hear news of people that have been swallowed by the rough waves of Bakau and Fajara but still I loved the water. As a child there was the talk of a ‘jinn’. Apparently it took lives every year to satisfy its hunger for blood. It called out to its victims and urges them into the water. No one has come back to tell the tale but it made sense. As a child that listened to stories of “Buki ak Njomborr” and had my mother and cousin repeat the same stories whenever GUC decided to go Awol, the story of a powerful ‘jinn’ was intriguing. I pictured it in my head a few times; made of fire and wind, changing form and whistling through the night. 

Then there were those we lost to disease. We lost Dr Ya Harr of MRC, Global Fund and Majaga Publishing suddenly and urban Gambia was in shock. Facebook took two days off the semi-nude photos and countless “selfies” either out of respect or out of fear and the feasting eyes of gentlemen like me took a few days off the beautiful sightings. There were religious verses all over the Internet and a call for us to remember the hereafter. It was a reminder; a call to order. It was as if every October, there was a divine reminder of our mortality and our need to live right; a hypocrisy. 

There are many areas I fail to agree with our preachers in religion and one of those is the consistent use of the hereafter to correct our attitudes. I believe it comes from their understanding of the human psyche. They understand that of all the topics we are most wary of, the topic of human immortality reigns supreme. Our Internet scholars and preachers were quick to post photos of graves and verses that condemned the wicked. I imagine a number of young girls took on the hijab and some young men broke it off with their girlfriends, if only for a week. The cleansing was real! But the families of the departed cannot see their loss as a cleansing; a sacrifice. That is insufficient! That does not give comfort to the soul. Who are these beautiful souls being sacrificed for? Are they being sacrificed for the man in court for raping his daughter, murderer behind bars or the young gentleman from ‘Lama Lama’ who needed to jump the fence into my place to ‘perform ablution’ at 5.00 in the morning?

I had a lengthy debate with my brother from another mother and a lady dear to my heart on death. Yes, it has been a month of discussions on the topic. They were of the Islamic conviction from some quarters that a painful death gives a pass into Paradise. For them, a painful death was one that involved drowning or burning. I have heard Islamic scholars mention this. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to do much research into the topic but I disagreed vehemently. My stance was that all death is painful. Whether we’re fighting for our lives in the depths of the ocean, a burning building or on our sleep beds, death is a painful thing. I have ALMOST died at least twice; I know the feeling. Your heart pumps so fast that it feels like it stopped. I remember gasping for air and trying to scream but felt too winded out to even utter a word. I remember crawling on my knees to get to the door…and then I remember relief. I remember that long, life-saving breath filling my lungs. I remember I said “Thank You God”. It was impulsive…a fight for life. At that moment, the uncertainty of my immortality was enough to make me fight…and boy! Was it painful! 

When I learnt of the young APRC men who lost their lives on the road, I was struck with a clear memory of when some of us accompanying the president over a decade ago experienced a serious car accident. The second of the two accidents we experienced that day was the craziest of the “more than a few” accidents I have been involved in. I thought it was over and life had bid us farewell but unlike the brothers we lost recently, we survived. For those that believe in “the darkness”, the villagers insisted their village had a ‘Jinn’ that didn’t like guests or cars and was trying to frighten us away. Truth be told, we were frightened but the entourage gave us comfort. We got up the next morning and joined a new car to continue seeing the realities of rural Gambia and it remains one of my most beautiful experiences yet.

It is sad that we need death to remind us to be good people. My mother would remind us when we were kids never to “speak ill of the dead”. My argument still remains, “what if ill is all we can speak of?” I imagine her response would be for us to remain silent. When Sheriff Bojang wrote his semi-eulogy on the late Buba Baldeh, he was a few steps short of calling him a monster. He called the man a Bull. It was an honest opinion from a man of the pen and an opinion I respect tons more than the many who never knew him yet sang his praises. Maybe I respected it because prior to his death a young relative of his had explained a sad encounter he had put her through. I did not go on Facebook to praise his “legacy”. I did what my mother would have had me do. I stayed silent.

Is it that all the people we have lost in our lives have been good people or are we all just extremely generous in our opinions of everyone around us? Faith is a beautiful thing you know. It makes us better people doesn’t it? There is a doctrine that says mankind is inherently sinful. I had wished I had found one which said we are inherently evil for me to be able to add a quote but unfortunately Google wouldn’t oblige. It would make sense wouldn’t it? For us to need death to remind us to do right by others and to seek forgiveness from others would be to validate the statement that we are actually born evil and need constant reminders including religion, scripture, scholars, etc to TRY to be good.

A young man when he commented on my Dr Zakir piece called me evil and deserving of the hottest of hell fires (he assumes the coldest wouldn’t be enough for my supposed blasphemy). He mistook me to be someone outside religion when perhaps, it is he who falls outside the circle of true faith and belief for I have never needed another man to remind me of the difference between good and bad. We do good for the wrong reasons and that is why we are so inconsistent in our deeds yet we expect some beautiful form of immortality. I continue to remind myself that I am human and a sinner. The sins I commit are well known to me and cannot be given excuses. Are we not too old to be taught again the difference? So, when I do good, it is not to enjoy the beauties of Paradise. It is not so that I would sit in the heavens for all eternity, my soul floating around in all its glory. I do it because it is what feels right. It is actually what feels human; what feels natural. My heart doesn’t skip a beat when I offer a child some positive advice, or when I offer a homeless old lady some change, or when I throw a little baby up in the air to make it laugh. When we start doing good simply because we expect some reward of sorts either from our fellow man or from the Most High then isn’t our intention flawed? Doesn’t religion teach that the intention is just as important as the act? I mean even football teaches that for those who worship it!

Mankind has troubled himself for centuries (or millennia) on the subject of immortality. I find it disturbing. I definitely do not want to burn in Satan’s hell but earth’s hell is terrible enough. That we can plan and execute evil for our fellow human beings and still not find the hottest of flames on our consciences will make us inherently evil, will it not? I cannot imagine the pleasure of living forever. To me it is the scariest of thoughts and perhaps another indication of our greed as humans. I simply want to live and to live beautifully. The world has created a lot of immortals within us. Have there not been legacies that have survived the centuries? Have we not seen men and women on both sides of the aisle whose stories still continue to inspire many of us to either do good or evil? Truth is, immortality need not be a fairytale; immortality is already here. The legacies we build here on earth will continue to live on, at least with our families. Ku baakh nju wakh lu baakh si yow…ku bonn turr bu bonn torpa la cha. 

We are nothing more than the legacies we leave behind and the world after this one we all know nothing absolutely about. If we agree that we are all human we will agree that the Day of Judgment and the issue of life after death belong only to the Most High. Our lives here on earth however, the decisions we make that affect our lives and the lives of the people around us, are left to us. Free will is a gift…and a very dangerous gift to waste.

May the souls of all the departed Rest in Perfect Peace…

TGBA

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