And that was the moment of dawn. I had always been negative about my family being too pressing about practicing the Deen; even the very minute details of it. Sometimes, I felt it just got too hard on me. I – being a typical teenager, studying the typical academic curriculum in a typical academy. Yes, I was no different from the typical Karachite teenager girl. My family wasn’t that typical though; they were conscious Muslims, pushing me onto the As-Sirat-e-Mustaqeem to their best, while I stayed persistent in my search for new excuses to fend away their instructions.
All praise to Allah (swt) only, the blissful day came, when I finally agreed upon getting enrolled in an Islamic institute for a formal Islamic education. At the time of admission, I was a tad bit distressed to see the staff wearing a scarf and gown, scurrying about. The very thought of picturing myself in the same attire was quite nabbing. Since I had missed out on the orientation day, the management offered me to join that day only so as to avoid missing out on the following day’s work. I hesitantly agreed and was led to the lecture hall.
The air inside was grasping. Hardly a moment after my entrance, the period was signalled over by the mesmerizing recitation of the Quran, resonating through the insulated walls. And much to my disbelief, the only sound that reverberated in the midst of the recitation breaks was that of ruffling bags and a soft thump of books being placed against the desks. Not the slightest of whisperings could be heard from the tired dozens, nor could I spot them mouthing signals to each other. All I saw was a multiple pair of hands raised to their chest level, eyes focused upon them, mouths vibrating to the playing audio. As the Dua finished, I looked around and found the most charming and polite girls in such a big number altogether; they filed out neatly for some other activity. I joined them up, my heart trembling with the uncertainty the future is impregnated with.
The next two days proved to be of some of the best days that I treasure. All around me were girls fairly my age, exhibiting lovely smiles and offering lively Salams. Although, I would feel odd amongst them intermittently, the feeling was not that much dominant, and I was often at ease. They all seemed to be a part of one family, and I – a newcomer to them. Basically, the general impression that I perceived was that they all belonged to highly religious, dedicated families, even more than mine, and were perseverant Muslims as individuals.
Days passed, and the new month began. The van fee was due by the fifth of that month. My dad dutifully cleared the charges well in time. On the morning of the fifth, as I sat with my new friends in a circle before the lessons started, the talk was casually diverted to our social problems. I was much taken-aback and awed, as I intently learned the mind-boggling scenarios they were captured in. One of them, a fresh-graduate dentist, lamented about her dad’s resentful attitude towards her Islamic affiliation. He termed her as an ‘extremist’. Another eighteen-year-old narrated with sagging shoulders but gleaming eyes: “My dad already has big problems with my scarf. I wonder the shock he’ll be in, when he sees me veiled, Insha’Allah.” A third one had a similar story, too. “My parents reckon I’m going wacko with my veil and gloves and shoed feet, compared to my previous exhibition of the latest fashion, they totally think so.”
Before it got too long, I shot an inquisitive look at the many distressed, endeavouring souls and inquired plainly: “Err, I can empathize with you. I mean, I really feel sorry for you, but surely, they are your parents and they love you and all, so it’s just a bunch of intimidating responses for the time being, right?” The dentist managed a hoarse snort-kind-of-laugh and explained: “The time being? I wonder if it would ever end before the finish of this course. Do you know we’ve been holding off the van driver for our fee payment these past five agitating days? Can you imagine the utter shame and abashment we get drenched in, as we walk out of our bungalows each morning, the driver’s judging gaze whipping us up expectantly, his tongue going haywire inside his mouth, as he resists an accountability from us, the luxury of our shipshape houses mocking at our failure to produce a skimpy amount of fee for our daily conveyance, just because our parents are adamant to have us leave this place.”
The mesmeric recitation began, and I was cut short. I thanked Allah (swt) for His countless blessings upon me, and for the timely commencement of the Tilawah, for I was lost speechless. And that precise moment, it dawned upon me that all through my life, I had been a Muslim by chance, rather, by force. With the Ameen of the Al-Fatiha echoing in my ears deafeningly, I solemnly pledged to myself to become a Muslim by choice – a choice that only the chanciest of people get to avail.