Huda Asaaf (Nee Patricia Skinner)

I lost a sister this month. Not a biological one but a very real sister nonetheless. My dear friend Huda Assaf passed away on a Friday morning after a determined and courageous battle against lung cancer.

I can’t believe she didn’t beat it.

You know the expression, “Be the kind of woman that when your feet hit the floor in the morning, the devil says ‘Oh, no! She’s up!’!?” If she could put the fear of God into Satan, I was sure she’d beat this insidious growth that not only settled in her lungs but had heart-breakingly traveled to her precious brain as well.

Ah, dear Huda, with her gorgeous and cultured British accent that I could not get enough of. Her wit, her tongue! Huda did not suffer fools lightly but if you had any smidgen of intellect whatsoever, she drew you into her circle with open arms.

As a published author Amazon writes of her, She was born in Bushey, Hertfordshire, and grew up in West Sussex on the coast. She didn’t realize at the time how the verdant scenery and bracing Channel air would set standards for her in later life, and how they would make her homesick for decades while living in the Middle East. Oh, tell this Wisconsin cheeseface about that! I can’t imagine dry and sunny Jordan after the rainy and verdant British Isles but all of us in our remarkable Jordan sisterhood have managed the daily dose of sunshine and mountain desert climate.

She married a Jordanian in 1975 and in 1984 moved to Amman, Jordan, with her husband and three daughters. Her two sons were born in Amman. Unbenownst to Huda, her husband was from one of the largest original tribes of Jordan. When she first arrived she was greeted by his family not with the usual ‘ahlan wa sahlan’ that is extended to all guests, but rather with a curt ‘You will not grow old here’! I still chuckle about that one.

Like the devil, they should have known she would not back down that easily.

Little could anyone imagine she would not only put down her roots but be an activist for her faith, support her politically active husband (potentially dangerous in Jordan with bouts of jail time and family feuds), raise 5 children, AND work outside the home, all the while hosting countless numbers of family members and dignitaries. Her guest room was surely reminiscent of many an English lord’s manor.

Huda worked for several publishers as a contributor and copy editor, and was a former writer for the Gale Encyclopedia of Alternative Medicine and the Gale Encyclopedia of Psychology. We were not only devastated to learn she had cancer but shocked considering her knowledge and devotion to a healthy and natural lifestyle. Although smoking is so rampant among males particularly, and a growing number of women in Jordan, she was adamant there would be no smoking in or around her house. Not an easy stance given the forced acceptance of chain smoking guests. It would be considered ‘ayb’ (shameful) or exceedingly impolite to ask a guest NOT to smoke. Huda did not easily acquiesce to culture when it was threatened her family or her values.

Huda believed strongly in the Hippocratic Oath: First, do no harm. She also believed in good, clean, healthy food and natural health solutions. So for us, shockingly, cancer found its way into her system. We recently learned the cancer came from asbestos poisoning, perhaps from the type of paint widely used in homes in Jordan. She valiantly pursued every natural cure and prescription available and established a Facebook page calling to Reverse Cancer Permanently. She sought not only to seek her own cure but to share information and assist others in their battles.

I write about Huda not only for you to know this remarkable woman, but to shatter yet more stereotypes about Muslim women; and also for purely selfish reasons.

I have written before about my community of gals in Jordan, without whom I simply would not have made it as long as I did, nor would be as eager to return for my yearly visits. Converts to any faith often lose people along the way. They can be family members, friends, colleagues or coworkers. Particularly with Muslims, there has long been a gross and often intentional proliferation of misinformation lasting centuries. With the advent of Islamaphobia and with the current misuse of political pundits seeking voters, it makes the sharing of information and knowledge of who we are – and aren’t – that much more difficult.

So often our friends and fellow converts become our family. We are in good company. In the days of the advent of Islam, Muhammad was at times equally disparaged and supported by his own clan. His companions would eventually become his family.

It has been more difficult than I would have imagined losing one of our sisters.

Not only because of the multitude of things shared, but because I am far away. Muslims are buried not more than three days after death. I missed the janaza, the funeral prayer, at the masjid. It is perhaps much more simple than those from a Judeo/Christian background are accustomed to. The congregation stands behind the deceased in straight rows. The imam, religious leader, informs us of who has died, i.e. man, women, or child, and reminds us how we perform this short prayer for the deceased. We say immediately when someone dies, “To Allah do we belong and to Him is our return”. We begin the congregational prayer when the Imam declares simply, Allahu Akbar, Allah is greater.

After each pronouncement we make special supplications using verses of the Qur’an then end with our own personal supplications for the deceased, their family and ourselves. There is no sermon, music or testimonial. Men take the body to the cemetery and women are optionally excused due to emotional considerations. In Muslim countries a three-day condolence period follows at the home of family members. During this time, all come to pay their respects, read Qur’an together and remember that death awaits us all.

I missed all that.

I missed grieving with those who knew and loved her. I missed seeing her family and sharing my condolences. And I missed the closure that comes from the sharing of tears, hugs and fond remembrance. In the case of my sister Huda, those are great tales of humor, sacrifice, perseverance, friendship. And all endearing. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to remember her. Though our paths didn’t cross as frequently in later years I will miss her dearly and remember her always.


Original image in body of article by Ivoni Miles via flickr