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Iqbal Zia- Farewell to a Master of Joy

The hearse entered the cemetery, and the 5-6 cars waiting started to follow the hearse up the beautiful hilly drive of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery in Sleepy Hollow, N.Y. As it drove up the winding alleys, I had to remind myself that this was the final journey on Earth for Iqbal Zia, our beloved friend or cousin, as we used to joke with each other.  It was hard to wrap my mind around it.  It reminded me of a PIA flight in 1982 when we flew to Pakistan to bury our father, Mohammed Farooq, in Karachi so that his parents could say a final goodbye. All throughout the flight, I had the cognitive dissonance- his body is in the plane’s hold, but his soul is traveling with us right above the plane.  And that’s how I experienced yesterday’s beautiful burial- visualizing Iqbal Zia’s soul hovering above us and watching the whole process with glee. “Don’t you know it guys, I am happier now as I shed my physical body to travel elsewhere! And don’t you ever get sad- be happy and enjoy every moment of life as I taught you by example”. And as we consoled the immediate family-Hina, Ummi, Saify and Rano- Ummi, his son, consoled us in return and reminded us that he would be horrified by our sad looks and tears. He would want everyone to sit on the grass and have a fun picnic!

Some souls are blessed in so many ways. For Muslims to die in Ramadan is a blessing, and many pray for that. And then to be buried on a Friday in Ramadan is extra special. The beautiful cemetery seemed to be a Garden of Eden, with flowers, creeks and birds chirping away as a light misty rain fell. The heavenly waters seemed to be caressing his body as it was lowered in the grave, and as we all stood around honored to have been allowed this privilege. Originally, due to COVID restrictions, only 3 men were going to be able to go near the grave, but as we pulled up the cars the women also got off, and in fact we exceeded the 10-person limit at the grave-site, luckily for us as it was not planned to be that way. That was the final blessing that Iqbal Zia got a proper farewell despite the COVID scourge around us all, and we are so grateful for that twist of fate.  And the highest blessing was that due to my husband’s initiative to broadcast the burial live, so many relatives and friends got to be part of it. The thanks that came in touched our hearts, but more importantly we were so happy to enable such a wide virtual participation in the farewell to our friend.

No doubt, Iqbal was the most “shaukeen banda” that I ever knew. Shaukeen in Urdu means someone who loves everything and everyone, and never complains, and is derived from the word “Shauk” meaning passion or hobby. “Banda” means person.  Their passion for people and for life is so vast, wide and deep that they cannot help smiling and talking and laughing and joking continuously.  As my husband Shahid, who was especially close to Iqbal, not just because their birthdays were 2 days apart, but because he also is a minister of fun, said that Iqbal would stop in the middle of a food line or exit line and just start talking jovially to make others happy, not caring about the line or anyone frowning or being displeased.

We had been organizing prayers for his shifa (health) for a few weeks since he got the dreaded Covid-19 virus, and we were praying hard all across the world. His family and friends joined us all again on the final call for maghfiret (forgiveness) organized by my husband Shahid, and so many of his nieces and other relatives got to share their grief with Hina and the girls, which was so emotional and healing. For Shahid and I and my children, Iqbal was the fun uncle, as it seems he was for all his nieces and nephews too. Our kids grew up together in the Eighties and Ninetees with many a trip to Poconos, Apple Picking and just plain partying. I in fact had been to their house in 1972 on a date with my husband before we were engaged, as my father gave me permission to go because he knew them. I always treasure those memories of our younger years, when Iqbal and Hina set the bar for parties, decorating their Jamaica Estates home up and down for various events and themes, whether it was Valentine’s Day or New Year’s. And this continued for many years. Going to their house meant that you were in for a Pathan-style feast, which means the variety and amount of food is incredible and overwhelming and is served in waves or courses. Food is love it seems in the Pathani culture.  But what we loved most of all is the special love that Hina and Iqbal had for each other, calling each other “Janu” (Soul or Heart). If I talked on the phone with Hina, Iqbal could be heard in the background “where are you my janu?”. They were a role model couple for us all.

May his soul be at peace and be blessed with Allah’s light and mercy.  May Hina gain strength and sweetness from his precious memories as well as Ummi, Saify and Rano. And may we all remember his lessons for life and treasure his memories forever to make us laugh and be joyful as he would want it.

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