Today, April 16, 2014, marks the 15th anniversary of my father Mahboob Khan’s passing. He died while at work at AMD around noon on a Friday after he made his wudu (ablution) but before he was able to attend jumma (congregational) prayers at MCA in Santa Clara, CA as was his routine.
At the time, I was a 16 year old high school senior. I didn’t see him that morning. In fact, I don’t remember the last time I saw him. I got ready for school and was downstairs while he was upstairs just waking up and getting ready for work. He and I spoke though, yelling back and forth as he ensured I took money from his wallet for lunch before I ran out the door.
I went to school that morning at San Jose High Academy where I was a few months from graduating. In the early afternoon, I got out of class early to join my varsity baseball team for our bus ride to Yerba Buena for our Friday afternoon game. I suited up in my uniform, hat and cleats and took the field for warm-ups. In the midst of playing catch with my teammates and taking grounders at shortstop, my coach called out to me. After pulling me to the side of the field, he whispered that my dad was not well and in the hospital (someone had relayed a message through school staff to my coach).
A teammate’s parent gave me a ride back to San Jose High and I gathered my belongings from my locker. I drove alone with my thoughts in my sister Sumiya’s Nissan Altima on 101 to Kaiser Hospital in Santa Clara. The drive felt long and eerie. I arrived there and, still in full uniform, rushed into the facility. Inside, I saw various Muslim community members and family friends somberly gathered. I quickly learned that my dad wasn’t sick; he was dead.
My older brother Salman was there. Hospital staff escorted he and I to see my dad’s body. There he lay, with his perfectly manicured beard, lifeless on a table, suddenly gone, just 16 days after his 60th birthday.
My eldest brother Suhail flew in from Washington DC that night. As I greeted him at the gate, tears streamed from his face. My sister Sumiya came back from college at UC Davis and we all joined together to break the news to my mother Malika who had been gone to India preparing for Sumiya’s upcoming wedding. We then shared the tragedy with our sister Sana, barely 10 years old at the time.
On Monday, my brothers and I joined my father’s close friend Ahsan Syed at Masjid Al-Noor in Santa Clara to wash my father’s body and wrap it in white cloth according to Islamic principles. There was a public viewing at a local funeral home where hundreds of community members, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, came to express their condolences. Many had flown or driven in from great distances to honor my father, including many of his close friends from Orange County. Thereafter, in an era before the prevalence of cell phones and social media, over a thousand people descended upon MCA’s prayer hall for my father’s Janaza (funeral) prayer. It was fitting that these rituals were held at Masjid Al-Noor and MCA, two places closely connected to my father’s heart and places he dedicated his life to developing.
From there, dozens of cars traveled by police escort to the Five Pillar Farm Cemetery in Livermore. My brothers and I stood in his grave and helped guide his body to rest while hundreds of others gathered to watch. Each threw dirt over my father and he was buried there enshrouded in nothing but the white linen in a grave that is hopefully a piece of paradise.
Those few days are vivid in my memory even 15 years later. I don’t remember how I felt during those whirlwind four days, perhaps because I didn’t feel anything at all. Numb.
I often hear of my father’s leadership and dedication in building the Muslim community in America. Sadly though, my own memories of my father actually living, moving and breathing are limited and diminishing. I struggle to remember how he talked, walked and carried himself. This reality is disturbing and frustrating. I fight to hold on to my memories of him, to keep conscious of his existence.
I remember sprawling out on his bed after a long day of school and football practice pleading for a back rub. Despite him probably having a longer day, he would acquiesce to my demands and give me the best massage. I remember him picking me up from football practices. When our practices would run long, I’d see my dad out of the corner of my eye walking around the track in his work shirt, tie, and slacks, using the time to get some exercise. I remember sometimes walking from the practice field to the locker room and seeing my dad praying in his car as the sun would set. I remember him taking me often to McDonald’s after a long night at the mosque for a fish filet and french fries, fries that he would nibble on a bit himself. On other late nights, I remember pretending to sleep so that my dad would carry me inside the house. Never did he call me out on my fake sleep or make me go inside myself; he always carried me in. I remember loving to be carried on his shoulders. I remember that after we installed a basketball hoop in our backyard he came out to shoot around with me; not because he was interested in basketball, but because he wanted to bond and connect with me. I remember making my dad his tea and toast in the morning that he’d eat and drink in the car as he drove us to school. I remember my dad meticulously grooming his salt and pepper beard with scissors until it was perfect. I remember my dad dressing his best when he went to the mosque, especially for Friday prayers and Eid. I remember my dad sleeping on the floor next to me the night I suffered a concussion during one of my JV football games. I remember hearing the excitement and pride in his voice as he told my mom on the phone that I had been accepted to UC Berkeley and UCLA. I remember sitting in the backseat of his Buick after an evening at the mosque when he gave a ride home to a poor, downtrodden community member who otherwise would’ve had to take the bus. I remember him donating that same Buick to a Bosnian refugee family in need.
There are certain memories I will never have of my dad. He wasn’t able to see me graduate high school, college or law school. He didn’t get to meet my wife Saleha, a woman he’d be proud to have as his daughter. He didn’t witness me get sworn into the California Bar. He never got to hold his grandson Sulaiman or hear him call out “Dada” (paternal grandfather). He never got to take a picture with his five grandchildren sitting on his lap or gathered around him. He didn’t get the opportunity to give me some marital or career advice or tell me how to be a good dad. His absence has left a void in me and leaves me regretful and sad.
Still, despite what I missed from my father, his presence persists all around me. When I go to MCA and Masjid Al-Noor, I think of the countless hours and dollars that he dedicated to help build the community. When I arrive home from work, I remember how hard he worked to make it our safe haven and domicile. When I look in the mirror, I see the beard I keep, in part, to honor him. When I look at my son, I see my dad.
I am honored to be Mahboob Khan’s son. I cherish those 16 years I had with him and value the impact he has had on my 15 years on this earth since he’s been gone. I am thankful that he and my mother blessed me with my Islam, my education and my home. I hope that I can continue to honor and remember him by providing for my family, preserving his home, serving the community and glorifying God.
May Allah be pleased with him. Ameen.