By: Joel Winter
It was with great sorrow that we saw the recent passing of our
friend and brother, David (Darko) Grgicek. From Allah we come
and to Allah we return.
We all have our own remembrances of David. It was only during
the last couple of years of his life that I got to know him well,
thanks to Allah’s advice for us to visit the sick. David had just
survived a heart operation and was recuperating in his home when
I first visited him. Subsequently, I was able to see him in several locations and times
after his diabetes related illness. Even though it was shocking for me to see David’s
amputations, he showed no signs of sadness or depression. Like a true believer, he
seemed to accept his fate as Allah’s will, and take things in stride.
I had always thought that the advice to visit the sick was only to console the afflicted
person. I found, though that I benefitted as well from the visits. Not long after I arrived,
we would have an engaging conversations on a wide range of topics, and I got the
chance to learn more about David. Learning about someone’s life is like an unravelling
story, a book that has missing parts. One time I said to David, “You’re like a box, and
when you open it there’s a series of boxes inside.” That is true about most of us, I
guess, but David’s story seemed to take on more significance being in the condition
that he was in. He knew that he could be close to the end of his life, and said that he
was prepared mentally for it. He once commented to me that 50% of amputees survive
after 5 years of the surgery. When you are with someone in this condition and
awareness, there is none of the superficiality of life to shield one’s thinking.
The first thing I learned when I visited him in the hospital in Toronto was that his name
wasn’t David, but Darko. I asked him where David came from and he said that it was a
name he’d given himself since childhood because other kids made fun of ‘Darko’. He
never changed his name formally as his mother had named him, and Darko meant ‘gift’
in the Croatian language. I understood that it was out of love and remembrance for his
mother who died when he was young.
Our conversations were a mixture of learning of his past, and reflections on everything
from science fiction to sufism. I looked forward to every visit as I could get to know him
better and reflect on any issue that would come up. David was a deep thinker, and
eager to learn more about many subjects. He had a love for science, which led him to
his long career in the lab in Etobicoke. He was fascinated by the universe. On my last
visit to him in Barrie we were discussing photography, and he showed me some
pictures taken of the universe by the Hubble telescope in a National Geographic that
he’d found. He was quite enthralled by these photos, and talked about the fact that there are many universes besides our own, the vast and unlimited extent of Allah’s
power and greatness.
I learned that David had a passion for photography, especially portraits. He showed me
some of his photos on a website, and many of them are quite good. His Islamic
character of striving to learn more became apparent to me when he said that he once
spent a week and a good deal of money to attend a workshop by a noted portrait
photographer who was visiting Toronto.
David told of different times and people in his life. He talked of using reason, and
evidence for what you believe in. It seemed to me that he was a living example of one
who followed the Quranic verse to “not follow that which there is no evidence”. One
day we had been taking about some people he knew who were into mysticism. He
explained that their ideas didn’t make sense, and concluded by stating: “We really have
little time in this life, so we’d better use our heads and think about what we’re doing”.
There is a story related to this that David told about hearing the voices of angels. We
were talking about the recent legalization of cannabis when he related this experience.
Before becoming a Muslim he was a heavy pot user. After embracing Islam this
stopped but one time he was enticed to smoke and did so. Some time after this
happened he was sitting alone had an experience of feeling and hearing the voices of
what he knew to be angels. They were unlike any human voice and simply said, “Use
your reason.” From that experience onward, he never touched pot again and it certainly
influenced him to use his reason throughout the rest of his life.
Like me, David was a convert from Catholicism to Islam. We had the connection of the
same study group that we’d attended, albeit at different times, and thought similarly
about many issues concerning Muslims and non-Muslims. During my last visit we
discussed how often Muslims hang onto to hadiths which may contradict the Quran or
common sense. Indeed I felt that I had found someone who agreed with many ideas
that I had developed over the years
Despite his amputations, David seemed to give it his best shot. I arrived at the hospice
in Barrie one time to find him showing a video of the miracles of prosthetic science to
another amputee – no doubt to cheer him up and encourage him. It was a video of a
dancer who had lost a leg in the Boston bombing and had received an advanced
prosthetic that enabled her to dance again. We talked of the possibilities of what could
be done with prosthetics, and even dreamt of a time when we could ride bikes
I am thankful to Allah for the opportunity to know David, and for the time to visit him
when he was sick – an enriching experience. Thank you David for your beautiful mind.
May Allah bless you and grant you paradise.