American Muslim's family thank Emirati community for funeral turnout

Lois J Mitchell moved to Abu Dhabi in her 80s, converted to Islam and spent her twilight years in the capital

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Related: American teacher’s funeral shows how the UAE respects its elderly

The family of an American who died in the UAE aged 95 have thanked Emiratis who turned out in their hundreds for her funeral.

Lois J Mitchell was laid to rest in Abu Dhabi's Bani Yas graveyard after spending her twilight years in her adopted homeland.

She moved to the capital in 2009 with her son and his wife after a long career as a teacher in Baltimore, Maryland. She embraced Islam and told her family that she never wanted to leave.

Her son John Mitchell, 68, splits his time between California and Abu Dhabi, where his wife Asli works, and was abroad when his mother died peacefully.

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This is the humanity of this country – one which is hard to see anywhere else and that I hope it never loses
Asli Hassan, Ms Mitchell's daughter-in-law

With a small family, Mr Mitchell struggled to think who to call for the funeral, which was held within 24 hours of her death, as is customary in Islam.

The Janaza UAE social media page, which publicises local funerals, is followed by hundreds of thousands of people and word quickly spread.

“When I arrived at the graveyard and saw all these people I was so confused. Only later did I realise that they were there for my mum," Mr Mitchell told The National at his home in Abu Dhabi.

“These families opened their hearts and homes to me. That is the essence of Islam and the cornerstone of Emirati culture," he said.

Ms Mitchell, a home economics high schoolteacher, dedicated her life to her profession and to caring for young children — many of them troubled and broken homes in one of America's toughest cities.

Mr Mitchell is her only son. He said that she would often say that she “wished for 1,000".

Lois Mitchell holding her son John when he was 10 weeks old. Photo: Mitchell family

He said Mrs Mitchell, who took the name Latifa when she converted, had that wish granted when as many as 1,000 people attended her funeral.

Even among the Emirati community, where families are large and social bonds are tight, such a large funeral is rare.

“It was a sea of white," said Mr Mitchell, who is an assistant dean at UC Berkeley College of Engineering, one of America's leading universities.

“Men who don’t know me and never knew my mum were coming towards me from every corner to pay their respects.

“Every time, I tried to thank them, they would say, 'for what — we are here for her'.

“She finally had her wishes granted. She never left the UAE and a 1,000 men — sons that she didn’t give birth to but prayed for her as if she was their own mother — gathered around her."

Mr Mitchell, who converted to Islam some years ago, said that he wanted people far and wide to know the kindness of strangers that exists in the UAE and the Arab world.

“I wish the world could know and experience what my words cannot do justice to convey," he said.

Mrs Mitchell had rheumatoid arthritis and had required a wheelchair for the past couple of years.

Her daughter-in-law, Asli Hassan, said she only really knew the staff in the Amana hospital, a local care facility, but always had kind words and a smile for them.

“Whenever my husband would take her to the hospital and had to lift her to put her in a wheelchair, people would rush over to carry her and put her in the chair," she said.

“This is the humanity of this country, one which is hard to see anywhere else and that I hope it never loses."

Mrs Mitchell's dying request was to have all her money donated to orphans.

“I know she’s happy. She is home,” Mr Mitchell said.

Updated: November 23, 2022, 8:26 AM
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