A Chapter of My Life with My Brother

chapter

Casually climbing upstairs to my bedroom after Iftar and Salah, I read frantic messages from my niece to call her. I was informed the doctor had said Sabir’s scans were not good – the cancer had spread. I mumbled, heart sinking: “Inna illahi wa inna illahi rajioon” in a state of disbelief.

Only a few days ago, after his daughter’s Valima, he had flown to the USA for his periodic treatment. He was extremely hopeful of a new immunotherapy treatment which his doctor had scheduled for him.

I felt dizzy and weak. Memories of his last visit and my ailing mother started to flood me … Beckoning me, he had held me against him. Little was I to know this was my last hug from my brother who was my only sibling and also a father figure, as I had lost my papa many years ago.

It was almost three years ago when Sabir was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Friends and family members reassured me that if anyone had cancer, this is the one they should want as it had an excellent prognosis.

After a long flight to the USA, my brother felt jetlagged and exhausted; however, he was positive and went for his doctor’s appointment with lots of hope. His latest scans had already been sent to him. “So how are you feeling?” he asked. Sabir paused: “Not too good.” The doctor replied: “Your scans too are not that good.” He went to explain that the cancer had spread to his liver and lungs, and no further treatment was possible. Sabir closed his eyes and asked to lie down. The doctor explained how he would be given medical attention at a hospice until…

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And my Dua was Accepted…

Dua was Accepted“Mother’s Dua has been accepted!” My children’s energetic loud voice woke me up from my sleep.

We were residents in UAE. My husband and I were working as teachers in a school, when that school’s principle fired both of us, due to his personal enmity with us.

Ramadan was going on. Our visa was going to expire after two months; therefore, we tried hard to find another job but in vain. My three little children were in primary and the two older ones were studying in secondary schools. Residential problem, rent for the house, children’s school fees and grocery money was urgently needed; we were running out of savings and were greatly depressed. All our emergency funds were coming to an end. I told my children to stay calm and pray to Allah (swt) with a pure heart and strong belief.

Allah (swt) had accepted my prayer word to word.

After a few days, my husband’s friend came to our house and said that he has been called in Sharjah for a job interview in a school – he was going to leave for Sharjah. My husband’s friend asked my husband to accompany him. My husband refused, as there was no reason for him to go. However, his friend insisted, terming that as an important visit. When I learned about this, I told my husband to go. Then my husband told his friend that he was ready to go with him. I spoke my heart out: “May Allah (swt) make them ask you to start your job there from the very next day.”

My husband and his friend took off for Sharjah together. As it was the month of Ramadan, I fell asleep during the day and when I woke up, it was nearly Maghrib time. I came to know that my husband had returned from the trip, and as soon as I entered the room, my husband repeated the same sentence that I said before he was leaving, “May Allah (swt) make them ask you to start your job there from the very next day.” My husband said that the school’s interviewer had offered him a job there and then.

I doubted, whether it was real or a dream, because I was awakened by my children’s cheers, “Mother’s prayer is accepted!” But, Alhumdulillah, it was real.

My husband said that the school’s interviewer had offered him a job there and then.

No doubt, my Allah (swt) had accepted my Dua that was prayed with a pure heart. Allah (swt) had accepted my prayer word to word. I could not control my tears, and I bowed in front of Allah (swt) thanking Him for His help.

Although many years have passed since that event, but even today my heart gets filled with gratitude to Allah (swt), because I had prayed to Him (swt) with a pure heart and strong faith. My Allah (swt) answered my sincere prayer positively, Alhumdulillah!

[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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“Libas” – Yours and Mine

14

“How do you like the newest addition to my wardrobe?” Hina twirled on the ebony floor. “It is grand!” I chuckled at her girlish antics as she continued to swirl her lovely lilac chiffon flares, the fabric catching a twinkle of gold here and there.

“A gift from hubby dear?” I asked my childhood friend.

Her pretty smile instantly transformed into a sour frown. “Yeah right! Do you really think he has the mind or the taste for this kind of stuff? Only I know what I have been through the past ten years of marriage.”

There she goes again, I thought regretfully. Hina’s tendency to magnify petty issues into significant ones almost always ensured that the slightest mention of her spouse enraged her.

“Just check out the fine trimmings in gold. Isn’t it a delicacy?” Hina went back to admiring her dress.

I could only nod with the faintest smile thinking what good it was if she was feeling so bitter inside and did not want to wear it for the most important man in her life: her better half.

“You don’t agree with me, do you?” she caught me off guard. It was as though she had followed my train of thought.

“No… it’s lovely!” I tried to persuade her with a generous smile.

“I didn’t mean the stupid dress. I am talking about my marriage!” Hina said curtly.

I sighed and stayed silent for a while. We had been through this conversation countless times, and I was wondering if it would do her any good to hear it once more.

“You know, Hina, the other day I read something that completely swept me off my feet.”

“Really, what?” she eyed me suspiciously.

“Allah (swt) says to married men in the Quran: ‘It is made lawful for you to have sexual relations with your wives on the night of As-Saum (the fasts). They are Libas [i.e. body cover, or screen, or Sakan (i.e. you enjoy the pleasure of living with them) for you and you are the same for them…’ (Al-Baqarah 2:187)”

“It is meant for kind-hearted, loving and God-fearing men, not Adil,” Hina spoke quietly, gazing downward.

“Do you know what that means?” I continued, ignoring her comment “The wife is a resort for her husband, and the husband is a resort for her. Don’t we head to resorts on holidays for enjoyment? This is the kind of relationship that Allah (swt) has ordained for a married couple – to be a source of happiness and contentment for each other. And, naturally, that can only happen when we suppress our desires to lash out in anger at each other, let go of the past mistakes, prevent ourselves from being thankless for the present, and not show mistrust for the future.” I tried to reason with her.

“But what if it is mostly his mistakes… for how long can I preservere?” Hina challenged with tears welling up.

“Love him more than you love this outfit!” I whispered. “He is your Libas. This will one day go out of style and will be either stowed away or donated to the destitute. But your relationship is to stay. What does your Libas do for you? It makes you appear beautiful, it hides your flaws, it protects you from harmful weather, and it states who you are. It is the first thing anyone sets eyes on.”

Hina stared silently then began to sob softly.

“Hina, dear…” I held her soft hand in mine.

“If you lift your garment in public, it is you who will be undressed, not others. May Allah (swt) bless you with wise company, but most people around us relish juicy gossip. Don’t undress yourself before them. Also, if you wash your dirty laundry in public, do you really think your problems will go away? If your husband comes to know of this, will it create an atmosphere of pleasantness or bitterness between the two of you? No matter what misgivings there are between you, they must be solved by both of you. Cherish your relationship with him like a prized gown that embellishes you.”

“It is so hard,” Hina wept like a child.

“I know! It is especially hard when your Libas has been torn, tattered and left at the mercy of cruel gales for so long. Ask Allah’s (swt) forgiveness and pray earnestly to Him for help every day. Take the initiative and stay steadfast. Don’t let anything or anyone come between you and your Libas. Allah (swt) willing, you will love him and adorn him like never before, and he will do the same for you, eventually.” I reassured her, silently praying to Allah (swt) to grant her wisdom, patience, courage, and above all, tranquility.

I do not know what happened the next year or so, as I lost touch with Hina. One morning, as I was sipping my coffee, I received an email saying: “To my beloved seamstress who taught me how to carry myself in style. By the way, I also want to quote something to her that I later found in the Quran, following my counselling cum fashion designing session with her a year ago: ‘It is He who has created you from a single person (Adam) and (then) He has created from him his wife (Hawwa), in order that he might enjoy the pleasure of living with her…’ (Al-Araf 7:189) May Allah (swt) love you as much as I do. It was you who helped me appreciate my Libas.”

Story Writing Competition 2014

It’s time to get creative!
Participate in Hiba Magazine’s Short Story Writing Competition
Themes
  1. When I covered my head, I opened my mind
  2. When my sincere Dua was answered…
  3. My greatest parenting challenge
  4. Sabr and Shukr: My formula for a happy life
  5. Happily ever after
  6. Solutions for the Struggling Ummah
Note
  1. Participants can submit multiple entries.
  2. Word limit per story: 800-1100 words
  3. The entry has to be a short story – no essays or poems please.
  4. Entries should not be previously published anywhere – not even on the writer’s blog.
  5. Entries should be submitted via the hiba’s website.
  6. The winning story will receive a hiba gift pack.
  7. Top stories will be published on the blog and/or magazine.
  8. Decision of the judges will be final.
Submission Date: 15th October, 2014 
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Don’t Give up Too Soon – Advice for Newly Weds

advice for newly weds

She has been sitting for hours, browsing bridal wear and makeup. It has to be the most perfect wedding from catering to dresses, from bridal shower to the actual wedding day, all according to the liking of her mother-in-law, whose appreciation and compliments she seeks. After all, she doesn’t believe in the typical in-law relationships.

The Nikah is only a few weeks away. She is excited about starting a family of her own. She glances at the photo frame on her night stand: her baby picture together with parents. They have always been at her side, excusing her reckless behaviour, encouraging her on her achievements and standing by her each time she stumbled. A tear trickles down her cheeks. Nothing can exceed her parents’ love for her.

*********

It has been a month since her marriage. Henna traces and the facial glow are gone. Honeymoon seems like ages ago. The excitement and fervour of starting a new life have vanished. What went wrong?

She feels unwanted. Her husband, the man with whom she dreamed endless conversations, countless romantic dinners, mutual values and eternal bliss, is the total opposite of what she expected.  Where did love, respect and kindness go?

She needs a break and requests to be dropped her at her parents’ place. Her husband gives a cold nod and grabs the car keys. What? He is not even going to stop her? Is it over already?

*********

She is back at her parents’. She needs peace for thinking it through. The thought of divorce has crossed her mind several times. In the lounge, her parents are praising their son-in-law, for he has allowed their daughter to spend a few nights with them.

She has not thought of what she will tell after the few nights pass. Maybe they will ask her themselves. Maybe he is missing her already and will come back to pick her. She picks up her phone for any missed call or text from him – there’s none.

Her phone does ring, but it’s her old school friend Sara, who is on a visit to Pakistan. They arrange to meet up for lunch.

*********

Sara recognizes her the moment she steps into the restaurant. After formal hugs, Sara shakes her: “Hey! What’s the matter? Why don’t I see the usual newly-wedded glow on your face? It has been only a month since your wedding.

She gazes at her friend blankly. Look at her! She’s beaming with joy even after five years of marriage, while I’ve already realized my wedding was a big mistake.

Sara now softens her tone: “Is something bothering you? Is the new routine overwhelming? I know. I have been married for five years, and every day brings a new surprise for me.”

“Ummm… it’s that… it’s… I don’t know,” she struggles to express herself.

Sara gently rests her palm over Anum’s hand: “When I was getting married, I was so excited about moving abroad and starting a new life. But you know what? Once we had done sight-seeing, dined at the finest restaurants, and shopped till we dropped, it seemed there’s nothing exhilarating in our lives anymore. Yes, I was expecting, and Yasir would routinely take me for appointments, but his frequent phone calls from work decreased. I felt he is not the person that I married. I felt unwanted, dejected and unloved. Thoughts of divorce constantly occupied my mind. I was unable to find my way; then, I did the only thing that I knew.”

Anum corrects her posture and sits upright. What? Did she go for a divorce?

“I woke up for Tahajjhud, laid my prayer mat and stood up in prayer. I cried my heart out to Allah (swt) – my only Wali. Out of self-respect, I didn’t want to share it with anyone. I didn’t want a divorce, but I also didn’t want to live in the same house like a stranger. I wanted a small happy family that went to bed with forgiveness, gentle kisses and sweet lullabies. Even though I didn’t see any visible signs of improvement, I kept praying. And you know what happened?”

“What?” Anum asks.

“After praying,” Sara continues, “I felt very relaxed, as if my worries had been taken care of. Then, one morning, Yasir came down to the breakfast table with his old chirpy, energetic self. He warmly came to me and whispered that my tea was the best in the world. I couldn’t believe my ears! Not only that – after breakfast, Yasir requested me to pack some extra muffins for his lunch, for he liked to show off to his colleagues his wife’s baking skills. From that day onwards, our relationship started to improve. He helped me with the house chores, went on walks with me and had all the time in the world for talking to me.”

“Really? Was prayer that effective?” Anum asked, unbelievingly.

“Yes, Anum. Patience and prayer are the essential ingredients of maintaining your sanity when the entire world is collapsing. You’re a dear friend, Anum. Right now, I want you to go home and get on your prayer mat. Trust me, I’ve been there. Don’t give up so soon.”

Anum gives a faint, sceptical smile: How can it be? Just a prayer and everything is fixed? I don’t think Sara understands me well.

***********

Anum wakes up in the middle of the night well before the Fajr. She is about to go back to sleep, when she realizes that this is the best time for Tahajjhud – that’s what she does. Sitting on the mat, Anum cries, beseeching Allah (swt) to save her home. She begs for forgiveness and seeks guidance.

An hour later, Amma comes to check on her. She kisses Anum, when she finds her reciting the Quran: “Is there anything you would like to talk to me about, Anum? I hope Yasir is kind to you, and your in-laws treat you nicely.”

“Of course, Amma, what made you ask that?” Anum asks politely.

“I don’t see you hopping around the house and fighting with your sisters. I want to be sure that my daughter is fine,” Ama explains herself.

“Could be that your daughter has grown up and become wise?” Anum replies with a smile.

Amma looks at Anum silently, trying to believe her. She asks Anum, what she would like to have for breakfast. Anum hugs her mom and says: “Let me make breakfast for you, guys, today.” As she walks towards kitchen, Anum wonders, where did this sudden burst of positivity come from?

***********

It’s been three days of regular Tahajjhud and the five daily prayers. Still no word from Yasir. The prayer isn’t helping… Anum is exasperated. She asks herself: “Why can’t I call Yasir? Most men, I have heard, lack communication skills.” She dials the number. Yasir picks up immediately, and asks how she has been. Anum is surprised by this unanticipated warmth and love. They speak for a while, and then Yasir says he is coming in the evening to pick Anum up. He misses her.

************

Anum greets her in-laws with respect and love, reminding herself she should neither be judgemental nor impatient. She inquires about their health and well-being.

Once in the bedroom, Yasir and Anum go through the events of the past few weeks. They admit their mistakes and pledge to communicate with each other openly. They have promised they will live as each other’s clothing that adorns as well as hides each other’s flaws. They will not discuss their private matters with anyone, for help truly comes from Allah (swt) only.

As they turn off the lights, Yasir asks: “But Anum… How did you decide to come back? What made you call me?”

“Prayer and patience,” Anum replies confidently, “…and I would love, if we could both start offering Tahajjhud together as a couple.”

Seeing the Glass Half Full

Winning story of “A Life-Changing Experience” Story-writing Competition Organized by hiba

glass half full

“Oh no! Another pimple on my face!” I exclaimed.

During my teenage years, I had something to whine about every day: my short height, my plump physique, why I was not as fair as snow or why Allah (swt) had given pretty eyes to my best friend instead of me. And oh yes, if I spotted a fresh pimple on my face in the morning, my mother wouldn’t hear the end of it. She would often tell me that I was very beautiful the way Allah (swt) had created me. However, for me, being as beautiful as all the ‘picture-perfect models’ was terribly important.

“Beauty lies in the inner self. Make your soul beautiful and people will love you for it,” my mom would often say. “See how intelligent Allah (swt) has made you. Just look at your academic results! You should be one grateful girl, sweetheart,” my dad would say in order to lift my spirits.

But nothing worked for me. The inferiority complex had totally overtaken me, and I had become a miserable teen, who envied every beautiful girl around. Materialism and glamour had made me a thankless creature.

Sometimes, we experience events that have a huge influence on our lives. No matter how long we live, some particular incident becomes deeply engraved into our memory, leaving a lasting impact. The same happened to me, when Allah (swt) decided to help me out one day.

In 2004, I decided to attend a training workshop by an NGO named LIOCS (Leading Institute of Competitive Skills), which was arranged by a young team led by two visually impaired youngsters. They believed in the philosophy: “If we can’t see the world, then let us do something, so that the world can see us.”

During one of the lunch breaks at the workshop, the most unforgettable activity took place. In the conference room, all the participants were blindfolded and asked to find their way to the kitchen, where lunch was served for them.

“It will be a lot of fun,” I thought, as I happily put on my blindfold. After all, the kitchen was just two minutes away. But, to my profound surprise, that two-minute walk from the conference room to the kitchen turned out to be the longest walk of my life.

It was strange, how a mere blindfold had deprived me of my entire confidence. With a feeling of helplessness sweeping all over me, I slowly set off for this ordeal that seemed to go on forever. Mumbling ‘sorry’ and ‘excuse me’ every four to five steps, as I stumbled and banged into other participants or the door or a pillar, was very embarrassing for me and many others.

The sound of the kitchen door being banged with a saucepan by one of the trainers was the only ray of light in the pitch black darkness that surrounded me.

The entrance to the kitchen came as a big relief, but the nightmare wasn’t over yet. The worst was yet to come. We had been briefed about the location of lunch boxes, salad, paper cups and drinks. However, I lost my orientation upon entering the kitchen and couldn’t make out, where the things were. When after multiple attempts, I finally got hold of the lunch box, I squatted onto the floor and started to eat the rice.

Suddenly, I heard the trainer say, “Hey, you, why are you sitting in the doorway? Do you want someone to trip over you?”

Red-faced, I stood up apologetically. On the other side of the kitchen, the second trainer was ridiculing another participant: “Tsk, tsk, it seems you cannot see, you poor boy!”

Without being able to see the food, my appetite was already half gone. Above all, the trainers were amplifying our frustration with such shameful remarks as: “Can’t you manage such a little thing?” and “Maybe Allah (swt) has taken away your sight for the sins that you have done!” and other mean remarks. (This was all part of the programme.)

That was the turning point in my life; it was the moment that changed my perception about life. I realized for the first time, what a marvellous gift is sight, which I had always taken for granted. When we were finally allowed to take off the blindfolds, the relief I felt was beyond words.

In an instant, the darkness vanished and the world became so colourful, so bright, so… worth living!

That day, as I drove back home, I was a transformed person. I was a totally new Iram, who could empathize and be thankful for Allah’s (swt) blessings. On my way, as the traffic signal turned red, I saw a crippled beggar, who made me wonder: “Iram, what is there to feel sad about, if you can’t afford the latest fashion heels? At least you have a perfect pair of feet for walking and running and a dozen pairs of other sandals.”

I had learnt my lesson. So what if I am not a beauty queen? At least Allah (swt) is generous enough to bless me with all five senses. Every organ of my body is functioning perfectly. So what if I don’t have beautifully coloured eyes? I still can see what an amazing and colourful place this world is.

So what if a pimple appears on my face once in a while? Thanks to Allah (swt), I look prettier than countless others with skin diseases. Visit a hospital some day, and you will come across hundreds envying you, ready to exchange places with you. Walk a mile in the shoes of those who sleep on roads, and you will know how lucky you are.

I have finally begun to appreciate Allah’s (swt) countless blessings.

It’s all about seeing the glass half full.

Did you know?

  • 285 million people are estimated to be visually impaired worldwide: 39 million are blind and 246 have low vision.
  • 360 million people worldwide have disabling hearing loss.
  • Over a billion people, about 15% of the world’s population, have some form of disability.

(Source: World Health Organization)

The Four Orange Rinds

Orange Rinds

Suleman loved fruit, and there was plenty of it to enjoy in Pakistan. Living in Karachi, he enjoyed mangoes, oranges, pomegranates, pears, peaches, grapes, melons… such a wide variety of fruit, which came one after the other throughout the year from all parts of Pakistan. Today, after a heavy dinner at home, he had an orange. It was so sweet and juicy that Suleman, not a very religious person, spontaneously uttered ‘Alhumdulillah’ with pleasure. Suleman then forgot all about it. His career, work and entertainments kept him very busy and happy with his life.

Zaheeruddin Niazi was very grateful to Allah (swt). His orange orchard had 742 trees on his 20-acres farm. He loved each tree like his own child. His oranges with sticker “Shireen Sweet – Niazi Farm” were the best oranges in the entire Attock Mianwali area. They fetched the best price and were sold out in advance well before season.

FSC113 was the angel responsible for fruit supply to Suleman. There were hundreds of angels with all types of duties for fulfilling the needs of each individual on earth. Some angels were providing the exact Rizq appointed each year for a person; some were protecting the body, ears or eyes, while others were responsible for all types of food supply. FSC was an easy designation for the angel in charge of ‘fruit supply chain’. Since there were hundreds of fruit varieties, there were over 150 angels for bringing different fruits to Suleman. Allah’s (swt) vast network worked day and night for bringing Rizq and sustenance to His creation. All was planned to perfection and ran like clockwork.

Currently, FSC113 had the single duty by his supervisor to supply the best oranges available in Pakistan to Suleman. He had to supply 240 oranges in that particular season, which was not a bad bargain for offering Shukr for one orange! Suleman had shown gratitude, and Allah (swt) never forgets such things. FSC113’s job was not easy. He targeted Zaheer’s farm, since it was the best. Next, he targeted trees number 303, 304 and 305, which were in the best location and produced the most succulent sweet oranges in the entire orchard.

FSC113 settled next to these trees, in order to oversee their production for the next four months. He was dozing, when the hot sunrays jolted him awake; too much sun, he noted. The oranges will dehydrate and lose some glucose content and sweetness! FSC113 rushed skywards and instantly arranged for a cloud cover from his fellow cloud angel, which cut down the sunrays to just the right amount for providing sunlight, but not too harshly. FSC113 sighed with relief. He was well in control. He handled numerous daily challenges, such as ensuring the right amount of water supply, fertile soil conditions, absence of disease, and pest control when needed. He either brought the matter to the attention of Zaheer through intuition or whisperings or took help from his fellow angels, like he had done just now.

Finally, the oranges ripened and were packed and ready to be sent to Peshawar. But, at the last moment, the wholesaler called Zaheer that he had lots of stock, so if he wished, he could send it elsewhere. Zaheer had bookings from everywhere, so he directed the fruit to Quetta. Suddenly, it started to rain heavily in Quetta valley and the truck driver was instructed to change the route to Karachi. The Shireen Sweet were meant for a Gulshan fruit vendor. The truck driver, however, was obliged to grant a favour to his friend in the DHA fruit market. He promised the Gulshan vendor to bring his oranges on the next trip.

One day, Suleman got out of his office, intending to head straight home. But, as he approached the high street, he remembered that they were out of fruit. At the last moment, he turned his car, parked in front of his fruit vendor, and called him through the car’s window:

“Oranges hain (Do you have oranges)?”

“Jee Sahib; abhi taza aye hain. ‘Sweet Shireen’ bohot aala aur meetha hai. (Yes sir. Fresh oranges are here. ‘Sweet Shireen’ are very high quality and sweet.)”

“Theek hai, theek hai bhai, do dozen do – aur jaldi. (Alright, alright, brother. Give me two dozen and hurry!)”

He pays and drives home.

After dinner, Suleman asks his wife for an orange, but she is busy enjoying her banana. He tells his daughter, Sharmeen, to bring one for him. She picks one up, her phone rings, and she puts it down again. Suleman grunts and picks one up for himself. He cuts it in his usual four slices and eats it. No doubt, it was absolutely delicious. Suleman gets up to wash his hands, when he hears the Adhan and suddenly remembers Mufti Sahib’s talk of last Friday on Shukr. He sits down again, brings his hand together and says: “Alhumdulillah”.

More than 150 angels, who had worked hard to bring these oranges to Suleman’s plate, were all standing by the table, waiting to see the effect of their handwork. Suddenly, all of them broke out in a thunderous applause and bowed down to Allah (swt) saying what they said, when they bowed in front of Adam: “Allah Almighty, yes, You know what we know not!”

Allah (swt) then signals to His Archangel, who then just for a moment lifts the veils of ignorance from Suleman’s mind, giving him the gift of understanding and perception. In a flash, Suleman sees where his oranges were grown, how they were protected from sun, rain, disease, and pests and how they were switched from going to Peshawar to Quetta to Karachi and then from Gulshan to DHA. He saw how, by the greatest of miracles all the way from Mianwali traveling over a thousand miles in a period of four months, the oranges landed on his plate!

The veil lifted, and he was back in the world, sobbing like a child. He could barely make it to his bedroom, where he fell on his prayer mat, his body racking with sobs of Shukr, Shukr, Shukr – Alhumdulliah. “Oh Allah (swt), in my slumber, I did not know, but now I know how Rahim how Karim and how Rahman You are. Oh, the Mighty One! Oh, the Great One! Accept my thanks and also accept my repentance for not being grateful for my daily blessing. I know now, and I will be your true and grateful servant for the rest of my life.”

Suleman then collected the four rinds of the orange. After drying them in the sun for a few days, he had them carefully placed in two jars. One jar sits on his plush office desk and the other in his study at home. They serve as constant reminders to be grateful and not to forget his great enlightening experience, which changed his life forever!

Diversity is the Beauty of Nature – A Short Story

diversityHina hurried to pick up the phone as the bell rung. She was delighted to see the number on the telephone screen. It was Saba on the other side; her only daughter had married two weeks ago and flown to the UK. Hina was impatiently waiting to hear from her daughter, but as she was travelling, she hadn’t gotten a chance to talk to her. She had only received an update about her safe journey with her husband. As it was going to be their first proper conversation after the wedding, Hina was keen to talk to her daughter and find out how married life was treating her.

Hina asked: “How are you? How is Adnan?” Saba replied: “Mama! It is so dull here! Nobody to talk to! I am all alone the whole day! No helper here; I have to do all the work myself.” She was crying and saying, “Mama! I can’t live here anymore!” Hina was thinking worriedly, “She is a victim of home sickness and climate change!”

Hina got very concerned after the call. When her husband, Rashid, came home, she told him about her chat with their daughter.

“Come on, she is no more a teenaged girl! She is 27 now! She should be tackling her problems on her own! Rashid was realisitic, even though Saba was his beloved daughter.

After a year…

Saba had not been able to adjust. Brought up in a family that did not socialize too much, her social skills were almost non-existent. She had no contact with any neighbours or the community. She would only chat over Skype with her mother.

One day, however, she called her mom and said joyfully: “Mama! Maham is coming here.”

Maham was Saba’s first cousin, three years younger than her. Unlike Saba, she was an extrovert. Inspite of the difference in nature and habits, both of them were good friends.

“Aha! That’s good!” Hina exclaimed. She did caution her daughter not to dwell too much on her problems in front of her cousin, and stay composed and contented.

Finally, Maham arrived, with stars in her eyes. A confident and an enthusiastic soul, Maham was engaged to marry a Malaysian doctor, known to her family for six years.

Saba was puzzled at Maham’s decision to stay with an Egyptian family, instead of staying with her. “Are they dearer to you than me?” Saba asked.“Certainly not!” Maham answered, hugging her. “This Egyptian family was very near to my paternal grandfather! Now his daughters are my friends and that’s the only reason I want to stay with them while I am visiting England!”

Maham and Saba talked all day long. “ How do you spend time with the people belonging to different statuses and speaking different languages?” Saba asked.

“Oh dear! How can we find similarity in this world? All humans are equal.” This philosophy was hard for Saba to digest.

The next day, Maha took her to a convention. It was a strange world for Saba. Muslim ladies of different age groups, belonging to different countries, were mingling with each other. They were hugging, kissing, making introductions and exchanging smiles. Saba was highly fascinated. Maham was totally at home there and Saba felt proud of being her cousin.

“Diversity is the beauty of nature! Tolerance and patience is the key to relish diversity. You know I am fond of continental foods. I have never tasted Malaysian food but now I am learning to cook them for my husband-to-be, in order to assimilate into their culture,” said Maham laughing while leaving Saba in a deep thought.

After one week

Maham left the UK! But the desperate Saba gained so much from her friend!

A few days later, Hina asked her over Skype: “Where have you been? I was waiting.” Saba told her, “Oh! I was out to visit my Bengali friend; she has been living here since three years. She helps me with grocery and other domestic problems. I go to a park where I get to meet many interesting ladies. Mama! I plan to continue my studies as well.”

The new enthusiastic Saba left Hina happily astonished.

A 9-year-old’s stress

9-year-old

Summer vacation was over and the kids had just returned to school, starting their new session. It was still the first week in their new grades. One particular mother was having trouble putting the children onto an earlier bedtime schedule. Marium, her 9 nine-year-old would especially not co-operate. No matter what mum said and did, Marium would not just budge. Exasperated, mum requested her husband to take over before she ended up in an ugly tussle with their daughter. Following is the conversation between father and daughter:

Dad: “Marium, sweetheart, I want to talk to you. Mum is saying you are not co-operating much. Is something the matter? It seems like something is eating you.”

Marium: “I’ve got a lot of worries!”

Dad: “Really, well let me hear them all. Let’s talk in your room.”

Dad and Marium head to Marium’s room. Twenty minutes later dad comes out of the room smirking to himself.

A bewildered mum asks: “What happened?”

Dad: “Nothing. I put her to bed.”

Mum: “Just like that?”

Dad: “I wrote down her worries.”

Mum: “And?”

Dad: “And I read them back to her.”

Mum: “Then what happened?”

Dad: “I promised her that I will help her tackle her issues on the weekend. She put her list under her pillow, changed into her night suit and went to bed.”

The next morning when mum was changing Marium’s bedsheets, her list fell to the floor. Here’s what it said:

What’s worrying Marium?

  1. Messy closet and bedroom. She has to share her room with her younger sister Alyah who is a 4-year-old, not willing to put any stuff back in its place.
  2. Great deal of work at school and plenty of thick books to carry.
  3. Having trouble understanding the new Math chapter.
  4. Needs more spending allowance for school snacks as prices have hiked since past term.
  5. Lost brand new pencil case in school.
  6. Some younger kids in her school bus are naughty and irritating.
  7. Has no decent pair of sandals to wear to her best friend’s upcoming party.

Mum smiled as she read the note. She realized that as grownups we assume that only we have real troubles in life. It’s easy to forget that children can have them too. And just like us, they need someone to listen and take their worries seriously. For an adult they may sound childish and petty. But for a child they mean the world: a world they live in. The worst thing that an adult can do is dismiss or ridicule a child’s sentiments, terming them as senseless or wrong. As they say, you do not teach swimming to a drowning person. When listening to worries, just hear them out. Discussions can ensue at a later time. By then, some issues have already taken care of themselves and some are more open to be talked about.

“Children need to hear an unqualified acceptance of their emotions of the moment. A response that conveys full understanding without reservation or judgment empowers young people and grants them the courage to begin to deal with their problems.” (Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish)

Adapted from “How to talk so kids can learn”    

The Thunderstorm – Winning Short Story

Winning story of “A Life-Changing Experience” – a story-writing competition organized by Hiba Magazine

By Shagufta Shahzad

ThunderstormIt was the mid of July. I was sprawled on my comfortable bed and watching a movie, when my mother came in and asked me to get ready to go shopping; she wanted to collect her bangles from the jewellers. She said that she wanted to come back before Maghrib.

Fifteen minutes later, we were on the road. The sky had been cloudy since morning. As it began to drizzle, I became more conscious on the road. I had been driving fast, so I slowed down to avoid risks. The drizzle changed to sudden downpour as we neared the shop.

People on the road started to run frantically for shelter. Vehicles slowed down on the road as well.

Suddenly, we heard a very loud crack of thunder followed by a bright flash of lightning outside my car window. Within a few minutes, roads and streets had turned into streams and rivers. Many trees were uprooted. The storm plunged the city into darkness. Advertisement boards began to fall and damage vehicles around them.

We seemed to be frozen on the spot. It seemed impossible to move because I could feel water inside my car. I became confused and switched off the engine. My mother started reciting a Dua loudly. People from outside suddenly started to gesture and shout. They were asking us to move forward or leave the car because a neon sign board was about to fall on us. I immediately turned the ignition on, but the engine turned off. Just then, a man came and asked us to jump out. Throwing all caution to the winds, we did as told before it was too late.

“O Allah! Do not kill us with Your anger, nor destroy us with Your torment, and save us before that.” (Bukhari, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasai and Al-Hakim)

We walked to stand near a wall, desperately in need of a ride home. At the time, we were totally oblivious to the fact that the sign board had indeed crashed into our precious car. I have no idea how long we stood there, soaking wet with a huge amount of cash in our bags. There were no rickshaws or cabs to take us home!

People were frantically moving in groups, holding hands to save each other from falling into any open sewerage or gutter. Whenever they would pass by us, they would ask us to get moving too. Honestly, we were too scared and too confused to think straight. Suddenly, a boy came near us and asked us where we wanted to go. He told us that there was no option but to hold hands and move from here as it was already dark and we two women were all alone. My mother held his hand and we started walking. The whole place was flooded; we had no clue where we were placing our foot. We were just praying and moving. We recited the Sunnah supplication taught to us by the Prophet (sa):

«اللَّهُمَّ لَا تَقْتُلْنَا بِغَضَبِكَ، وَلَا تُهْلِكْنَا بِعَذَابِكَ، وَعَافِنَا قَبْل ذَلِك»
“O Allah! Do not kill us with Your anger, nor destroy us with Your torment, and save us before that.” (Bukhari, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nasai and Al-Hakim)

Verses 19 and 20 of Surah Al-Baqarah related to my situation easily. Allah (swt) says:

“Or like a rainstorm from the sky, wherein is darkness, thunder, and lightning. They thrust their fingers in their ears to keep out the stunning thunderclap for fear of death. But Allah ever encompasses the disbelievers (i.e. Allah will gather them all together). The lightning almost snatches away their sight, whenever it flashes for them, they walk therein, and when darkness covers them, they stand still. And if Allah willed, He could have taken away their hearing and their sight. Certainly, Allah has power over all things.” (Al-Baqarah 2:19-20)

That was one of the most memorable nights of my life. It changed the way I interact with people. Now, whenever I am out, I try to find people who need my assistance, and help them in every way I can. No good deed looks too small to me. They are all significant in my eyes. 

Flashes of thunderbolts helped us to find the way and move forward. At that point, we all were hoping that these flashes remain calm so we could reach our destination.

People left us when they reached their houses and soon only that boy was left behind with us. When he reached his house, he offered us to come inside and stay there for a while. He took us through a narrow street. We were puzzled but he was the only hope.

It was very dark, as only lightning was showing us the way. He stood near a small curtain, behind which was a small door. He went inside, while we were standing outside confused and frightened. Then we heard a middle-aged woman approach us. She smiled and asked us to come inside.  As we walked in, feeling like we’ve just been on a battlefield, the lady offered us a hot meal and dry clothes.

In the morning, after praying Fajr, the lady prepared breakfast and her son went out to arrange a ride for us. It took us an hour because the roads were badly damaged, but Alhumdulillah, we finally reached home.

After the storm subsided, I decided to visit the family that had been of such great help to us that night. However, despite many attempts, I was unable to locate them. Maybe it was too dark when we had arrived and left…

I still pray for them whenever I can. That was one of the most memorable nights of my life. It changed the way I interact with people. Now, whenever I am out, I try to find people who need my assistance, and help them in every way I can. No good deed looks too small to me. They are all significant in my eyes.

O Allah, indeed, I am the witness to the day you saved us and in that dark night you sent thunderbolts and strikes as a blessing to show us our path. O Allah, bless my companions and myself with your guidance. Make us firm on the path of guidance and do not allow us to deviate from it. Ameen.

Image courtesy: http://www.walltor.com

The Blue Coat

Untitled

It was the first time our eyes met. The morning was quite and cold though it is already February in this part of the world. Thanks to the heavy showers the previous night, the day looked more like the pre-dawn of a day in December.

In the courtyard, stood a boy, tall with an enchanting air around him. Dancing in his large eyes was sheer mischief. His complexion the blend of golden yellow and pink. It was love at first sight for myself and him. “What is your name sweetheart?” He spellbound me with a shy glimpse while his fingers were busy twisting a corner of his T-shirt.

I had joined this preschool as a teacher, just two months ago. I was battling to understand the minds of these tiny creatures. The Child Psychology theories I have learnt confused me and left me to despair in my own quarters. I had begun to wander between the gaps of the ideals and the realities.

As the day broke, I would catch a glimpse of children as they entered the class room just like pretty rose buds tumbling down from a basket. Some days I would hold a child by the shoulder and whisper with all smiles, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”

We all love children because children are the mirrors from which we see our past- a time which cannot be seen.

Children change the way you look at the world at large. They are the softer side of great blunders. A child’s smile can send bouquets of love even when the earth is hit by thousands of earth quakes.

The boundless love for children gave room for a stern policy to stem out in me, not to thrash any child ever in my life.

That was the time when my family was busily engrossed in finding me a counterpart – Mr. Right.

Whenever my feelings got wounded, my abode of consolation were my school children. Leaving home and family behind, I was lost in the world of shades and fragrance for hours and hours of infinite time.

At the school, we had twenty small wonders. Each one was a separate universe, yet Ahmad was exceptional.

Witty and quick to grasp, he was way ahead of others. He kept all the others under him exactly like an efficient politician who manages his mob. I liked Ahmad a lot yet I was so careful not to show my soft spot for him in open. I treated him like I would care for any child in school.

When the children fought, making every minute of my life miserable, sometimes made me despair why this not be my last day at school. Many a time, the cause of conflict would be half an eaten eraser or a faded wrapper of a chocolate. I would smile exhaustingly within, thinking about the fights waiting in the future when these children grow into adulthood.

At times Ahmad would show hostile and antagonistic behaviour when he was emotionally disturbed. He would be called ‘Ahmaaaaaaaaad…..’ Sometimes sweetly by a voice with the blend of love, occasionally in a more firm tone followed by a stern look. He would calm down.

Some days, Ahmad would bring me blossoms of fresh and fragrant Jasmine buds which were yet to open eyes. Half eaten Guavas, old perfume bottles, broken toy cars something or other would adorn my table at least a day or two in a week. During meal time, a piece of sandwich bitten on all sides or a handful of noodles would be forced into my mouth by little fingers.

That day still lives in me. It was drizzling and the sky was purplish…time for creative skills. The classroom walls smelt of a new aroma. Walls stood elite with the new turquoise blue paint.

‘Now look here …..Sweethearts, I am going to give you all crayons and white paper. What are you going to draw?’ I was encouraging the little wonders to give shape and colours to their dreams.

‘Miss, I will draw my home’

‘Miss I am going to Draw Aero plane’

‘Shall I draw my Daddy’?

‘Miss my hand is hurting Miss  …’

I was listening to each and every child. ‘wow, very good, beautiful…

Okay, just wait a second and draw, then your hand won’t ache.’

I was becoming a little exhausted and worn out.

The numb headache I was having from the morning was getting onto my nerves. That evening was scheduled for one of the most eligible bachelors coming to see me and I was stressed beyond words. I came out of the class room to the adjoining hall in the intention of having two pain killers.

Suddenly I saw a shadowy little creature standing by the wall absorbed in something. My eyes grew large and I stepped closer. Oh my God. Ahmad was scribbling something on the freshly painted wall.

‘You little rascal, what are you doing? Wait I will teach you a good lesson!’

A monster within me ripped open and dragged Ahmad by his shoulder. It slapped him across his cheeks. Twisted were his pinkish earlobes. It got hold of his ears and dragged him and made him sit on a chair. As the momentum grew meek, suddenly I realized his eyes did not shed even a single teardrop.

Was I acting brutish? I thought for a second and then I started to feel guilty and was blue. Ahmad stood there still like a shadow of a tree in the noon. I felt that he was more hurt by the embarrassment caused in front of the class than anything else. I could plainly see his terribly knocked ego.

Ahmad did not raise his head afterwards. Next day…The whole week…. Children greeted me every morning. I was waiting, clad in my blue attire, Ahmad did not turn up nor his jasmine buds. The urge was pushing me to visit him. I walked towards his home that weekend. Padlocked was the gate and a neighbour came to my rescue. He told in a voice that was edgy, that Ahmad was admitted to the hospital.

I hurried to the hospital to spot Ahmad as beaming as ever in the children’s ward. ‘Miss, do not give my colour box to anyone… I am going to draw this Doctor Uncle now‘… Ahmad raised his hand stuck to a cannula. He was bubbling with little talks endless and infinite as his dreams.

‘Ahmad talks nothing but about you and his school’. Ahmad’s mother stopped for a while to converse. He was infected with Dengue and according to his mother; fortunately he was out of the danger and would be discharged within a day or two. As I kept the teddy bear next to him and his favourite chocolate in his hand, I did not have even a stroke of thought that it was the last time I am seeing him all alive.

The news broke on a day in mild summer, while I was demonstrating to children how to crush the tissue into small purple balls and then to paste them on the drawn brinjal.

‘Little Ahmad passed away’ Innalillah (We all return to God). Ahmad had left us for good. I was unconsciously drawn to the walls where Ahmed carved his last scribble. I ran my fingers over the painting with my heart becoming heavy. A scribble of a person. I could not make out whether it is a woman or a man. But the person was wearing something in blue- a blue coat. Smiling was a crooked heart next to it, scribbled in red. I could not take it any more.

I collapsed down, with every bit of my heart broken. Within my heart a sparrow fell right down from the sky, dead. ‘Ahmad, will you ever forgive me?‘

I broke sobbing, drops of tears drenching my blue coat…

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.