Taken from the autobiography of Fadhlalla Haeri, who was born in the Iraqi city of Karbala in 1937. In this section he is describing his childhood home adjacent to the Shrine of Imam Hussein, and the various occupants:
“Nana Hussein was the most devout and eldest member of the household, wise and frail. She ate little and prayed a lot, her black rosary always handy. Whenever one of us complained or expressed discontent, she would answer, khair, khair (it is only goodness), then she would produce some biscuits, raisins or nuts to give to us. It was only years later that I realized that the wise see goodness and Divine mercy in every situation and event.
My Mercy encompasses everything (Qur’an, 7.156)
During summer nights, I would regularly be woken up at dawn by the sound of Nana Hussein unlocking the doors of my aunt’s house to go to the Shrine. The doors to the houses had large steel tong-like keys which would jangle loudly as they turned the three or four times necessary before the door opened. My father once overheard me complaining about the annoyance of the early morning noise. He told me, ‘it will take you the best part of forty years to realise that the sound you dislike represents for Nana Hussein the opening of the gates of heaven.’ I was perhaps seven years old. The sound of my father’s teaching still resonates with me, and the peaceful, happy face of Nana Hussein appears vividly before me in my mind’s eye.
It was some years later, whilst I was studying in England, that Nana Hussein passed away. My mother wrote to me about how one day Nana Hussein had come to her and cheerfully announced that she will die tomorrow. She was therefore requesting that my mother come and spend the night in her room. ‘How do you know you will die tomorrow?’ my mother enquired. Nana Hussein explained that the night before she had a dream in which she was taken into a vast garden. In this garden were many beautiful homes and palaces, tendrils of scented flowers cascading over ornate pavilions. She was then directed towards a house and was told that this was her new home. She told her angelic guide that she could not stay there because it had no roof. He answered that ‘the roof will be made tomorrow.’ From this, she concluded with certainty, she would depart from this world the following day.
Nana Hussein showed my mother all that she had in her possession. Everything was prepared – a few bags of rice, barley and other grains were to be cooked and distributed to the poor for three days following her death and she gave my mother her small pouch containing the sacred dust from Imam Hussein’s burial ground. A few drops of the dust would be prescribed for any ailment, mixed in water or placed on the tongue. Throughout her life Nana Hussein kept this small healing pouch next to her pillow. Through her life my mother too kept and sparingly used the dust from this pouch.
My mother spent that night in Nana Hussein’s room reading the Qur’an until just before dawn. At that time, Nana Hussein turn over towards my mother thankfully and closed her eyes forever. She was buried mid-morning in our family mausoleum, next to the tomb of Imam Hussein, a great and unexpected honour.”
al-Fatiha for Nana Hussein