It was announced recently that Ustadh Usama Canon was diagnosed with ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and the spinal cord. Ustadh Usama Canon is the founding director of Taleef collective, an organisation based in the United States and beloved to its community for the work it does on engaging the youth and providing a space for people to develop a healthy understanding of Islam.
I happened to come across the audio below of his first speech after his diagnosis and I honestly have no words to describe just how moving it was. It’s a timely reminder that our time on earth is limited but also a joyous reflection from a slave that is grateful to his Lord. We pray that Allah SWT grants Ustadh Usama shifa and ease through this period, Ameen.
In addition to the audio, the reflection below written by Talha Ghannam gives an insight into the character of a truly beloved man.
Dear Ustadh Usama Canon
On hearing the news of your diagnosis, I was paralysed. Though we have only met once, the meeting was profound and had a lasting impact on my life. I have since learned of countless people who have had similar experiences and received countless benefit from your company, something they were fortunate to share for far longer than I. For so many people to have benefited so much from someone so young is a clear sign of your acceptance and righteousness, and I witness that for you in front of Allah.
The story I recall is one I’m unsure you will remember, but it is one that will stay with me forever. To you it was normal, a part of being, something which came natural to you, yet for me it was a profound moment I had never witnessed the like of.
After attending a charity fundraiser for the young Mohammad Hassam, the younger brother of Bilal Hassam, who sadly passed away so young from his own battle with mortality, we shared a meal and I received so many wonderful gems of advice.
At the end of the meal, Bilal asked a friend Tariq Chow to drop you off at your hotel on the other side of London. Having recently passed his driving test, and being late in the day, he asked if I could join to ensure his driving was safe. I gladly agreed and we jumped in the car to make our way.
Heavily jetlagged, you asked if you could lay your chair back and sleep on the way. After strapping your seatbelt, you dropped the seat back and instantly knocked off, unaware of anything around you. The journey went well in the beginning, and as we neared the hotel, Bilal called to check we had arrived. Tariq put the phone on the stereo and, being a new driver, began to get distracted. Already panicked from the driving, he lost focus on the road and I could see danger was coming.
As we turned off the dual carriageway and approached a traffic light, I could see my friend hadn’t spotted the red light. I began to warn him to watch the red lights, but his concentration was on the phone call and trying to find the hotel. Instead of slowing down, he sped up until it was clear he would miss the red lights. With oncoming traffic and a life-threatening accident ahead of us, I screamed as loud as I could “WATCH THE RED LIGHT!!!”
Tariq immediately slammed the breaks and we all jolted forward. You, laying horizontally as you slept, flung forwards like a catapult hurtling towards the window. Had it not been for the seatbelt, you would have flung straight through the windscreen into the road. From deep sleep, you were awoken to what appeared to be your death, and in that single moment of consciousness, you shouted:
“LA ILLAHA ILA ALLAH!”
To this day, I can hear those words ringing in my ears. How someone can be completely unconscious, yet the first words they utter are those ones which will enter them paradise.
As the moment settled, and we realised we were safe, I could still hear your words ringing in my ears
“LA ILLAHA ILA Allah”
What state must a person be in for the first words they utter at the moment of death to be the testimony of faith. How close must they be to Allah ﷻ to remain connected to Him at such a crucial moment despite being in deep sleep just moments before it. How often must they have recited these words that they could recall them so fluidly when the time came.
In that moment, I saw in you the living embodiment of our Beloved Messenger ﷺ who, in His sleep, would be completely awake in the remembrance of Allah. In a hadith Bukharī, our Messenger ﷺ explains to His wife:
يَا عَائِشَةُ إِنَّ عَيْنَىَّ تَنَامَانِ وَلاَ يَنَامُ قَلْبِي
O `Aisha! My eyes sleep but my heart does not sleep. (Bukharī)
Hearing your speech the other day, I was reminded of a man whose soul was already in the presence of God. Facing your own mortality, you embraced it as though it was something you had long come to terms with. Whilst others mourned, you embrace it and turn a tragic moment into beauty.
You, ustadh, were the first embodiment I saw of a man connected to Allah ﷻ. In this moment of great difficulty, I remind you of this story to witness you testified to God’s oneness in your previous encounter with death so that you may stay strong in your latest one.
And just as we averted death in the car, I pray Allah averts death from you now and cures you of this illness fully and quickly. Ameen.
Allah bless you infinitely. I am not a good storyteller, though no words can truly portray how powerful and transformative that moment was.
Will continue to pray for you.
Reflection from On The Path of Knowledge