Bismillahir Rahmaanir Raheem
“It’s okay,” I said, looking at Muhammed. “You can let them in.”
As long as he had known me, Mo always had this instinct to protect me from the world, and had I always needed it. Now, it was time that I faced reality instead.
I nodded at him again, despite his obvious cynicism, and he finally went to open.
“So, I’m going to be meeting my parents-in-law for the first time?” Mo asked, grinning slightly, while he walked back from the intercom and fluffed up the pillows on the couch. My OCD tendencies were rubbing off onto him. I just hoped that our visitors wouldn’t get a bad first impression.
I didn’t smile back as I put away the novel and folded the creases out of the electric purple throw that I was using to cover my feet.
I was just slightly stressed out.
Of all times, why would they come right now? After distinctly telling Umar that I would meet them when I was ready, how did they ever get to know where I was? I had concealed my life really well all this time from the rest of the world.
“Ah, babe,” Mo said, coming up to me and squeezing my shoulder . “Don’t look so sulky. They’re gonna love me.”
“Not if they know you gamble,” I said swiftly, promptly bursting his bubble.
His face immediately fell.
Myabe I should have hid it, but it was the truth. My family was super orthodox. Where I came from, even the idea that a husband could cheat on his wife was completely bogus. Gambling brought on a whole other dimension.
Mo shrugged me off. I was being mean and for some reason, he was really excited he was going to meet my parents. I was the complete opposite.
Nervous. Anxious. Worried.
I was half hoping that Mo would take over the whole situation, but it wasn’t exactly possible. These were my parents. My past. Something that I knew I needed to deal with.
Two figures approached as I watched the doorway, and though Muhammed went forward to greet, I stayed back, almost fearfully.
Still reluctant, I was almost rooted to the spot, as if I couldn’t move. My hands were starting to sweat and my legs were getting slightly wobbly.
In these ten years, I hadn’t once thought of how this moment would be. The moment when I would meet Ummi again never really crossed my mind, and now, I waited almost impatiently for the moment to arrive so I could just get it over with.
Most people wouldn’t understand why this was such a big deal for me, but I knew it had to do with the fact that I was facing everything from the past that I had been avoiding all this time. Seeing Ummi again would bring to life every memory that I had tried so hard to bury way down below. Dealing with it would be like reliving what I had thought I had run so far away from.
“As salaamu alaykum.”
Ummi’s voice was soft but steady, just as I remembered it. Almost as if berating me, as it used to, for never being the first to greet. I would constantly get chided for entering the house with no greeting, and I remembered Ummi’s clear voice just as it was now.
Rasulullah (sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam) offered many advices to Sayyiduna Anas (radiyallahu ‘anhu) on various issues. The part you question is recorded in Sunan Tirmidhi and is as follows:
O my son! Whenever you enter your house, say salam. This will be a source of Barakah- blessing- for you and your family. (Sunan Tirmidhi, Hadith: 2698)
“Wa alaikumus salaam,” I said quickly, almost at the same time as Muhammed.
I walked forward, still hesitant and visibly uncertain. Everything was happening so quickly, but I finally forced myself to look up at the figure in all black, almost apprehensively, expecting the worst. I half expected an outburst, or maybe even a reprimanding, but instead of disappointment and anger, what I saw was something that only a mother could manage to accomplish after all these years of channelling anxiety, worry and grief into something that could eventually become what I least expected…
To my utter bewilderment… Love, hope and tears of uncontrollable joy flooded Ummi’s eyes, and as I met them, I couldn’t help but think about how elusive fate was at times. Ten years of living with hope against fear, with looking over my shoulder almost in regretful anticipation, and with running away from what I wasn’t sure I was ready to face again, was returning to me in my own home, invited right at my doorstep.
I could tell that Ummi Jaan hadn’t changed very much over the years.
Yes, she might have aged, and maybe her hair might have a few more streaks of silver, but she was still the same Ummi that I had loved and admired as a kid. The same Ummi Jaan that I had somehow grown resentful towards as a teenager. The same Ummi that held back every ounce of retaliation that she could have sent forth, not ever making it known just how many tears she had shed worrying over my future. She was still Ummi. Ummi with the same kind eyes as I imagine every mother had, and Ummi, with the same smile that seemed to spread to infinity. Amazing and beautiful Ummi.
I knew that she wanted to greet me properly, but I couldn’t bring myself to let go completely. I took a step back as she reached out for something longer, feeling slightly uncomfortable and not ready yet for an emotional greeting. I looked at Mo nervously, and he looked back questioningly at me, wondering why I was being so cold. Umar’s father had entered and greeted softly, and Mo, with my next words, knew that it was time for him to take control of the situation.
“This is my husband, Muhammed,” I said casually, trying to kill the uneasiness and gesturing to Muhammed. I hastily wiped my eyes of any emotional evidence.
Ummi turned and looked, and so did Umar’s father. I could see the relief on their faces. I knew exactly what their orthodox minds were thinking and I almost smiled, amused. At least I wasn’t living a life of complete sin.
“Come, have a seat,” Mo said quickly, greeting my step father and guiding him to the lounge. I turned to follow them, but before I could, Ummi’s firm hand held me back.
“Aasiya,” she said, and I immediately felt like that teenage girl again. The inadequate, messed-up young woman who was always so unpredictable.
I turned to look at Ummi, expecting her to release her grip, but instead, she held on tighter.
“Can we talk alone?” She said quietly, and I saw the softness in her eyes. She wasn’t going to hound me with questions. She just wanted to talk.
And I wanted to talk to her. I really needed to. But it was late and after the long confrontation with Mo, I really just wanted to sleep and deal with this in the morning.
“Give me five minutes now and we’ll talk properly in the morning,” she said, sensing my hesitancy and guiding me to the hallway couch. “And don’t worry, I know it’s late. We’re not imposing on you. We booked a hotel.”
I looked at her, slightly surprised. I just wondered why they had come here so late then. Her next words answered my question.
“We just had to see you first,” she said as she sat down, holding my hand with hers. I was finally able to look at her properly, and immediately saw the tired creases that now riddled her face.
I wanted to ask her how she found out. How she knew that I was here. I wanted to face the past, but I wasn’t even sure any more if what I did was something that she wanted to ask me about. I didn’t expect her to be so… Normal with me, after all these years.
Mo’s voice cut through just before I was about to verbalise my own concerns to Ummi, looking from her to me.
“Anyone for some tea?” He asked casually, raising his eyebrows comically.
“We’re still talking, Muhammed,” I snapped bluntly as I turned to look at him, clearly exasperated.
I had a feeling that we were at the part of the conversation that was actually getting somewhere, and Mo had just chosen the most inappropriate moment to intervene. How inconsiderate.
He held up his hands apologetically.
“Just asking, love,” he said, looking crestfallen and quickly turning and walking back to the lounge.
I shook my head just to prove how annoyed I was, not even noticing Ummi Jaan watching me with an unreadable expression on her face.
I looked back at her, just a little confused.
“I think we’ll go,” Ummi said, getting up to leave. I shook my head at her, gesturing for her to stay.
“Stay a little longer,” I said, surprising myself. It was almost midnight but I didn’t care. I didn’t want Ummi to leave. Especially when it seemed like she was upset.
“What’s wrong?” I finally asked, following her as she walked towards the lounge. She paused momentarily before finally turning around, and reached out to grasp my hand in hers.
“Aasiya,” she said softly, looking at me kindly. “It may not be my place to say… And I know that you are living a beautiful life in this place for all these years. But your husband…”
I wanted to scream as I put my hands up to signal that I wanted to hear no more.
I knew it! I just knew that my husband would be an issue. I knew that they would have something to say about the fact that he wasn’t fully bearded or obsessed with Jamaat work. I immediately charged up my defensive mode, and cut her off.
I shook my head at her, blinking back angry tears.
“Ummi, my husband is my choice,” I said stubbornly. “He is Muslim. He provides for me, and I love him. Please. If you say anything-”
I stopped just as abruptly as I started, noticing Ummi nodding her head at me. I looked at her, surprised.
“Jhee, darling,” she said back quietly, still nodding.”He looks like a very nice boy.”
I blinked, wondering if what I heard was right. A nice boy? Really?
“And that’s why I think that you should watch how you talk to him,” she continued. “As you said, he looks after you and Allah has allowed him to give you the best of everything. The worst thing you can do is make a man lose his respect, especially when people are around.”
What? I took a step back, slightly stunned by Ummi’s words. I definitely didn’t expect that.
And then, of course, I couldn’t help but think: Who the hell does she think she is?
Coming into my life, after all these years, and now already telling me how to facilitate my ten-year-old marriage. Right then, I didn’t realise that my ten-year-old marriage might be just that if I didn’t take heed of anything Ummi was trying to tell me. There might have been nothing left of my marriage if I leave my head in that rut it’s been stuck in all this time.
“Don’t push him away,” Ummi Jaan said as I stared at her disbelievingly.
She was clearly wrong. She had no idea of the reality. I wanted to tell her how immature Mo was at times, or how he just went off-track all of a sudden when I begin to think that he was changing. I wanted to let her know that he had some disgusting habits and always made me mad when I least expected it. I wanted to tell her about how he just goes AWOL on me since I gave him the news that broke his world.
I shook my head at her, opening my mouth to speak. I wanted to tell her everything that would incriminate him, and make myself look like less of a dragon. I wanted to just make it clear who was wrong here.
But I knew that all of that would still never justify my actions. I knew what Ummi would say. I knew that Ummi would say that while I pointed a finger at him, the four others would still be pointing straight back at me.
I knew that the first impression she had gotten from us was probably extremely accurate. Ummi sensed my hostility towards Muhammed, and immediately rose to the occasion. One thing I remembered about her is the knack she always had to bring a positive into every negative situation. And though her next words caught me off-guard, it was exactly what I needed.
“I never thought I would get a chance to tell you this,” she said quietly, squeezing my shoulder lightly. “But when your Mummy was pregnant, she would make special Du’aa for a good spouse for you. I had always asked her why particularly that, and she never answered me… But when I heard of the name she had chosen for you…”
Aasiya. The wife of Firaun. That was the name my own mother had chosen for me, and I had no idea. The very knowledge just brought a whole different dimension to the reality.
And the story of this woman was nothing short of spectacular.
There are some women who are truly built with the strength of hundreds of men. Some women, whose resolve you can’t shake. They are powered by Allah and submit to nothing except for Him. And so, even the greatest tyrant cannot break them or shake their faith.
It was perhaps for this reason that the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) mentioned her as one of the greatest women of all time.
But besides what everyone knows about her, I never really pondered on this.
Asiya was not just a regular woman. She was a queen. And not just any queen.. She was the wife of one of the most powerful men to walk the earth. She lived a life of unparalleled luxury and wealth. Yet, Asiya knew that her true home was in Paradise. She had no attachment to this life.
And amidst every other lesson her story had taught me, one of the most outstanding was the fact that despite all the persecution that she was going through, Allah granted her an ease within her difficulty.
It is said that Firaun had a habit of torturing people severely when he would deal with them, and for his own wife, the punishment was no less. Placed on a slab, some narrations say with nails severed through her in an attempt to pin her down, and others just mention the stone to crush her body… Extreme agony was what he had selected for her. And no doubt, it must have been terrifying and excruciatingly painful, but what was most unbelievable was that just before he offered the final execution to end her life, she actually smiled. And the reason why she smiled was because Allah SWT answered her Du’aa and allowed her to actually see her home in Jannah.
Allah SWT says in the Quran what is translated as, “God sets forth an example for those who believe, the wife of Firaun who said, “My Lord, build for me with You a house in Paradise and save me from Firaun and his doings. And save me from an unjust people.”” (Surah Tahreem)
And it was beautiful because despite her circumstances and situation, she was able to see that tomorrow held something in store for her that would make up for every hardship she had endured. She knew that with turning to Allah, there was no losing, because her ultimate home wasn’t here. Most importantly, what I had most forgotten about her was that she was a woman who never allowed herself to be defined or limited by her painful circumstances. She never let it burden her, like I was carrying my past with me, as an excuse for everything that I was doing wrong.
Instead, she carried in her such a deep faith and knowledge of who she really was, that she was willing to sacrifice everything, including her very life, for what she knew was true. And what other example could there be for anyone to follow that the example of a woman like her.
And of course, it was to make me realise that despite whatever I thought I was going through and had been, there should be no excuse not to show Muhammed only the best parts of me. To be the best kind of person I could be.
And I knew that the remedy was simple. To be obedient to Allah Ta’ala, to live the Sunnah, and to give quality time to the Qur’aan Sharief – this was the answer to every difficulty that was bringing me down in my home. This was how Muhammed would also, eventually, begin to see the light.
“Let everything else go, and make the effort,” she said quietly, getting up again, ready to finally leave. “You will see how everything will fall into place. Whatever you want, Allah will see to your every need.”
I wasn’t sure how, and how Ummi knew what to say, but by now, my entire frame of mind was already altered. And with my often rigid mindset, I couldn’t understand what it was that Ummi had said that made me actually listen, but there was something in her words that struck me in a place that I could never ignore. Maybe it was her concern, or maybe it was her genuine love that shone through, but her words were like my ultimate salvation for that day.
And thought I had hundreds of questions to ask her, and plenty to still say, I knew that this was the continuing of one of the most precious bonds I had let go of.
Now, instead of pulling away, when Mummy came forward again to greet, I whole-heartedly gave in, allowing myself to get just a little lost in the moment. I gripped on tightly, breathing her in, and reliving the moments that I had never cherished when I grew up.
Allah knew that I needed something more… Something to steer me, save me, and to lead me to that place where I knew I could finally see the light at the end of this dark tunnel.
Right now, as I gripped onto Ummi for dear life, nothing else mattered. Nothing else would ever take me away. My heart was completely absorbed in the moment, with the hope that it would all be better from this point on, and knowing everything that this could bring.
Like a little girl almost, waiting for the much-awaited return of her mother after a long departure, my heart was completely soothed once again.
Everything would be okay. Ummi was here.