Bassem Masri will be remembered in funeral prayers today, on Wednesday, November 28, at Dar al Jalal mosque in Hazelwood. The Muslim funeral rite (the janazah prayer) is short and simple, over and done in a few minutes. Most often no talk is given, and that is saved for family visitations.
The Muslim completes the cycle of life with simplicity, knowing that in our graves there is no difference between a king and a peasant. All are buried in white shrouds.
While the funeral of Bassem Masri will be simple, his life certainly was not.
Bassem's upbringing in Florissant was an accident of history. His family hailed from Jerusalem and for centuries worked as merchants and traders. The Masri family, like so many other Palestinian families, was hurled into the diaspora as a result of the Arab-Israeli conflict and specifically the Six-Day War of 1967. I had the chance to visit Bassem's family in an East Jerusalem refugee camp, and it is there his story began.
Zuhdi Masri, the father of Bassem, went to college in England but found his calling in St Louis. During the 1980s Palestinians began opening inner-city businesses throughout America, and in St. Louis these were mostly corner stores. Zuhdi found his American dream at Yeatman Market on Athlone and Carter streets in the O'Fallon Park neighborhood of North St Louis.
While many business owners were satisfied with making money off the black community and not reinvesting, Zuhdi donated tirelessly to the community and became very politically engaged. It was in this environment that Bassem AKA Lil' Zuhdi grew up.
When then-Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson gunned down Michael Brown on August 9, 2014, Bassem Masri greeted the tragedy with a revolutionary spirit. It was a fighting spirit honed from summers in Palestine during the intifada, growing up in the store in O'Fallon Park, and fighting his own personal battles.
As Bassem faced the battle of police violence and accountability, he fought battles with addiction. He ultimately won that fight. However, fighting this battle made Bassem the target of cyber bullying from right-wing opponents who on a daily basis mocked him and his struggles. On the day of his death at age 31 from a massive heart attack on Tuesday, November 27, Bassem Masri was clean.
He stood tall in the streets of Ferguson as a widely followed and influential livestreamer and stood even taller in his battle with addiction. Bassem should be remembered for these courageous stands as well as for being a pioneer in Arab-American and American-Muslim activism.
Bassem leaves a strong legacy for us to live up to.
From Allah we come and to Allah we return.
Umar Lee is a writer and political activist.