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.