University Professor of Comparative Religion Shares his Islam Story

At the end of the evening, I was walking with her to the car and at the parking of this restaurant, she turned her ankle and she tripped and I asked her “Grandma, are you OK?” and she said don’t worry about me, just worry about yourself “OK” I thought and I continued to walk with her to the car, I opened the door, she got in and I kissed her goodnight and I said, “Well, I guess the next time I see you will be in thanksgiving when I get back to New York” and she said to me “God willing”. I didn’t think of it that much at the time. I closed the door and off they drove.

My cousin took me back to my dormitory and I went to bed. Early on the next morning I got a phone call and it was my cousin. I asked him why he is calling so early and there was no other way to say it, he just said “Grandma died”, and I said “Really?!” I thought he was joking maybe. I said “What are you talking about?” and he explained that she had a heart attack in her sleep.

Of course her final words to me were echoing in my ears. I said I will see you soon and she said God willing, and I said are you ok, and she said take care of yourself. So to this day, it was an unexpected visit and of course unexpected departure for her. And to this day I can only wonder about the meaning of that encounter with my grandmother who of course as I said was my only link to traditional religion.

I went back to New York for the funeral and it was a traditional Jewish funeral and the Rabbi who was doing the eulogy spoke about my grandmother and said “Sarah was a rare treasure and God has taken that treasure back.” I thought OK, that is what the Rabbi would say.

When the Rabbi came to my grandfather’s house to pay his respects, I wanted to ask him some questions about certain practices that are practiced in the Jewish home at the time of someone’s death. He told me not to worry about those things. He said that’s just a tradition. I said “OK, but how about this, in your sermon you said that my grandmother, I don’t know how well you knew her, but you said that she was taken by God, so where is she? And for that matter, where shall I go? Where will you go? And why are we here”, and all those questions that well up in the human heart.