Once upon a Surprise

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem

Zuleikha

A new beginning is always a challenge. As exciting as it is, expectations can easily backfire when you’re too ambitious.

Amidst it all, there’s one thing I learnt along the way. Be true to you.

It was a lesson I learnt the hard way, and as I went along, more than once, I’ve had to take a step back, assess my priorities, and then refocus. Re-align. Reroute.

And now, as I did so, I was started to get the prickly feeling at the back of my neck againIt hadn’t gone away from yesterday. Like the day before, I was completely ignoring it.

The reminder was always there.

This wasn’t right. This wasn’t right.This wasn’t right.

Yesterday hadn’t ended well. Besides the stubborn and persistent nature of Aunty Romana, who insisted we wait till every guest had left to go, various male members of Jameel’s family had thought it was okay to come forward and not only greet me… but even attempted shaking my hand.

Jameel had seen the look of despair on my face and immediately and strategically distracted them. It could have been a nightmare, but to my great surprise, Jameel actually understood my fears. I had looked at him gratefully as he gently  guided me away.

I had never been more relieved in my life. The casual braai had turned out to be something that was completely foreign to me. Sitting lounges and dummy kitchens. I hadn’t spoken to my sister, but I knew I would definitely tell Khawlah about this. I was sure she would be mortified.

I shook my head.

Being shallow was not normal for me, but my spirits lifted slightly when when I remembered that I had an exciting honeymoon to look forward to. It would just be Jameel and I, and just for that day, Jameel had agreed upon his mother’s insistence, to have a meal at their house before we left.

Although I was hesitant, I reluctantly agreed, hoping that she would warm up to me during that time. She wasn’t an easy woman to impress and upon arrival, I sat quietly in the entrance hall for at least fifteen minutes before she finally came out. I braced myself for the big meeting, and my heart started beating a little faster as I thought about it. It would be the first time we were meeting without other people around… or any other distractions.  It was slightly daunting.

I looked around, marveling at the marble floor and staircase. This house was a little less exclusive than Aunty Romana’s, but it still gave me that eery and isolated feeling.

I shivered involuntarily, my eyes darting around, trying to spot anyone in the vicinity.

Jameel had gone to look for his sister. The silence was slightly creepy.

A good few minutes passed, and my mother-in-law finally strutted in, wearing a three-quarter fancy kaftan and fluffy slippers.

I was a little overdressed for the occasion.

I blushed as she scanned my clothing.

“Where are you’ll off to?” She asked, raising her eyebrows.

I blushed again.

“Um… I… err…” I mumbled, not knowing what to say.

It was just as well that Jameel entered at that time, all smiles and positive energy.

“Hey Mum, howsit?” He said, going to kiss her cheek.

She remained physically aloof as he bent down, and merely nodded back at him.

I cringed. This was difficult to watch.

How cold. It was like her entire body stiffened when he came closer.

His sister came in behind him, and I was glad that at least she gave me a dazzling smile as she saw me.

“How do you do it?” She asked me, eyeing out my outfit and focusing on my hijab.

“What?” I asked, slightly confused. I didn’t like the attention.

“Wear a scarf and look so damn awesome!” she exclaimed.

I couldn’t help but smile at her expression. I mean, who didn’t love complimented? I knew the point of wearing hijab wasn’t to look awesome, but it was obviously beyond her comprehension, right?

I didn’t want to admit I was wrong.

The thought of wanting to explain to her the true purpose of covering up crossed my mind.. but then I thought… why must I be so hectic?  I didn’t want to scare her either…

”I just try to be modest…” I murmured. “And not draw unnecessary attention too…”

Jameel’s mum turned to me suddenly, and pursed her lips.

“Well, in this day and age, madam,” she said to me in an acid voice. “Us women can’t go around being all modest when there are so many women out there who are out to steal our men. We have to wake up. You can’t expect to dress like an old bag and keep a man.”

Now it was Jameel and Mishka’s turn to go red. I too, flushed deeply as she looked at me pointedly.

“What’s for lunch?” Jameel asked quickly, making his mother’s wide eyes widen even more. She didn’t look impressed.

He knew that he rather change the topic than venture further.
It was obvious that something was fueling my mother in laws statements and now I reddened too, with anger.

I wanted to pursue this. Maybe I shouldn’t just be quiet. I wanted to ask her… because it just amazed me how many women especially, despise my choice of dress.

Yet, would they rather their husband’s secretary to be dressed like me or otherwise?

Is it me and my sisters who are turning their husband’s head or attracting their boyfriends?

Is it me and my sisters whose bodies and faces solicit their husband’s attention on every corner? Is it me and my sisters who have aroused that man to rape or harass their sisters?

I wanted to ask her to think again.

I wanted to ask her to think… this was my choice. In light of this, I wanted to ask her… which mode of dress is really oppressive?

I was scared. I couldn’t say it. Moreso, I had let it affect me. I had let it get to me, where I actually now felt strange dressing the way I did.

Jameel’s brow was furrowed and I could see that the tension was stressing him out. As much as I wanted to prove her wrong, I was too much of a coward. I was too weak. And I knew Jameel was too.

Couldn’t he at least defend me in front of his horrid mother?

I sucked up the feelings of hostility and followed Jameel to his room. The room was beautiful but I didn’t care. I just wanted to bury myself under the goose-down blanket and sleep all my worries away. I was exhausted. Mentally and emotionally.

I hated this house. Everything was so cold. I missed my family. My sister. My father. I just wanted to go home.

And then, Jameel came up to me, and unreservedly engulfed me in the most massive of hugs. His arms were all-encompassing and I sunk into him as he attempted to comfort me.

And of course, my heart felt all fuzzy and warm again because he just knew what to say. He just knew how to make it all okay.

“Don’t worry, babe,” he whispered, and for the first time, I actually didn’t resist the affection. “It’s going to be okay.”

Sometimes you just needed to hear it. Sometimes, just knowing that someone else believed it, was a comfort in itself.

And then, like a babbling cry baby, as he tried to comfort me, somehow, I just couldn’t stop the tears. I was choking and mumbling away, in a very unattractive way. And the weird thing was that I knew that I was being so silly and overreacting, but I just couldn’t stop it.

Tears flowed down my cheeks as I burrowed my face in his shoulder. The poor sod still didn’t let go, and for the unpteenth time that day, all sniffling and snotty, my embarrassment was overwhelming. As I finally gave him a breather and stepped back, I could clearly see the damp patch on the shoulder part of his shirt.

I apologized profusely as he assured me it was okay, but changed his shirt anyway. I looked away quickly, feeling shy again.

Although he was my husband, modesty was also part of Deen, and some qualities were natural. There were some things that you don’t have to be taught.

I supposed it was all the emotion, because my husband had been avoiding eye contact all this time, but now, Jameel looked more like his usual self as he addressed me.

“Later, Love, I  have a surprise for you.”

Jameel knew just how to get me. My spirits immediately lifted as I heard that. There was one thing that everyone loved, and I wasn’t immune to it. As old as I was, I couldn’t resist a good surprise.

Surprises were one of my favorite things. I’m sure Jameel had planned something I would love. He already knew me so well.

The flight was scheduled for just after  Maghrib, and upon my insistence, we read our Salaah at the airport Jamaat Khana  and got ready to board.

It had been a long time since I had been to any airport. I felt slightly nostalgic as we sat and waited, remembering the times Abba would take us for holiday, and reminiscing in the sweet memories that still played often in my mind.

I wiped the stray tears that had formed in the corner of my eyes, and glanced at my husband. He was busy with his phone, and I was glad that he didn’t see me getting emotional. It was just as well.

I watched through slightly blurry vision as people passed by, all on their way to their own destinations. Airports had always fascinated me. It was so amazing that so many people from so many different places could be together under one roof. It was a bit like when Abba had taken us for Umrah when Mama was alive, years ago. Different places. Different languages. Different hopes and aspirations. But all together, in this melody of life, united in one place and for one motive.

I breathed in slowly as I watched, noticing Jameel get up and pace as he spoke on the phone, probably about some important matter. His face looked serious as he spoke, and I could see him turning around, almost as if he was looking for someone. I looked in the direction of his gaze, and as my gaze shifted, the glimpse of a familiar face caught my attention.

I was mesmerized.

My eyes widened and I could barely even breathe as I stared. I wasn’t sure if I was dreaming or awake anymore. I didn’t know if I was imagining it or if my frazzled mind was just playing silly tricks on me. I couldn’t wait to find out.

I stood up and as wobbly as my jelly legs were, I lifted them just enough to take me the few meters I needed to be. I wasn’t sure if it was all real… but I reached out as I stood, almost in limbo, watching him watching me back, as if we were in some kind of surreal universe.

We stood for nearly minute, simply speechless. It was as if neither of us could quite believe that the other person was there.

I looked at him and he looked at me.

And then, I felt a firm and comforting hand on my shoulder, and Jameel’s voice whispered in my ear.

“Surprise,” he breathed, and without even seeing his face, I knew that he was smiling from ear to ear.

And of course, amidst the tears, I was smiling too.

I mean, who wouldn’t be?

It was just what the doctor ordered. A remedy for the wounded soul.

My Abba was back.

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A Little Bit of Sin

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem

Zuleikha

Within ourselves, there’s a drive that was created for our nafs. What makes us run… after anything…. is attraction. The desire. Love. The need to give and receive love.

And this need is inherent. It has been put in us by the Creator. The creator of Love… for a purpose. The need to give and receive love was created as a driver. A driver that pushes us back to Him. You see, what we don’t realize is…  we begin with Allah, and Our Rabb wants us to come back to Him in this life – to return even before we come back to Him in the next. So He puts inside us, drivers intended to bring us back.

The problem is, sometimes we make a little bit of sin. We get a little shaky… and then, just get a little lost along the way.

And yes, at first I did feel lost, as I walked with my husband, trying to appear as composed as I could.

Today was a bit different. I was going to meet his family, without any of mine around. A casual braai at his uncles house. I was feeling scared too.

Everything had been beautiful the day before. The reception, a small function that I always wanted, had been perfect. All the people closest to me had been there, and my heart had felt content, knowing that everything was going according to plan. Jameel had spoken to a few people about Abba, and he assured me that there will be news by the end of the week.

My mind felt rested, and my worries were put at bay. Jameel was true to his word, and I wanted to prove to my family that he wasn’t what they always thought. I wasnt sure why, but there was an overwhemlng need to prove that Jameel was actually a good guy.

I pulled down my top slightly as I walked, finding  it just a little too short. Through Jameel’s guidance, I probably looked the most attractive that I had ever looked in my entire life. Instead of the summery dress I wanted to wear, he had insisted that I wear a tight-fitting jeans and lace top. For the first time ever, I slipped on a pair of stiletto jelly sandals that he had bought. Being naturally tall, I never felt the need for them… but he had insisted that they were the ‘in thing’.

I sucked in my breath as we passed an indoor water feature, awestruck by the interior of the house.

It was quite spectacular.

“Here comes the gorgeous couple!”

The voice was loud and striking.

“That’s Aunty Romana,” Jameel half whispered to me, reaching for my hand as we walked closer. I was glad that he did. Meeting new people would be completely daunting at this point. I felt so vulnerable.

Aunty Romana was wearing a bright yellow and purple dress that opened up like an umbrella as she walked, making her look all elegant and elite… although she did look like she could lose a few kilos.

She had sparkly diamanté’s on her neckline and her glittery made-up eyes flashed rapidly as she spoke, with a wide smile on her face. Her teeth were whiter than white.

“I love your shoes!” She said, literally looking at me up and down as she said it. I wasn’t sure if she was being serious or if she was just looking for something to say. Her eyes were darting all over. Then she turned to Jameel.

Daaaaarling!” She cooed, squeezing his defined shoulder and air kissing him as her cheek barely touched his. Jameel put his arm around her, half hugging her back.

I frowned. I thought this was his uncle’s wife. She was being so touch-feely… for me, and my conservative background, it was so strange.

But it was okay, right? She was like older than his mother, so she probably looked at him like a son. This was her house anyway.

I shrugged the nagging thought away, my mind diverted by more and more people coming into view, and coming up to us. I was feeling a little overwhelmed. They were all hugging Jameel and then stopping to scrutinize me, and I understood why Jameel wanted me to dress the way I did. These people were super-modern, and I could see that for them, an outfit defines a person. I supposed that you would really have to have an amazing personality to get away with looking drab at this party.

“Hey cuz.”

It was Jameel who said it, as a pretty girl I remembered vaguely from yesterday’s function came up to him. She gave him a wink and a brief hug and then looked at me. Again, I ignored the feeling that plagued me. All this touching and hugging was a bit much.

“My new sister in law,” she said, genuinely looking excited. She wore a sleeveless dress that sat just above her knee. She started talking nineteen-to-the-dozen about how excited she was that she could finally meet the girl who stole her cousin’s heart, and how we need to do a coffee date. I nodded, not wanting to come across as rude.

I supposed a coffee date wouldn’t be that bad either. Although I didn’t do very well talking about make up and heels.

Don’t be so judgmental, I reminded myself.

I had learnt that even seeing people who seemed unislamic shouldn’t change our thoughts of them. Hate the dress. Hate the action. Don’t hate the person.

I sighed. This was probably going to be a long afternoon. I felt strange, all surrounded by white, glass and semi-naked people.

Jameel began to talk to his cousins, and I zoned out, wanting to rest my feet. They were sore from the heels and I needed to give them a break. There was a sleek white leather couch I was eyeing, and I quietly left my post next to Jameel and idled up to it, getting ready to collapse.

“Ah.”

I got alarmed as I heard the voice, and I looked up to see Aunty Romana suddenly next to me. This woman was like a bullet.

I wasn’t sure where she had come from but she was such a erratic personality that I didn’t expect less from her.

“Darling,” she said sympathetically, reaching out to hold my hand and practically lifting me off the couch. She was gesturing me towards somewhere else. “Let me take you to the sitting lounge.”

I froze, completely embarrassed.

Goodness. She was feeling sorry for me.

I mean, I completely got the point. The couch there was not meant for sitting on. I just wasn’t sure what on earth it was for then.

Gosh. I must have looked so stupid.

I glanced back one last time at Jameel as Aunty Romana pulled me along. I wished that he was looking. He was so engrossed in conversation with at least half a dozen of his cousins that he didn’t even notice me leaving the room.

Of course, it didn’t help that Jameel was super attractive and a smooth talker too. He was relating some story about the hotel yesterday and I could tell that every listener was hooked. We had a bit of a drama in the waiting area as we checked in, with some unruly guests. In retrospect, it was quite funny, and he was narrating it expertly.

My heart flip-flopped. A certain warmth filled my gut when I was reminded that he was my husband. It was obvious that he was really popular. I knew that all along, and it was one of the things that drew me to him… Made him so attractive. He was super busy too… with business and in between countless friends and acquaintances. Getting his undiverted attention made me feel special.

She clip-clapped with her kitten heels and I silently followed Aunty Romana through a passage, as we entered another area of the house.

If I thought that the entrance of the house was extravagant, this was… well, just over the top. It was a super modern kitchen, fitted with the best stainless steel appliances, and finished off with white high gloss cupboards and doors. Touches of lime green added a slightly quirky vibe to the place, and my eyes widened as I saw the crystal chandelier.

Yes. A chandelier. In the kitchen.

“How lovely,” I murmured, knowing that I was expected to say something. I could feel the penetrating gaze and from the way Aunty Romana was looking at me and smiling, I knew I had to comment.

She clapped her hands excitedly, nodding.

“It is, huh?!” She agreed eagerly. “You won’t believe how much it cost, doll… this is just the dummy version. I suppose you don’t know much about these things. The real kitchen is at the back of the house. Where the visitors can’t see the chef’s mess!”

I don’t know much about these things?

I wasn’t sure if she was having a go at me or not.

She clapped her hands again and beamed at me innocently, hustling along again and gesturing for me to follow her. We entered another room just around the corner, leading out to a huge tiled entertainment area and an AstroTurf play zone. There were already quite a few people there, and kids as well.

I swallowed, wondering if I had heard right.

A dummy kitchen? I was speechless.

I tried to ignore the unfamiliar feeling of despair as I sat in the ‘sitting lounge’, which was also fancy, but less high maintenance. I gazed out at the pool and the people around it, kind of lost in this material world.

This was no doubt the fanciest house I had ever been to. Abba had been doing well in business, but he had never splashed out like this. This was extreme.

Wasn’t this just wrong? Sheer extravagance? I mean, people were  starving in Kenya. They had no homes. What on earth was wrong with us that we have such an indifferent attitude to the plight of others?

But maybe they had already given money to good causes. Maybe it was justified. My mind was trying to convince me that it was okay.  Maybe it was. I shouldn’t let it bother me now, anyway. It was supposed to be my day.

Why must the thought of starving children bother me now?

I sat back now, clearing my mind, determined to ignore any guilt. Though Jameel was probably still entertaining his cousins, I made my way outside, feasting my eyes on the glam decor and millions of starters that were at my disposal.

They actually had waiters, walking around and serving various things on trays. Fancy things. Drinks in stemmed glasses. It was like something out of a movie, and as everyone came to greet me, being the new bride, I couldn’t help but feel a little excited. Like a VIP.

So this was what it was going to be like, married to Jameel. I could live like this.

I spotted my mother-in-law and sister-in-law in the distance. They had come forward to speak to me for a while, and I tried to ignore the little comments I got about my hijab. They both wore no scarves, and I sat in the crowd, I kind of felt strange in mine.

I forgot about my own family for a little while, as I sat there. I forgot about the things that had made me feel uncomfortable when I first arrived. And then, I even forgot about feeling strange as I started to enjoy myself.

That was how it was with matters of this world. Sometimes it just takes one sin, and everything you had build so far is lost. For a single piece of paradise in his wretched world, you sometimes trade an eternity of bliss.

I sat there, oblivious to everything besides  the attention and happiness of what I was feeling. I was besotted by the superficialities that surround me. For a little aesthetic pleasure, I had ignored my own values.

Jameel sauntered in, followed by some of his friends now. It was full of younger girls and boys. The older adults had found there way to the other sitting lounge, and I stayed put.

As I sat and looked on, I could tell that Jameel was obviously the most influential person in the room, and I watched him silently, wondering if he would notice me with all the attention he was getting. The girls were now huddled together, talking amongst themselves, and the guys were talking loudly on the other side.

My new husband caught site of me and gave me a wide smile, and I felt like the most important girl in the world. No-one else mattered. It didn’t matter if he had ignored me for almost an hour. It didn’t matter what the environment was like. When he sat next to me for a few minutes, giving me his full attention, my heart soared.

I was so absorbed in the moment, that I had forgotten about everything else. Jameel reached out for my hand and I looked at him. I could see him looking around. Everything was mixed and although it felt awkward to me, I guess I couldn’t blame my husband. It wasn’t his fault.

Later I would tell him that I didn’t like it. Tomorrow, it would all be back to normal.

Don’t worry, the voice said.

It was only a little bit of sin…

————————————————————

A respected Aalim mentions that even a little bit of sin will open the door to discontentment. Once one engages in what may seem like a small wrong, it immediately opens a door to discontentment and the peace or Sukoon is lost. Hence, there is no such thing as a ‘small’ sin. 

The change in theme of the posts are hoping to bring in many important lessons. No matter how much of money one may give for good causes, extravagance to such a degree in Islam is unacceptable.

May Allah guide us all. 

Much love, 

A 🌸

 

Despite the Storm

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem

Khawlah

At times, life throws you things that you don’t quite know how to deal with. Sometimes you don’t quite know what to do with the lemons. Like a rainbow in the midst of winter … Or sunshine on a rainy day… Sometimes life is not quite what you expect. And, as we stood staring at her for at least a minute, we weren’t quite sure of what to do. Our minds lost any form of comprehensive thought for a while before we realised that something needed to be said.

The silence was deafening,

“What do you want?”

It was Ahmed who spoke first. My elder brother was firm as he said it, and his brow furrowed into a frown.

Indeed. What on earth did Aunty Nas want from us now?

“Don’t talk to me like that,” she said, her eyes blinking furiously. “I didn’t do anything to you!”

Goodness. The woman was still the same.

She was talking about Ahmed specifically of course. Out of the four of us, it was Ahmed who had received the least slack. It could have been because he was a male. It could have also been because in appearance, Ahmed mostly resembled Abba.

His solid jaw, olive skin and aesthetically pleasing face was growing to look more like Abba every day.

“You didn’t do any good for us either!” Retorted Ahmed, fiercely thrusting himself forward as he spoke. He was tall and looked quite threatening. I dare say he was even taller than Abba now.

“You father would probably give you a hiding if he saw this,” she snapped. “Where is he? I tried phoning him and he is not answering. I need to speak to him.”

I looked at her, amazed at her audacity. After everything, she still had a nerve. She still felt that she had a right to demand my father’s time and attention. As far as we knew, my father had divorced her. She had no right over him.

“My father,” Ahmed said, with a glint of heated humour in his eye. He rolled his eyes at Aunty Nas, stepped away from the door, and slammed it in her face. He turned the key, ignoring the incessant banging.

“Go away, or we will call the cops,” he shouted to her, turning around and pulling a blue tie around his collar to fix it expertly.

I was hoping he would have worn something less fancy, but like Abba, Ahmed loved to dress up. He was at that age where looking good and acting all macho was important to him. He admired himself in the mirror, fixing his straightened hair methodically. All this time, as everyone gathered near the staircase, Ahmed ignored the calls from outside. Yunus came down wearing a white Kurta. At least my younger brother listened to me when I told him to dress Islamically for the Nikah.

“She better stop, or I’m probably going to shoot her,” he muttered, rolling his eyes.

I gave him a look. I knew that he was annoyed, but what good will it do if we treated her with the same kind of hospitality as she had given us. Would it even make us  feel better?

It wasn’t the morals that we were brought up with.

Hadhrat ‘Umar (RA) was reported to have said said: “There is no better punishment for the person who sinned by being bad to you, than your obeying Allaah by being good to him in return.” (Tafseer Ibn Katheer).

The pounding at the front door had ceased, but instead there was a weird sound coming from the doorstep. It was a continuous mauling that was beginning to irritate my ears.

It took me a few minutes to realize that it wasn’t the cat making that sound. The shrill noise coming from the front patio was Aunty Nas… and she was crying. Not just sobbing… the woman was howling her eyes out.

“Ahmed, open the door.”

It was Zuleikha who said it as she came down the stairs. Her face was drawn with worry and slight frustration, but there was a sympathy that was hidden beneath it all.

Ahmed raised his eyebrows at her and stepped away from the door.

“Be my guest,” he said in a flat voice, shrugging his shoulders indifferently.

We all watched as Zuleikha, in her bridal gear and beautifully made up face, make her way down the last lot of stairs and reached for the door handle. She unlatched the top and turned it, pulling the door open almost in slow motion. As the draft from outside made its way in, the open door revealing a broken women too, crumpled on the floor.

My heart almost stirred as I saw it, but then I remembered… then I remembered everything. Her evil cackle and condescending gaze. Her accusing voice… the time she had twisted my ear with contempt.

She wasn’t worth feeling sorry for, I convinced myself.

Voices were raised and comments were hurled at each other on the next few minutes, whilst Zuleikha came to the bottom of Aunty Nas’s visit.

Why was she here? What did she want? Why should we even listen to what she has to say? 

Rehab. It was the place she had come from and now she wanted our help. She wanted us to help her with Hannah. She needed a good place for her to stay. Her husband too had been involved in drugs. Besides that, there was another complication.

“He never loved her,” Aunty Nas moaned now, her shoulder slumped and her defensive demeanour completely dissolving. She was slowly unraveling the layers that had made her the ferocious and hard-hearted step-mother that we knew.

I frowned now. Being silent all this time was the best thing for me. I didn’t want to put my foot in it by saying something that could incriminate me again. What if this was all a big put-on?

And then she slowly told us a story about how she had lost Hannah’s twin brother. He had drowned in a pool, and everyone blamed her. Since he had died, Hannah had gotten little attention or time from her father. They wanted a son to ‘carry’ the family name. It was ridiculous.

“That’s why your father married me,” she finally said. “He wanted to help me. He was a good man.”

I blinked, quite shocked that this person who was some type of dragon could actually utter kind words. Her story, if it was true, actually explained a little of Hannah’s behavior. It might be a bit late but her mother wanted something different for her now.

The moments dragged as they deliberated and contemplated. Finally, Ahmed had had enough.

“I have to go,” he said. “It’s nearly time for the Nikah. Will you’ll be okay?”

He was looking at me, and I understood what he was saying. Would I be able to hold the show down while he was gone? Right now, we couldn’t kick Aunty Nas out. Despite all the evil things, she had done… I wasn’t quite sure how to treat her.

I grabbed a walking stick of Dada’s and held it in my hand, just in case. I wasn’t taking any chances where Aunty Nas was concerned. She didn’t have a very good reputation.

I sighed and nodded, hoping she would leave soon. Foi Nani was also looking tired. All this was too much for her. She didn’t need to deal with so much of drama  at this stage of her life. Our Mamajee, her son, was also going to be down in a few days. I heard her complaining to the aunty next door that she wanted to prepare for them as well, and she wasn’t getting down to it.

I found myself wishing for Abba’s presence once again, as Aunty Nas spoke. I supposed it was true that you only noticed the good things that people do when they weren’t around anymore. She seemed to hold my father in high esteem, praising him excessively. Although I recently found Abba falling short of my expectations, he had never deliberately hurt us. He kept his promises to Mama, and whilst she was alive, I didn’t remember them even having a single argument.  Abba was a good man, after all.

I breathed in, trying to remember his once familiar face. It had become vague. It had been a while now. Almost four months. the pain had become consistent but bearable now, and when we heard about good things that Abba had done, or someone reminded us of his soft and generous nature, the yearning for him would grow once again.

It made me think. It made me understand. It wasn’t how much of money you had or what car you drove that mattered. It was the little things… and the small gestures that made you stand out. Abba wasn’t the most religious. He didn’t always do the right thing. But what stood out was his sterling character… and because he had that on his side, I was sure that Allah would help him. I hoped that it would be his salvation in the situation he was in.

My mind was working overtime now. Aunty Nas needed to leave, because I didn’t want to feel sad on what was supposed to be a happy occasion. I didnt want her to dampen everyone’s spirit. Zuleikha had convinced her to work on Hannah and try and make things work with her ex-husband. Frankly, she felt we had enough problems of our own to take on hers. I think she was right. The timing wasn’t great either… we had too much going on right now, and I think Aunty Bas knew that too.

I breathed a sigh of relief as she left that day, hoping she wouldn’t come back again. There were so many things that were on my mind now. About Aunty Nas. Hannah. Abba. It was too much for me to think of… too much for my mind to process. I needed to stop thinking.

Instead, I shifted my focus to Zuleikha now, as I watched her breathe, and silently adorn a little Alice band that would complete the final touch of her bridal hijab. My elder sister looked absolutely breath-taking in ivory and mint, and as the time neared, she sat and folded her knees inward on the carpet in the passage where the receiver was. Her breathing was steady.

She lifted her eyes ever so slightly when she finally heard voices through the speaker, and then lowered them almost immediately. I could sense her inner turmoil as I spotted her trembling hands. I could almost feel her anxiety, as the two of us sat, shoulder to shoulder, and waited for those weighty words. We listened carefully as the Nikah Khutbah began, and of course, the words that would bind her for life. That would raise her to another dimension completely, as the words of Nikah would finalize the union that she would have for life .

Though my sister sat with her head forward and her body still, I could see beyond the physical strength of  her outer being. Her frazzled nerves were clearly apparent as she clenched and unclenched her first, with the whiteness of her knuckles startling me as they caught my eye.

Of course, as the sermon ended, with her head lowered, Zuleikha closed her eyes, and her heart poured out as they immediately filled with involuntary tears. Like a revelation of her soul, I caught a glimpse of what lay behind the armour that she had worn, and her true emotions became apparent. She had hidden them well but she couldn’t hold it in anymore. Hot tears flowed down her cheeks, and Zuleikha turned her face away, not wanting anyone to see. She couldn’t let this bring her down. Not today. The pain she wore was on her sleeve, and her heart too.

This too, was a test for her.  A test for us all.

I hastily retreated to my room quietly, not able to bear it any longer. Instead, as an antidote, I busied myself with the adornment of the simple dress I had chosen for the occasion, and a matching hijab. I tied the hijab carefully and silently, gazing back at myself in the mirror. I saw a twelve-year-old girl with an enormous burden. Her shoulders were weighed down by its ferocity, and her eyes told the tales of their pain.

And then, I blinked, and looked again.

Her button nose, unruly locks and darkly draws eyes stared right at me. All I saw now was a little girl. A little girl with a little heart, that had been through a little too much.

Aa I gazed at her deep, dark eyes, I felt her within me. Her eyes were a window to her damaged soul. She was the girl with the lopsided smile and silent laugh. Her eyes were pleading…. she didn’t want this to hold her back any more. She stared at me, almost challenging me to reach for the stars. Almost beckoning me to endure…  prompting me to rise above it all.

I blinked again, and averted my ears to hear car doors outside. With my heart in my mouth, I gazed out the window. The Nikah was over. I shouted out to Zuleikha to tell her that there were people here. The noise levels fluctuated as people spoke. Familiar faces came into view, and I pulled back, not wanting them to see me too.

I breathed out. I felt like everything had happened so fast. My sister was going to leave us already. Our foundation would be shaken, and we might struggle to find the balance once again. Zuleikha would make a new home, and we might feel like ours had been lost.

But after the storm is over, the sun may still find its way out. No, it wasn’t a fairy tale, but there was something very magical about what I had found within me that day.

The little girl with the world on her shoulders was no longer alone. Her heart was filled with a Power greater than anything else that this world contained. She didn’t need anything else.

When the heart was filled with Allah, then everything will fall into place.

Life happens. People die. Nothing lasts forever.

Eventually, everyone will leave and venture on their own path. Everyone has to at some stage. But there are treasures that we carry with us. The strength that each of us gain and carry will build us, and get us through, despite the storm. The hope that makes us believe that there will be a better day will always live inside of us, even if it’s buried in the innermost crux of our tarnished soul. Through a loss, maybe we could gain so much more. A reminder for the patient heart lies in time. In the ticking of the clock was both a comfort and a warning.

Although today was gone, the hope for a better day will still live on.

—-——————————————————-

Authors Note: Apologies for the delay and if the posts have not been up to scratch.  My brain has been too busy studying for exams. 🌼

Request for Duaas. 

Much love

A 🌸

Burning

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem

Khawlah

“My beautiful Khawlah,” the voice was steady and boisterous, and as I looked up, I immediately found comfort in her glistening eyes and familiar expression. She was looking at me like I was a long lost child.

“How I’ve missed you!”

I blinked back my own tears, allowing Aunty Radiyyah to come closer and engulf me in her consuming embrace. She was one of those people who just made you feel like you were home. For me, as I breathed her in and let the childhood memories sweep through my mind… I was home. Finally.

“Are you well, my darling?” She asked as she stepped back, pulling me with her as she strolled through the garden. It was such a beautiful sight, and the dimensions of flowers that lay there was breathtaking. It was like an array of happiness that was presented before us, almost inviting us to marvel in its splendor.

“The garden has grown,” I said blandly, not wanting to give away how surprised I was. I didn’t want her to think that i expected everything to be shrivelled and half dead.

You have grown,” Aunty Radiyyah said, and she paused to look at me, her gaze proud and content. “And you look so different. Gorgeous. You kids are growing so fast. Too fast.”

I swallowed, wanting to ask her about Khalid but not wanting to step over the invisible line. She hadn’t mentioned him and I didn’t want to be the first.

“The garden, you were saying?” She asked, backtracking to our previous topic I remembered this habit she had. Starting something and then coming back to it later. It was truly her bubbly personality… basically all over the place. Big and fleeting. I loved it.

“I don’t remember it being so…”

I paused as I thought of a better word.

“Vivid.”

Aunty Radiyyah looked at me, her eyes shining with laughter. And then, she threw her head back and let out an enormous chuckle. It was an infectious laugh that made me want to giggle too. Khalid used to laugh like that too.

“Such big words, sweety!” she said, giving me a wink. “I can’t believe how big you have gone. How is your brother? I heard your father has been in some trouble, is he okay?”

I blinked in slight confusion, wondering what she had heard. We didn’t even know where my father was.

I spoke in soft words as I explained to Aunty Radiyyah what was going on. It was obvious that she had heard the wrong thing. She didn’t understand the severity of the situation.

Her eyes widened in shock as I let her in on the latest news, and I could see her eyes fill with tears.

Without any warning, her warm embrace engulfed me again, this time with a deeper understanding, and I could feel my shoulder bones sink into her fleshy arms with the ferocity. She didn’t say anything, but it was okay. Sometimes words were just words. Sometimes you just needed to know that someone is there for you.

I swallowed hard as she stepped back, opening the swing door of the back verandah, and the familiar kitchen that I had spent hours in as a little girl faced me once again.

“Cuppa?” She said, and she switched the kettle on and hummed to herself as she got the tea stuff out. Her kitchen had the kind of feel that just made you want to put your heart out.

We chatted about various things as we sat and sipped on weak cardamom tea and dipped in the custard cream biscuits that I remembered from back in the day.

What beautiful memories.

“I’m sure you miss your Mama,” Aunty Radiyyah said after a long pause, and I nodded a small nod, because I didn’t trust myself to say anything else.

Mama. She seemed so far away. If only I could still remember her voice. I had been trying… for a few months now, but the sweetness of her voice completely evaded me.

I held back my tears as I sipped the tea, listening to Aunty Radiyyah.

“She’ll be so proud of you, you know,” she was saying.

I wanted to laugh and cry at the same time. Proud of me? For what?

I had done nothing great. I was just me.

“She always said,” she continued. “‘Radiyyah, my Khawlah, you have no idea. She’s fierce. Like a storm in summer.’”

I smiled through my stinging eyes, half wishing she would stop, and also hoping she wouldn’t. Hearing about Mama was a painful comfort. I could almost imagine her saying it.

“‘But I’m scared she’s not going to like what life is like out there.’”

I looked up at Aunty Radiyyah’s flushed face, surprised. She was nodding. Did Mama really say that?

“But look at you, my darling,” she said now, shaking her head at me in awe. “You have exceeded your Mama’s expectations. You’re brave. You’re beautiful. And best of all, angel, you have Allāh in your heart. When you have Him in your heart, my girl… you can never go wrong. Never.”

And then she told me the most beautiful and comforting narration .

Nabi ‘Isa (‘alaihis salaam) was once proceeding to a certain place for some task when he passed by a grave. On looking at the grave, Allah Ta‘ala showed him that angels of punishment were torturing the inmate of the grave.

Sometime later, when Nabi ‘Isa (‘alaihis salaam) had completed his task and was returning, he again passed by the grave. However, Allah Ta‘ala now showed him that instead of angels of punishment, there were angels of mercy at the grave, bearing platters of divine radiance!

Nabi ‘Isa (‘alaihis salaam) was surprised at this sudden change in condition. He thus performed salaah and engaged in du‘aa, begging Allah Ta‘ala to reveal to him what had caused the punishment of the inmate to cease and be replaced with His special mercy.

Allah Ta‘ala sent revelation to Nabi ‘Isa (‘alaihis salaam) informing him thus:

O ‘Isa (‘alaihis salaam)! This servant led a life of disobedience and sin, and he has thus been engulfed in punishment from the time he passed away. However, when he passed away, he left a wife who was expecting a child. After the child was born, she raised him and saw to his upbringing until he grew into a young boy. She then made him over to the maktab (elementary madrasah) teachers. After entering the madrasah, the teacher made the child recite “Bismillaahir Rahmaanir Raheem”. I thus felt ashamed to punish my servant with fire within the earth while his son is taking My name above the earth.

(At-Tafseerul Kabeer vol. 1, pg. 143)

SubhaanAllah. How amazing was it that just the recitation of Allah’s name after the death of his parent can be a salvation. Imagine any other act of worship?

One of the greatest investments for any parent is a pious child. Because parents are the means of the child entering the world, they have a share in all his good works and righteous deeds and are rewarded accordingly. I hoped that Aunty Radiyyah was right. I hoped that I was  the kind of child that would make Mama happy, even now.

I sighed as we talked about other things, like Zuleikha, but tried to stay away from topics like Abba. I didn’t ask about Khalid and she didn’t offer any information. As far as I could see, the door to Khalid was closed, and there was no intention of it being open. I left the familiar house through the back door, feeling like a heavy weight had been lifted off my shoulders. I felt as light as a feather as I walked back home,knowing and now fully believing that Allah is in charge of whatever was to happen. There was no need to be despondent… there was most definitely a plan in place.

Zuleikha looked at me as I walked in, and I could see the hesitancy in her expression. We had had a fight earlier on. I didn’t like what she was doing. I felt like had this burning desire to make everything okay. I wanted her to see that it wasn’t her duty. We weren’t seeing eye to eye.

And now, as she thought about earlier, she didn’t know how to approach me. She wasn’t sure what to say. I hated the uneasiness, so I went up to her, looked her in the eye, and let her know.

“Your choices are your choices. I love you, and I want you to do what’s best for you. If you truly know in your heart that this marriage will be good for you, then I will accept it, and support you.”

She looked at me, completely shocked. I sounded so grown up. I’m sure that she thought so too. I climbed up the stairs two at a time, leaving her waiting a little dumbfounded  at the bottom of the stairs.

The next few days were sort of a crazy rush. To me, Zuleikha was confused. She knew that she wanted to be simple ceremony and a quick Nikah. She knew what the right thing was. But she liked the attention too. She enjoyed being a bride and she didn’t want to feel robbed off her special moment. She just didn’t want to be selfish and make it about her, especially when Abba wasn’t here.

“Foi Nani!”

Zuleikha was shouting from my parent’s room where she was getting ready. She sounded like she was out of breath.

Foi Nani was still in her room. She hadn’t come out from the morning. She still wasn’t fully recovered but she had to help with Zuleikha’s preparations.

“I can’t find the scarf,” she was saying, emerging from the room in a rush. Her face was made up, by herself of course, and I was a little taken aback as I saw her in a lightly coloured beautiful silken skirt with a lacy top.

“Maybe it fell off the hanger,” Foi Nani was saying, sounding annoyed. She knew it was there because she had put it there herself.

“Oh, yes,” Zuleikha said as she dashed off, her skirt flowing as she spun around. She had subtle beading around the edges and I caught a glimpse of her pretty jelly pump that glittered from beneath.

I smiled a sad smile as I saw my sister rush to the room, knowing that this would probably be the last day she would dress at home. A certain loneliness entered my heart, and the familiarity of it almost stifled me. I wanted to push it away, but it tugged at my heart strings, making me weepy all over again.

And then, as the house filled with joy and quiet anticipation for the event that lay ahead, the somberness faded and excitement overtook. Even Ahmed and Yunus seemed elated and eager, and I held my heartache back as I watched my three siblings.

What sweet memories… they were fleeing so fast too. I felt like I wanted to hold onto them a little longer… but time wouldn’t wait. Time wanted to run along. Wanted everyone to grow up too fast.

I didn’t want these moments to end. I didn’t want our childhood to be taken away. We had been through so much… seen too much. In life and death. In our childish shrieks, and our heartfelt cries. In the soft strokes of the old passage clock, the time had gone so fast. We had gained some, we had lost some. People had come into our lives, and just as suddenly, they had left. The only thing we knew all this time was each other… .

My heart almost seized in my chest as a rapping on the door caught us off guard. We weren’t expecting anyone now. It was already the eleventh hour.

Ahmed and I exchanged looks as we pulled open the door and caught sight of the visitor.

Outside, was a blast from the past that we never expected, and although she wore a helpless hope and a sorry smile…. the four little people that she had once knew were not so little anymore. Some things were not easy to forget. Some things haunted you, even when you were asleep.

It was in the heat of the battle when there was a knight who swiftly broke through the Roman ranks as an arrow. Khalid (RA) and the others followed him and joined the battle, while the leader wondered in awe about the identity of the unknown knight.

It was reported that Rafe’ Bin Omeirah Al Taei was one of the fighters. He described how that knight scattered the enemy ranks, disappeared in their midst, and then finally re-emerges after a while with blood dripping from his spear. He swerved again and repeated the deed fearlessly, several times. The watched with bated breath. All the Muslim army was worried about him and prayed for his safety. Rafe’ and others thought that he was Khalid (RA), who had won great fame for his bravery and genius military plans. But, to their great surprise and confusion, suddenly Khalid (RA) appeared from elsewhere with a number of knights. It is reported that Rafe’ asked the leader: “Who is that knight? By Allah, he has no regard for his safety!”

It was a great mystery for all. The Knight was not yet ready to be revealed. He fought on valiantly. The identity of the great and skilled warrior was to be kept a secret.

But not for long… for such ferocity could not remain unnoticed. 

As ‘he’ was asked, the master of the battle fields lowered his head, and replied in a feminine voice: “My prince, I did not answer because I am shy. You are a great leader, and I am just a woman who has a burning heart.”

Burning. Burning.

We were all still burning. There was no other way to comprehend the feeling.

She had lit the fire once before… but this time, the warrior within us would shine through…

And as for the flame within… it’s light would continue.

 

 

 

The Greatest Plan

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem 

Zuleikha

There are moments in this temporary world where we get completely lost. We lose ourselves to desires.

Our hearts are swayed, and not only do we form an attachment… but we come to love things as we should only love Him. We make them ours. We take those ‘things’ and inject them into our hearts, until they take over.

It’s not long before we feel that we cannot live without them. Every waking moment is spent in contemplation of them, in submission and worship to them. Every moment we yearn for them.. pine for them… and basically feel lost without them… is proof that we have been duped.

“The mind and the heart that was created by Allah, for Allah, becomes the property of someone or something else. And then the fear comes. The fear of loss begins to cripple us. The gift—that should have remained in our hands—takes over our heart, so the fear of losing it consumes us. Soon, what was once a gift becomes a weapon of torture and a prison of our own making. How can we be freed of this? At times, in His infinite mercy, Allah frees us…by taking it away.
As a result of it being taken, we turn to Allah wholeheartedly. In that desperation and need, we ask, we beg, we pray. Through the loss, we reach a level of sincerity and humility and dependence on Him which we wou
ld otherwise not reach—had it not been taken from us. Through the loss, our hearts turn entirely to face Him.”

Through loss… sometimes we gain so much more.

I packed my last bag as I sat on my bed, knowing that I would miss this room and it’s airy indifference. It had held a special place with me, just as this house did, and I never wanted to lose the memories that I had in it. Mama’s voice calling me softly as the Fajr Adhaan would go still played on my mind. I could never forget the soft embrace I would feel as I slept, and she would whisper a sweet Du’aa in my ear.

Well, those days are over now, a voice inside me said stubbornly, and I breathed in slowly, savouring the crisp Spring air fill my lungs.

I kind of missed Foi Nani’s nagging today. She had come down with a virus, and her voice was almost non-existent. I told her it would be best if she rested. Packing wasn’t difficult for me.

Everything had gone so fast. I never imagined it would be like this, but circumstances were such that it had to be. The arrangements were done in record time and the  Nikah was going to be quick and simple. There was to be no huge reception or merry functions. I didn’t want to make this a big deal right now. Without Abba here, how could I ever  think of celebrating like that? This was all so we could have him back with us.

I tried not to think of my siblings as I pulled my suitcase down the stairs. Although their stares haunted me, it was Khawlah’s words that had pierced my already tainted soul. She had a way of making me feel even worse than I ever had.

“I can’t believe you!” She had shouted at me, her dark eyes flashing angrily. Her curls were bouncing around as she spoke, as if they had a life of their own. I had never seen my sister so angry.

“For money! It’s like you are selling yourself,” she spat, blinking furiously at my silence.

I couldn’t believe my twelve-year-old sister actually knew things like that. I widened my eyes at her.

“Shut up!” I said to her, blinking back the tears that were on the verge of escaping.

She had crossed the line. She had gone too far and she knew it.

“You don’t know what it’s like,” I said, wanting to shake her up.

Didn’t she understand? Abba needed our help. Being the eldest made me feel responsible for the entire household.

She looked like she was a bit calmer now. I could practically see the fury draining from her face. She was looking a little more like Khawlah now.

“Everything will fall into place,” she said now. “Abba will come home.”

I looked at her, slightly startled.

“How do you know?”

Khawlah’s fierce eyes met mine, and she nodded.

“Allah will take care of it, Zulz,” she said with so much of confidence in her own words that I was blown away. “He alone is on charge of the entire world. If only we knew… We just need to put all our faith in Him.”

As she said it, I could feel the hope in her voice shining through. She had so much of conviction in her words that I felt like I was completely lost.

How? I wasn’t sure how my sister had gotten this kind of faith… but just her mere disposition was a wake up call for me and made me reflect.

Maybe she was right… but what if she wasn’t?

In my own mind, I couldn’t stop the nagging feeling of ‘what if’. What if it just doesn’t happen? What if I just didn’t have enough faith or patience to get through it on my own. I wasn’t strong like Khawlah.

“He’s changed,” was all I could say, because at this point, I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t even admit to her that I had been weak. How did I explain to my sister that everything I had repeated of Mama’s sentiments… I myself was not able to withstand.

He had changed, I convinced myself. When he phoned for the proposal a few weeks back, he sounded so different. So mature. Not like the spontaneous and irresponsible guy I had known back then. And no, he wasn’t perfect. He never would be. But I was willing to give it a chance.

Bedsides, he was willing to do whatever it takes to get Abba back. I knew what it looked like. It sounded horrible too, but I was relying on him tremendously.

Khawlah just shook her head at me, and I could see the sheer disappointment in her eyes. She didn’t want to talk about it anymore. The topic was closed. All I saw  was her back as she made her way up to her room, probably to drown her sorrows in her books again.

I knew this was hard for her. It wasn’t easy for me. But what other option did I have? We tried everything, and Abba was still not back home. We couldn’t give them what they wanted to get him back. What if they killed him? I didn’t want to even think about that.

I sunk into the orange couch on the entrance hall, sighing deeply as I reflected over the events of the week. Too much had happened. I felt as if I needed time to just slow down a little bit so I could breathe normally again.

The shrill ring of the phone caught me off-guard and I picked it up, without even giving it any thought. My voice sounded tired and my nerves were shattered.

“Hello,” I said, sounding as dull as the dreary weather outside. I could see the grey clouds creeping through the window and the sky was beginning to darken as I watched. It looked like rain was due at any time,

“Hey babe.”

I paused momentarily as I processed. I immediately sat up in the couch, alert and fully conscious now. It was Jameel. I wasn’t sure why but he insisted on calling me that. Some girls liked those kind of names, but it kind of irked me.

“Jameel, why are you phoning here?” I asked, moving the phone away from my ear to make sure that I was speaking on the house phone.

“Because you wouldn’t answer if I called on your cell,” he replied, matter-of-fact.

He was right. I wouldn’t have. I didn’t want to speak to him before the Nikah. It was just a few days now anyway.

“You know why,” I said, holding the phone between my shoulder and ear so I could hear better. ”You’ll get tired of me before we even get married! We have enough time…”

”I won’t ever get tired of you,” he said sweetly.

My tummy did a small flip, but I ignored the warning. I mean, who didn’t like to hear nice things about themselves? Who didn’t like a guy to throw them up?

“Really?” I prompted him, taking the receiver and moving into the lounge where I wasn’t so audible.

“You’re amazing,” he continued in his smooth voice. “Not to mention… so gorgeous…”

”Hmmm,” I said, enjoying every bit of it.

I knew I was being self-centered. I knew I was being stupid. I also knew it was wrong.

I just needed that convincing. After Khawlah’s little session, I wanted to prove to her that he was good. And of course, to me, he was proving himself very well. I didn’t realize that my younger sister had a better version of good than I did.

“Okay, I have to go now,” I suddenly said to him, cutting him short after getting what I needed out of him and not wanting to listen to his small talk.

Also, I spotted Khawlah enter the lounge from the corner of my eye, and I didn’t want her to overhear my conversation. I could see from her questioning gaze that it was probably too late.

“Who was that?”

Her voice was neutral and I could see that she had calmed down from earlier.

“No-one,” I lied, not wanting to hear more outbursts from my sister.

“You know boys and girls aren’t supposed to be friends,” she said, raising her eyebrows at me.

I narrowed my eyes slightly, wondering where this goodie-two-shoes sister of mine had come from.

It was easier for her to talk. She was only twelve. Marriage was a notion so far off for her. All she had to worry about was school.

“Says who?” I challenged her.

Since when was she allowed to lecture me? 

I didn’t want to admit it, but a little bit of arrogance had crept in. All that I knew in my demented opinion was that I was marrying the guy.  What was the harm?

I didn’t know that the mere thought that I was still doing something okay was itself a danger. The thing was, when anyone engages in sin, at first there’s a flicker of doubt that appears on your mind… and this flicker is a warning. It serves to inform you, trying to alert you that something is not right. When you persist, with no regard for it, the reminder eventually goes away. The part of me inclining to do good was dwindling away, and at that moment I had no conscience whatsoever.

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Verily, when the servant commits a sin a black spot appears upon his heart. If he abandons the sin, seeks forgiveness, and repents, then his heart will be polished. If he returns to the sin, the blackness will be increased until it overcomes his heart. It is the covering that Allah has mentioned: No, but on their hearts is a covering because of what they have earned.” (83:14)

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 

Khawlah just looked at me, and I couldn’t tell if she was more disappointed or more annoyed. I shrugged at her, putting on a indifferent face, and climbed back up the stairs to finish zip up my bags.

She didn’t have to be so uptight about everything. She didn’t have to make me feel so guilty.

Things were going to get better. There was a lot to look forward to… she would see.

The way I saw it, it was going to be amazing. I would get married. Jameel would help us with the money we needed for Abba. Foi Nani will get well again and get back to normal.

What I didn’t know was that there was a greater plan in place. In my childish ignorance, I didn’t know that our plan was not always the final plan.

To Khawlah, it seemed like she had lost everything. To me, everything had been found.

For us all, we didn’t know it yet, but there was a master plan in place… a plan that we would watch unfold, piece by piece… a plan that was carefully designed by none other than…

The Greatest Planner of all.

Lost

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem

Khawlah

“A little more to the left.”

I looked at Ahmed, frowning a little. The sun’s rays were shining directly in my face, and my vision was obscured. Seeing accurately was easier said than done.

“Left, left!” He said again, moving closer to the target to reiterate. I focused a little more, trying to go as left as I can whilst still keep my eye on the target.

Khawlah!”

I released the butterfly sword in my hand, watching it glide through the air and just miss Ahmed’s face.

He jerked back and looked at me in shock. I couldn’t help it. I immediately started giggling.

His thunderous face didn’t change as he stared me down, probably thinking I had done it intentionally.

My brothers olive skin had gotten deeper from all the hours spent on the roof garden in the sun. He was looking older and a little more fierce too.

“Are you crazy? You have to focus, Khawlah,” he said, his face losing its rage slightly. “Focus!”

Normally in situations like this, even the strongest of warriors get nervous, but she being a tigress, took a knights armor and covered her face with a green scarf. She mastered the technique of sword-fighting and battle when she was just a young girl, and fought the enemy bravely with some soldiers. She took hold of the reins and steered herself straight into the raging battle. She fought so valiantly that muslim soliders thought that she was the great commander Khalid Bin Walid himself. It was only when she revealed her identity they found out that she was a woman. And what a brave one at that.

Her father’s name is either Malik or Tareq Bin Awse. Al Azwar was his nickname. Her brother, Derar, was the knight and poet of his tribe, and was well known as well for his wisdom. His love for his sister and confidence in her capabilities were legendary. In fact, the brother and sister were so attached to each other that she was his companion wherever he went. He trained her in all arts of swordsmanship and she also became a knight. Besides that, Khawlah RA was a poet who mastered that noble art. She was said to be tall and of great beauthy.

Ahmed was rattling about something that Abba had told him, and I zoned out for a few minutes, wondering when the time will come when I’d have to truly show my courage.

He had been training me well. It was like Abba had taught him some kind of martial arts all these years, and we had no idea about it.

Why? Maybe Abba knew. Maybe Abba knew that something might happen to him and we needed to be prepared.

It had been a few weeks. I had gotten snippets of information from Ahmed. Abba was still alive. He had basically been kidnapped by a mob who wanted money.

“Money. That’s all it’s about,” Ahmed said, like it was so simple. “Money makes the world go round.”

I let him have it when he said that. I let him hear the parts about money that people didn’t like. Like how it breaks up families. Like how it leads to substance abuse. Like how no family who has money knows unity.

Amr ibn Awf (RA) reported: The Messenger of Allah, (SAW), said, “By Allah, it is not poverty I fear for you, but rather I fear you will be given the wealth of the world just as it was given to those before you. You will compete for it just as they competed for it and it will destroy you just as it destroyed them.”

Source: Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 2988, Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2961

I wished, with all my heart, that we never became like that. That it never destroyed us.

The worst part of it now was that it had become public news, so now everyone thought we as kids had lots of money at our disposal too. They didn’t know that none of us actually had access to Abba’s accounts, since we were all still minors.

The unwanted attention I was getting at school was getting stifling. I blocked all thoughts out as I aimed the pistol at the target for a last round, finding a certain solace in the “Whoosh” sound of its suppressor.

It was still pretty loud, just not ear shattering… thankfully, it was still beyond noticeable for the occupants of our house. Foi Nani would have probably have had a heart attack if she knew what was going on.

Money. It was such an illusion. It was the single most evil force that this world held. It was the root to every pain and misery that existed. As I grew up I had began to hate it. Wealth and luxury had only brought with it hurt and anguish. When we had little, we had so much.

What people didn’t understand though was that money was not the end and be all of it all. No matter how much money people had, it all came down to one thing. Barakah. Barakah in sustenance is what we all need to asking for. Barakah is what carried a family through even with a meager salary of one person. Barakah is what made just a little seem like so much more.

I breathed out as Ahmed turned his back to me, signaling it was the end of the drilling session. Although things had eased up for me at school, I didn’t like the attention that was coming my way. Faaiza had now latched on to me as her own stregnth against the former mean girls… who actually weren’t that man anymore.

It was amazing how people treated you if they found out something about you that they may like… even teachers had changed. Most unnerving though, was the weird vibe I wa getting from my former arch enemy. Mishka was behaving most unusually.

Of course I made effort to be good to everyone, regardless of what had happened in the past. I remembered Mama always saying that it’s best we treat people the way we would like to be treated.

“Khawlah, may I speak to u?”

I spun around as I heard myself being addressed, completely unexpectedly. Mishka’s expression was neutral. I looked at her, a little confused. Did she really want to talk to me?

I nodded, still feeling perplexed.

“Later,” I said vaguely, hearing the bell for the next lesson start, and not wanting to appear too eager as well. What on earth did this girl want from me anyway?

Later never came that day, and although I glimpsed Mishka in the second break, I didn’t go out of my way to meet her. I was actually a little weary of what she would want from me, and I would say back to her. I heard Faaiza say that maybe she wanted to apologize, but I thought that unlikely.

When the last bell for the day sounded, I dashed away as fast as I can, feeling instantly relieved when I saw Aunty Rahima’s car waiting for me at the gate. Although things had gotten better at school, I didn’t exactly enjoy it. I wished silently for Abba to come back home soon. I wished to see his face, and as I entered the house with my key and caught a glimpse of his cost hanging behind the door, my heart ached with a yearning that  I couldn’t bear.

I went towards Abbas coat, holding onto its ends and letting it wrap around me, so my entire face was covered in it. The musty scent caught me unawares, and my saliva stifled my throat as the lump formed, bringing on an array of emotions that I had been holding in. Tears flowed freely as I twirled around in Abba’s long coat, gripping it firmly as if it was a piece of him. I had been so lost without him. I felt like he was near again. didn’t want to let go.

Abba. I missed him so much. So so much.

A voice from the kitchen cut through my thoughts.

“Foi Nani, there’s no big deal.”

I froze as I heard the voice, and realised it was Zuleikha in the kitchen.

“What no big deal?” Foi Nani replied. “Everything for your generation is no big deal. Your mother would want this for you. When these people come we can’t just give them tea and Marie biscuits. They’ll think what kind of upbringing you’ve had. Don’t tell me no big deal.”

I could practically hear Zuleikha rolling her eyes, but she didn’t say anything.

“Thandi, get me the sieve,” Foi Nani was saying now.

I could hear some dishes clanking in the sink. Aunty Thandi was the new helper that Abba had got on a part time basis after Aunty Agnus had left. I still missed Aunty, but it was too late. No-one knew where she was.

“The sieve!” Foi Nani said, her voice getting louder. “Not this. This is not a bloody sieve! Listen when I’m talking!”

”Foi Nani, we must talk to the helpers nicely,” Zuleikha said, and I cringed as she said it. Foi Nani didn’t like to be told she was wrong. Even when she was wrong,

Mama had always stressed on how we speak to people. Even workers. Even when it was someone who wasn’t good to us.

Sometimes when we were in a stressful situation we tend to lose ourselves. We tend to lose our manners. But we were Muslim at all times. How we act and speak was a reflection of our religion and where we come from. If we are rude and had bad attitudes, what did it say about us? 

I could hear Zuleikha and Foi Nani arguing about something else, and as I unwrapped myself from Abba’s coat, I listened vaguely to the bickering. It was when Zuleikha said something about Jameel that my ears suddenly pricked up again.

“There are only two days, and I need to get ready,” Foi Nani was saying. “These people are going to help with Abba too… so if they decide they want the Nikah quickly, we have to agree.”

My eyes widened, knowing what was meant. This Jameel boy. How was he going to help with Abba? Was Zuleikha going to marry him? I couldn’t believe that she didn’t tell me.

Instead of barging into the kitchen like I planned to, my feet were rooted to the ground. I was in limbo as I processed what was being said, and my heart was thudding. It was a mixture of fear and shock, wondering how everything was going to change.

Change. Athough I wasn’t scared of much, change was the single horrible element that scared me the most. It made me feel so lost.

I breathed in deeply, wishing I had heard wrong. Wishing that it was all a big mistake. Wishing I had made a bigger noise when I came in so that Foi Nani and Zuleikha didn’t mention all these things that my not-so-little ears weren’t supposed to hear.

I opened the door I had come in through again, wondering what I was going to do next.  It wasn’t safe to just be outside. Ahmed had warned me about that. But I couldn’t stand to be here anymore. I needed some time… I needed some space to think.

I stepped on the porch, nervously biting my lips, hoping for some kind of intervention.

I felt a surge of energy as I stood there, and I let it empower me, feeling it spur my legs into movement, and then letting it take me faster and faster through the gate of the front yard.

I passed the grassy lawn of Aunty Lucy next door, and I passed the neighbors picket fence. I passed the rickety gate of the purple house. My legs carried me through, right till I reached the familiar stepping stones that led to the garden I had sought refuge in as a little girl.

Not so little anymore, my long fingers found it’s way to the little catch that held the gate closed, releasing it and allowing it to swing open. It wasn’t locked. It never was.

I stood there, almost startled by it’s blatant audacity. I hadn’t been here in months, but it was calling. It was beckoning for me to enter… waiting for me to trample into it’s spledour. The lush green leaves immediately lifted my spirits, making me forget everything that had been on my busy mind. I let my thoughts drift into the peaceful tranquility of my surroundings.

I looked down into garden. The little sprouts were no longer there. Instead, now there were big bushes and flowering shrubs in their place. The last lot that we had planted from seed had now fruited into brightly coloured pumpkin that were almost fully grown. I sunk my bare hands into the soil, feeling the wetness on my finger tips. We hadn’t had rain for a while, so I could only imagine that someone must have been taking good care of it.

I breathed in, the soft scent of nature already soothing my anxiety. For a twelve-year old, I knew I had too many worries on my head. I really wished that everything could just be normal again. How I wished for a diversion from the reality that awaited me back home. With my fingers finding each other from time to time in the extensive earth, it’s rough texture was like the first glimpse of a long lost love. I was insatiable… besotted by its enamour.

So lost was I in the love of my life… I didn’t even hear the footsteps approach. My thoughts plummeted back to home base as the warm voice spoke out.

“Khawlah, is that you?”

 

Waging a War

Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem

Khawlah

Time drags. Seconds seem like minutes and minutes seem like hours. Time almost stands still for a while as we wait in anticipation for a dreaded outcome.

I stood with feigned confidence at the door, looking at the police man with an heir of indifference. To keep it together was my expertise. Composition was the key.

”Where’s your Mum?”

The police officer was peering at me curiously as he said it, obviously not knowing the impact on the information that he may be imparting to us. It wasn’t that he didn’t know it was serious. It was just that he didn’t know how much we had been through.

”Ya Allah,” I could hear Foi Nani in the background. “Ya Allah!”

She sounded like her heart was being ripped apart, piece by piece. The cries were getting louder and I was struggling to hear what the two officers were saying to each other. Did they mention something about a car-jacking gone wrong?

I sucked in my breath, feeling the little bubble of hope deflate.

But it wasn’t the end of the road yet, right? I mean, no-one was saying he was dead.

“Please sir,” I blurted out, not wanting to prolong the anxiety any more. “I don’t have a mother. Can you just tell me where my father is?”

The one officer looked startled by my directness, while the other looked unaffected and bore a stern look on his face. He glanced into the house, almost as if he was addressing someone else.

“I’m afraid, Miss,” he said, still not even glancing at me. “That’s your guess is as good as mine.”

He shrugged as he said it, and I looked at him , really confused. Is he for real? He’s the police. He’s supposed to know about these things, right?

I looked at him in desperation. I didn’t know what to say.

“What is it?”

It was Zuleikha that came up from behind me, finally growing the guts to face the music. Her voice was timid and she was expecting the worst.

“Is he… okay?”

She was stammering as she said it, probably wondering if she should ask or not. Her amber eyes had traces of red around the edges, giving evidence of her mellow emotion. She had donned her hijab before she came outside, knowing that there were two male officers outside.

She had been  hushing Foi Nani too in intervals, telling her that a Muslim should not cry or shout in loud voices, even if it’s in grief. Besides, there was nothing to be grieving about… no-one even knew what happened to Abba.

They were explaining the process of a missing person… and all I caught was that Abba’s car was found idling on the road with no- one inside. It was something of a kidnapping… it sounded so sinister.

The cops were soon gone and Ahmed and Zuleikha went with them to open a report. I sat on my bed, zoning in and out of reality as I processed the days events.

I missed Abba. I longed to hear his voice and I ached to feel the warmth of his embrace. As I slept, before Zuleikha could get home, I imagined his salaam and his jolly face.

Abba would come back, I told myself. Abba will be okay.

The night passed in restlessness, as I awoke multiple times, with that nagging feeling that everything was not the same. Zuleikha’s voice could be heard in the passage and Ahmed was talking on the phone. I drifted back into slumber, not wanting to check in to reality once again. I wasn’t ready to remember the days events… it was too exhausting.

Morning eventually arrived and a new day was here. A new day, and we were hoping some good news. I started the day with an optimistic salaam as I entered the kitchen, a little demotivated by the half-hearts greetings I got back.

Yunus, Ahmed and Zuleikha were all looking at me, with a whimsical look on their faces. I took out a bowl and poured my cereal, and the turned around to get the milk out of the fridge.

“You going to school?” Zuleikha asked me, looking surprised.

Ahmed raised his eyebrows. My elder brother looked even older than Zuleikha now, and his sturdy expression was just like Abba. I think he and Abba looked almost identical now.

“I don’t see the point in sitting around and waiting,” I said, shrugging. They looked like they had no direction. There was not much we can do anyway. I instructed Yunus to get ready too, because there was no point in sticking around.

They watched me eat, almost in awe, and then I grabbed my bag and we waited outside for the lift club. Abba would be okay. I had full faith that Allah would take care of us.

My heart was still pounding in my chest, as it was the previous night, but I stayed strong and held my feelings within.

I thought about Khalid. I wonder what he would say about this. Maybe he would have found it strange. He might have even  laughed. And then I thought about Mama.

No matter what. No matter who. He was always there. He remained.

When they slept, He was awake. When they broke, He carried you. When no one else was there, He was. He remained. He always remains. Remember that always, Khawlah. Remember that. Remember Who you owe everything to. 

Although my heart was aching deep inside, the courage I sought was finding its way to the surface. Although I wasn’t looking forward to being at school and dealing with the girls, I knew that right now, we needed a diversion. A distraction.

You’re strong, Khawlah, I told myself. You’re a warrior.

The school corridors were desserted when I arrived, but as I got into my class, instead of the usual hostility I would usually feel from those few girls, I could sense something different today. Today, I could sense a change… today,  all eyes were on me.

And then I knew it.

I knew that they knew. They knew, and I knew it too. I put my head down, feeling ashamed, although I wasn’t sure why. I was brave, yes, but this… this, I wasn’t prepared for. I didn’t expect it.

And, of course, the whispers started. They weren’t accusing or ugly. They were just curious. Curious and interested. I hastily took my seat and ignored them until the break, when of course, I knew I would get hounded. I grabbed my lunch and darted for the door, but I wasn’t fast enough. It was Faaiza who caught up with me first, but only because I allowed her to. Another girl who I knew vaguely was on her tail.

“Khawlah!” She said as she caught up with me, huffing and puffing away. Although Faaiza was a little on the chubby side, she was still a commendable athlete in school. It was just that I was a tiny bit faster than her, and could maneuver myself a little more skillfully.

“Everyone is talking about you,” She half-whispered, through her pronounced breathing. “They say your dad is being held for a ransom. Is it true?”

I widened my eyes as I turned to look at this girl who was once a good friend. Where on earth did she hear that? More importantly, was it true?

I didn’t know much about Abba’s situation. No-one has told me. All I knew was that I had put my faith in my Allah and that He would get us through. There were moments of hopelessness, and of utter desperation…. but when I would hear Mama’s words echoing through my mind, it was like waves of wondrous magic making everything beautiful and blossom again.

”Ask only of Allah,” she would say. “You just talk to him, and He will give you even if it’s the entire world. And even that will decrease none of His power.”

I only understood now what Mama meant. It was the purest definition of unconditional.  The true meaning of limitless. That was my Lord, and that was what He was ready to give.

It was so extensive… so unimaginable… yet it still blew my mind.

If only we could truly understand the extent of our lord and His favors. If only we truly believed and had faith in his provision.

Umar ibn Al-Khattab (RA) reported: The Messenger of Allah (SAW) said, “If you were to rely upon Allah with reliance due to him, then he would provide for you just as he provides for the birds. They go out in the morning with empty stomachs and return full.

Source: Sunan al-Tirmidhī 2344

I prayed a silent prayer, wishing for Abba to be safe. Right now, I felt like I just wanted to be home again, maybe I was too brave sometimes. Like this morning. Too brave for my own good.

“I don’t know what you are talking about,” I said to Faaiza, not relating any of my true feelings in the process. Even if it may be true what she was saying… I didn’t want to delve into it.

The day passed in a blur. Girls kept coming up to me and asking me random things. Even a boy. I quickly answered him and walked on, not wanting to engage in conversation. As I was getting older, these things made me a bit awkward.

It was finally time for the last bell, and I waited eagerly, already tired of this long day. I was awaiting the peace of my home, and itching to get news from Zuleikha. Was Abba Home yet? What was this ransom thing? How did everyone even know about him?

I practically jumped off the car before it stopped fully outside our house, ignoring the looks of disdain from Aunty Rahima who drove the mini bus. She was always worried about safety, which was why Abba trusted her enough to take us to school since we were quite young.

I bolted into the house with purpose, this time, my mind far away from food. I wasn’t hungry. I couldn’t even stomach my thoughts. Everything was making me anxious.

“Zuleikha!” I shouted, my eyes searching the empty passage  for her familiar face. Any familiar face. Where was she? Where was Foi Nani?

”Foi Nani!” I screamed, even checking outside.

Yunus wasn’t home yet.

No-one was Home. Except for the time when Mama had died… I never felt so alone in my entire life.

I continued to call.

Sssssshhhhhhhhh!”

I spun around in shock as I heard him, seeing Ahmed’s face peep out from the top of the balustrade.

My brother looked taller from downstairs, and for the first time in months I studied at him, trying hard to give him a death glare at the same time.

He looked different. He had that penetrating gaze like Abba, and his hair stuck out at the top, because he refused to cut it. His  face had stubble around it, and I thought of how Mama would shout if she knew he was shaving. I remembered her scolding Abba too. I had a good mind of telling him so.

“Couldn’t you hear me shouting for everyone?” I asked him, annoyed that he had been here all along and didn’t answer. He took out an earplug from his other ear and shrugged at me, clearly disregarding my irritation.

”I’ve been busy,“ he merely said.

I stalked after him, following him into the main bedroom where he had come from. He had an iPod on the bed and another set of earphones were sprawled on the dresser. There was a closed case next to them too.

“Everyone in school talking about Abba?”

I wasn’t sure how he knew but somehow he had found out.

“How do you know?”

“Come,” he said, ignoring my question and gesturing for me to follow him. I watched my brother with interest, as he bent down, stretching his hand under the bed and getting a hold of something underneath. He pulled his hand out and I almost jumped as I caught a glimpse of what was in his possession.

It was a gun. A real gun.

“Ahmed, are you crazy?!”  I shouted at him, my legs trembling slightly as he held it and pointed at the screen in the room. This was dangerous. I mean… I knew Abba had a gun, but I didn’t know he kept it here. This was too risky.

Ahmed smirked at me, and gave me a small nod as he opened the cartridge. I could see the gold range, fierce and flashy.

“Khawlah, I thought you’re braver than that,” he said, raising his eyebrows at me, as if it was a dare.

He placed the cartridge back and held the gun out to me.

I didn’t take it. I wasn’t going to touch it.

“I’m going to teach you a thing or two… like Abba taught me,” Ahmed said, placing the gun in my hands. He placed my fingers around the handle, tightening the grip I held on it a little more.

“Ahmed, I don’t want to hold this thing!” I squealed hastily, feeling overwhelmed by the cold metal.

“We have to, Khawlah,” he said, this time serious. “You and me. We have to step up. We have to be stronger. We have to be prepared. I can only rely on you, Khawlah. Abba needs us.”

I looked up at him in hesitation. I wasn’t sure if my brother was gone off his rockers or not. I wasn’t sure if this was a dream…. It felt like some kind of movie… a scene from those action dramas I used to see Aunty Nas watch. I knew all that stuff would affect us at some point. Maybe it had gone to Ahmed’s brain.

I swallowed hard, thinking about what he had said. Abba needs us. We had to be strong. My mind was racing.

They march on, weapon in hand and only victory as their aim. They are just a few women, but they carry the strength of 100 men. They are warriors. They are fearless. 

The battle edges on, and inspired, the Muslims turn to fight again. The men have drawn strength from these few heroines. As one body, they raise their swords and follow the black knights into the smoky battle. Chests puffed out, and heads held high as they smelt the scent of the victory that awaited.. their gleaming swords know no limit. 

It’s extraordinary. Arrows are shot, heads are slashed and the war is near its end. Soon the Byzantines have fallen or run away.

The skilled and fearless fighters are humbled. They know that this is not due to their own might. Their faith has come through for them once again…

The Muslims have conquered… yet again. 

“Okay,” I said finally, knowing that stepping down would be to give in to defeat. I didn’t want to let Abba down.

You’re a warrior, Khawlah, the voice was saying. I wanted to ignore it. This wasn’t real, I told myself. Was it even right? 

“Khawlah, you’re a warrior,” Ahmed said now and I almost couldn’t believe it was his voice.

He grabbed the case lying on the bed. In it was a bigger pistol, a spear and two butterfly swords. It really looked like he and Abba had been up to some serious business.

I shivered slightly. Now he wanted me to be a part of it too.

“Come,” Ahmed nudged me lightly and waited, almost as if he was showing me that I had a choice. He gestured to where he was headed, showing me the stairs to the roof garden from Abba’s balcony.

Now was the time… I could either pull it off with style or accept defeat. It was like a game of chance… where you could either outshine, or get shot down. Or where you could come with an entirely differeng approach… and just blow everyone’s minds.

Ahmed wanted to teach me, but what he didn’t know was that he too would learn a thing or two.

About the Controller of it all. About life. About faith. About being a true warrior… and not just about waging a war.

———————————————————-

Sincere apologies for the delays.

Much love

xx

A 🌸