Audio recording: Choices amidst the Tasmia

May there be benefit insha’Allah. Chapter 2: Choices, amidst the Tasmia from A Quranic Odyssey: towards Juz ‘Amma. Also check out Umm Reviews and the latest ‘Tokyo Digs a Garden.

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A better cause…

 As of April 29th 2016, all author proceeds from these books will be donated to Houston’s Interfaith Ministries Refugee Services and Urban Harvest. We pray that these efforts are accepted and that peace prevails, worldwide. 

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Listening to A Quranic Odyssey one chapter at a time

Please find The Opening, the first chapter in ‘A Quranic Odyssey: Towards Juz ‘Amma’ below. Happy listening and happy reading always. Also check out Umm Book Reviews (a new tab on this site) and our latest review ‘Laila’s Lunchbox’.

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Something old and something new

Last month, A Quranic Odyssey was relaunched. The text was updated and embellished and illustrations were added. Umm Muhemmed collaborated in this endeavor with Houston-based Mindworks Publishing and Canadian-based illustrator Azra Momin. A story that started 6 years ago in Cape Town, South Africa continues….Watch this space for announcements about a children’s activity and the 3rd book in the series insha’Allah. Immediately below find the first chapter.

Chapter 1: The Opening

Setting: Early October 2010, new school, Houston, early morning
Characters: Ms. Suzy, Ibrahim, Khadija, Amna

“What’s your name?” I hear the teacher ask.

It’s a new day, in a new place, and a very new teacher for all of us. The question, however, is a familiar one.

My son, who keeps reminding me that he will be five and a half in a matter of weeks, responds, “My name is . . . Ibrahim . . . well, actually, it’s longer, Muhemmed Ibrahim Shaban, but call me Ibrahim for short. I jumped off Signal Hill right before we left Cape Town. I wore a helmet and had sort of . . . umm . . . a net and a pair of wings. Do you want to see my picture? You can also see the World Cup Stadium if you look carefully, but, you know, Spain won, not South Africa.”

I can see that the teacher is taken aback, and imagine her asking herself the following questions: He jumped off a hill with wings? Near the World Cup Stadium?[i] She adjusts her glasses as if to focus her thoughts. I wonder whether she has ever met a boy named Ibrahim before. I also wonder how many mothers in hijab have passed through the school doors. There don’t seem to be any this morning that I can see.

I had chosen a small Montessori program because it was close to our home, just a half day of kindergarten, and they had an opening for us well after the start of the school year, but talking to the director over the phone and handing my son over to Ms. Suzy were two very different things.

“Well,” she finally says, “welcome Ib-ra-him.”

Slowly, the name comes out from her mouth and, although tentative, its pronunciation is followed by a smile. Ibrahim meanwhile is beaming at her, waiting, it would seem, as if to tell her more.

“Thank you Ms. Suzy,” I interject, then explain. “Ibrahim went tandem paragliding right before we moved, and just one month after the World Cup. It left quite an impact. And his name is Arabic for Abraham, like Abraham Lincoln. This is my daughter.”

I point down to Amna then continue, “Her name is Amna, Am-na, almost like ‘Amy’.”

Amna waves at Ms. Suzy as if on cue, and also beams. She’s wearing bright yellow overalls, a parting gift from my neighbor, which she chose to wear to accompany her brother to school. She wanted to make sure she wouldn’t get lost, or at least that is how she tried to explain it in our scramble to get dressed this morning. I’m hoping, that despite our eccentricities, we give a good first impression though I do feel a bit nervous myself, and adjust the edge of my hijab near the pin below my chin.

I pause for a second more before I proceed, “I am Khadija. My name is more of a mouthful, but once you’ve said it once or twice and maybe even seen it in writing, it will all seem more familiar.”

I start to take out a piece of paper from my brown, leather purse. Ibrahim, however, beats me to it, writing out his name on a small school notebook he is carrying. He hands it over to Ms. Suzy, together with his photograph, taken in flight.

“It all sounds and looks quite exciting. Yes, very exciting,” Ms. Suzy repeats. “I’m sure we’ll have fun getting to know each other, and I’m certainly looking forward to learning about all those soccer teams.[ii] Welcome, again. And yes, maybe you can write out your name? That would help.”

Once again, before I can respond, Ibrahim in his ever-forthright manner adds, “Do you know my father has three names? I call him ‘Papa’ and my mother calls him ‘Abdurrahman’ and my Nonna calls him ‘Nico’. I’m sure some of his coll-eag-ues at the office call him ‘Sir’, too. Isn’t that interesting?”

“Yes, very interesting,” Ms. Suzy nods. She seems to be less taken aback than at first, and maintains a smile. Perhaps she is getting used to us all, or perhaps we are actually not that different.

She reaches out for Ibrahim’s hand, and adds, “Why don’t I show you where you will be sitting and you can meet your classmates.”

I feel a lump forming in my throat as I wave good-bye.  Ibrahim follows Ms. Suzy into the classroom and I watch him disappear. I know in my heart that he will be alright, but every goodbye always hurts, and I suspect always will, even as the children age.

It’s been a busy first month in Houston, as we sort out endless logistics, but the hot spell is breaking, and this morning we finally started at a new school. So here we are, at least some of us, for now. Papa, also known as Abdurrahman, Nico and Sir, will be coming home from work in the evening and will probably want to go out to watch the sunset. And Nonna, my mother-in-law, has just come to stay, together with a pledge to start learning Spanish, which she claims is not so different from Italian, her mother tongue.

Meanwhile, if all goes according to plan, I start my hifdh lessons with Hafidha Rabia tomorrow morning after dropping off Ibrahim.[1] Then, Nani, my mother, will be with us again, next week insha’Allah. She’s been trying to teach me how to cook and start the children on Urdu. We also began reading the first surah of the Quran, Al Fatihah,[2] [3] which seems auspicious and fitting.

This afternoon, we’ll re-read it in Arabic and English, and, if the children are up to it, we may even try to draw it. An immense book opens in front of us, and beckons.

[1] Hafidha is the honorary title given to a woman who has memorized the Quran (the male designation is ‘hafidh’ also spelled ‘hafiz’), and means one who protects or preserves the Quran as highlighted throughout the story. The name ‘Rabia’ means ‘spring’ in Arabic. Among the most renowned personages to hold the name ‘Rabia’ in Islamic history is ’Rabia al Basri’, the 8th century, Sufi mystic.

[2] Al Fatihah (the Opening) “1. In the name of God, the All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate. 2. All praise and gratitude are for God, the Lord of the worlds, 3. The All-Merciful, the All-Compassionate, 4. The Master of the Day of Judgement. 5. You alone do we worship, and from You alone do we seek help. 6. Guide us to the Straight Path, 7. The Path of those whom You have favored, not of those who have incurred (Your) wrath nor of those who are astray,” (Unal 2013:2).

[3] As described by Unal, “[Al Fatihah] balances praise and petition perfectly, and establishes four main themes or purposes of the Quranic guidance—(1) establishing the existence and unity of God, (2) prophethood, (3) the resurrection and afterlife, (4) worship and justice. It is called Surah Al Fatihah because it is the opening chapter of the Quran. It also has other names such as “the Seven Doubly-Repeated (Verses)” because of its glory and distinction and because it must be recited in the first two rak’ahs of each of the prescribed prayers (salah), the “Mother of the Book,” because it is the seed of the whole Quran; and “the Treasure,” because it contains many precious truths,” (ibid).



Reading Notes




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In the wake of violence, Islam

Author, Katharine Gratwick aka Umm Muhemmed, penned the following article in the wake of the San Bernardino tragedy.  She, like every other Muslim she knows, condemns the tragic events, and seeks to find peaceful and constructive solutions, always. Her Islamic faith guides and inspires her.  The article was submitted to the Houston Chronicle and The New York Times on December 3, 2015 though was not published.

In the wake of violence, Islam

“It wasn’t me,” Hawa repeated, again and again. The refrain from her poem sounded out across an audience, accented by hijabs and topis–all nodding, knowing of what this young woman spoke.[1] Guilty until proven innocent. Guilty, by the simple act of association. Islam.

The long foretold clash of civilizations is upon us. Islam and the West are incompatible. One represents terror and intolerance; the other, freedom. They cannot coexist, or so mainstream media broadcasts day in, and out, on every conceivable platform. Good vs. evil. Truth vs. falsehood. The new Red Scare, the new ‘other’ needs to be contained.

This fiction cannot, however, be further from the truth. Islam and the West have coexisted for years. Both are porous, both adaptive. Islam vs. the West remains a false and dangerous dichotomy.

While every recognizable Islamic scholar has denounced terror, their voices are not picked up by mainstream media. Neither are other Muslim outlets such as CAIR, ISNA, and Unity Productions.[2] Their voices are drowned out by vitriol.  My neighbor says, ‘fear sells, and this is a business.’

Perhaps fear sells, but consider the other consequences. Fear breeds distrust, suspicion, hate and ultimately violence, none of which help a society to flourish. Cultivating mass fear destabilizes, all.

Of course there are very bad guys, but they are not universally Muslim. And it certainly wasn’t young Hawa. Muslims should not be on trial for the terror in our midst.

How then do we counteract the fear that is spread so widely, at present? We, all, today, start recognizing our common humanity. We are all connected–virtually and actually. We are global and local neighbors. Our similarities are much greater than any of our differences.

Let us meet each other, break bread together, discuss our fears and prejudices. Let us serve together, the elderly, the poor, and the environment. And let us exchange gifts.

This is not Utopian.  Instead, it is the only way to build dynamic and prosperous communities. Yes, let us start to recognize our common humanity, our real bonds. And let us go forth, and do good in the world, together.

Katharine Gratwick, a practicing Muslim, lives in Texas, with her family, and works as a development economist.  She is also the author of ‘Ya Seen: a hifdh journey in America,’ which seek to show how Qur’aanic memorization may unfold in a family context, in twenty-first century America.  In her free time, together with her family, she helps coordinate multiple community efforts to promote environmental sustainability.

[1] Hawa a 16 year old, American-Muslim, performed her poem, “Boom, it wasn’t me,” at the Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA) conference in Chicago in August of 2015. ISNA is the largest organization of Muslims in the United States, conducting educational, advocacy, spiritual and charitable programs nation-wide.

[2] CAIR, Council on American-Islamic Relations. See Fact vs. Fiction released by Unity Productions following the shooting in Chapel Hill in February 2015.

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Preparing for Thanksgiving

The following chapter is excerpted from the first volume in the Quranic Odyssey series, ‘A Quranic Odyssey: towards Juz Amma,’ drafted in 2010 and published in 2012. The text is presently under revision and will be re-released in March 2016 insha’Allah. Ibrahim and Amna were 5 and 2 at the time and had recently moved to Houston, and were preparing to visit extended family, including non-Muslim relatives, over Thanksgiving. The chapter raises questions about our interfaith gatherings and key messages when we meet and touches on lessons from Surah Al Kafirun.

Chapter 9: Getting Ready for Thanksgiving

Setting: November, 2010, on the sidewalk, walking back from a public park, Houston, late afternoon, a week-day
Characters: Ibrahim, Khadija, Amna

“Ammi, what is stuffing?” asks Ibrahim.

“What?” I respond.

“I heard Papa talking to Uncle Geo about stuffing last night on the telephone. Papa asked him what kind of stuffing he was going to make, and then I think he said something about being extra careful about it being halal and having no wine, and then Papa seemed a little upset or Uncle Geo sounded mad or… I don’t quite know.”[1]

“Upset stuffing?” I say, smiling and pausing for a moment, then continue. “Hmm baita, I may be the wrong person to ask, but let me give it a try. As far as I know stuffing is what they put in the turkey or the chicken. And it’s different from what we talked about with The Velveteen Rabbit. Normally it’s made out of bread crumbs.”

“Like in Hansel and Gretel?”

“Yes, if you wish, breadcrumbs like the ones Hansel and Gretel used, but mixed in with other spices and sometimes other things. If I remember correctly, your father once told me that Uncle Geo used kumquats in his stuffing.”

“Robots?” Ibrahim asks, turning back to me.

He’s been walking up ahead just calling out his questions, but here he finally stops and turns back to Amna and me (or me carrying Amna and all our other paraphernalia). We’re on our way back from the public tennis courts where we went for our first impromptu game with our new rackets, which Ibrahim chose for his Eid gift instead of a set of water guns. The water guns somehow lost their appeal in the last couple of weeks; but then again, the weather is also colder these days.

“No, kumquats. They’re a smallish orange-ish type of fruit. You know your Uncle Geo, he’s a gourmet cook. As for anyone being upset, I wouldn’t worry about it. They’re brothers, and most of the time they get along like you and Amna, but they also have some differences. I think what’s hard for the two of them is that certain things have changed, like, for instance, your father…”

“Converting to Islam,” Ibrahim is quicker than me and more direct.

“Well yes, Abdurrahman’s reversion. For Uncle Geo, Papa is ‘Nico’, his kid brother, and I don’t think he always appreciates being instructed on how and what to cook.”

“Cook. Cook. Cook,” Amna intones. Her mouth is pursed and her eyes are focusing on my mouth as if to ascertain the correction formation and pronunciation.

“But Uncle Geo invited us for Thanksgiving,” says Ibrahim.

Bicul, baita. Uncle Geo invited all of us masha’Allah, and of course he wants us to share a wonderful meal with us to commemorate the pilgrims’ Thanksgiving meal with the Native Americans, but there are still certain differences and ironing them out takes time and effort. Just think, Uncle Geo has never had to prepare a halal meal before, and he is going out of his way to ensure that we may all eat together. I think he is really looking forward to hosting us, but it takes some time and effort, and I don’t think he likes receiving cooking instructions from his younger brother.”

“I would listen to Amna,” Ibrahim affirms.

“Would you? I’ve seen the two of you argue making brownies before,” I say.

“That’s because she makes a mess. Maybe it might be a little difficult if she wanted me to make a turkey and stuffing in a certain way,” Ibrahim admits.

“You see, and you’re both Muslim. Imagine if you had to learn a different religious recipe?” I ask.

“Well, if we were all vegetarians, there wouldn’t be any issue,” Ibrahim says smiling. It would appear he’s getting the point.

“By the way, did you have a chance to speak to David or Alexandra last night or was it just Papa and Uncle Geo who spoke?” I follow up.

“Yup, I spoke to Alex. She’s going to make an apple pie, and she wants me to cut up all the apples,” explains Ibrahim.

“Cut them?” I repeat, somewhat concerned.

“Yes, she said I could. I told her that Nonna taught me how to use a knife.”

“Ok, well let’s see about that, and David?” I probe.

“He just wants to play cricket with us,” responds Ibrahim.

“Cricket? On Thanksgiving?”[2] I say, not grasping the connection.

Ibrahim nods his head ‘yes.’ “You remember when they visited us in South Africa, and he saw me and Sabir play, and he really liked it. Well, he said that we can play cricket together, after the turkey and the stuffing,” Ibrahim clarifies.

“Does he have a bat?” I ask.

“I don’t know. Maybe we can just make it up?” suggests Ibrahim.

Amna has been unusually quiet, but her eyes light up with the words ‘cricket’ and she so starts her characteristic chorus of “cricket, cricket, cricket.”

Ibrahim seems to ignore his sister and continues, “Ammi, what do you think about Thanksgiving?” He sits down on the sidewalk as if preparing for a longer discussion. I sit too. Amna is starting to get a little heavy, and I’m also feeling the weight of her (not so baby) baby bag and the tennis rackets. I wonder about us just encamping on the sidewalk and so move off toward a small piece of grass.

“Well, it’s new to me,” I respond. “But I’m glad to be sharing a meal with different family members and friends. I also think that it’s nice that it falls so close to Eid this year when we share the sacrifice as well. And, it’s a good reminder of so many of the suwar we’ve been learning lately, including Surah Al Kafirun, which is all about respecting and also accepting differences.”[3]

“Do you think Nani would also agree?” he continues.

“I do,” I affirm. “I think that Nani and Nonna would both agree.”

“But Ammi, I think Surah Al Kafirun is hard,” says Ibrahim, bending over, his head resting on his knees.

“I do too, and do you know that until I met Hafidha Rabia and you, I couldn’t say it correctly? I always used to invert the different ayaat.”

“Ammi, you didn’t meet me. I’m your son, and I’m also your part-time Quran coach and that’s what we’re supposed to do: help each other. So will you help me?”

“Only if you promise me you’ll let Alexandra do most of the cutting and you won’t worry about your uncle and father.”

“Ok, it’s a deal. Now, let’s get Kafirun down before Thanksgiving and then… Amna, stop it.” I have to hold Ibrahim’s arm as he is ready to strike his sister who is now beginning to irritate him with her incessant chorus of ‘cricket’.

“Ibrahim, please don’t hurt your sister. Remember we’re getting ready for Thanksgiving. I suppose in a certain way we’re all taking out our old stuffing and putting new stuffing in and making sure that it is all good and wholesome.”

“Like during Hajj,” Ibrahim offers.

“Yes, sort of, like on Hajj. Your father may be able to help us connect all these dots, but it’s starting to make sense to me. Ok, I’m ready to listen to you. Give me the third ayah of Surah Al Kafirun and then the fifth one and let’s see just how hard it really is. I know you can do this,” I say, encouraging.[4]

“You think so, Ammi?” says Ibrahim, now tentatively, as though he’s temporarily lost his confidence. He looks around and then settles his gaze on me. There is no one else on the sidewalk and the cars seem distant.

“I do,” I reaffirm, patting him gently on the back. “And you could probably even do it right here and now,” I say.

“Here?” asks Ibrahim, pointing at the side walk.

“Here,” says Amna, gesturing to all of us.

As if taking up the challenge, Ibrahim inhales deeply, then in a light voice he says. “Ok, here, I go, A’uthu billahi minash shaytanir rajeem, Bismillah…”

[1] In Arabic, the word halal means permitted or lawful. Halal food excludes the following: pork or pork by-products, animals that were dead prior to butchering, animals not slaughtered properly or not slaughtered in the name of Allah (God), blood and blood by-products and alcohol. The recent debate over the quality of meat and poultry in the United States, including coverage in the documentary film Food Inc. (2009) as well as in The Omnivore’s Dilemma (Pollan 2006), raises critical questions about the integrity of food and whether it is truly ‘tayyib’, (good) which could have implications for how/what Muslims consume as well.

[2] Although no longer known for cricket, the United States was involved in the first international cricket match, which was played against Canada in 1844.

[3] As summarized by Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Surah 109, Al Kafirun (The Unbelievers), “…defines the right attitude to those who reject Faith; in matters of Truth we can make no compromise, but there is no need to persecute or abuse anyone for his faith or belief,” (2011: 1707). Unal provides a similar rendering, “they [the Muslims] should not compel the unbelievers to accept faith,” (2013:1254). This surah was revealed in direct response to a deal that the leaders of the Quraysh tried to strike with Prophet Muhemmed SAW, namely “if he worshipped their gods for a year, then they would worship his One God for a year. After that, they would talk about whose religion was better,” (Emerick 2010: 810). The principles of non-coercion, behind the surah, remain equally relevant to today.

[4] The 3rd and 5th ayaat are identical in terms of the Arabic language. There are, however, nuances related to the context which allow for the apparent repetition to actually carry different meaning, and thus they are generally translated somewhat differently, namely: 3) Nor are you those who ever worship what I worship; and 5) And nor are you those who do and will ever worship what I ever worship (Unal 2013: 1254). Emerick provides a similar distinction in his translation (2011: 810).

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Chapter 5: Another Tafseer

Selected chapters from the 3rd book in the Quranic Odyssey series, ‘From Surah Al Kahf: journey of a lifetime,’ are being shared via this page. Immediately below please find an excerpt from Chapter 5: Another Tafseer. See About for more information on the series, Glossary for any definition of terms appearing in italics below and Cast of Characters for further description of characters. 

Setting: Saturday mid-morning, the next day, mid-March, family home, kitchen
Characters: Khadija, Ibrahim

“We need to look at the lessons, then dig deeper and ask what we can learn and apply today. How and why is this relevant to us, now?”

I push pause on the CD player and look over at Ibrahim, who’s seated at the kitchen table, finishing up a late breakfast of sheermal. The light is pouring in through the windows, as if beckoning us into the day. “Well, what do you think, baita? Any ideas?”

“Ammi, this is your surah now. I’ve already learned it,” says Ibrahim, somewhat dismissively, turning back to his chapter book. He’s completely ensconced in another story. Apparently there is an old badger whose kingdom is threatened by marauding animal pirates. [1] I can’t keep up with his reading, but am still trying to check in. It would seem that every parent has a different position on appropriate books, but all agree that you keep asking questions.

“Ok, well, I’m asking for your help. How about you put your book down for five minutes and you help me out with this one?” I say pointing to my mushaf which is open to Surah Al Kahf.

“I’ll give you ten, but then you have to let me read, Ammi,” says Ibrahim, more responsive than I was expecting. “What was the question again and why did you turn off the CD? It actually sounded interesting.”[2]

“Thanks for listening,” I say, a bit tongue and cheek. “And yes, the CD was interesting; it’s a tafseer of Surah Al Kahf.”

“Ammi, I know that. I’m not deaf,” says Ibrahim, reacting.

I let the comment go and move on. “So what the scholar was asking us was how is Surah Al Kahf still relevant today, to your life?”

“Ammi, you’re the one learning the surah. I think that’s your question. How is it relevant to your life?” Ibrahim rephrases, unwilling to take up my charge, but still engaging.

“My life?” I say pointing at myself. “The scholar has been emphasizing the value of work, constructive work, which Thul Qarnayn helped motivate. It wasn’t enough for the people simply to sit on the sidelines and pay for services; he wanted to have them participate, and give their actual labor, be part of the solution.”[3]

“Ammi, I heard all of that,” says Ibrahim. “The question is how is it relevant to your life,” he repeats.

“Give me a minute. I’m coming to that,” I respond, gathering my thoughts, surprised by Ibrahim’s selective retention. “In general terms, we all need to participate, but if I think specifically about my own work, I need to constantly assess if what I’m working on is contributing in a genuine way to the society in which we live, for the upliftment of humanity.”

“Big words, Ammi,” says Ibrahim. His new code word for ‘please rephrase’.

“Is what I am doing enough? Good enough?” I say.

“You’re always busy,” remarks Ibrahim, putting the last piece of sheermal in his mouth.

“But busy isn’t what we’re after,” I say, anticipating that a much larger conversation is about to begin.

“But you are,” he says, looking down at his book, which is competing for his interest.

“I’m sorry you feel that way. I would hope you also feel that I’m available for you and your sister, and supportive, and doing work that matters, and motivates you to do good work too,” I offer.

“Sometimes,” Ibrahim says, shrugging his shoulders, “but not when you make me late for soccer practice.” I had sensed this would come back. Neither he nor I had broached the subject last night, despite Amna’s recommendation to apologize. Frankly, I hadn’t wanted to open the wound, and I thought Ibrahim might have forgotten.

“I’m sorry Ibrahim. I shouldn’t have pushed you on Surah Al Waqiah, right before practice, but I also didn’t like how you ran off like that,” I say, trying to adopt a middle course and set the record straight.

“Ammi, I was late, and I was frustrated,” says Ibrahim, starting to bite on his pinky, among his most recent habits. I have to hold myself back from chastising him about that now, sensing the more I focus in on nail biting the more he bites.

“Ammi, I’m sorry, but…”

“It’s ok, baita,” I say cutting him off.  “How about we let that go, for now, and I’ll try not to make you late, and you honor your review schedule inshaAllah so that everything gets finished well before practice.”

I stop and readjust the Quran stand in front of me. “In all honestly, though, I could really use your help on Surah Al Kahf. I can’t believe you memorized it, and here I am still toiling on the first page and a half, after a month. Hafidha Rabia told me that once I get into the stories I won’t be able to put it down, so I’m trying to understand each of the stories better to get motivated.”

“Ammi, there are four stories in Surah Al Kahf. The one about Thul Qarnayn is the last one. Don’t you think you should start with the first one and move forward? Anyway, it took me nine months, and then I forgot everything and then I had to relearn it, and I’m still always forgetting it,” says Ibrahim, in an attempt to console me.  “But, I thought we were talking about work and whether your work is enough,” he follows up bringing us back to the exact place where we left off in our conversation.

I nod, signaling for him to continue.

“In terms of whether it matters, I thought your water work was really important, and it made a big difference in the world. I still remember the water wars, do you?”

We both pause. That was a long time ago. Ibrahim was half the size he is now when I gave that presentation in his Montessori class.[4] I can’t believe he still remembers, but he’s come back to it time and again.

“And I remember the arsenic too,” he says, continuing.[5] “I can’t believe you got to work on that…by the way, where’s Amna?” Ibrahim looks around the room as if expecting her to emerge. Despite the fact they fight so often, they definitely take note of each other’s absence.

“Nani took her for a haircut at the women’s salon,” I respond. “So you and I could have a little time together, and you could help me with Surah Al Kahf,” I cajole, smiling at him.

“I get it Ammi. I am helping you, but I also need a haircut,” responds Ibrahim.

“Don’t worry. Your father is going to the barber later today, when he gets back from his class, and he’ll take you, and probably for an ice cream too. Ok, so you think I should focus on the first story?” I ask, picking up on Ibrahim’s advice.

“If you want to try to get it through the stories like Hafidha Rabia said, take it one story at a time, and start with the cave, definitely start with the cave. It’s number one.”

“How about you recite that part to me?” I suggest.

“Ammi, your ten minutes are almost up,” responds Ibrahim, “But because you’re struggling,” he says, smiling back at me, “I’ll take you through the cave. You need to give me the prompt though, I can’t just start mid-page like that.”

“You’ve got your wudu?” I ask.

Ibrahim nods. “You got yours?” he returns the question, more forthright than I would expect.  I can’t imagine saying that to my mother at his age, but then again, I may have. I wonder whether Ibrahim inherited this trait from his father, or me, or whether in his own unique way he’s simply growing up, and figuring out how to express himself.

I nod ‘yes’ to his question, and also observe that he’s no longer biting his nails.  Looking through my mushaf, I scan the translation for the first mention of the cave, finally finding ayah nine. Starting with the ista’aadha, I then read it aloud to help Ibrahim find his place, “am hasibta anna asaabal kahfi war raqeemi kaanoo min aayaatinaa ‘ajabaa.”[6]

With the sun still beckoning, Ibrahim picks up ayah 10 and we are off, alternatively following and leading each other.

[1] This is a loose reference to the Redwall series by Brian Jacques.

[2] The initial reference was informed by ‘Tafseer Surah Al Kahf’ by Safi Khan (2010), a CD released by Ilmquest. There is, however, no direct quoting of the scholar; all statements have been paraphrased.

[3] See Quran, 18:95, “So help me with strength (manpower) and I will set a strong rampart between you and them,” (Unal 2013: 621).

[4] See Chapters 35 and 36 in A Qur’aanic Odyssey: Towards Juz Amma (2012) which highlights conflicts related to water. “Baita…Just look here; for almost a decade, between the 1870s and 1881 there were disputes about water rights in New Mexico, which borders Texas. And there was violence. Then look here, in South Africa, just seven years ago, there were violent uprisings due to lack of clean water and sanitation. Again, there was violence, and considerable damage. Across India and Pakistan, which you know well, there have been many conflicts, including one in 2001 in Karachi.”

[5] See Chapter 18 in Ya Sin: a hifdh journey in America, which discusses Khadija’s work related to Bihar and the arsenic contamination in the water. As reported in the International Journal of Environmental Research (Singh et al. 2014), “the groundwater [arsenic] contamination in Bihar was first reported in Semaria Ojha Patti village of Shahpur, a block of Bhojpur district in 2002… In 2007, Nickson et al. reported groundwater [arsenic] contamination in 50 blocks in 11 districts…Currently, the groundwater [arsenic] contamination has spread to 16 districts, threatening more than 10 million people in Bihar…Recently, Singh and Ghosh (2012) estimated that there is a very high health risk in the [arsenic] contaminated areas in Maner block of the Patna district. They found that the cancer risk and hazard quotient owing to drinking [arsenic] contaminated groundwater was as high as 192 micrograms [µg/L] (Singh and Ghosh, 2012).” The World Health Organisation says that levels above 10 parts per billion ((ppb, equivalent to µg/L) present health hazards (Tewary 2007).

[6] See Quran 18:9, “Or do you reckon the People of the Cave and the Inscription as something strange among Our signs (manifesting the truth, and too extraordinary to believe)?” (Unal 2013: 600).

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