Imam Abbas Khalifa
In the early hours of Friday morning, 3rd March 2017, in George Elliot Hospital, our friend and colleague Imam Abbas Khalifa died peacefully and with his family around him. As a kidney transplant patient, about which he was always very open, Abbas’ health had always been fragile. Compared to some of the infections and illnesses for which Abbas had been admitted to hospital in recent years, his chest infection seemed relatively innocuous but within 48 hours of admission, Abbas had deteriorated, died and been buried according to the religious and cultural rites of his faith.
Abbas had been employed for five years as a chaplain at The Myton Hospices. However, he had supported Myton as a volunteer and advisor for 7-8 years before that. For twenty years he had volunteered as a chaplain in several local general and mental health hospitals and in recent years found part-time employment in some. Most recently, and just a few months ago, he was delighted and thrilled to be employed as the first Muslim chaplain at George Elliot Hospital. Having been a volunteer and leading Friday prayers there for so many years Abbas was elated that his work was recognised in this way.
Abbas was passionate about his work at The Myton Hospices. He often said that the most important aspect for him was that at Myton he was first and foremost a human being. He was Abbas. It meant so much to him that he was a Chaplain, one of the team, and not ‘the Muslim chaplain’. As such Abbas looked after and cared for everyone he encountered. Within weeks of being a chaplain, Abbas was taking part in Christian funerals because of the warmth of the relationship he developed with dying patients and their families. As one family put it, Abbas’ care ‘was so sensitive and relevant to us, he reconnected us to Jesus’. Only a few weeks ago Abbas led the Coventry Myton ‘Light Up a Life’ service, complete with seasonal carols.
In recent days, staff and volunteers at Myton have been remembering Abbas. Words such as wisdom, warmth, gentleness, kindness, generosity, openness, accepting, and even ‘sweet’ have abounded. We should also remember his personal courage, the sense of steel beneath the benevolent exterior. Abbas frequently had to face difficult situations, within his personal life, his health, his faith, and professionally and yet he always stepped up to meet each challenge. When working with others, his determination to be inclusive and compassionate seemed to sweep away barriers time and again – but in each case, he had first to address those barriers. During this last year, Abbas took on responsibility for ‘diversity’ within the Myton chaplaincy team. Again, Abbas was delighted to work towards inclusivity and universal access but was very clear that this was not limited to faith and ethnicity as some might have assumed but included gender, disability, sexuality, mental health, and anything that made a barrier for the individual and their access to health care.
To have known Abbas is a blessing. To work alongside him has been doubly so. To have had him as a friend is to be treasured, – though with his irrepressible and sometimes wicked sense of humour I can hear him saying ‘I am not your friend’, and then, with a pause just long enough for anxiety to begin, follow up with, ‘I am your brother’ and that twinkling smile coming close behind.
Rest in peace Abbas, my brother, ‘til we meet again in the eternal kingdom.
Rev Elizabeth Chapman commissioned as chaplain of Ellenor, Gravesend
A service was held at ellenor on the afternoon of Friday 20 May 2016 to commission Reverend Elizabeth Chapman as the chaplain of ellenor. The service was led by The Right Reverend James Langstaff, Bishop of Rochester, and attended by a number of other clergy and guests, as well as ellenor staff and volunteers.