Today, I would like to write about someone I have been meaning to write about, for a while. I came into her acquaintance this academic year; she inspires me so.
There is something about her, which is so undeniably radiant. Not solely in appearance, though in the Islamic tradition, there is this idea that when a person’s soul is beautiful, it – the light (Noor) – often reveals itself atop their faces, also.
She is somebody who likes her neutral-coloured designer clothes and premium-quality skincare products and perfumes – some of which, she says she sources from an Emirati friend of hers. She helps people with carrying their bags; helps them staple their papers; makes sure to ask everybody around her if they, too, would like (for her to get) anything (for them,) from Uber Eats [teachers and food. At once a most beautiful love story, and a thoroughly toxic relationship.].
I must say, teachers – and students – do seem to be exceptionally generous at Islamic schools: last December, before we broke up for the Winter holidays, Ms. M brought in little baklava plates… for every single colleague of hers, and for every single student she teaches, also. And so we all left school, that day, with our own little plates of baklava.
Undeniably, I felt inspired by this colleague-of-mine as soon as I met her. Her humility, her gentleness of speech, and her demeanour. She tries to busy herself in ‘Khidma’ – a term I learnt this year. It means ‘service’ – being in service of people. And something that I find so deeply admirable is that, in response to good happenings – and less-favourable ones, alike – she is known to say a heartfelt and assured, “Alhamdulillah”. Repeatedly, and sincerely.
Alhamdulillah for everything that happened in ways that brought us instantaneous joy, and Alhamdulillah for the calamities that softened our hearts, over and again, and reminded us of what is true, here.
When I told her that I would really like to become literate in the Arabic language, Insha Allah, Ms. M told me she would happily teach me, for free: that it would be her honour. I later found out that to get to the school at which we work, she has to leave her house at 05:30AM; it takes her almost two hours to drive there.
But she loves teaching Arabic; she loves to help her students to overcome the language barrier between themselves and the book she loves the most: the Qur’an.
She quoted the Qur’an – in Arabic: the part about how Allah created this world in order to test which of us is best in deed – after telling us a little about her story, after we asked her about Syria, and about the Assad regime. But as she spoke, her eyes began to well up a little with tears.
She had lost her father when she had been quite young. He had been killed by Hafez al-Assad’s (Bashar’s father’s) men, on account of his practising Sunni Islam. They had reported him for praying, and for refusing to attend parties and clubs and such. They mocked his religion: “Who are you even praying to?” And a female soldier, who had invasively entered the family home, told Ms. M to just stop observing the Hijab: to reveal her youth and her beauty to the world.
Ms. M arrived here, from Syria, in 2005. She has not been able to see home again, since.
I have learnt a lot about life, I think, from sitting in that staffroom. From women of varying ethnic/cultural backgrounds, age groups, marital statuses, academic interests. Ms. M has taught me, not didactically, but merely through the nature of her being, how to be Muslim.
She speaks about the other job she has – also teaching Arabic. And about her days off, which she spends at home, with her three children. They are all of university age (and are all thoroughly resenting online learning). One, she says – her daughter – doubles as a close friend of hers. Her daughter makes mistakes, as everybody – in particular, we, the young and naïve – does, and they work through problems together, mother and daughter. Her two sons: one (sounds like he) is more outgoing, the other very reserved.
One day they – all three of them – decided to ‘surprise’ Ms. M by cooking her a big dinner to come home to, after work. Oven-made shawarma and all. Apparently, the mess they ended up making took her hours to clean…
One story she told us, about the advice she had given one of her sons, about Sadaqah, I found particularly endearing. When he acquired his first part-time job – working on weekends for a local Syrian community group or something – he put some money aside for charity (Sadaqah). In Islam, there is this idea that if you give Sadaqah, you never lose wealth. It always ends up coming back to you somehow, and your wealth also consequently comes to hold a lot of Barakah. I have heard many remarkable stories pertaining to this: donating to charity, getting surprise money returned to you – whether in the form of tax returns, bonuses from work, gifts. In addition to the Ajr (spiritual reward) you get from it, anyway. Subhan Allah.
“Mama!” her son had exclaimed. I think it had been the case that he had received a bonus shortly after allocating some of his wages to charity. To paraphrase what he had said: “I really did come to feel the Barakah in my money!”
Sigh. Some people are beautiful souls indeed, Masha Allah Tabarak Allah. And I guess I have chosen to write this particular article on this particular evening because…
I find myself wondering if I am doing things ‘right’, again. In this mind of mine, past mistakes, for instance, are placed beneath a magnifying glass, and I worry that I am doing things especially ‘wrong’, somehow. We all make choices, all the time, about how we are living these lives of ours; spending our time. By trying to enter fully into my Deen, am I… doing something wrong?
And then I realise: what a silly, silly question. I know why I am here, and I know that as far as mistakes and shortcomings and such go, every single human being alive is essentially susceptible to them.
I know, also, that Ms. M’s father must have been such a great and noble man, Allahummabārik; I know that she – a legacy of his – is, Masha Allah, an amazing woman, and I know that the way she lives her life deeply inspires me.
I know that, in a similar vein to Ms. M, Muhammad (SAW) had been somebody who had faced relentless trials and tribulations; it ought to be in the anatomy of a Muslim to try to be vessels of Good – towards Truth, and in Beauty – irrespective of how difficult any particular part of the Test becomes. “A Beautiful Patience” is what it is of great desire for us to come to exhibit.
Even a smile, in our tradition, is an act of Sadaqah. And giving Sadaqah never diminishes one’s wealth: so maybe it is the case that if we smile at others, we shall be given more reasons to smile for. Even if everybody we see, on any particular day, refuses to smile back. It is okay: for, don’t you see? There are millions of fellow Muslims, and there is an entirety of a Universe, complete with its gorgeous Jupiters, and its goldenly-ratioed flowers, and its dragon-breath sunset clouds, smiling right back, and standing right there with you, in complete and content, firm and unwavering – no-matter-what – submission to Allah. So,
With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.