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In Ahmed Al Rabey’s last article that was published in Asharq Al-Awsat February 14, 2007 entitled ‘A Beautiful Long Night,’ he wrote, “Our conscience is in need of peace, our souls are in need of rest, our minds are in need of the tranquillity of rationality…a long beautiful night but the morning is inevitably approaching!”

I will not write words of condolence for the late fighter Ahmed Al Rabey despite my sadness for his death and my memories of the last time I saw him after his return to Kuwait. I spent two days with him in Kuwait in between his office, Diwaniyas [social gatherings to discuss various issues] and his home. He spoke eloquently and would mock this and discuss that and would offer his critical analysis of a political or social subject and then would end the conversation talking about different kinds of dates and palm trees, for which he held a strong interest.

I will not offer words of condolence since those who knew him better and for longer than me such as Ahmed Al Khatib, Jasem Al Qattami, Ahmed Al Dayeen, Yusuf al Jasem, Abdul Rahman Al Rashed and other colleagues have already done so.

However the man that I knew during the last few years of his life had had many experiences in various respects. He was characterized by his deep diverse knowledge, his genuineness and his support for values of freedom and progress as well as his distinct aptitude in speaking and protesting.

I asked him why he hadn’t recorded his life story in an autobiography starting with his tumultuous revolutionary beginnings in Kuwait with Abdullatif Al Duaij and other young revolutionaries and about the armed Dhofar rebellion, his imprisonment in the enormous Al Jalali fort, his studies in the US, the return to Kuwait and the Diwaniyas, the ministry, the anti-segregation law, Kuwait’s foreign battles with the northern Arab intellectuals, Kuwait post-occupation and so on and so forth.

Al Rabey answered my question a few months ago whilst in his house: “The first thing I felt since recuperating from brain surgery was regret for not writing about these events and the various stages of my life.”

I do not know whether he managed to write about them before passing away.

Al Rabey battled against no ordinary death; he fought it on a philosophical and psychological level. Al Rabey proved that fighting fate is a battle that draws its strength from the degree of man’s awareness.

Death has an ever-changing definition that is determined by how we define it. It may be passing, repetitive or consumed in obituaries ever since the idea of consolation first came about. Or it may become a prominent event, an intellectual turning point and a philosophical conquest over darkness such as Saadallah Wannous’ death that was a journey of light “into the unknown of fleeting death.”

Al Rabey aimed the arrow of life towards the heart of death. In his last televised interview with his friend Yusuf Al Jasem, he said that terminal illness is like a pack of wolves; if it finds that you are inactive and afraid, it will fiercely attack you. If it sees that you are strong and mature, it will fear you. Those wolves certainly feared Ahmed’s indifference!

Death is the core question of human beings; philosophy is nothing but “the contemplation of death” in the words of Plato. In that he meant – just as the late Egyptian philosopher Abdel Rahman Badawi also explained – that death enables philosophers to think appropriately! The philosopher’s life, according to Plato, is devoted to contemplating images and forms and he cannot truly reflect upon forms as long as the soul is imprisoned within the body. Therefore, death, according to Plato, is a beginning and not an end. Badawi indicated that [Arthur] Schopenhauer understood the issue, as it seems, as death itself constituting the key issues of philosophy and that it played a fundamental role in major philosophical works – if not the most prominent of all existential issues in philosophy.

How does death, or the feeling of death, transform into psychological force and one of the levels of spiritual transcendence without that being conditional to the dissolution of individual character into collective character and its attitudes towards ambiguous and frightening death?

This is the challenge that only a few rebellious spirits have succeeded in.

Death, according to some philosophical approaches, is one of the most remarkable of life’s potentials; in fact it is the only real potential. It is a hidden element of existence itself; no existence can be conceived without it and it is the master of existence. It is the only exit through which man can pass to freedom; with the exception of death everything is predestined, the consequences of which are known, as Abdul Rahman Badawi quoted the German poet Angelus Silesius: “I say since it alone can set my spirit free, that death must be the best of all good things for me.”

The other side of the coin is death and without it there would no be life in the same way that without day there is no night and without night there is no day. Nietzsche used to say, “Let us beware of saying that death is opposite to life.”

What those philosophers mean is looking into where death stands from the point of existence and its relationship with the process of human existence itself and the extent to which it forms the objective of this existence, its nature and its limits.

However, there is a nicer, more agreeable and euphemistic meaning that is that death is complementary to life and is simply another layer to life. This is the literary meaning that focuses on the victory of moral immortality over physical death as the Iraqi poet Mohammed Mahdi Al Jawahri said when commemorating the Iraqi poet Marouf Al Rasafi. What concerned al Jawahri is the demise of this mental and spiritual talent and how it transformed into a shriveling corpse buried in a grave.

He wrote:

What puzzles every mind is that thought transforms into earth

He rejected that Al Rasafi’s existence depended on the existence of the mortal body and became tense because of death’s betrayal and deception to man. He wrote:

I detest devious death and its apparition

Just as I detest the apparitions of deceptive entities

Why does he hate treacherous death to this extent? He wrote:

A wolf lurked around me and on its teeth was the blood of my brothers, relatives and friends

Another rebellious spirit that raised thorny questions about this fatigue that accompanies man in existence and had “reflected upon death” in the words of Plato is the great poet and philosopher Abu Alaa Al Ma’arri who was sensitive towards the tragedy of human beings in death as he elegized one of his fellow scholars. It is one of the deepest and most beautiful poems by al Ma’arri:

Soften your tread

Methinks the earth’s surface is but bodies of the dead,

Walk slowly in the air, so you do not trample on the remains of God’s servants

And ends with:

Life is all hardship and I am surprised by those who want more

At the beginning of this article, I stated that I would not write words of condolence for the late Ahmed Al Rabey; rather I reflected upon the occurrence of death. Al Rabey was a brilliant thinker of bold determination. This is where al Jawahri’s words come in since “what puzzles every mind is that thought transforms into earth.”

Al Rabey’s story will never end with that wolf that “lurked around me and killed my relatives and friends.”

Al Rabey defeated this wolf and many others as he said in his last interview.

Those who defeat the wolf will always remain whereas those who fear it will perish and this is the final lesson of the professor of philosophy, Dr Ahmed al Rabey.

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi

Mshari Al-Zaydi is a Saudi journalist and expert on Islamic movements and Islamic fundamentalism, as well as on Saudi affairs. He is Asharq Al-Awsat’s opinion page editor. Mr. Zaydi has worked for the local Saudi press, and has been a guest on numerous news and current affairs programs as an expert on Islamic extremism.

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