He made sure the bodies of the Muslim dead faced Mecca. COVID-19 claimed his life

Gustavo Arellano, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Religious News

By the fall, Alshilleh would leave home at 4 a.m. and often wouldn't return until nine at night.

"He just looked so tired," Mahmoud said. "He'd say, 'Everyone I'm burying, it's all COVID.'"

On Dec. 21, Rayah received a call from the Ontario Police Department that they had found her father disoriented and wandering on the street. He had just finished work and had a bad cough. It was COVID. He died three weeks later.

Goulade Farrah prepared Alshilleh's body, with Mahmoud in attendance. "He was like a father to me," Farrah said. "It was difficult trying to hold my emotions, because I wanted to do my best for Abu Ahmad."

Farrah rubbed dirt on Alshilleh over the body bag, reciting the proper prayers. And he made sure, of course, to position his mentor toward Mecca, like Alshilleh had made sure to do with the thousands upon thousands of faithful under his care.

Over 40 people made sure to show up at Alshilleh's funeral, socially distant, to fulfill a hadith that stated that if someone had that amount of people praying for them at their burial, Allah would accept their intercession.


One of those was Ayloush.

"My biggest regret as an activist is that we didn't get to honor Abu Ahmad and recognize him while he was alive," the CAIR L.A. director said. "It breaks my heart. These pioneers are disappearing, people who were selfless and gave with no expectations when the community needed them the most."

Alshilleh's children plan to start a nonprofit in his memory to pay for the funerals of people who can't afford them, even though they know their father would've frowned at any recognition.

"He never called it work," Ayah said. "He never did it as a source of income. He would always tell us the same thing: 'I'm not doing it for money. I do it for God.'"

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