[Winning Story] An Escapist’s Version of Reality

Winning story of the 3rd Annual Short Story Writing Competition organized by Hiba

10 escapist version of realityI vividly remember the disastrous day my mom forced an Abaya on me. I was an extremely outgoing girl, the very opposite of what my mom wanted me to be. My life revolved around partying, hanging out with school friends, and especially socializing around the many social networking sites on the World Wide Web. One of my closest friends was an emerging musician, and although I did not have a knack for music, she was my source for the latest gossip relating to our school’s social scene.

It was after a parent-teacher meeting at school that my mom became adamant upon having me wear an Abaya: by hook or by crook. In normal circumstances, I would surely not have given in to her way, but back then, I knew that I had lost my ground as my teacher had informed her about all my ‘extra-curricular activities’. My mother was furious. However, it was not her anger that struck me the most; it was the fact that I had betrayed her trust that caused her to hurt most, and that made me reflect upon my character and the path of disloyalty I was treading.

The initial few days of being shrouded in an Abaya were quite miserable. The many times that I would run a critical gaze down my Abaya-donned body made me deeply regret my agreement to have it as an identity for the rest of my life.

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Love or Loss?

steppingstonesIt was around 11:00 p.m. and she was running on the road in an unknown direction. The streets were covered with fog and there was complete silence, with the exception of her loud cries. She was screaming for help as if burning in scorching heat. People are always afraid of going near the fire but she was experiencing blaze with soaring intensity. Her heart was beating so fast that she felt it will burst out if she ran for another minute. Suddenly a car stopped on the adjacent lane and called her “Sara”. She turned back and recognized that it was Hannah. Out of exhaustion and fear she instantly fell on the ground and lost her consciousness. The last words on her mind were from the Quran:

“(Shaitan) said: Because You have sent me astray, surely I will sit in wait against them (human beings) on Your Straight Path. Then I will come to them from before them and behind them, from their right and from their left, and You will not find most of them as thankful ones.” (Al-Araf 7: 16-17)

Few Days Back . . .

Sara was late for the Islamic Conference and it was raining unexpectedly. “Can’t you wake up early? Is it necessary for you to always get late?” she said to herself and went out of the house. “Oh Allah (swt) help me in reaching safely there!”

While she was thinking her phone rang, “Sara where are you girl?” Nageen inquired.

“I am stuck in rain. Can you please send someone to come and pick me?” she said.

“Yeah sure I am sending Hannah, just wait there alright?” Nageen replied.

“Yep I am waiting.” said Sara.

She was now standing on the road corner under a shade when someone called her from backside,

“Hey Sara, what happened?” said Faraj. “Were you not supposed to be at the convention by now?” he inquired.

“Yeah I am waiting for Hannah.”

“Hmm, alright. But listen I am also going there so why don’t you join me?”

Sara waited for a second and realized that it was raining heavily. She was thinking what to say and just then someone whispered to her, “Sara you are already late and why disturb Hannah? She will have to leave all her work to come and pick you. Faraj’s offer isn’t really bad. Come on it’s just a 15-fifteen minutes drive.”

“Hmm yeah right!” she thought and sat in Faraj’s car. Then she called Hannah and told her not to come.

Sara and Faraj were volunteers at a non-profit organization which arranges lectures of renowned Islamic scholars in USA. They met for the first time a month ago at the annual meeting of volunteers. Although there was complete segregation between men and women but in order to resolve some technical issues in the ladies’ hall, Sara had to call Faraj and then they both arranged another room for the girls. There they had very limited conversation regarding work. They next met at a shopping mall and again had some formal exchange of greetings. Now almost two weeks later she was sitting in his car “accidently”.

The convention proved to be very successful and the audience immensely appreciated the managing team. When Sara reached home it was around 7:00 p.m. She prayed and then rested. Later in night, she woke up to check the convention response on their Facebook page. As soon as she logged in she saw a friend’s request. She opened the notification and to her surprise it was Faraj. She thought for a while and then someone whispered to her, “Yeah that’s really good that you avoid accepting friend requests from “brothers” but come on its Faraj! Remember he gave you lift today in the morning? It is inappropriate to reject his request. Don’t forget his favour…Yeah?” And she clicked “Accept”!

“And come not near to adultery. Verily, it is a Fahishah (i.e. anything that transgresses its limits (a great sin)) and an evil way (that leads one to Hell unless Allah forgives him).” (Al-Isra 17:32)

Few Days Later…

Sara was doing some of her college assignments late night. Her Facebook account was logged in and suddenly a conversation window popped up. It was Faraj.


“Asalaamu ‘alaikum.”

“Oh lol Wa alaikum salaam.”

“So how you are doing?”

“I am good and how are you?”

“Yeah fine. Actually very tired just got back from a party :D”

“Ohk so you do party?”

“Lol yeah what’s so shocking about it?”

“Nahh I was just saying….”

Out of the blue, Sara realized that it was a useless conversation. She shut down the window and continued with her work. Faraj also did not say anything. But then after a while the window popped up again.

“Hey sorry I got a call. . . so how about Sunday?”

“This Sunday?”

“Nahh next month’s fifth Sunday :P”

“Lol hmm nothing special . . . why?”

“I am having a party at my place . . . you know I have cleared my exams”

“Congratulations . . . that’s good news. Which course?”

“Business Management. So are you coming?”

“Hmm I’ll tell you about it…”

“Don’t worry I’ll send you my car :P”

“Haha nah that’s not an issue. Actually that day my father left early and I could not bear the risk of driving in such an intense weather.”

“Yeah I can understand. Alright I gotta go now. Talk to you later and yes be there Sunday 8pm. I’ll text you my address send me your number. Okay bye.”

Sara did not know what trigged her and she just wrote her number in the conversation window.

Next day in the morning, Faraj called her and explained the address. Although she was still undecided whether to go or not, she noted down the address and promised him to be there.

On Sunday evening, she received a text message while sleeping. “Hey I’ll be waiting for you . . . do come.”

Someone whispered to her “Oh he is being so nice and look how rude you are. Can’t you attend a simple party in return of his favour? Now don’t come up with a lame excuse that it’s not good. Just don’t drink and dance there. Attend the party for him and come back!”

“Yeah . . . it’s just a party! What’s the big deal?” she talked to herself. “Yes I will come.” she replied.

This became a regular pattern. Sara was amazed as to how in a few days she had come so close to Faraj. Initially she was just trying to return his favour which gradually turned into friendship.

This became a regular pattern. Sara was amazed as to how in a few days she had come so close to Faraj. Initially she was just trying to return his favour which gradually turned into friendship. She was always attracted to Muslims and tried to make friends in her community only. Therefore she had very few friends, but they were all trustworthy. However, Faraj was slightly different. She knew that he was gaining more importance than just a friend. Sara felt something in her heart “Maybe its love…” someone whispered. She smiled to herself and then went to sleep.

Sara belonged to a family where parents communicate all the religious obligations while leaving rest on the experiences of their children. She was brought up with Islamic values while also enjoying the freedom of choice. From day one, she knew that her relationship with Faraj was highly inappropriate in the religious context but she was continuing it, assuming that it was no big thing. On the other end, Faraj was an Asian, pursuing professional education in America. His family was by-the-way Muslim and had a huge architecture business in their hometown. Belonging to such a background, money and values were never his problems. He was actually very “different”’ in his routine life and he joined the conventions only on the emphasis of some fellows belonging to his district back home. He was not at all religious and that was pretty evident from his ways and attitude. But at the same time he knew that living alone in USA can be very challenging if he does not have good terms with the Muslim community. Hence he chose to volunteer for the Islamic organization.

Days turned into months and now it was the best time for Faraj to extend his relationship with Sara. By now he had gained her confidence and knew that she was blindly in love with him. When he finally proposed to her, she was overwhelmed with happiness and instantly accepted him as her future husband.

One day Faraj called her in the morning:

“Free tonight?”

“Yes what’s the plan?”

“That’s a surprise! Get ready at 9:00 am sharp. And yeah dress your best; you are going to remember this night forever.”

“Haha sure!”

“And O Adam! Dwell you and your wife in Paradise, and eat thereof as you both wish, but approach not this tree otherwise you both will be of the Zalimun (unjust and wrong-doers).

Then Shaitan (Satan) whispered suggestions to them both in order to uncover that which was hidden from them of their private parts (before); he said: Your Lord did not forbid you this tree save you should become angels or become of the immortals.” (Al-Araf 7:19-20)

Sara listened to the whispers of Shaitan and came nearer to the greatest sin with every coming day she was spending with Faraj. She knew that even coming near to adultery was strictly forbidden by Allah (swt) but Shaitan told her that it was no big deal and that she will end up with a caring and loving husband. Doesn’t she already want that?

Clock hits 9:00 p.m. and Faraj was standing outside her home. She came out telling her mom that she is going with a friend of Hannah to attend a party.

They drove over to Salman’s house, who was Faraj’s best friend. In the midst of dance and music, Salman came and informed Sara that Faraj isn’t feeling well.

“He is having a severe headache; please just go and check him.” Sara got quite alarmed. She immediately went upstairs into Salman’s room where Faraj was standing near the window. One can only imagine what might have happened next… It’s only important to know that Sara managed to run out in the nick of time.

Hannah saw her running on the road. She called her name but Sara fell on the ground unconscious. Hannah took her to the hospital where doctors examined her and concluded that she has just experienced a great shock. Hannah felt relaxed to know that she will be fine by the next morning. She dropped Sara at her home.

“And We send down from the Quran that which is a healing and a mercy to those who believe (in Islamic Monotheism and act on it) and it increases the Zalimun (polytheists and wrong-doers) nothing but loss. And when We bestow Our Grace on man (the disbeliever), he turns away and becomes arrogant, far away from the Right Path. And when evil touches him he is in great despair.” (Al-Isra 17:82-83)

Why has he forbidden unnecessary conversations between men and women? Simply because they hurt a lot and leave an everlasting scar on our lives. It seems something very attractive and begins with innocence, giggles and loving emotions but ends on heart breaks and severe sins.

Next day when Hannah went to see Sara, she came to know the entire story. Sara told her how she met Faraj and how slowly and gradually she started loving him. Hannah was stunned to find out that so much was happening in her friend’s life and she knew nothing. After listening to Sara, she tried to console her and said: “Do you know why Allah (swt) has asked us to not even go near these relationships? Why has he forbidden unnecessary conversations between men and women? Simply because they hurt a lot and leave an everlasting scar on our lives. It seems something very attractive and begins with innocence, giggles and loving emotions but ends on heart breaks and severe sins. Allah (swt) wants to save us from the extreme humiliation that human beings suffer as a result of shamelessness. Salat and Hijab aren’t enough to protect ourselves from Fitnah these days. We actually need to take extra precautions to avoid falling prey to the Shaitan. So now repent from the depth of your heart and believe that Allah (swt) is Ar-Rahman. He will surely forgive you”.

“They said: Our Lord! We have wronged ourselves. If You forgive us not, and bestow not upon us Your Mercy, we shall certainly be of the losers.” (Al-Araf 7:23)

The Strange Stranger

Strange Stranger

Although it was early September, it was a cold evening for London. Salman was going home from work and his wife, Sadia, doing two shifts, would be coming in late at night. Living in London was expensive and both had to work hard to make ends meet.

Salman knew there would be no dinner, so he decided to pick up something on the way. Sadia loved nachos, so he decided to treat her. This would be his good deed of the week. They had this game going amongst themselves to do at least one good thing every week for each other, with the loser paying for dinner at the month’s end.

He got off at Oxford Circus to walk over to the Mexican outlet, which was reasonably priced, although slightly in the back lane. The place was not crowded and Salman walked fast to get out of the cold. When he was nearly there, his foot caught the entrance step and he went tumbling over. Suddenly, two strong hands appeared from nowhere and caught him, saving him from an otherwise bad fall. “Thank you so much – I would have hurt myself real bad, if you had not caught me,” Salman thanked the stranger. “No sweat,” said the big man. Salman looked at him and felt, as if the person was not real. He shook his hand, and yes, he was very much real, but he could not identify his nationality. As a gesture of thanks, Salman asked him to join him for a meal and he agreed happily.

“May I know your name?” “Names do not matter, they are only labels, knowing the person is the real thing,” he replied. Oh, thought Salman, a philosopher. Salman ordered food and a takeaway for his wife, and they sat down at a table. He started to make conversation, saying how difficult it was to make ends meet in London. Salman asked the stranger: “What do you do?” He replied: “Sometimes we lose perspective; I try to give perspective to people.” “What do you mean?” asked Salman. “Let me explain,” he said and took out what looked like a lottery ticket from his pocket. He showed it to Salman who could read the number clearly ‘111-777’.

“The winning lottery number will be announced tomorrow morning,” the man said, and Salman nodded, because it was in all the newspapers that this time it was going to be a jackpot of nearly seven million pounds. “But who wins such things?” said Salman to the stranger, who was now looking very unreal to him. “This ticket is going to win tomorrow,” said the stranger. The way he said it made Salman’s skin crawl, and he felt a tingling all over his body, as if he had just seen a ghost. “How do you know?” he asked. “It’s my job to know,” he replied. “Then you must be a wealthy man,” said Salman. “Yes, but I do not need the money,” to which Salman replied impulsively: “Man! Do I need it!” The stranger looked into his eyes and said: “You can have it, if you want.” Salman was taken aback: “Why would you give it to me?” The stranger said: “Because I need something from you in return.” Salman was confused: “What can I give you worth seven million pounds? I am already behind on my rent – but still if you think I have something you want, then just ask and it’s yours!”

The stranger once again looked deeply into his eyes and said: “Ok, in exchange for this ticket, I need your solid oath that till your last day on earth, you will never say any of your five obligatory prayers.” Salman was shocked. He wants me to leave the prayers and for that he is giving me seven million pounds? It did not make any sense. What benefit will it give to him, if I pray or not? He started to feel this whole evening was turning macabre. “What if this ticket does not win tomorrow?” asked Salman to give himself some time to think. “It will win; you have my word! But if it does not, you are free from your promise, so you do not lose anything,” replied the stranger.

Salman felt as if he was in a bad dream but everything was there: real food, customers walking in and settling down, and the noise of people talking. Salman had never had to make such a big decision in his life. He thought of the palatial house he could buy, the silver Bentley, which was always his dream, his children achieving the very best education and his wife all the jewellery and clothes that her heart desired! It was an opportunity of a lifetime. He would be a fool to give this up and all this just in exchange for his prayers? It was a bargain.

He thought about it for a long time, while the stranger ate his food. When his plate was clean, the stranger stood up and put the ticket in Salman’s hand. “So what’s your decision?” he asked. Salman looked at him for a while and then, with a voice shaking with emotion, he answered: “No deal.” The stranger gave a happy childish laugh, affectionately patted him on the back and walked out into the night with the ticket. Salman sat frozen for some time; then, he picked his takeaway and walked out toward the underground station.

He reached home in a daze, said his prayers and without narrating anything to his wife, went to sleep. The morning newspaper next day announced the winning ticket number, 111-777, but Salman was not surprised, as he already knew it.

It was Friday, and in the afternoon, he went for his prayers. The Imam’s sermon was like background music, hardly registering through his dazed mind, but all of a sudden, the words were ringing sharp and clear in his ears. “Shall I tell you the importance of just the two Sunnah Rakats of the Fajr prayers? The Prophet (sa) said: ‘If you put all the treasures of this world together, they cannot exceed the Barakah, the benefits and the blessings of the two Sunnah Rakats of the Fajr prayers.” (Muslim)

These words hit Salman with a jolt. He felt as if God Almighty was talking to him, to let him know that the great sacrifice he had made the night before had been accepted. Salman fell into Sajdah and cried like a baby, tears of spiritual joy and happiness streaming down his cheeks. He continued to thank Allah (swt) for giving him the strength to make the right decision. He knew that the angel he met last night only wanted him to realize the worth and importance of his daily prayers.

From that day on, Salman was a changed person. His prayers were no longer ordinary and his mind didn’t wander. For him, it was like a meeting with Allah (swt), and each prayer time became the most delightful and uplifting activity of his day.