On the Passing of My Mother, Elizabeth George Hanson

by Hamza Yusuf on August 10, 2016

My mother, Elizabeth Anne George Hanson, died last night with her hand in mine, surrounded by her children. She was ninety-five years old; when she was born, there was an Ottoman Caliph ruling much of the Muslim world. She lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Vietnam War, and the Civil Rights Movement, which she was actively involved in long before many others joined. My mother spent her life serving others. She never complained and was the most ethical person I have ever known. She hated bigotry, prejudice, and any form of discrimination. She spent her life fighting against injustice. Some of my earliest memories involve civil rights marches, on which she always brought along her children. She marched with Dr. King and Cesar Chavez, and even in her late eighties, she marched in San Francisco against the war in Iraq. All her life, she volunteered in various organizations and served for years on the Homeless Committee in Marin County. Even into her eighties, she volunteered teaching Mexican immigrants and farm workers how to speak, read, and write English, a language she loved and spoke beautifully.


My mother gave birth to seven children and raised them as a single working mother in the Sixties and Seventies. She lived in constant wonder and noticed everything from the flow of tree leaves in a breeze to the colors of a flower she happened to pass. She was slow and deliberate in everything she did and sometimes chided me for eating too fast. She smiled constantly and, despite the pain of a raging cancer in her final months, never complained. She never spoke ill of people and accepted people as they were without judgment. Right before she died, my older sister, Patricia, who is a voice coach and music teacher, spontaneously sang the Prayer of Peace by St. Francis beautifully, which my mother loved:

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life.


Upon my sister’s completion of the very last line of the prayer, “it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life,” my mother took her last breath. This was witnessed by the several people who were in the room at the time. I realized immediately that the poem summed up my mother’s life perfectly: she consoled, understood, loved, and gave like few others I have known. She did not boast about all she did; in fact, she never even spoke about her constant service to others: she just did it, and lived her truth.

My mother had extraordinary scruples and was never known to lie or disparage anyone. In our entire lives, I never remember my mother ever raising her voice to her children. She gave no cause to any of her children to ever be angry with her, even though the opposite, unfortunately, was not always true. She loved and respected all faiths and taught her children to do the same. While baptized a Greek Orthodox due to her father’s heritage, she was raised a devout Catholic. She had a long interest in Sufism and loved the poet Rumi long before he was popular in the West. She was a member of a Buddhist Songhai for much of her later years and practiced Tibetan Buddhism. In 2010, in Fez, Morocco, she took the Shahadah with Sidi Ismail Filali Baba. Yet many years ago, just after I had first embraced Islam, I was telling her about the faith when she said to me, “I knew the Prophet Muhammad was a prophet long before you were born, dear.” She had also taken me to a mosque when I was twelve to pray the Friday prayer in order to expose me to an important world religion. She lived in my home for the last two years of her life and always prayed with us, even going into prostration despite the difficulty. My wife, Liliana, took incredible care of her with utter selflessness, and said to me on more than one occasion, “I want to be like your mother when I grow up.” One story sums my mother up perfectly: Sharifa Uzma Husaini was with her in Fez, Morocco in the market. A shopkeeper they were buying something from in one of the souks in the Old Medina said to her, “You must hold your purse tight; we have a lot of thieves here.” To this, she replied, “I am a Sufi! If someone steals my purse, he must need it more than I do.” Those were not mere words to her but how she lived her life. Those who knew my mother will know I am not exaggerating. I hope to write a longer tribute to her amazing life and her many virtuous deeds, but for now, I request prayers for her soul.

All Comments (16)

  1. Karim August 10, 2016

    May she rest in peace incha’Allah ! Beautiful prayer by St. Francis.

  2. mutassem August 10, 2016

    عظم الله اجركم واحسن الله عزاكم … اللهم اغفر وارحم

  3. munawar August 10, 2016

    To Allah we all return. May her grave be filled with light. It takes a Great Wali, to raise great Wali’s. And I’ve known that about your mother from Afar. May Allah give you patience in these hard times, Shaykh Hamza: 2 parents in the same year must be incredibly hard.

  4. shama August 10, 2016

    Truly sorry for your and your family’s loss and sorry that the world has lost a person who realised the meaning of being a human being. May Allah grant her a peaceful abode.

  5. Masoud August 10, 2016

    May her soul rest in peace. She realized much of great virtues including humility, charity, generosity etc. She is certainly a role model for all our women to follow. May God give respected Sheikh Hamza and other members of family a beautiful patience.

  6. latifamehdi August 10, 2016

    Inna lilahi illa ilayhi ragi3un. May your mother and father rest in peace inchallah. Allah jsabarkum. Fam. Mahdi from Morocco-Holland.

  7. amatullahtahirah August 10, 2016

    In the name of ALLAH the most loving the most wise, al-praise belongs to our ALLAH azza wa jal who has blessed us with the company of beautiful souls, I knew and loved your mom through you humza thank you for sharing her with us these pass years, she has been an inspiration and a favorite, I cried upon hearing of her passing, how-ever she has inshallah passed her test in this dunyah and is being blessed with the magnificent rewards of those who please their LORD, may we be blessed to reach our ALLAH with the noble character that was our sister your mother, we love you Elizabeth peace be upon you and upon those you loved.

  8. Farzana August 10, 2016

    What a blessing you had while she lived, and what an abundance of blessings you have after her departure in the form of all the beautiful lessons she has left you with. A pleasure to read about and imagine, it must have been a greater gift to have met her, let alone be of her. Salaam and Rahma upon her soul, and the souls of all the departed, yet to depart, and yet to join Life. Ameen

  9. jsso August 10, 2016

    May Allah grant her the highest level in paradise without questioning, ameen

  10. Aisha August 10, 2016

    Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace. Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy. O, Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled as to console; to be understood as to understand; to be loved as to love; For it is in giving that we receive; it is in pardoning that we are pardoned; it is in dying that we are born again to eternal life. AMEEN! Inna Lillahi Wa Inna Ilaahi Raji’un.

  11. Tarig August 10, 2016

    أحسن الله عزاءكم في السيدة أمكم سيدي شيخ حمزة
    نسأل الله العظيم أن يرحمها و يغفر لها و أن يجمعنا و يجمعكم بها في جوار الحبيب صلى الله عليه و سلم في الفردوس الأعلى

  12. Mohamed August 10, 2016

    Assalam aleikum ya Mawlana
    My heart aches at the news of the passing of your beloved mother. The children she raised are a testament to the kind of person she was. May God grant her paradise and eternal peace and may he give you and your family strength in these trying times. To God we belong and unto Him shall we return.

  13. Sarah August 12, 2016

    Innah Lillahi Wa Innah Illeyhi Rajiun

  14. Abdullah October 13, 2016

    My beloved Brother, I send you and your family my sincerest condolences. We pray that the dear lady receives Allah Subhana wa Ta’ala’s choicest blessings. Your brother in Faith. Imam A. Mustafa Ali, Tuskegee, Ala

  15. المكي March 8, 2017

    هـوى كـانَ لــي أنْ ألـبـسَ المـجـدَ معلـمـا .. فـلـمــا مـلـكــتُ الـسـبــقَ عــفــتُ الـتـقـدمــا

    وَمَــــنْ عَـــــرفَ الـدُّنْــيَــا رَأَى مَـــــا يَــسُـــرُّه .. مــنَ العـيـشِ هـمـاً يـتـركُ الشـهـدَ علـقـمـا

    وَ أيُّ نــعــيـــمٍ فـــــــي حـــيــــاة ٍ وراءهـــــــا .. مَـصَــائِــبُ لَـــــوْ حَــلَّـــتْ بِـنــجْــمٍ لأَظْــلَــمَــا

    إذا كــــانَ عـقــبــى كـــــلَّ حـــــيًّ مـنــيــة ٌ.. فَسِـيَّـانِ مَـــنْ حَـــلَّ الْـوِهَــادَ، وَمَـــنْ سَـمَــا

    وَ مــنْ عـجـبٍ أنــا نــرى الـحـقَّ جـهـرة ٌ.. وَنَــلْــهُـــو، كَــــأَنَّــــا لاَ نُــــحَــــاذِرُ مَــنْـــدَمَـــا

    يــــودُّ الـفـتــى فــــي كــــلَّ يــــومٍ لـبــانــة ً.. فـــإنْ نـالـهـا أنــحــى لأخــــرى ، وصـمـمــا

    طـمـاعـة ُ نـفــسٍ تــــوردُ الــمــرءَ مـشـرعــاً .. مـــــنَ الــبـــؤسِ لا يـــعـــدوهُ أوْ يـتـحـطـمــا

    أَرَى كُــــلَّ حَـــــيٍّ غَــافِـــلاً عَـــــنْ مَـصِــيــرِهِ .. وَلَـــــوْ رَامَ عِــرْفَـــانَ الْـحَـقِـيـقَـة ِ لانْـتَــمَــى

    فَـأَيْـنَ الأُلَــى شَــادُوا، وَبَــادُوا؟ أَلَــمْ نَـكُــنْ .. نـحــلُّ كـمــا حــلــوا ، وَ نــرحــلُ مـثـلـمـا ؟

    مَـضَــوْا، وَعَـفَــتْ آثـارُهُــمْ غَـيْــرَ ذُكْــــرَة ٍ.. تُــشِــيــدُ لَـــنَـــا مِــنْــهُــمْ حَــدِيــثــاً مُــرَجَّــمَــا

    ســــــلِ الأورقَ الــغــريــدَ فــــــي عــذبــاتــهِ .. أَنَــــــاحَ عَـــلَــــى أَشْــجَــانِـــهِ ، أَمْ تَــرَنَّــمَـــا ؟

    تَـرَجَّــحَ فِـــي مَـهْــدٍ مِـــنَ الأَيْـــكِ ، لا يَـنِــي .. يـــمـــيـــلُ عـــلـــيـــهِ مــــائـــــلاً وَمـــقـــومـــا

    يـنـوحُ عـلـى َ فـقـدِ الهـديـلِ ، وَلــمْ يـكـنْ .. رآهْ ، فــــيـــــا للهِ ! كـــــيـــــفَ تــهــكـــمـــا ؟

    وَشَـتَّـانَ مَـــنْ يَـبْـكِـي عَـلَــى غَـيْــرِ عِـرْفَــة .. جــزافــاً ، وَمــــنْ يـبـكــي لـعـهــدٍ تـجـرمــا

    لَـعَـمْـرِي لَـقَــدْ غَـــالَ الــــرَّدَى مَــــنْ أُحِــبُّــهُ .. وَ كـــــانَ بـــــودي أنْ أمـــــوتَ وَ يـسـلـمــا

    وَ أيُّ حـــــيــــــاة ٍ بـــــعــــــدَ أمًّ فـــقـــدتـــهـــا .. كَـمَــا يـفْـقِـدُ الْـمَــرْءُ الـــزُّلاَلَ عَـلَــى الـظَّـمَـا

    فـيــا ربــــة َ الـقـبــرِ الـكـريــمِ بــمــا حــــوى .. وَقَــتْــكِ الــــرَّدَى نَـفْـسِــي وَأَيْـــــنَ؟ وَقَـلَّــمَــا

    وَهَــــلْ يَسْـتَـطِـيـعُ الْــمَــرْءُ فِــدْيَـــة َ رَاحِـــــلٍ .. تَــخَــرَّمَـــهُ الْــمِــقْـــدَارُ فِــيــمَـــنْ تَــخَـــرَّمَـــا؟

    سـقـتـكِ يـــدُ الـرضــوانِ كــــأسَ كــرامــة ٍ.. مــنَ الكـوثـرِ الفـيـاضِ معسـولـة َ الـلـمـى

    وَ لاَ زالَ ريــــحــــانُ الــتــحــيــة ِ نــــاضــــراً .. عـلــيــكِ ، وَ هــفـــافُ الــرضـــا مـتـنـسـمــا

    لِـيَـبْـكِ عَـلَـيْـكِ الْـقَـلْـبُ، لاَ الْـعَـيـنُ؛ إِنَّــنِــي .. أرى الـقـلــبَ أوفــــى بـالـعـهــودِ وَ أكــرمـــا

    فـــــــواللهِ لاَ أنـــســــاكِ مـــــــا ذرَّ شـــــــارقٌ .. وَمَـــــا حَــــــنَّ طَـــيْـــرٌ بِــــــالأَرَاكِ مُـهَـيْـنِـمَـــــــــــــــــــــا

    عَــلَـــيْـــكَ سَــــــــلاَمٌ لاَ لِــــقَـــــاءَة َ بَــــعْـــــدَهُ .. إِلَــى الْحَـشْـرِ إِذْ يَـلْـقـى الأَخِـيــرُ الْمُـقَـدَّمَـا

    ابيات من قصيدة البارودي…

    رحمها الله وجعلها من المقربين اللهم يانور من لانور له نور لها في قبرها مد بصرها.
    إن لله وإنا اليه راجعون

  16. shanazkhanom February 20, 2020


    Today I thought about my Abba who died in May 2016, not a day goes by that I don’t think of him, straight away I utter Rabbir Hum Huma Kama Rabba Yani Saghira under my breath.
    Your beautiful tribute to you mother really moved me and has stayed with me, I could imagine each scenario as you described it. I don’t know your mother but I prayed for her today and I prayed for my Abba.
    Innalillahi Wa inna ilaihi Raajioon.

    I just wanted to say that.