‘The Muslim prayer that might save your life’

London, England — As a young girl in a downtown Toronto hospital, I stood on my tiptoes, peering at my cancer-ridden uncle lying mutely on the hospital bed. He was asleep — exhausted and wasted from years of waging war with cancer. For some reason, I was left alone with him for a few moments, which turned out to be the moments in which he took his dying breaths. He woke with a jolt and started shrieking in a booming voice that belied his deathly ill state. His eyes were dilated but fixed straight at me while he shouted the lines twice. I ran to my mother, hysterical and shaking. Nurses sprinted to him, adjusting machines and pumping fluids — but within minutes he had died.

In her attempt to comfort me, my mother explained that the words he had uttered to me comprised the shahadah, a testimony to the identity of Allah as the one true God, and Muhammad as his prophet. Muslims are supposed to recite the shahadah if they know they are dying. It signals to God that they are indeed Muslims, the real deal. Still, I was spooked for years.

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Yet these words that terrified me saved a number of lives during the 2013 al-Qaeda-linked attack at Kenya’s Westgate Mall. To weed the Muslims out from the infidels, terrorists asked people to recite the shahadah to prove their faith. They asked other things too, like certain key passages of the Koran, the name of Mohammad’s mother, that sort of thing — it was al-Qaeda Question Hour. The wrong answer meant death.

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