Chapter# 13: Death and Funeral of Sheikh Ali
Five years passed from the return of the company to Damascus, when Sheikh Ali fell sick of his last illness; for he was aged, and his strength failed day by day. Sheikhs Mahmoud, Ahmed al-Hady, Ahmed Effendi, and other friends attended him, one or other of them hardly ever leaving his bedside. He did not care for any reading but the Gospel, nor any talk but about our Saviour. In his hours of weakness, when no one was near, he might be heard repeating such words as these: "He died for me, His love and grace their height and depth; redeemed and saved. Oh, when shall I then see Him?" And no one left his bedside without his having said something to them of Jesus.
On the day of his death there gathered around his bed a group of Muslims, men of learning and rank in the city. He raised himself to receive them; then, after they had all sat down for a little, Sheikh Abd ul-Hamid, Imam of the Omeyyad Mosque, spoke as follows: "Oh Sheikh Ali, my old friend and loved companion, if I say a word to you about returning to us, can you bear it, out of love for me? It shall be very short."
"Speak on my honoured friend," said Sheikh Ali.
"My dearest Sheikh, I remember with delight those precious days we used to spend together in masque or college, talking about social and spiritual matters. Seven years have passed since then; and now you are removed far from me in faith and worship. But friendship remains. The separation has been grievous to me all these days; and now you are about to depart to the world beyond. Call to mind, I beg you, the blessed Quran, and that which our Lord has revealed therein; and from the ways of error into which you have wandered all these years. Return unto the faith of the Lord and his Prophet, and you shall obtain pardon through the intercession of the chief of the prophets, and entrance into the paradise of delight and peace. Receive the prayer of one who loves you as his own soul, and your example may bring back those others who have erred like you. You shall thug obtain a great reward, and turn my sorrow into joy and peace."
During this address Sheikh Ali at times smiled, and at other limes looked serious and troubled. His friends around him were much distressed; and one thought to answer for him, but held back, as it seemed hardly what he would like. At last the aged Sheikh raised himself on his couch, and answered: "Yes, my dear and honoured friend, I have come to the end of my journey here. And I thank my God, who has sent you to me, that I might bid you a last farewell, with words I have long wished to speak to you. I ask you to listen with patience, and with the affection of so generous a friend; for, be assured; my concern for your welfare is not legs than yours for me."
He then went briefly over the manner in which he had been led by various passages in the Quran to study the Scriptures, in which he found peace. He urged his friend to read the same with an honest and open mind, when he, too, would find Jesus to be the Saviour the WORD of the living God. He had himself been a strict follower of Islam, and devoted, even more than his friend, to its system of good works as a means of acceptance and salvation. Like his friend, he used to look on the Bible as having been tampered with; but, in company with others of his friends, after careful sitting of the evidence, they had found it to be beyond doubt genuine, and been led thereby into the straight path the path of everlasting life.
"And now," he ended, "my journey has come to a close. I do not fear death, for my Saviour has stripped it of its horrors and its sting.
He shall change this vile body into a glorious one at His coming in the clouds; and with these very eyes I shall see His glorious face. Darkness will hardly have overshadowed the earth this night before I shall be in that blessed paradise where there is no night; for the night of grief and weeping, of toil and warfare, will have given place to the morning of light and joy. But a few minutes more, and the sun of glory will have arisen upon me. I beg of you, my friends, I beg you, my dearest Sheikh, to take it as my last request, a sacred trust, in return for all four love and care, that you redeem the time by studying the Bible, which God has sent to be the guide of faith and life; the Book to which the Quran bears witness, and which will enrich its followers with divine grace and favour."
His heart was moved with emotion as he spoke, and the tears rolled down his cheeks upon his beard. All present were hushed as he ended the affectionate appeal, and amazed at his noble attitude and heavenly presence, full of peace and joy. They sat silent around his couch, unable to leave it till the end was near. Then, seeing numbers of his Christian friends and ministers arrive, they rose and silently slipped away.
After the sons of Omar the martyr returned from Lebanon, the exiles did everything in their power to gel charge of them, especially Ali and Mahmoud, whom their father had constituted their guardians; but failed. The boys remained under charge of their uncles, who placed them in the Rashidi College. Now, on Ali falling sick, their mother visited him, and sat in much sorrow by his bedside. The aged man spoke comfortably to her, and also reminded her of her husband's desire as to the guardianship of her boys. At this she wept.
"Blessing on his dear eyes!" she exclaimed, as she wiped away her tears. "I wish not that there should be anything not in accord with his request; but you know, my honoured sir, that it is not within my power to make complete fulfillment of its terms."
"I know it well," answered Ali, "but, please God, your sons will not be left or be forgotten by Him."
Then he began to speak wisely and kindly to her about the Christian faith, and the hope of the life to come, which had led their little company to give up all worldly comfort, and her husband life itself for the same. She became much affected, for she was a wise and thoughtful woman; nor had she forgotten what her husband had taught her, especially in his last days. She listened carefully to all, and asked the Sheikh many appropriate questions as to our Saviour's history and teaching, which he answered with much feeling and delight. Then she took hold of both his hands, and thanking him for his kind and loving words, kissed them, and said that, please God, she would embrace the Christian faith, follow in the path of her husband, and use all her strength to bring up her sons in the same. Then, as she rose to go, he slipped into her hand a little purse of golden dinars. At first she declined to take it, but he pressed her, saying, "It is for your own dear boys." So she took it thankfully, and departed; and the Sheikh had full confidence that she would fulfill what she had said.
Now, after her husband's death, many of the citizens had sought her hand, and though some of them were among the rich and noble, she refused. She was young and fair to look upon, and one of the most discreet and attractive women in the city. So, after she had gone away, the Sheikh called his brother Hasan, who was unmarried, and left it as his last wish that he should try to engage her affections and take her as his wife, when she had embraced the Christian faith, and so bring up her sons as his own. This Hasan promised to do.
We now return to the death-bed of the Sheikh, after the departure of his Muslim friends. The interview and his earnest address to the imam had left him very weak, and he lay quiet and restful thereafter for about an hour. The pulse and strength began gradually to sink, and he thought that he would die at sunset. After a little he revived, and called his sons and daughters to his bedside. As they stood around he said with a firm voice, "My brother, and dear children, calls to mind how, throughout my life, I have sought patiently and kindly to guide you, both in the things of this life and of that which is to come. When your mother died, I did not take another wife, lest she might have been unkind to you, and perhaps to me also because of my love for you. Forget not your father's affection and labour for you. I bless the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has called me through the knowledge of His Son into His blessed kingdom, that He has given me before my death the desire of my heart, to see my brother, and my children, following the Saviour. And now I die happy, in the hope of meeting you in the kingdom of rest and joy above. But there is one thing above all others which I charge you with"; (pointing to the Bible that lay on his table) "bring the Bible to me," and they brought it. "This priceless treasure wherein are the words of eternal life, I leave with you. It is the best inheritance. All else passes away; but the Word of the Lord abides for ever. Amen."
Then, after giving much advice, he warned them lest they should be seduced by the world and its temptations; and he begged them to live in peace and love among themselves, and also with those outside, and ended thus: "Now the God of peace and love, who has called me, and watched over me, and kept me from evil even unto this day, bless you and forward you in all godly and holy living, according to His good pleasure, and grant us to meet at last in the kingdom of His glory. Amen. Amen."
They all wept, and embraced him, and kissed his hands; and he, too, kissed them. And they promised that they would strive to live according to the Gospel, and never forget his precious last words. And he rejoiced greatly thereat; and again pressed them to his bosom and kissed them.
Then he turned to the Christian friends and brethren who now crowded around him. "My companions and comrades in the Christian warfare, with whom I have lived in all brotherly comfort and love! I rejoice exceedingly in calling to mind your steadfast- ness and the good fight you have fought against the temptations of the world and the deceits of the flesh, and all the hostility and opposition around us; the help also you have been to many, to your own households, friends, and especially unto me. Thanks be unto God, who has called us unto His eternal kingdom. And now, brethren, and beloved friends, the time of separation has come; for I go to my Saviour, and shall behold with my own eyes what I have until now known by faith alone; and you see me rejoicing in this hope through the merits of my Saviour. May you have a long and prosperous life, to the glory of God, and may we all meet hereafter in the everlasting kingdom of our Father! And I have the hope that you will look with an eye of affection on these your brother's children around my bed, with all needful advice and care for their godly upbringing. Now, draw near unto me, brethren, that I may bid you farewell." So they drew near and embraced and kissed him, and he kissed them, saying, "May the Lord have you in His holy keeping, my beloved friends, and give you to finish your journey in peace and joy!" Then they departed all in deep distress.
When they had gone, Sheikh Mahmoud said: "Dear friend, you must be weak and weary after so much speaking. We pray the Lord, if it be His will, to restore you to health that you may yet live to His glory here. But if it be not His will, and you precede us to the heavenly rest, then God bless you; and our hope is, by the merits of our Saviour, to meet you in that blessed land where there is no more parting, sorrow, or pain. Your brother and your children will be watched over by our Father. To Him be praise that they are followers of the Saviour, in all virtue and godly endeavour. We hold them as our very own brother and children; and shall regard it as one of our sacred duties to attend to them in all that may require our care. Let your heart on that point be set at ease."
Ali gave his heartfelt thanks. "The Lord calls me, and I long to go and see Him. Pray not, therefore, for my recovery and return to this world's life; but praise the Lord, and bless His holy name."
Then he drew up his feet into the bed; after that he could not speak for over an hour, and tossed about as one that is tossed at sea. But this passed, and then he lay still and quiet with the marks of peace and comfort on his aged face. At times he looked as if his lips were moving with a smile. Finally, he opened his eyes and said, yes, Lord; here I am, ready"; and then for a time again, after a little, in a low but clear and peaceful voice, these words: "Oh Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." And so, at last, he gave up the ghost, and his spirit returned unto God his Saviour.
Seeing that he was gone, they all gathered round his bed with loud crying. When news of his death had been publicized, crowds of his friends, Muslims as well as Christians, surrounded his door, all equally mourning his decease; for he was a man greatly beloved for his generous life, and his benevolent and noble bearing. Moreover, although his conversion had grievously pained the Muslim community, the greater part, and not merely his intimate friends and companions, retained their regard and affection for him. When the news of his death reached the authorities, they resolved on sending a guard to accompany the funeral to the burial-ground, lest anything should occur on the way. So an officer was deputed, with a company of fifty gendarmes to go in front of the bier.
Now his family and friends all helped in preparing the body for the burial, and wept as they placed it in the winding-sheet, and so upon the bier. On the following day, about the sixth hour, the procession was formed. First went the military escort, next the clergy, ministers, and chief officials of the various Christian churches; then the bier, and behind it the family of the deceased, with the other friends and relatives following; then an immense crowd of all religions. The procession passed along to the Evangelical church, into which the bier was carried and reverently placed. Then one of the clergymen went up to the pulpit, and after reading a passage from the Gospel, gave a touching address on the life of the deceased, and the victory he had won, from the text: "I heard a voice from heaven saying to me, 'Write, "Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.'" yes,' said the Spirit, 'that they may rest from their labours and their works follow them'" (Revelalion 14:13). A marvellous calm hushed into stillness that great gathering of all races and religions. The address ended. There followed a hymn of praise to God, and then the bier was again lifted, and carried to the Christian cemetery, where, in the presence of all, it was committed with honour and reverence to the dust.
The brothers and sons of Ali placed a beautiful monument over the grave, with the dates of birth and death, and that also of his embracing the Christian faith. Various verses were added from the Gospel which he had been fond of repeating; and in large letters of gold, these words, which he uttered with his expiring breath: "Oh Lord Jesus, receive my spirit."
Most of Ali's companions, mentioned in this story, lived long after his decease in perfect freedom and peace, drawing many by their life and example, of various faiths and races, to believe in the Gospel. And in the end they all died in the Lord, leaving behind them, as a precious legacy to their families and friends, the memory of a Christian life and conversation.
And lastly, we should not fail to mention that the request of Sheikh Ali, to seek in marriage the hand of Mariam, widow of the martyr Omar, was fulfilled. With their mother he took also her two sons to his house; and they all lived in peace and happiness many years, advancing in knowledge, virtue, and piety all the days of their lives.
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