By Hakim Abdul-Ali
“Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Raaji’oon” is what a Muslim says when someone passes. It literally means “To ALLAH we belong and to Him (alone) is our return.”
That’s a powerful and resonant verisimilitude to always keep in one’s spiritual mirror going forward, and, as I’ve been reflectively thinking lately, I’ve turned to and have been writing quite a bit about the living process. More specifically, it’s been about life and death.
Those two realities have humbled me to always sustain in my mind the definitive blessings and the undeniable fragilities of life’s wondrous unfolding. I try, by the Most High Alone’s mercy, to always stay focused on the ever-present here and now, knowing how notable this temporary arena is, but with lingering, deep conscious thoughts of the eternal life ever-lasting Hereafter.
I was reminded of those pressing realities when I had received news about two weeks ago of the death of a dear Muslim brother, academic scholar and a friend of mine. His name was Dr. Mohamed Alpha Bah, and he truly was a good man, a committed scholar and an enlightened teacher of authentic African History.
Dr. Bah, 72, was a retired History professor at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina, and he and I had a very interesting relationship. I was the imam (spiritual and prayer leader) of one of the local Islamic communities in the Lowcountry, as the South Carolina coastal area is loosely referred to, for more than twenty years, and I would see Dr. Bah at many of our and other area communities’ religiously sponsored affairs, events and activities over the years.
The always cordial and jovial Dr. Bah and I had other unique relationships beyond our religious connections. Being graduates of Howard University at different degree levels, with long standing connections to that great institution, we both also shared, and had, an immense love and appreciation for things African, especially history, etc.
This noted scholar of African History and an unabashed proponent of renewing African Studies and I would spend hours on end over the years talking about Howard University and, oftentimes, about my extensive Black historical collection and Afro-centered memorabilia holdings. Dr. Bah, forever the African History enthusiast, was always impressed that I was so devoted over the decades in my steadfastness in maintaining things about the traditional African and other religious heritages at such a high level, many times telling to me never, ever abandon this forgotten pursuit, and I never have.
Sierra Leone, where Dr. Bah was born seventy-two-years-ago on the Motherland, seemed to be at the centerpiece of his everyday internal mind-set and outward topical conversations. He was very active into the cultural, political and economic happenings surrounding Africa in general, and Sierra Leone (and Liberia), in particular, which were his specific constant heart throbs.
I’ve lived an exciting and interesting life and, in all my years thus far, I don’t believe that I’ve ever come in contact with anyone as staunch and scholarly a 24-carat devoted soul like Dr. Bah was about the Motherland. This passionate Muslim brother was a very heralded and respected educator and his sincere openness and indubitable caring nature about all people regardless of religion, creed, ethnicity or nationality was infectious.
Dr. Mohamed Alpha Bah, a very pure Muslim soul, believed in the peaceful coalition of ‘hue-mans” everywhere. Anyone who truly knew “Alpha,” as Dr. Bah was simply referred to by his personal colleagues and friends knew that he was definitely not an extremist in his religious views. No way! Not Dr. Bah.
On the contrary, Dr. Bah seemed to go out of his way to encourage and hold dialogues between other faith traditionalists. He was, in my view, good at being a universal diplomat, and even though he was a member of another masjid (Islamic place of worship) in the area, Dr. Bah’s engaging persona and his unquestioned astute African-based intellectualism was always welcomed by me and the others in my and other communities.
I remember Dr. Bah ever so fondly as being the right hand confidant of his masjid’s imam, the late Dr. Talaat El Shazly, who died in 2015. Dr. El Shazly, originally from Egypt and himself a retired economics professor from the College of Charleston, and Dr. Bah were seemingly always together, showcasing a bonded religious brotherhood and a respectful professional friendship that was wonderful to see because their relationship was obviously deep and trusting, something clearly observed between these two Muslim brothers.
Even though I knew and worked intensely with Imam El Shazly on many cooperative religious ventures between our respective communities for almost two decades, Dr. Bah was there for the both of us to offer support wherever it was needed for the betterment and propagation of our faith here in the Charleston area. I miss them, both as Muslim brothers, wise friends and as authentic reservoirs of religious and African knowledge.
In our masjid, Dr. Bah was remembered after the Friday congregational salat (prayer) the Friday after his passing by the masjid’s imam, M. Bourouis El-Idrissi, offering kind remarks and thoughtful words of condolences for this much respected brother. Many in attendance remembered him with adoration and the leisurely aura of just being Dr. Bah, or “Alpha.” His death was a sign to many.
To that end, again, with Dr. Mohamed Alpha Bah being called by ALLAH, the subtlety of how precious life is hit home once more for me. Only God Alone creates and He (alone) takes. I think about that often, and I suggest that you give it serious thought.
Understanding life and death, with correct spiritual insightfulness, can transform one’s mental consciousness for the better. As a Muslim brother thinking of a departed soul (Dr. Mohamed Alpha Bah), I’m reminded of how real “Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilayhi Raaji’oon” really, really is.
I trust that you do because you’re not guaranteed the next moment in time. Rest in peace my brother Dr. Mohamed Alpha Bah, and for today, that’s, “As I See It.”