Translate page with Google

Story Publication logo September 13, 2022

Destigmatizing Death at Chouhada



Instead of the typical Western embrace of an Arab country, this story examines how the youth asserts...


A section of Chouhada Cemetery. Image by Safi El-Gamal. Morocco, 2022.

The summer day blows with the winds of life onto the coast of Rabat. As the city stirs with energy, I walk with some friends through the bustling of old medinas, up tracing the quieter kasbah, and down drawing towards the whistles of the sea.

Although I’ve walked this path countless times before, the moment I crest the hill and head downwards I can feel the paces of my heart slow, as I face Chouhada Cemetery.

Death. It’s a word we often associate with grave darkness; the pangs of brutally honest trepidation when forced to grapple with the uncertainty of its time and place. It’s “The End.” A loss for those still living, a loss of those who pass.

But despite the environment’s gravity that weighs on my mind, it doesn’t seem to affect the buoyant attitude of my friends. Laughing, they continue their conversation on a TikTok we had all found amusing minutes before. It was puzzling; should we not take a moment of silence, a moment of reflection? Is this not a moment of intense profundity?

Under the pretenses of exhaustion, I leaned against the fortress walls and took in the graveyard more attentively. The air, filled with the smells of tobacco and car exhaust, with sounds of endearing jokes and following chuckles, with the tepid humidity of human activity, cemented the notion of life within my mind. It was something so mundane, so familiar, and so weirdly comforting.

But maybe I had it all wrong. “Do not let this present life deceive you,” warns the Quran. In the tradition of Islam that the Maghreb holds so dearly to his heart, death is certain, and in that certainty, it’s liberating. It’s not for us to decide the details of the event, rather, it’s an opportunity for such an inevitability to inform our present life. In Sufism, or Islamic mysticism, it’s urs, a wedding, a reunion between a soul and his Creator, his Beloved. The death of a saint is the foundational element of a zaawaya (Sufi lodge), as physical as the concrete building that surrounds the dhareeh (tomb) of the late master, and as metaphysical as the transition of this dhareeh into a source of blessings for his followers on their own path of Return.

It’s a perfect contradiction to modernity. Out of a modern person’s control, it’s a certainty, not a variable, that no scientific innovation or sense of independent entitlement can overcome. Its unpredictability is why death has become such a sinister subject, rather than a source of guidance that can entirely change our perspective on how we conduct and reap purpose within our lives. The Quran tells us we enter this world with two pieces of fixed information: our date of birth, and our date of death.

Inna lillahi w inna ilayhi raj’un: To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return.

As we return to the image of Chouhada, I’m struck by the enormity of the graveyard site, but am mesmerized by the singularity and identity of each qabr, or grave. It’s a spiritual symbol so public and known throughout Ab el Dunya, (Father of the World) and His culture: tawhid, the microcosm of the macrocosm, the unity of creation.

Strolling, driving, biking, and swimming, the people of Rabat witness this scene. It’s what often philosophically cements them to a reality far greater than any work schedule can enforce. One of the few certainties we are given in life, death is a collective experience we all need to be equipped to face, and the most fruitful direction from this event can only be obtained if we change our positionality.


teal halftone illustration of two children, one holding up a teddy bear


Children and Youth

Children and Youth
teal halftone illustration of praying hands




Support our work

Your support ensures great journalism and education on underreported and systemic global issues