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Muhammad A. Al Mahdi

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Review of Nasra Al Adawi's Brave Faces
by Muhammad A. Al Mahdi   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Monday, May 26, 2008
Posted: Monday, May 26, 2008

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This is a review and a comment on one of the most remarkable publications of the year, Nasra Al Adawi's "Brave Faces", a very personal and educative book on women with breast and cervical cancer.

 "Brave Faces" is a concise but all the more expressive and substantial compilation of poetry, personal accounts and medical advice.
Mrs. Adawi's approach to the difficult and, in the true sense, challenging topic to which her remarkable book is dedicated is devoted and passionate. Her poetry is individual and rich, characterised by a delicate power that enables her thoughts to unfold a great depth while preserving the warmth and simplictity -or clarity of structure- to which it owes its special appeal.
The import of this book lies in its aesthetic quality no less than in its educational one: It is the successful attempt to produce a holistic art form. It is, at the same time, an indispensable guide for every person confronted with breast or cervical cancer, be it the patient herself or her relatives, loved ones and those who share her suffering -and her struggle against it- with her.
"Brave Faces", in this capacity, is a book that can become an intimate friend. It is l"art accompli (al fann al kamil): art of life and art for life.
In Mrs. Adawi's book, I hear the voices and the breath of relatives I have lost to cancer over the past two decades. Its lines breathe their heart beat too, their beauty, their power and their grace, for no life is ever lost and no struggle is ever waged in vain.
There is no defeat save the one your heart has accepted, and eventhough, in the case of my own relatives, the illness may have been stronger than their bodies, it has not been stronger than their souls.
The outer world and the inner one, being and that which lies beyond it, are not different from one another once your heart has seen its truth.
There is no existence neither is there non-existence nor is there any true boundary between them but all there is is the ocean of being, shoreless and timeless and unlimited by condition, unlimted, thus, by outward appearance and physical separation, though all these form part of it too, but only insofar as regards the manifestation of its infinity, for it is through the concept of limits alone that the limitless can be perceived.
No feature and no aspect of life is exempt from this pattern, which is the fabric or, if you please, the DNA, of life as such. It is therefore that the changeable can be changed and the unchangeable cannot. And it is therefore that the former can never be told from the latter until it has told itself in its own language. Hence we must not be discouraged by a "bad prognosis" or deceived by outer form, for before life and its reality science and hypothesis shall always remain thought play, however useful they can be. The answer, however, lies in itself, and only there.
Human knowledge, thus, can at no time be complete nor can mankind's command of the phenomena to which they owe their existence. Perfect knowledge and perfect mastery of nature would then mean the end of the dynamics that make life possible while it is equally true that the quest for perfect knowledge and for nature's perfect mastery is the motor of this dynamic itself, which renders life, by necessity and forever, a quality with "two" aspects derived from one source and manifesting themselves in one another -in indivisible tawhid- at one and the same time.
Cancer has been with us as long as the human species exists.
In the oldest archeological finds that have come down to us, there is evidence of the occurrence and effects of cancer. The structures and increasing complexity of this disease have grown along with those of the human organism. Contemporary human genetics links its mechanism with that of cell division as the prime instrument of the propagation, preservation and biological evolution of life. Here, too, we find two qualities immanent in one principle.
Sickness then is not a curse nor a shortcoming, as popular prejudice often assumes *, but
it is the "other" aspect of health or, in the awareness of the ancient cultures, the sacrifice that keeps the universe at balance**. It is also the impulse to which civilisation owes its progress, for its cure necessitates the sciences and the knowledge on which human civilisation and high culture rest.
Cancer shall not cease to form part of our experiences, living conditions and social motive forces, nor shall sickness, disability and disease-- but it may cease to pose a mortal threat. It may cease to be lethal.
The comprehension of its nature is the first step toward its conquest, for the articulation of one's condition, in Hypocrate's words, is the first step toward overcoming it. Also in this respect, "Brace Faces" has accomplished a pioneering task.
Our future and the development of our civilisation shall to a great extend be determined by our attitude toward disease, suffering and existential challenge, and by our ability to deal with it. And so shall our perception of reality.
May Allahu -subhanahu wa ta'ala- help us preserve and expand our capacity for spiritual humility, devoted love, solidarity, integrative thought and compassion!
May we be endowed with courage, perserverance and strength!
foot notes:
* The Quran with great clarity dismisses the notion of sickness and disability as being the expression of a curse: "There is no fault in the blind, and there is no fault in the lame, and their is no fault in the sick, neither in yourselves, that you eat [in communion with them]..." (Surat An-Nur, 61). It thereby frees illness from the stigma of impurity, which was attached to it in pre-Islamic custom, demanding respect and solidarity with the suffering and diseased.
** This notion is raised to higher awareness in the frame of the Quranic concept: "Allah knows what every female bears\ and the womb's shrinking and swelling\ everything with HIM has its measure\ the Knower of the unseen and the visible\ the All-Great, the All-Exalted" (Surat Ar-Rad, 8\9)

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