Ode to Oso! And SAT @ Noon ET: Panel on Blasphemy in the Islamic Tradition!

Al salamu alaykum dear Friends,

I pray you are well and drawing your loved ones close and tight. I am very, very sad to report that we had to say farewell to our beloved Oso, the husky, last night. After a month-long steady decline, Oso's body finally gave out and we reached that critical point where we decided it would be more merciful to help Oso return to God than to let him suffer any longer. Alhamdulillah, his decline on the last day was clear and precipitous so God made the decision easy for us. That was indeed a true blessing.

To be honest, the whole past month in the end-of-life stage with Oso has been a tremendous blessing despite the pain and sadness of Oso's palpable absence. I truly believe there are no coincidences and that every experience that God curates for you if you want to be on God's path - especially experiences of pain, sacrifice, and loss - are significant. They are tailor made for you wherever you are in your journey and push you to grow and see life differently. As I reflect on the last month, I realize that this experience profoundly affected my understanding of my relationship to another divine creature, and pushed me to develop my ability to care for, serve, and be patient with another soul in need. I didn't expect to come away with the understanding that I did.

Oso's last days were needy. It began when Oso started having difficulty getting up, having control over his back legs, and thus, being able to have full command of navigating his own body. He took some nasty tumbles down the stairs and the yelps of surprise and pain were heart-wrenching. I started anticipating what might be dangerous for Oso and started getting more attuned to his needs - like when you have a baby and start looking around the house for what might need to be "baby-proofed." Then what once was a call for assistance in standing up every so often became a more frequent cry for help, which developed into a steady and more urgent yelp for assistance every 30 minutes, then every 15 minutes, then every 10 minutes or less. Sometimes this would go one for three to four hours at a time, anytime day or night when Oso was awake. We got a baby monitor so we could hear his cries. Pain meds helped some, and then we discovered the powerful sedative effect of combining pain (gabapentin) and calming (trazodone) medication. That was a game changer as we were then actually able to get up to a five-hour stretch of sleep.

By then I was programmed to think of Oso virtually every waking moment and be constantly aware of his status and who was able to help me take care of him if I was not immediately available. If we needed to leave the house, someone needed to be on Oso duty. I morphed into a constant state of ready-alert, waiting in anticipation for Oso's cry and being ready to stop whatever I was doing to jump up and attend to his needs. Our dear friend Rami was my second in command, and like me, had developed an "Oso meter" that was highly sensitive to the pitch of Oso's cries. Rami reported that his meter became so sensitive that it would go off even if he was very far away from Oso; sometimes he would "hear" his meter go off when he wasn't even in our house! But clearly, for the last month, our whole orientation and household rhythm adapted to Oso's evolving condition. Every day was different.

I realized that when I set myself to a mindset of service, everything became easy and natural, and in fact, important and necessary. I believe God helps you with that once you make the commitment. There was no sense of irritation, bitterness, or burden. Only service and answering the call of duty. We were all in Oso's service and that meant there was a shared cause that brought the family and caretakers together. It felt like divine service in attending to a divine creature. Then something beautifully unexpected happened. As I was tending to Oso in his time of need, our relationship altered and grew. We bonded. He began to look to me for comfort and company, and I recognized the distinct impact my presence had on him. He was no longer just my dog but was my fellow companion in this journey of life and struggle. He was nearing his end as I would one day and for now, while I had the greater ability to serve, it was my honor to make his last moments as comfortable and accompanied as possible. I started looking forward to just hanging out with him on his bed. I would sit on the floor with my work just to be in his presence and give him company. I knew he appreciated it even if we weren’t interacting but just sitting together. He grew to lean on me; he knew that if he called out, it would not be long before I or someone else would come help, and that gave him some peace of mind. He would call quietly when it was not that urgent and call more insistently when it was more important. If he was in a really bad spot, he would let us know and I would come running to find his contorted body stuck in a strange angle, or his legs pinned under him, or his butt caught in the water bucket! 

Walks took a long time because he was slow. In fact, many things were slow - eating, drinking, and figuring out how to lay down on his bed. We would joke that he needed to come in for a “good landing,” and if he didn’t manage to lower himself in a good way, he could get stuck and start crying, which happened often. Spending time with Oso in fact forced me - and time it seemed - to slow down, which was a very good thing. Time together became more precious and intentional. I would just put my head on his bed and we would stare at each other in silence. I learned recently that when you share loving eye contact with your dog, both of your oxytocin levels rise - oxytocins are known as love or happiness hormones. Imagine that God created humans and dogs to induce happiness and love between them through eye contact! Oso and I generated lots of love hormones between us in his last days! 

As he started to eat less and less and sleep more and more, I knew we were getting closer to the end. I would test him by giving him really yummy human food that he would never have been able to resist. When he turned those offerings down, I knew things were getting bad. 

His last day, yesterday, he very suddenly could not lay down without yelping in pain. Everything caused him pain and the short lived relief that came from standing up would only last as long as his legs would not give out, which was barely a minute. He was no longer interested in the cheese he loved that I used to conceal his medicine. By the time I was able to get his medicine down and he finally was able to settle down, he did not want to get up again. He had persevered and suffered in his uncooperative body long enough and we all knew the day had come. He and I spent the rest of the day together on the floor, napping and creating oxytocin. He always liked it when I would put my hand under his head and he would snuggle with my hand, rubbing his face against my hand as if to manually rub his face all over my hand. Today, there was not enough enough energy left to rub or move his head against my hand so I just gave him my hand as a head rest. I continued to stroke both sides of his face - always his favorite.

I recognized that he was very attuned to my presence. He would start whimpering if I had to get up to do something. He would quiet down as soon as I would return. I also just wanted to be with him in his last hours - no phone, no distractions. I had made an appointment with an in-home vet to help Oso depart. She would arrive around 9 pm, so even the idea that I new his last moments on the planet could be counted down made each minute more precious. I didn't want to do or be anywhere else. I prayed for God to prepare me for Oso's departure. By the time the vet arrived, it was clear to everyone that Oso had suffered long enough and it was the right thing to do. The kind vet made it her own practice to help others in this way when she herself lost her beloved pet and her best friend who was a vet also came to her home so her dog's last moments of life could be spent in the comfort and love of familiar surroundings. The vet believed that this was the way to preserve the dog's dignity; after a dog gives so much service and love throughout their lives to us, this was in her view the least we could do to give back to that beloved dog. How Islamic! I thought to myself. ;) Oso departed this world peacefully, surrounded in love, and with dignity. What more could any of us want?

I will close with this lovely excerpt of a poem from a dear friend about Oso:

...when you lay your head to rest
is when I deem it best
to stir until you come
but only because I miss you, mum

life, I repeat, is to be lived
even when the going's slow
and when you hear me all no longer
do not say "oh no"
my parting gift will be a full night's rest
sincerely, your beloved Oso

R. Koujah 9.15.2022

For more of Dr. Abou El Fadl's writings and views on dogs in the Islamic tradition: https://www.searchforbeauty.org/explore/dogs-in-islam/

Dr. Abou El Fadl will be speaking on a panel on the question of: Why do many Muslim countries have blasphemy laws? Join us on Sept 24, Sat @ Noon (ET).

Other speakers: Mustafa Akyol, Ahmet Kuru, Radwan Masmoudi, and Basheer Ahmed. Moderated by Professor Sahar Aziz. Hosted by the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy & SMU Dedman College
To Register for the Webinar: http://bit.ly/blasphem


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Looking forward to today's khutbah shortly! Sorry for the late email! PLEASE NOTE THIS WEEKEND'S HALAQA WILL BE ON SUNDAY, 9/25 AT 6 PM ET INSTEAD OF SATURDAY.  tomorrow's halaqa! Depending on the state of the overwhelming demands upon Shaykh, we may cover a short surah and save Surah Al Tawbah for next week. May Allah guide us to the best way always! Hope to connect with you online soon insha'Allah (God willing)!

In Peace and Hope,

Executive Director
The Usuli Institute

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