Hope and Faith

October 20, 2015

Dr. Ginsburg, “mama”, and “baba” all stared at me while I tried building up the courage to utter the sentence that would change my family’s life forever. Arabs never mentioned Cancer by its name, Saratan; instead, they referred to it as “That disease.” I stood there with blank stares from everyone around me while the doctor expected me to tell my father, my buddy, and hero that his own body had betrayed him; not during his time serving in Iraq’s war of 1980, or his period of imprisonment by Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, but by a cellular mutation that even Dr. Ginsburg could not fathom. I looked at my dad helplessly lying on the hospital bed, but I could not open my mouth to speak in fear of bursting to tears.
“Why had my parents not requested an interpreter”, I though over and over again.
I had never missed a prayer before; five times a day since I was seven years old, praying to Allah, and asking him to bless my family with good health and unity. Had I been doing my prayers wrong?
When the doctor realized I could not translate, he again articulated slower this time, “Mr. Al-Shimari, I am afraid you have cancer. Stage four Adenocarcinoma of the stomach.” This time my dad comprehended a single word, cancer.
“Fatima… cancer… isn’t that the disease, that disease? Is this doctor saying I have Saratan?”
Why did the doctor mention the C-word again? Did he not see the pain he had already bestowed upon my family? When the doctor stated that he would be taking another biopsy to be certain, I knew exactly what I had to do. I excused myself to the waiting room, and in tears, prayed to Allah that this would all be a mistake. I recited every prayer I knew, asked the prophet for every ounce of mercy he possessed, and begged forgiveness for every sin I could remember committing from stealing pencil cap erasers, to stepping on ants as a child. Forty-five minutes later, God did not answer to my prayers. I prayed with passion, hoping that any supernatural force in the universe would recognize my despair.
I made deal after deal with God asking him to heal my father and when none of it seemed to work, I started questioning his presence.
My dad battled Cancer while I battled my religious identity. Why had God done this to us? My dad had never done anything wrong. Nevertheless, no sin or human deserved this kind of mental and physical punishment.
When my hope that God would miraculously cure my father started to wither away, I saw something that I had been too busy to notice before. Despite my father’s condition, he remained faithful to his lord. In fact, it seemed as if his condition had made him even closer to his faith. This puzzled me and when I fabricated the courage to confront my dad about this relationship, his response was simply, “This is God’s will.”
My father’s relationship to his faith helped him stay strong through his suffering.
It no longer mattered to me whether God existed or whether my prayers were accepted or even that my dad remained faithful to his religion despite his adversity. In fact, I was obsessed only with my father’s relationship between hope and faith. Could humans use faith as a means of coping with adversity beyond their control? The answer is definite. Faith provided a supernatural outlet for my father, which did not require any scientific or medical means of reassurance. It existed beyond the biopsy results or PET scans. Faith was there simply because an individual believed in a truth beyond the scope of their perceived reality. Hope was the inherent connection that existed between the individual and the scope of their faith. That relationship was undoubtedly a powerful one. For my father, more powerful than any chemotherapy, or diet recommendations could assist in his healing.
It was vital for my father to have escape even if it was in the metaphysical, and yet this relationship has increasingly played a role in my life. In imagining the world without the injustices that exist within it. In seeing a brighter future for families dealing with societal oppression, adversity, and discrimination. My father was a simple man, as with his relationship to his faith. However, it was his belief in the abstract that gives me the power everyday, to imagine a world better than it is today, even when my surroundings perceive otherwise.
Fatima Al-Shimari