I have been struggling to find words to give a fitting tribute to my beautiful sister Baraka, and even now six weeks after her passing, it isn’t any easier. Yet throughout this time of pain and loss, all the support and kind messages we’ve received as a family have helped me find peace. So many who knew her have shared wonderful memories of her, bringing solace at such a time of sadness. Baraka sharing poems, quotes and inspiration; Baraka rowing and coxing for her college at Cambridge University; Baraka riding her bike, shooting hoops, playing badminton; Baraka briskly walking across the green, looking up at the sun and clouds, and the stars in the sky; Baraka offering quiet support with copious cups of tea to friends, sending loving voice notes and epic text messages; Baraka munching crunchy apples with fingers inky from Arabic calligraphy, diligently tracing the letters over and over; Baraka, with a spark in her eyes, planning revision and sticking up post-its; Baraka resorting to eating bananas dipped in cinnamon when her cooking failed! – and Baraka, always but always holding fast to her faith.
Baraka was exceptionally brave in the face of a bleak prognosis, and I saw in her eyes from that very first moment of being labelled as a cancer patient the clear determination that she wanted to live life to full, right to the last. Her first question to her doctor upon receiving her diagnosis was whether she might go on the Hajj pilgrimage, which sadly she was never able to do. Every sunrise and every sunset became significant, each seen through Baraka’s eyes as a gift from God. She went gracefully about each day with immense gratitude, continuously asking herself whether she was making the best use of her time. Whatever the weather, Baraka tried to go for walks every day whenever she had strength, and did as much as she could for herself, never wanting to trouble others. Baraka gave the best hugs, and never failed to take the chance to tell her loved ones what they meant to her. Her heart beat hard and fast to compensate for the reduced lung function, and when in hospital she would slow her heartrate and increase her saturation levels by looking upon someone she loved and saying “I love you”, or sometimes reading blessings upon the Prophet slowly. She would jokingly call this her party trick, and it was typical of Baraka when told to breathe deeply to find a function for so banal an exercise, just as she used her time doing physio to listen to TED talks.
Everyone who came into contact with Baraka was touched by her tremendous dignity, courage and unfailing good humour as she battled this disease. Even at the very darkest times Baraka was never once self-pitying. To have cancer at her age was cruel and unfair, but Baraka never saw it that way. She was thankful for all the doctors and nurses who helped her, for the friends and family that stood by her, for what independence she was able to have until the last. Baraka always chose to recognise the good in everyone around her, to see the “khair” in every situation, and to her end she maintained her deep belief that the world is full of causes that are worth fighting for.
On the day before her passing, Baraka told me again she believed that her time to go was pre-determined by God, and she had made peace with His will. She constantly prayed for a good end, not with any morbid sense but the pragmatic approach that death is something that must come to each of us. Baraka started every treatment (both conventional and holistic) with hope, but she was realistic about her prognosis too. She shared her beautiful vision of heaven with Ebi, and gently encouraged us to see death not as the end, but the transition back to God. Baraka had so many of us that she loved and left behind, but our youngest brother held a very special place in her heart. Of all the poems she wrote, Baraka said the poems for Ebi were the easiest to write. She has gifted us the treasure of her writings and her art, recitations and recordings, and these are beautiful echoes from her life that we are so blessed to have. We will carry the memory of her bright soul with us always, and strive to honour her legacy.
Baraka was always amongst the best and most brilliant people that I knew, and just as she did so much so quickly in this life, she has gone ahead once again, this time rounding a corner I cannot yet reach. Still I see her in the dawn and the dusk, in every good deed, in every thing of beauty that brings joy and inspiration. I hear her soft low voice in prayer, in song and in poems we loved and shared. I miss her so very much, but I am really grateful for every golden hour I had with her, for every single day for 24 and a half years, for every shining memory. Baraka, like her name, truly was a blessing.