Chapter 15: Mudood in I’tikaf

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: Tuesday morning, home, outside, Ramadhan
Characters: Khadija, Ibrahim, Amna

“So I was thinking I might bring Pinocchio with me,” says Ibrahim.

“What?” I respond, looking up.

“Pinecone…coke…ia,” repeats Amna, assuming I haven’t heard properly.

“Ibrahim, you cannot bring Pinocchio into i’tikaf,” I assert, having heard everything.[1] I am seated outside with the children, who are busy with a small sandbox that Abdurrahman and I assembled over the weekend. Ibrahim is making racing tracks for his small, toy camels, while Amna is enjoying sifting the sand with some of my kitchen utensils that she’s allegedly ‘borrowed’. I have my stack of work papers nearby, but once again am flummoxed with how to make headway, while fasting and taking care of the children.

“Well, then what about The Little Prince? He’s not as mis…chie…vous as Pinocchio,” says Ibrahim slowly. If memory serves me correctly, I taught Ibrahim that word after the third chapter, when we read how the little marionette had started laughing and making fun of Geppetto.[2]

“Ibrahim, not in i’tikaf, baita,” I reassert.

Stuart Little? Peter Rabbit? Charlotte’s Web? The Jungle Book,” he says, reeling off the titles of recent books we’ve either read or planned to read.

“Ibrahim, not in i’tikaf,” I maintain.

“Our pet snail?” says Amna, pointing to the snail they trapped yesterday in the garden, after they found it eating the tomatoes. Presently, ‘Sail’ the snail inhabits a shoebox, replete with lots of tomato leaves, and some mint that the children insisted he would like. I wonder about the diet and the longevity but have succumbed to their desire to keep a pet, particularly if it keeps larger, more complex pets like cats and rabbits, about which they also have been asking, at bay.

Baita, I suppose you could bring Sail, but it’s sort of missing the point,” I explain.

“Ammi, you said we’re supposed to ‘reflect on God’s creation’; those were your words. Sail is part of God’s creation,” says Ibrahim, standing up and walking over to check on the shoebox pet, near the back door, which the children insist gives the snail a view of us when we are indoors and helps it not feel lonely.

“Yes, he is, but if you bring Sail into your thirty minutes of i’tikaf you might start to play with him,” I respond, not quite knowing how to make sense of this last question.

“So what’s wrong with playing with him? He would enjoy it,” says Ibrahim.

“He is a girl,” says Amna with emphasis. “And he is all mine,” Amna also gets up and walks over to join her brother at the backdoor.

I anticipate a fight and so get up from where I am seated. As expected, in the seconds that it takes me to reach the children they have already begun pushing each other.

“Mine,” insists Ibrahim, reaching for the shoebox.

“Mine,” responds Amna, pulling the box back.

Within another second, the box is torn in half. The children had made it a moist environment, softening the cardboard considerably; and so whatever force they both just applied was enough to break the box. Sail, affixed to Amna’s side, appears to remain intact.

“See, mine,” says Amna triumphantly, after recognizing that she has the snail side.

“Ammi, we’re going to lose the snail, and, if we do, the black lizards will eat him,” says Ibrahim, as though his fictitious characters are coming alive, and apparently deeply concerned about the fate of his newfound pet.

“It’s ok, baita, we’ll find another shoebox inshaa Allah, remember we still have your Eid shoes packed away in a box, and then of course, I’m sure there will always be more snails,” I try to reassure.

“Sail is different. I don’t want another snail,” says Ibrahim, more attached than I expected. It would appear that some of the lessons of the recently completed Little Prince actually did reach him.[3]

“Well then, let’s hurry up and make another habitat,” I say, trying to be as responsive as possible. “And in the meantime, why don’t we transfer Sail into a glass jar and put some tin foil on top and…”

“He’ll suffocate,” exclaims Ibrahim.

Baita, let me finish. We’ll poke holes in the foil and that will buy us a little time.”

“Then, will you promise to let me take him into i’tikaf?” persists Ibrahim.

“No, not necessarily. I will, however, try to ensure that nothing happens to him, or her,” I say looking at Amna, “while you are in i’tikaf.” Amna responds by handing me her side of the box, along with Sail. I then open the back door and enter inside, with both children trailing me. I rummage around in our recycling box, in the kitchen closet, and finally find an old achar jar, which I think will work as a temporary home. I give the glass jar to Ibrahim, then, while still holding Amna’s box side, find a small piece of tinfoil that was also discarded in the recycling box.

“Can we transfer him here?” asks Ibrahim, eagerly, holding up the glass jar.

“No, all transfers must happen outside,” I say, wanting to limit the indoor science experiments. “Chalyae,” I then add, turning around and heading outdoors again. Amna opens the door for us, intent to help as well.

“So if I can’t bring anything, then what am I supposed to do?” says Ibrahim, following closely by my side and beginning to resign himself to an i’tikaf without Pinocchio or Sail.

“Ibrahim, give me one minute,” I say as I start to pry the snail off the cardboard wall and slide him into the jar that Ibrahim is still holding, “I actually need to concentrate on just one thing at a time, for a minute, and then I may have an answer for you. Meanwhile, I suggest you pick up that tomato leaf on the ground as your friend may be hungry again,” I point to one of the discarded leaves that fell out after the box broke.

Amna is faster than her brother and reaches down for the leaf. “Here baita,” she says pushing the leaf into the jar and talking to the snail. “Now finish your dinner, all of it.”

I can’t help but smile. I hear in Amna my voice, and Abdurrahman’s, her grandmother’s, and amidst the inaneness of keeping a pet snail, this comment touches my heart.

“Now the tinfoil Ammi, with holes,” cautions Ibrahim, who seems still to be concerned with suffocation.

“It’s coming baita,” I reach for one of my pens that I had on the small table where I was trying to work and make a couple of holes in the tinfoil, and affix it to the top. I then put the snail back down in its previous spot.

“So what’s your answer?” asks Ibrahim, not letting another minute go by.

I sit down slowly, trying to refocus. Intuitively, Amna senses a mini lecture and goes back to her sand play.

“Remember the mudood in Surah Yā Sīn?” I say.[4]

“Yes, I do remember,” says Ibrahim with a sigh of exasperation, “you made me find them yesterday, there are fifteen on page two that I have to hold for four to five counts.”[5]

“Well, what did I tell you about them?” I ask. Meanwhile, I observe Amna starting to sieve the camel tracks her brother made and wonder whether this might be the next conflict.

“If we don’t say them, we could change the meaning of the words, and they are also resting spots for us to think and prepare for what’s coming,” says Ibrahim, demonstrating that the lesson did sink in.

“Exactly,” I say.

“So what does that have to do with me not bringing Sail into i’tikaf?” asks Ibrahim.

“Would you consider sitting in the shade for a minute and thinking about the answer to that question,” I propose.

“Is this a punishment?” inquires Ibrahim.

“No, it’s an opportunity, baita, to find the answer on your own; if there’s one thing I want to teach you, it’s how to look for…”

“Ammi, you are trying to teach us a zillion things, not just one thing,” responds Ibrahim. “If it was one thing, it would be easy, but you’re trying to teach us i’tikaf, and how to cut grapes and all those synonym things, and parables,” Ibrahim races through the list. I am stunned that he has remembered the word for ‘synonym’ and ‘parable’, although we are definitely still working on the concepts.

Ibrahim then gets up and starts walking toward a small piece of shade in our backyard, near his tree-climbing tree. I wonder when the tree will also get a name of its own.

“Ammi, is bhai jaan in trouble?” asks Amna, seeing her brother walk away.

“No, he’s thinking,” I respond.

“What’s thinking?” she asks, though I sense she meant ‘what’s he thinking about.’

“I think he is thinking about how he can use his last 10 days of Ramadhan and those extra quiet times I was explaining to you on Sunday called ‘i’tikaf’,” I say.

“I’m not doing more quiet time,” responds Amna defiantly.

“No, baita, you don’t have to. And it’s not like nap time. You don’t need to lie down and sleep. It’s just time to pray and think and remember Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala,” I say, trying to make some sense of i’tikaf for Amna.  

“It’s not dhuhr,” she says.

“No baita, not now, it’s not dhuhr salah now, and i’tikaf is not exactly salah, but it is like that, quiet time to thank Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala and think how we might improve.”

“Improve what?” says Amna, following more than I expected.

“You, not grabbing,” says Ibrahim, who’s back from his thinking moment in the shade. “Ammi, you know, I got it, but next time, don’t send me away like that. It did feel a little like a punishment.”

“It wasn’t intended to be one, baita,” I say, putting my arm around him.  “So I’m all ears, what did you come up with?”

“You’re not all ears,” says Amna, looking at me, and pointing at my nose.

“It’s an expression, Amna,” says Ibrahim, playing the older and wiser brother. “Ok, so the reason why you don’t want me to take Sail into i’tikaf is because you want me to stop and think and wait like we do with those mudood.”

“And?” I say, pressing for more than just Arabic grammar.

“And if I have Sail I will probably get distracted and forget some of my 15 four to five count mudood,” he adds, taking the point more literally but also showing that he’s got some of it. “I do still think it would be fun to have Pinocchio, not the book, but the actual puppet in i’tikaf. I mean I know he’s naughty and all, but sometimes naughty can be fun.”

“I hear you, baita, although I don’t always agree with you. Now, you do realize that I was trying to work here, before we had this extended interruption with your pet, and I am really trying to send off some documents before my own i’tikaf starts,” I say.
 
“I think you might want to call Nani, she might be able to help with us,” offers Ibrahim.

“I do too,” I say, finally realizing the limits to my concentration and work. “I know she was going to try to study this week, and she may be helping your Abdullah Mamoo out, but I think I’m going to call her.”

“Does that mean Yaseen is coming over?” asks Ibrahim eagerly.

“It may mean that,” I say, looking down at my watch and also realizing that we have another swimming lesson in forty five minutes. “Ok you two, it’s time to start cleaning up,” I say.

“I’m not done,” responds Amna.

Baita, you can come back to this, later, inshaa Allah,” I respond. Then add, “Ibrahim, do you think we can do the morning suwar in the car on the way?”

“I’m really good at reciting on the go,” he says, smiling.

“A little too good, I’d actually like to see you do a little more sitting,” I respond.

“Bo…ring,” Ibrahim sounds out slowly.

“That’s not true. You remember the flying carpet. We were all sitting, with our imaginations, and it was hardly bo…ring, and remember how you had me sit down at the Museum; I don’t think you’d call that boring.[6] I actually challenge you to remember all our exciting sitting recitation activities, later, though. For now, let’s get the camels back in and then….”

“Hey, who destroyed my tracks?” says Ibrahim, finally seeing Amna’s impact.

“Sail,” says Amna, pointing at the glass container.

“No, you, don’t lie,” responds Ibrahim pointing at his sister, then changing his stance, “but it’s ok, because I’m going to make Sail his new home now. I don’t really care about those baby camels anymore.”

“I do,” says Amna, holding up the camels tenderly.

“So do I,” I say, patting Amna gently on the back and opening up the back door. “And I care about you, and getting to your swimming class, now let’s go get changed.”

“What about Sail?” asks Ibrahim.

“I think he and the camels, and Pinocchio, and The Little Prince, and Stuart Little, and even Charlotte’s Web, will do just fine without us for a couple hours; remember Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala is watching them all,” I say, trying to put an end to this discussion.

“You forgot The Jungle Book,” says Ibrahim, following closely, and getting in the last word. He smiles broadly at me and races inside the house, presumably to look for the other shoebox, before we leave.


[1] The reader may wish to refer to Chapter 14, ‘For Swimming,’ (footnote 73) for a description of i’tikaf, including partial i’tikaf that may be undertaken, especially by children.

[2] Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi was first published as a complete novel in Italian, in 1882, with individual chapters published prior to that date in a Rome-based newspaper in the children’s section. The reference above is to the Penguin Classics edition (1996, p.13). See also The Little Prince by Saint-Exupery, first published in 1943, in French (1995).

[3] After sighting five thousand roses in a garden on earth, the Little Prince reflects on his lone rose on his planet and says the following, “You are beautiful, but you are empty…one could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you—the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen…because she is my rose,” (Saint Exupery, p.82).

[4] As explained in A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma, footnote 4, Chapter 34, ‘The Moths’, mudood (plural of madd) is the Arabic grammar terminology referring to the elongation of a letter. The term was first introduced in Chapter 15, ‘From Milk Bottles to Vases, at Asr,’ which also highlighted recycled objects being reused by the family. It should be noted that A Qur’aanic Odyssey, while referencing several grammar exercises and texts (including Towards Reading the Qur’an, Part One and Two), does not provide comprehensive grammar lessons and that the science of tajweed, including the complexity of mudood, should be undertaken with a qualified instructor.

[5] See footnote 1, Chapter 1, ‘The End’ in Yā Sīn, Towards the Heart of the Qur’aan which refers to the fact that the family is primarily using a 15 line Uthmani script mushaf for its hifdh work.

[6] Chapter 22, ‘A Carpet,’ of A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma describes a scene where the children, accompanied by Khadija and Nani prepare to ‘fly’ to Doha and back, while seated on their prayer mats, aka flying carpets, and recite Surah Al Qadr (pp.76-79). Chapter 34, ‘Moths’, concludes with Ibrahim and Khadija sitting on a bench at the Houston Museum of Natural Science and reciting (Ibid, p.131-133).

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