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Goodbye forever, my son

The mother of a young man killed in a suicide attack says Saudi Arabia must revise its religious and cultural heritage to stop further bombings

Kowther al-Arbash is a Saudi writer. Her son, Mohammed al-Isa, was killed on 29 May 2015 when he, along with his two cousins, stopped a suicide bomber entering a Shia mosque in the eastern city of Dammam in Saudi Arabia.

At the top of his Instagram account my son, Mohammed al-Isa, wrote the following tag-line: “One day the blind will see the mark I leave, and the deaf will hear my tale.”

And that is what has happened. Even the blind can sense his legacy, and even the deaf know the last words of his story. He gave his life to protect worshippers – instead of running away from a terrorist bearing a belt of explosives, he jumped towards him. He did this for a reason that is at once simple and complex.

My son Mohammed did this because he carried with him an ideology that set him apart. He had a real and strong belief in the concept of humanitarianism. Everybody has now been able to see this, in his fearlessness and his refusal to flee. They saw his last moments, and his transition from life to death. They saw his body being carried in the hands of paramedics, and later that same body wrapped in a white shawl on his passage back to God. Mohammed left behind him an act that will never be forgotten by hundreds of worshippers, millions of citizens and even the entire world.

A few days before he died stopping a suicide bomber entering a Shia mosque in Dammam, Mohammed celebrated his high school graduation. He was planning to travel to London to improve his English before starting university. He loved life, but he chose the more difficult path.

But nobody knows the story of my son Mohammed as I do - I am his mother. I will never end my efforts to tell his story to everyone I can reach. He was a lively, sweet and good-natured boy. But more important than that: he was pure.

He never screamed for sweets and ice cream like other children – his favourite food as a youngster was plain dry bread. I will never forget what happened at his grandfather’s house one day. I lost sight of Mohammed and started searching high and low for him. I found him near the box where his grandfather used to keep bread. He was sleeping there, bread crumbs around his mouth and a wide smile on his face. That was the kind of content, easy-going boy he was. When he was hungry he would eat bread, and when tiredness overcame him he would sleep on the sofa or on the floor next to the dinner table.

Now, it feels as if his behaviour as a child was meant to tell me something: that his relationship with our present world was to be transient and brief.

As Mohammed grew older, his dreams and ambitions grew with him. He loved to be around people, and he loved to help them. He was always at the forefront during religious and social events, always with a smile on his face for anyone he met, old or young. This was Mohammed, who always got full marks in his school work, and who always had an easy manner with people around him. Mohammed, who would always jump up when there was something to be done. In my view, he was an example for our nation’s young people, inspired by its past. He was ready to live every second of life, and he longed for a tomorrow in which he could realise his hopes.

Mohammed was never one for sectarianism, and he didn’t support calls for exclusion or disunity. In the end, he was murdered by sectarians, people seeking exclusion and disunity. He went with nothing but his blood to send the message that heroes aren’t necessarily old – young people can do great things too.

After all the immense sadness, the voice of truth remains – we must all pay attention to it. We are all targets: our flesh, our society, our solidarity are all at risk. We have to remember that we are one nation, from Qatif in the east to Rafha in the north, from Jeddah in the west to Najran in the south. Those who are targeting us want us to forget that we are all Muslims, and we all testify that there is no God but God and Muhammad is His messenger. We all pray towards the same dome.

These attacks won’t stop unless we revise our religious and cultural heritage, and unless we identify the real enemy: ignorance.

What I want to say to you all, with great earnestness and love, is that we must not be carved apart by calls for sectarianism and exclusion. We must say no to any popular or military group that operates outside the framework of the state. We must go back to our domestic homes and reconsider our thoughts, our heritage and our culture. We must all go back to that.

In conclusion: Yes, I am the mother of Mohammed al-Isa the martyr. And I am also the aunt of Abdel Jalil and Mohammed al-Arbash, who also died that day. I have always been a stubborn opponent of sectarianism, as well as to extremism, hatred and the brainwashing of normal people – even and especially if it occurred in my own home. I have never spared any time for those who hold grudges and incite terror, whether they are Sunni or Shia. This was the case before I lost so much, and it remains the case now. For as long as there are those alleging that I am guilty of incitement, I say this: I have indeed incited, but only against hatred, sectarianism and ignorance. Everything I have suffered, the pain, the cursing and the threats, only strengthens my resolve and my determination to fight my number one enemy: extremism.

Mohammed went freely. He chose to protect worshippers. I thank God that my son was not full of hatred, incitement and sectarian feeling. As well as consoling myself, I express condolences to the mother of the man who killed my son. I know that your heart is just like mine now – afflicted and full of pain. I also grieve for this great loss with everyone, the people, brothers and sons of our precious nation. My injury is your injury – we are all in one trench.

On 3 June an estimated 700,000 people attended a public funeral held for Mohammed al-Isa and the three other victims of the Dammam mosque attack.

This article is a translation of a statement issued by Arbash after her son was killed, with additional content written exclusively for Middle East Eye.

- Kowther al-Arbash is a Saudi writer and media figure. Her son Mohammed al-Isa was killed after stopping a suicide bomber from entering the al-Anoud mosque in Saudi Arabia's Dammam City on 29 May.

This views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye. 

Photo: Mohammed Bin Isa (L) and Abdel Jaleel al-Arbash (R) at the al-Anoud mosque moments before a suicide attack killed them both (Twitter)

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