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The Greatest, At Rest

TOM JUNOD

06/02/17

The imam, whose name is Zaid Shakir, does not know why he has sung the familiar keening song; it is traditional to sing to those who are close to their first breath but not to those close to their last. But he has flown into Arizona from California, and he reached Ali's room not long before what he calls "the paraphernalia of life support" was removed. Lonnie Ali is there. Ali's nine children are there, along with many of his grandchildren, and after reciting supplications and reading from the Quran with them, Shakir suddenly finds himself in the grip of spontaneous necessity. He has been watching the pulse in Ali's neck, watching it surge with life after he started breathing on his own and then watching it slowly ebb, and now he leans over and with his mouth close to Ali's right ear, he sings, "There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger.

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