Casually climbing upstairs to my bedroom after Iftar and Salah, I read frantic messages from my niece to call her. I was informed the doctor had said Sabir’s scans were not good – the cancer had spread. I mumbled, heart sinking: “Inna illahi wa inna illahi rajioon” in a state of disbelief.

Only a few days ago, after his daughter’s Valima, he had flown to the USA for his periodic treatment. He was extremely hopeful of a new immunotherapy treatment which his doctor had scheduled for him.

I felt dizzy and weak. Memories of his last visit and my ailing mother started to flood me … Beckoning me, he had held me against him. Little was I to know this was my last hug from my brother who was my only sibling and also a father figure, as I had lost my papa many years ago.

It was almost three years ago when Sabir was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Friends and family members reassured me that if anyone had cancer, this is the one they should want as it had an excellent prognosis.

After a long flight to the USA, my brother felt jetlagged and exhausted; however, he was positive and went for his doctor’s appointment with lots of hope. His latest scans had already been sent to him. “So how are you feeling?” he asked. Sabir paused: “Not too good.” The doctor replied: “Your scans too are not that good.” He went to explain that the cancer had spread to his liver and lungs, and no further treatment was possible. Sabir closed his eyes and asked to lie down. The doctor explained how he would be given medical attention at a hospice until…

I was to recall later that martyrs are of three types: the one who is given the reward of the martyr but does not come under the rulings on martyrs in this world. This refers to those who die of stomach diseases, the plague, being crushed under a falling wall, those who are killed defending their wealth, and others who are mentioned in the Saheeh Ahadeeth as martyrs. Such a person should be washed and the funeral prayer should be offered for him; in the hereafter, he will have the reward of the martyrs but it will not necessarily be the same as the reward for those in the first category.

My sister-in-law admitted him and made the necessary calls. The doctor told her it was a matter of time – maybe a week or maybe a month. My passport was not renewed on time, so I could not see him. However, friends, cousins, nieces, and nephews came to visit him, cheering him.

“Manu, are you feeling pain?” his niece asked. My brother pointed his finger upwards and remarked: “Angels are managing my pain.” I was amazed and relieved, as I had heard that patients at this stage suffer a lot.

I spoke to him, asking forgiveness for having hurt him in any way. He chuckled with brotherly affection: “I will make a list.” He was uncomfortable at the hospice, as it had a hospital environment, so he requested to shift to my cousin’s place.

When he reached my cousin’s home, I called him on FaceTime, which was to be my last conversation with him. Amongst tears, he said: “I am from Allah (swt), and I am going towards Him.” He went on to talk about my grandfather and parents, remembering their virtues; we spoke of our childhood memories, laughing and crying; the miles did not take away our feelings or connection.

Sabir’s condition weakened, and he stopped eating. My sister-in-law informed me, as I opened my 18th fast that he was not well at all, and we should FaceTime. I saw my precious brave brother gasping and taking deep breaths, not able to converse. I felt he needed my mother at this time, who is a bed-ridden Parkinson patient. I also needed her. I put my head on her chest and reassured Sabir: “Look, mummy and I are both praying for you!”

Consulting a friend, I started to read the Kalimah periodically. “None has the right to be worshipped except Allah.” The Prophet (sa) said: “Prompt the dying person to say the above Kalimah.” People around a sick person (whose death is imminent) should instruct and encourage him or her to say the Shahadah (testimony). (Muslim, Abu Dawood, Tirmidhi, An-Nasai, and Ibn Majah)

Uthman ibn Affan (rtam) said: I heard Allah’s Messenger (sa) say: “I know a phrase; for every servant who utters it truthfully from his heart, the Fire is made unlawful.” Umar ibn al-Khattab (rtam) said: “I shall tell you what that phrase is. It is the Kalimah of sincerity with which Allah has empowered Muhammad (sa) and his companions, the Kalimah of fear of Allah (swt), which Allah’s Prophet (sa) enjoined upon his uncle Abu Talib on his deathbed: the witnessing that there is no god but Allah.” (Ahmad)

It was around midnight when my sister-in-law told me that she would sign off for freshing my brother. At Sehri, I again signed on to FaceTime. His breathing was getting more difficult. Some medical help came to administer relaxing medicine to him. I continued reading the Kalimah. As soon as it was suggested that he be taken to hospital for morphine, he opened his eyes wide, eyes which then remained open… I saw his last deep breath escape his mouth. I had the Prophet’s Dua of shutting the eyes: “O Allah, forgive (the person’s name); raise his rank among the rightly-guided; be a successor to whom he has left behind; forgive us and him, Lord of the worlds. Make his grave spacious and illuminate it for him.” (Muslim)

Then I read the Duas our Prophet (sa) read for the deceased, asking my family to keep saying Ameen.

“O Allah, forgive him (or her) and have mercy upon him (or her); excuse him (or her) and pardon him (or her); make his (or her) reception honourable. Expand his (or her) grave, and cleanse him (or her) with water, snow and hail (water); purify him (or her) of sins as a white robe is purified of filth. Exchange his (or her) home for a better home, his (or her) family for a better family, and his (or her) spouse for a better spouse. Admit him (or her) into the Garden, and protect him (or her) from the punishment of the grave and the torment of the Fire.” (Muslim and An-Nasai)

I was drained but at peace. I slowly approached my mother: “Mummy, please, pray for his forgiveness.” I remembered that the Prophet (sa) said: “A deceased in his grave is like a drowning man – he waits impatiently for his father’s, mother’s, brother’s, or friend’s Dua to reach him, and when it does reach him, he treasures it more than anything else in the world. Allah gives the deceased the reward that is gifted to him by his relatives in the form of mountains. The gift of the living to the dead is to ask for their forgiveness.” (Al-Bayhaqi)

A few months before his death, Sabir had expressed his inability to go for Umrah and wished to send someone. I suggested sending one of mummy’s nurses. Alhumdulillah, her Khala and Khalo offered to accompany her, and she performed her Umrah. Once she was back, Sabir was filled with joy and expressed his desire to send the other nurse as well. Insha’Allah, she will leave in a few months to perform this virtuous act.

Sabir’s generosity is mind-boggling. I recall I once mentioned a mosque needing doors. He did not offer a partial amount but instead asked for it to be done on behalf of our parents. If I was ever to remind him of his Sadaqah (voluntary charity), he would request not to be reminded of it.

Imam Ahmad recorded that the Prophet (sa) said: “When Allah wills good for His slave, He uses him.” People asked: “How does He use him?” He answered: “He guides him to do good deeds before he dies.” (Tirmidhi)