….[A] person may rely upon his youthfulness and consider death to be unlikely due to being young. The poor fellow, however, does not reflect on the fact that if the number of those of advanced old age in his town were to be enumerated they would turn out to be less than one-tenth of the population. Their numbers are so small only because death happens in youth more often inasmuch that for every old person who dies one thousand infants and young people die as well.
Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, “Fi Tul al-Amal” from Ihya ‘Ulum al-Din
In the summer of 2000 during my studies in Fez, the Zaytuna Institute decided to fly me to the Bay Area for a week to assist in translating lessons being offered by scholars visiting from the Arab world. I was housed with a number of the attendees in a home nearby. It was there I had my very first encounter with this wonderful man and best of friends, Luqman Williams. Luqman stood out from the other 6-7 brothers who shared this home with us. And, that wasn’t difficult for him. Speaking his mind and saying what others only dared think came easy for him. My fascination with him grew immediately. Instead of being shocked by his words, I found his comments to be comedic at times and uniquely judicious at others. His sports parables and analogies already seemed to be an integral part of who he was. And at the moment the rest of us started our march over to the event hall, Luqman surprised us by saying, “I’ll be there after I finish my run.”
The next time I saw Luqman would be the following year in Fes, Morocco during my final year of study. He and his ex-wife, Zahrah, had moved there from 2001-2004. This, of course, meant that he attended my wedding in 2003 in Morocco’s capital, Rabat. During one visit to my in-laws as we spoke about my desire to establish an African-American Muslim publishing house, it was him who thought to name it “Lamppost Productions.” I accepted his designation, and the name has remained with us since. I guess that’s what happens when righteous people choose the name of your baby for you, right?
After returning home for a time in 2004 as the general elections approached, Luqman flew me out to Cleveland to have me speak at a panel on Islam & Political Participation. I was later invited back to teach at the Cleveland Study Group.
Luqman was passionate for change, and believed in the importance of people, especially minorities, playing a part in local politics. In his youth he did just that and even considered running for office at one time. He really hoped that Muslims would eventually focus their attention on helping to improve the plight of those in the inner cities, but after noticing what he called a “popularity contest” in the Muslim American mainstream and a community largely interested in what he referred to as “religious entertainment”, he left the US to pursue opportunities in the Arab world.
For the next decade or so, Luqman lived in a number of Arab countries teaching English, meeting special people, and visiting important sites. Among the countries he was blessed to live in are Qatar, Oman, Saudi Arabia, and Morocco. Luqman loved to inspire and coach people, especially the youth. He taught that one who becomes Muslim with a certain talent and perspective needs to apply those talents and perspectives to how he/she approaches spirituality and activism. Those who knew him well know that one of his talents was as a sports analyst with a damn good jump shot in spite of never having played pro basketball.
He was deeply spiritual, disciplined, and focused. He spent his days reciting litanies, prayers, regular fasts, the study of jurisprudence, psychoanalysis, and sharing his personal insights which can be gleaned from a cursory look at his facebook page. According to his wife, Jamilah, he performed over 500 lesser pilgrimages (umrah) and 6 major pilgrimages (hajj). He referred to himself as the “Ghetto Nomad” and “Ibn Blacktuta” (a play on the name of the famous world traveler Ibn Batuta). He was blessed to visit a number of sacred sites, including Jerusalem and the graves of prophets and other saintly people. Before returning to the US in 2015, he was fortunate to be a resident of the historic city of Taif whence he made a weekly visit to Mecca for a number of years. During his weekend stay, he would perform a number of lesser pilgrimages: 1) for himself; 2) one for the Prophet Muhammad, Allah’s peace and blessing upon him; 3) one for his spiritual guide, Shaykh Abdullah Haddad; 4) pilgrimages for the Four Rightly Guided caliphs; 5) one for Shaykh Abu al-Hasan al-Shadhili; and 6) at times, for others who may have been sick or requested his prayers.
He was extremely charitable and supportive of worthy endeavors. When he visited me in Morocco in 2013, he did not pass by a homeless person without making sure he gave them something. He accompanied me on a visit to see some of my teachers during this trip as well.
And he was doing all of this long before he discovered he had cancer in late 2015 which he lost the battle to early yesterday at Fajr time in Cleveland, Ohio.
On January 4, 2016, he sent me the following message:
“As Salamu Alaykum. How are you and the family? I’ve been admitted into the hospital to try to drain fluid from my stomach. Also, they’re medically giving me a few weeks to a few months to live. Please don’t inform anyone in sha Allah. Bit Tawfeeq Wa Tayseer Wal Aafiya”
This news hit me like a ton of bricks. My blood pressure rose and I lied down for the rest of the day because of prolonged dizziness. I knew the day would come eventually, but hoped he would be among the 10% of colon cancer patients who win the battle against it. The world could surely use more Luqman Williams-es. I tried to call him without success, but I left a message asking if he was available to speak. Next, I tried his home where the phone was given to his wife. I couldn’t compose myself, unfortunately. Later, he sent me a message with a phone and room #. I immediately called him, and we cried together as he asked of me to contact his ex-wife to establish regular contact with his son and to try to teach him what Luqman himself would not be able to.
After the call, I booked a ticket for the following week, and visited him in Cleveland. He had just been readmitted one day prior to my arrival. Though he showed excitement about my visit, I almost lost my composure upon seeing the level of his physical deterioration.
Cancer is a horrible disease. But, Luqman didn’t want our pity. He even felt that it was a blessing for him. And, indeed, it just may be, taking into consideration that among the list of martyrs who will not have a reckoning on the Judgment Day mentioned by our Prophet is the “mabtun” or person who dies of an intestinal ailment. I think colon cancer qualifies.
His emotions it seemed at times were exclusively connected with his concern for the welfare and future of his son, Noah or “Papoose” as they call him. Other than that, he was as solid as a rock, and even at times made you feel that this was NOT such a “dead man walking.” The nurses loved him too. He established such a rapport that he offered to visit the other patients on the floor to help them get used to the idea of leaving this world. He seemed more alive than many of the people who came to visit him in the hospital. This is why in a private moment when I asked, “How are you mentally preparing for this?”, he responded, “I just think that people have to remember that Allah is NEVER wrong.” I continued more as a reminder to myself that, “When you feel it coming, don’t fight it. It’s not a fight you can win anyway. So, why bother?”
On the last morning of my three days with Luqman, I offered him the following words of farewell as tears rolled down my cheeks, “You look like you have a whole lot of life left in you, Brutha. I hope to see you later on. But, if this is the last time I see you, I look forward to meeting you again on the other side.”
Since returning home, I’ve been kept up to date on Luqman’s status by his devoted wife, Jamilah. God bless her and keep her strong. Sometimes I would catch him napping. But, on one occasion he just wasn’t in the mood for talking to anyone. He was at times coherent, and at other times not. On Tuesday January 24th I did finally get the chance to speak to Luqman for a quick moment. His voice was unrecognizable at first. He asked, “Who is this?” I replied, “Abdullah.” He said, “Abdullah who?” I said, “Abdullah Ali.” Alhamdulillah, he recognized me. He went on to state that he was a bit tired but getting ready to attend Jumah even though it was only Tuesday. That should let you know where his heart was at least. Or, maybe, he knew something we didn’t. He passed away yesterday, Friday or Jumah. So, his “getting ready for Jumah” may have just meant, “I’m getting ready for Friday when I meet my Lord.”
The following day I received a call from Jamilah informing me that he was back at Cleveland Clinic. The following day she informed me that the doctors were giving him just a few more days. And that same night, Brother Sami Dean texted me that our brother just a few more hours, perhaps. That same night when taking out the trash I noticed in the sky an extremely bright star in the sky.
I was compelled to take a picture of it. Of course, I don’t know if it means anything. The following morning at 2:49 am pacific standard time/5:49 Cleveland time a mysterious call came to my phone.
Again, I don’t know if it means anything. But a couple of hours after that word came to me of the passing of our beloved brother at fajr time around 6:30 am. Perhaps, 5:49 is when his actual transition started and 6:30 was when he breathed his last breath. Allah knows best.
I, personally, believe that Luqman Williams was a saint (wali). Of course, not everyone got along with him or understood him, but I seriously doubt that any person who knew him well would disagree. Infallibility is not a condition for sainthood. His life leading up to his discovery of cancer bears testimony to the fact that Allah was protecting him from harm, increasing his good works, and preparing him for a good end. I can’t know anything for a certain. But that’s how I see him. If I am correct, I sure hope that he will be given an opportunity to intercede for me on the Judgment Day. I hope to enjoy some of the shade that Allah will given him under the Creator’s throne when there will be no shade other than it.
We love you and will miss you, Luqman. We pray we meet again. We hope to enjoy good times after we all join you in the Hereafter. My deepest condolences to his mother, siblings, extended family, wife, and son.
Your brother, Abdullah