Chapter 13: School at Sehri

Immediately following is a chapter from ‘Ya Sin, Towards the Heart of the Qur’aan,’ a recently completed story by Umm Muhemmed, which follows from ‘A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma’. ‘Ya Sin’ narrates the family’s ongoing journey through the Qur’aan with a focus on Surah Ya Sin, the surah they set out to learn following completion of Juz Amma, throughout the month of Ramadan.  Although each of the chapters are connected, each one may be read as a stand-alone text as well.

Setting: early Sunday morning, home
Characters: Khadija, Abdurrahman, Ibrahim

“Do you really think we should wake him?” I whisper to Abdurrahman, who is standing with me in the doorway of the children’s room. The back hall light is on, but, other than a couple of night lights, the house is completely dark. “He slept so late last night, after all those questions….”

“Khadija, you promised your son you would wake him up,” reminds Abdurrahman.

“I know Janu, but his first full day fast was difficult,” I respond.

“From what I remember, his first full day fast was fun, for him, and us, and inshaa Allah his next one will be even more fun,” says Abdurrahman.

“Just remember, if he only makes it half way, that’s ok,” I say looking at Abdurrahman for his buy-in. “And you do realize that your mother called twice yesterday to check up on him and see if he had recovered from Friday.”

Inshaa Allah he will be fine, and yes, if he wants to break his fast at noon, he and you have my blessings, but let’s keep our word and wake him…quickly now, the clock really is ticking,” says Abdurrahman, looking down at his watch and then turning around. He heads downstairs, as he promised Ibrahim he would make him eggs and toast.

Meanwhile, I tiptoe into the children’s room, in an effort not to wake Amna up. I approach Ibrahim’s bed, which is less than three feet from Amna’s, bend over and whisper in his ear. “Assalaamu’alaykum baita, it’s time to wake for sehri; quickly now, we don’t have much time.” Then quietly, I add, “Alhumdulillah-hillathee ah-yana ba’da maa amaa tanaa wa ilayhni nushoor.”[1]

“Ammi,” says Ibrahim, “did I miss anything?”

“No, alhumdulilah, you’re ahead of the game. You even have time to make wudu and pray tahajjud if you wish,” I say, “but quick…” then I stop myself, before saying anything more, not wanting to rush him too much.

“Ammi, will you help me do my wudu?” asks Ibrahim–a question I don’t think I’ve ever heard him ask before. When Abdurrahman and I showed him the steps, he asked for clarification, and since then we’ve both offered further correction, but I can’t recall him asking me to help him per se.

Bilcul baita,” I respond, “Neend aa rahi hae kiya?”[2]

Jee haan,” says Ibrahim, standing up slowly and leaning against me. I take his hand and walk him to the restroom where I assist him with all the requisite steps. Slowly, after washing his face, he becomes more alert.

Tahajjud?” I then ask.

“Yes, but can I use baby suwar?” responds Ibrahim.

Baita, there are no ‘baby suwar’ in the Qur’aan; short ones, yes, but no babies, and remember the short ones are significant too.”

“Well, I sometimes feel with hifdh that when I use the short ones I’m cheating,” says Ibrahim.

“I know what you mean, but not ‘cheating,’ just taking the easier route,” I say. “Maybe give yourself an easy pass now, and then when you’re all energized after eating the breakfast your father is making for you, you can use Yā Sīn in your fajr?” I suggest.

“It’s a deal,” says Ibrahim, walking over to the small prayer mat that we generally leave out in the children’s room. “So I’m using Surah Al Asr and Ikhlaas,” says Ibrahim, looking to me for approval.[3]

I nod, and pause briefly, watching Ibrahim, then realize I also need to offer my tahajjud. Rather than going back to the prayer mat in our room, I decide to stand next to Ibrahim and offer my salah with him. These are rare moments, very rare moments, and the heart tells me to savor all of them.

As I am starting, Ibrahim appears to be finishing. He pauses at the end and sits down, then, as if remembering his father, and the sehri routine, stands up and makes his way downstairs. I hear him on the stairwell and then try to block out all the noises and smells, including what may be burnt toast.

“Papa,” says Ibrahim in between the banisters on the stairwell. “Did you make my eggs?”

“Yes sir, but I thought you only wanted half of one?” responds Abdurrahman.

“Papa, you’re not serious. We’re fasting all day. Nonna doesn’t want me to go hungry,” says Ibrahim, approaching his father, with a look of concern.

“Don’t worry bambino, I was just teasing you. Inshaa Allah as long as I live you will never go hungry. Look here, one egg, two egg, three egg, four…” says Abdurrahman, holding out two frying pans, to reassure his son.

“Papa, you sound like a tired Dr Seuss,” says Ibrahim.

“These are not green eggs, and I only serve halal sausage, no ham,” says Abdurrahman, not missing a beat.[4]

Ibrahim smiles at his father.

“Papa, why are you still in your pajamas?” asks Ibrahim, looking at the blue and white striped pajamas that he rarely sees his father wear.

“Why are you still in your pajamas?” says Abdurrahman, returning the question.

“I just woke up,” says Ibrahim.

“Well so did I, bambino, and after praying and encouraging your mother to wake you up, do you know what the next thing I did was?”

“You recited Yā Sīn?” asks Ibrahim.

“No, that’s after fajr, inshaa Allah…so your doting father came down here to make you breakfast, just like you asked. I did not change my clothes…nor do I intend to, since it’s Sunday, and I get a…”

“Break,” I say, from the stairwell, where I have been watching father and son, unobserved, for the last minute.

“Thank you, yes, a break, alhumdulilah. No running to office early this morning,” says Abdurrahman. “And no office clothes, today.”

I let my mind wander momentarily and think about going to ‘the office’ and how it might be a welcome respite from home-based work.

“Ok, so who’s ready for sehri?” asks Abdurrahman.

“Papa, I’m not exactly hungry,” responds Ibrahim.

“It’s ok baita, just try to put something in your stomach, and drink some water,” I say, walking over to the sink and filling a pitcher. “You know, the best thing would be if you could eat a date.”

“Wait a minute,” interjects Abdurrahman, “a minute ago you were whining because you thought I only made you half an egg, so which is it? Now, before you spend too much time thinking, just roll the clock forward five hours and then imagine that appetite of yours,” he says.

“Ok, I’m hungry five hours from now,” says Ibrahim.

“Then, per favore, sit down and dine with me,” says Abdurrahman, pulling out a chair with a grand gesture.

Abdurrahman and Ibrahim sit as I ready cereal and dried fruits and nuts behind the counter. Eggs and toast don’t work that well for me, at least not as I’ve grown older.

“Papa, the thing I still don’t understand,” says Ibrahim between mouthfuls, “is what happens when the imam skips a line in taraweeh.”

“And the thing I don’t understand is how you never run out of questions and how you always remember almost everything except exactly what your mother needs you to do at that particular moment,” says Abdurrahman, looking up and smiling at me.

“That’s not fair, I always do what Ammi asks, almost always,” says Ibrahim, starting to pout.

“Ok, so…the imam, right?” I say, returning us to Ibrahim’s question that he first asked several days ago. “From what I know, skipping an ayah is fairly common, and there is always at least one person following along with a mushaf who may prompt him,” I explain.

“Last night he skipped another ayah,” says Ibrahim.

“Well, it was a different imam. This could have been his first. And what about us? Don’t we do the same?” says Abdurrahman, also stopping between mouthfuls.

“But we’re not the imam,” responds Ibrahim.

“No, but we are all human,” I say. “Remember how much difficulty we had with all the different mursaleens and mursaloons yesterday,” recalling the second page of Surah Yā Sīn on which we were working. “Even after we talked through the parable, listened to Sheikh Husri, and wrote down the words.”[5]

“But we’re not the imam,” Ibrahim repeats.

“Point taken, bambino, but your mother’s point is valid too. In essence, we are all students of the deen, and true students never stop learning.”

“And making mistakes,” says Ibrahim.

“And learning,” Abdurrahman repeats.

“Humility,” I add.

“Hafidha Rabia wouldn’t have made a mistake,” counters Ibrahim.

“Perhaps, baita, but we don’t know. The goal is to strive for excellence, always, but not judge another on his or her mistake, and if we do observe or make a mistake, to correct it in the most ahsan way possible. Remember last night at the masgid?” I say looking at Ibrahim and not needing to say anything more.

“Yes,” says Ibrahim, nodding his head, clearly remembering everything. “So you won’t judge me on confusing  the mursaloons?”

“Judge you, no, absolutely not, but I will try to teach you, and, after Ramadhan, I am sure Hafidha Rabia will help to educate us all, and give us tips for keeping the terms straight,” I say.

“Khadija, you do realize sehri time is almost over, and you really need to put a pause on your sehri school this morning,” says Abdurrahman, looking down at his watch in his customary way and providing a reality check.[6]

“Oh goodness, baita, time to stop the questions for now, please, I need to finish my cereal. Maybe, you and your father could keep the discussion going after fajr,” I propose.

“Ammi, we’re reciting Surah Yā Sīn after fajr. How could you forget, and you have to hold the mushaf this time,” insists Ibrahim.

“Those are tall orders, but ‘roger that’,” I say, saluting Ibrahim in a playful way. “Abdurrahman, can you take him up, and I’ll finish down here,” I suggest.

“We’re on it Lieutenant, and, by the way, let’s not worry about the clean-up now, ok? We’re striving for excellence, but let’s clean up after fajr,” says Abdurrahman.

“After Yā Sīn,” Ibrahim says, taking his father’s hand and leading him upstairs.

[1] Translated as, “Many thanks to Allah who gave us life after having given us death and (our) final return (on the Day of Qiyaamah) is to Him,” (as excerpted from Allamah Muhammad Al-Jazri’s Al-Hisnul Hasin, and  translated by Muhammad Rafeeq Ibne Moulana Ahmed Hathurani, p.76).

[2]Neend aa rahi hae kiya” may be translated as ‘You feel sleepy?’; the text incorporates words from Urdu, Arabic, Italian, and Spanish, among other languages. Single foreign words may be found in the glossary, although in many cases their meaning may be deduced from the context; the author has, however, attempted to provide translations of any longer expressions in the footnotes to facilitate comprehension and reading.

[3] Length is not an indicator of the significance of suwar. All are revelation and carry lessons. Many of the shorter suwar, including Surah Al Ikhlaas, were actively used in prayer by Prophet Muhemmed SAW, who said the following, “Is any of you incapable of reciting a third of the Qur’an in a night?…Recite al Ikhlas, ‘for [by the One in whose hands is my life], it is equivalent to [reading] a third of the Qur’an,” as narrated by Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri (Bukhari, Muslim Hadith Collections). It is not, however, simply, a question of including the surah in salah, but also our relationship with it. As reported by Anas, ‘Your love for it will admit you into Paradise,’ [Prophet Muhemmed SAW] said to a man who loved Ikhlas (Tirmidhi and Bukhari Hadith Collections).

[4] Green Eggs and Ham (Dr Seuss 1960).   As excerpted from this classic children’s poem: “Sam I am, I am Sam, I am Sam, Sam I am. I would not like them here or there. I would not like them anywhere. I do not like green eggs and ham. I do not like them Sam I Am…”

[5] As excerpted from footnote 3 of Chapter 19, ‘Why is My Name?’, from A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma, “Sheikh Mahmoud Khalil Husri (also spelled Husary and Husari), b.1917, d.1980, was a world renowned qari, and his recordings continue to be in wide circulation, especially amongst aspiring huffadh,” (p.66). He is known for his impeccable tarteel and tajweed. The ayaat of Yā Sīn to which Khadija is referring are 13, 14, 16 and 20, which refer to ‘messengers’, ‘two messengers,’ ‘a mission’ and ‘the messengers’—all with the same Arabic root (ل,س,ر) but differing slightly in meaning.

[6] Although not fard, during Ramadhan (nor other nafl fasts), eating sehri (i.e. the taking of food just before dawn) was the sunnah of Prophet Muhemmed SAW. A range of different foods are recommended, among them dried dates, which are high fiber complex carbohydrates, as highlighted in the discussion above. Fried eggs and toast (or, paratas, or any of Dr Seuss’ concoctions) are less recommended, due to the way that the food is digested during the fast, but are still widely enjoyed.


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