Friday Sermon: Late Alhaji Babatunde Jose: Death and Theodicy Revisited

By Ibrahim Babatunde Jose ll


Of all mankind’s ostensibly insoluble problems, the question of death has been the most vexing. Most faiths have turned death into the main source of meaning in life. The theme of the most ancient myths to come down to us is that of King Gilgamesh of Uruk in ancient Sumeria. Gilgamesh once set out to find how to defeat death, he travelled to the end of the universe but returned empty handed and resigned to the fact that when man was created, death was set as man’s inevitable destiny. So let it be with Alhaji Jose.


The sad end of righteous men has also been a matter of great concern to discerning minds. It often brings to mind the age old question: Why does God allow suffering? Theodicy attempts to explain why a perfectly good, almighty, and all-knowing God permits suffering. The term literally means “justifying God.” Suffice to say; neither that late Alhaji Jose nor those close to him could have conjectured any reason why a righteous man would suffer untold pain and afflictions that would see him waste away till death added the coup de grace.


Alhaji Jose was not a prince, but a righteous man, a compassionate and God fearing person who devoted most of his life to serving man and his creator. However, towards the end of his life, his health was challenged so brutally that it left us asking, why a righteous man should suffer such ill health. It is always said that God has a way of testing his dear ones, but that of Alhaji Jose was of Jobian proportion. On several occasions we wondered what manner of affliction it was. Some said it was a sudden ‘loss of vitality’, a syndrome that is accompanied by aches and pains, digestion and bowel disorders, brain fog, or inability to concentrate, easy exhaustion, unexplained extreme fatigue, decreased ability to perform work or participate in social, educational and personal activities, decreased ability to multi-task, chronic low-grade fever, forgetfulness and difficulty with short term memory, headaches, recurring infections, insomnia, tender lymph nodes, joint pain unrelated to injury or trauma, without swelling or redness, muscle pain and stiffness, poor sleep, feeling unrefreshed, increased thirst, chronic or frequent sore throats and weight loss. 


It is said that most patients have a unique combination of these symptoms, which can significantly diminish a person’s quality of life, and in severe cases can inhibit a person from being able to carry out basic daily life functions. This last symptom was most depressing as it affected not only Baba’s locomotion but also his desire and ability to serve his God and observe the common daily prayers. In the end, a man who had prayed, fasted and obeyed the five pillars of Islam laid comatose and unable to perform any of those precepts. Like a ship that hit the sand bar, Baba was helpless and had to be assisted to perform almost all the basic functions. He spent most of the time either propped up in bed or on the wheelchair. We once thought of wheeling him to the mosque in the house for his daily prayers, but it was a futile exercise as he just sat there, oblivious to the environment of the mosque.


He would stay for hours without acknowledging the presence of his visitor, only for him to sometimes regain lucidity when the visitor was about leaving. And yet he refused to travel abroad for treatment for fear of ‘going as a passenger and returning as cargo’.


His end, like that of many others serve as a lesson to us all about the mortality of man and the need to do good while we are still able, because a day would come when we would be alive, like one who has died, a day when we would not be able to move our limbs, a day when we would not be able to eat or drink, a day when we would be assisted to stand or sit. We should remember a day when we would become as helpless as a  day-old child, when we would not have control over the clothes we wear, nor the food we are fed nor the bed we would sleep on. We would be at the mercy of care-givers. We should pray not to be put to a test which we cannot bear. At the end of it all, death must come. Mutua ba magani, no medicine against death.


There is no doubt, medical science will overcome many of these intractable health challenges and the likes of Alhaji Jose would live much longer on this side of the divide.


We remember the day ten years ago. August 2nd 2008 was like no other Saturday. It was the day hell was let loose on the city of Lagos; a day when even pedestrians did not know which direction they were heading to and motorists were in a dilemma as to how to manoeuvre out of the traffic quagmire of that day. There was pandemonium on the roads as the Third Mainland Bridge; the longest bridge in the metropolis was closed to traffic for needed repairs. Yet, this was the day Alhaji Babatunde José, erstwhile doyen of modern Nigerian journalism, chose to die and be buried. It would be a Saturday to be tattooed in the memories of all; a day when the ‘proverbial Devil decided to drink water’. “When beggars die there are no comets seen; the heavens themselves blaze forth the death of princes.” 


But as a righteous man, when the end came, though he could not voice it out, there is no doubt, he would have been saying: Say: Truly my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are all for Allah, the Cherisher of the Worlds”. (Holy Quran 8:162)


As we remember, Alhaji Babatunde Jose next Thursday, 2nd of August, we pray that Allah forgive his sins and grant him Al-Jannatul Fridous and make his grave a place for comfort and light. Ameen


Barka Juma’at and a happy weekend

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