Monthly Archives: October 2015

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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Chapter 4: A Game

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 4: A Game. 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: Later that evening, neighborhood soccer field
Characters: Ibrahim, Khadija, Abdurrahman and Amna

“Papa, Ammi said that we don’t get to jannah because of our good deeds,” asserts Ibrahim.

“Ibrahim, I did not say that,” I say defensively, spinning around to face him. I’m in the front seat and Abdurrahman has just pulled into the parking lot of the YMCA for soccer practice.  Amna is seated next to Ibrahim in the backseat, following along closely.

“You did and then Amna paraphrased it,” insists Ibrahim.

I feel like I’ve just had the rug pulled out from under me. A couple of hours ago, we had what I understood to be a profound exchange about heaven and earth in our backyard, and now I’m being sorely misquoted.

“Ibrahim, I need you to be quiet for a minute and we’re both going to think about what we actually said and then, we can talk,” I say, trying to take a different approach. Abdurrahman parks the car and turns off the engine. There is a momentary silence.

“Sorry, I’m late for practice,” responds Ibrahim, cavalierly. “I need to meet the coach now, or he’ll count me as late.” He unbuckles and starts getting out of the car.

“Wait a minute,” but Ibrahim is already gone, running off toward the field. The back of his navy blue, number 10 jersey is all I see. I feel myself getting irritated again.

“This is not acceptable. Do you realize he just ran off? I swear he’s an adolescent already. And you do know I didn’t say that?” I look to Abdurahman for affirmation.

Janu, I’d be pretty surprised if you said anything like that, but kids hear different things, and they remember different things too. Selective retention. I think I’ve been accused of that too,” he says, winking at me, but I don’t appreciate his humor now, or the fact that he is so calm.

“I can’t believe he just ran off like that and that you’re not getting upset. He shouldn’t be allowed to play today. I’m going to go talk to the coach,” I respond, increasingly agitated, and opening the car door.

“Khadija, wait a minute. Slow down. Ibrahim’s going to play soccer. It’s his favorite part of the whole week. You made him late at home by asking him to complete that second cycle of hifdh review. First Surah Ar Rahman, then Waqiah. You stole a good 10 minutes of extra soccer practice from him. Honestly, if it had been me, I’d be pretty frustrated too, and I say that as both an aspiring hafidh and the parent and spouse of one too. I think you overdid it today, and I would strongly discourage you from speaking to his coach about any of this.”[1] As he speaks, Abdurrahman sits up taller and raises his voice in defense of his son.

“What?” I say in disbelief, unable to grasp that Abdurrahman has taken Ibrahim’s side.

“Ammi, I want to play too,” pipes in Amna. I’d almost forgotten that she was with us. She’s seen and heard everything we’ve just said. I put my hands over my face, ashamed. It’s amazing how children sometimes have the ability to humble us. I finally take a deep breath, then another one.

“I’m sorry for getting upset,” I say, looking at Abdurrahman, then Amna.

“Maybe you should apologize to Ibrahim?” suggests Amna in an attempt at a broader reconciliation. “But I’ll review with you Ammi, after we play. I can help you with your Surah Al Kahf or you can help me with my Surah Al Abasa,” she offers, as if reading out of my family hifdh record which charts each of our different progress across suwar.[2]

Janu, just ease up a little,” follows up Abdurrahman. “They’re still kids. You have to accept that soccer has a place too.” Then continuing, “And don’t offer vegetables and dessert at the same time, otherwise you’re going to be disappointed as a parent.”

How does Abdurrahman know this? And why don’t I remember this wisdom, in the heat of the debate? Of course, Ibrahim wants to play, and of course I shouldn’t get upset, and especially not in front of Amna. I wonder when I’m going to cross that milestone and become that tranquil parent who always has perspective. Maybe after hajj and that anticipated spiritual rebirth? It seems so far off though, and we have countless soccer practices before then.

“Come on, let’s go cheer Ibrahim and the Rapids on,” encourages Abdurrahman, breaking my train of thought. “Amna and I are getting bored here with all this serious talk, aren’t we Amna?”

“Papa, I just want to make a goal and then sing the mermaid song behind the old net,” she responds smiling at her father. Last week she had the time of her life, behind one of the old, dilapidated soccer nets on the side of the field. She must have sung for over an hour.

He smiles back at her, playfully. “Ok my little mermaid, let’s go then.” Abdurrahman unbuckles his seatbelt and then turns to me a last time before getting up, “and one final unsolicited piece of advice: stop beating yourself up. Parenting is a process, not an event. You mastered so many episodes today. This was just one. Let it go. You know I’m your biggest fan.”

Another cliché and a smile. I’m batting zero and one, but Abdurrahman just cleared the score board. I wish I could read from a parenting manual sometimes. Then again, I also know that the Sunnah and the Quran are this manual and that it’s a matter of opening my heart to the teachings. [3] However tempting it may be, I can’t simply wait for something transcendent to happen on hajj in six months.

“Ok, let’s go play,” I say, joining in. I fasten my hijab tighter, anticipating a good workout, and then get out of the car. Abdurrahman and Amna are already hand in hand in front of me. Meanwhile I catch a glimpse of number 10 racing across the field in the first running drill. He’s at the head of the pack, and
beaming.
[1] In Chapter 3, a hadith was cited which explained how it is ultimately God’s mercy that allows one to enter paradise, not simply the good deeds of the believer. Part of the hadith, however, also recommended a moderate course of action, particularly in religious deeds. Another similar hadith is cited below, extolling moderation: Allah’s Messenger SAW said, “The deeds of anyone of you will not save you (from the (Hell) Fire).” They said, “Even you (will not be saved by your deeds), O Allah’s Messenger SAW?” He said, “No, even I (will not be saved) unless and until Allah bestows His Mercy on me. Therefore, do good deeds properly, sincerely and moderately, and worship Allah in the forenoon and in the afternoon and during a part of the night, and always adopt a middle, moderate, regular course whereby you will reach your target (Paradise),” Sahih al-Bukhari 6463, USC-MSA web (English) reference : Vol. 8, Book 76, Hadith 470, http://sunnah.com/bukhari/81).

[2] In the previous chapter, which took place earlier in the day, Amna was reviewing Surah An Nazi’at (79), as part of her review of Juz ‘Amma. Her reference to Surah Al ‘Abasa (80) here suggests that she is completing a cycle of review and knows the order of the suwar. Among the most important themes from Surah Al ‘Abasa is that “everyone, whatever their family origin or social status, is equal with respect to the communication of God’s Message,” (Unal 2013: 1207).

[3] Abu Hurairah narrated that a man came to the Messenger of Allah and said: “Teach me something that is not too much for me so that, perhaps, I may abide by it.” He SAW said: “Do not get angry.” He repeated that (the request) a number of times, each time he replied: ‘Do not get angry,” (Jami` at-Tirmidhi 2020, English translation: Vol. 4, Book 1, Hadith 2020, http://sunnah.com/tirmidhi/27/126). This same hadith was also quoted in Chapter 4 of A Qur’aanic Odyssey: Towards Juz ‘Amma, “Burying Anger.” See also 3:134: “They spend (out of what God has provided for them) both in ease and hardship, ever-restraining their rage (even when provoked and able to retaliate), and pardoning people (their offenses). God loves (such) people who are devoted to doing good, aware that God is seeing them,” (Unal 2013: 156).

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Chapter 3: A long time to jannah

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 3: A long time to jannah. 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: a month later, mid-March, 2015, afternoon, outside family home, back porch, two tables
Characters: Amna, now 6, Khadija and Ibrahim, now 9

“Yousuf is going to jannah,” says Amna. I raise my head immediately, trying to make sense of Amna’s words.

“Yousuf?” I ask.

“Yes, Yousuf is going to jannah, next week,” she says, trying to clarify. I’m sitting directly across from Amna at the children’s green, plastic table, on the back porch, but still not catching on. It’s a beautiful afternoon–still a couple months before Houston’s heat hits–and we’ve decided to take our review lesson outside. I’m holding the mushaf for Amna, who’s making her way slowly through Juz ‘Amma.

Ibrahim, who is sitting at a larger, wooden, picnic table, a couple paces away, busy with his own review, gets up and walks over to us.

“Ammi, no one is going to jannah next week,” he asserts. He has his white topi on, which he started donning to encourage Amna to wear her hijab during our lessons, and is the spitting image of his father.

“Well, that’s quite a strong statement. Surely between the two of you, there must be a middle road,” I respond. “Which Yousuf are you talking about Amna?” I inquire, turning back to face her.

Whenever I take the time to look at Amna, really look at her, it would appear she’s grown. Her face is thinning out and her dark eyes are becoming ever more alert and perceptive. There’s a new level of texture to her skin, and her hair, now in a long pony tail, makes her look older.

“Yousuf B.” she says, as if mimicking the roll call in her class.

“Yousuf B. is not going to jannah,” affirms Ibrahim again. “He’s going to Mecca.”

“Really?” I say.

“Yousuf B. and his family are going to perform umrah, not jannah,” says Ibrahim in full instruction mode, though bordering on condescension. I beckon for Ibrahim to come towards me and give his sister a little more space. Based on experience, whenever he’s in instruction mode and they’re too close, there’s almost always an eruption.

Umrah, jannah, Mecca,” Amna repeats, stringing together the concepts, and reaching out to push her brother.

“Amna, baita,” I offer, “Apparently Yousuf is going to Mecca to perform umrah, the lesser pilgrimage. Insha’Allah one day he will go to the highest levels of paradise or jannah al firdous and return to Allah Subhanahu wa-ta’ala but that’s not planned for next week.” I look at her intently wondering if my explanation made any sense. It would be helpful to have a world map and a diagram of the solar system, though even then, I might struggle with placing jannah, and distinguishing it from umrah.

“Ammi, am I going to jannah?” follows up Amna.

Baita, insha’Allah, you too will go to jannah al firdous, like Yousuf, but before that hopefully we’ll all have the opportunity to perform umrah and travel to Mecca,” I explain.

“And Medina?” says Ibrahim.

“Yes, that too, but one step at a time, please,” I respond, pulling Ibrahim into my lap, affectionately. Though he is now a lanky 9 year old, I still manage to get him to sit down.

“It’s taking a long time to get to jannah,” Amna says, then sighs.

“Mecca,” repeats Ibrahim and glares at his sister.

Jannah,” repeats Amna, as if finally understanding the difference, but wanting to make her point, too.

“Yes, it is taking a long time to get to jannah, Amna, you are right,” I say, putting my arms around Ibrahim, who is still in my lap, to subdue him. Even though we’re supposed to be reviewing Surah An Nazi’at, and I may not be able to fully explain paradise to the children, I want to linger here a minute longer to address Amna’s latest point.

“It’s taking a long time to get to jannah,” I repeat, “but do you know that every good deed gets you closer insha’Allah. Every time you help with the dishes, and get a glass of water for your father, or your grandmother…and all that sadaqah you keep collecting and giving…you’re actually working toward jannah. And yet, at the end of the day…” I pause thinking how to phrase the next piece. “It’s really Allah Subhanahu wa-ta’ala who opens the door to jannah, not just because of our good deeds and our belief, but because of His infinite mercy.” I open my hands up, and hold them over my heart.[1] [2]

“So what’s the point of doing good deeds if it’s all about Allah’s mercy?” asks Ibrahim, cutting right to the chase. He’s picked up on the logic which philosophers have debated for centuries. I sense we might have a discussion in free will coming on, but am also mindful of our hifdh lesson and the pending Surah An Nazi’at review, not to mention any extra work with Ibrahim. I am also acutely aware that my own review needs attention.

“Oh Ibrahim,” I respond, patting him on the shoulder. “Allah wants us to do good deeds, always. He’s told us that throughout the Quran, including the type of good deeds He expects: sharing our wealth and honoring our commitments, being patient, especially in the face of adversity.[3] You know all of this, as does Amna. Prophet Muhemmed’s entire life, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, is an example of the good deeds that are expected from us.[4] But at the end of the day, we all rely on His Mercy.”

Ibrahim nods, but I sense that this nuance may be too much for him. I make a mental note to ask Abdurrahman about jannah. So much of this, he knows from his own deeper inquiry into the deen.

“Ammi, I understand,” interjects Amna, surprising me. “We try as much as we can, but Allah’s heart is the biggest, and He lets us in to jannah, not because of us, but because of Him.”

She actually got it. She got it all, and she even clarified it for me, maybe even for her brother, too. I look at Amna, wanting to record her lesson.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I hear Hafidha Rabia’s voice, “Some say that the hearts of children whose parents go on hajj are filled with sakeena.” We haven’t broached the topic yet, but Amna is showing signs of maturity that I had never appreciated.

“Ok professor one and professor two,” I finally say, pointing at both children, “How about 15 minutes more? I’ll listen to Ibrahim on Surah Ar Rahman, to change it up a little, and then Amna and I will finish Surah An Nazi’at. In the meantime, I suggest Amna, you simply keep drawing that image you were working on for Nazi’at.”[5]

“That’s not fair. She gets to color and I have to work,” complains Ibrahim.

“No, she’s doing a pictorial review and you have your mother’s undivided attention,” I say, tickling Ibrahim and trying to motivate him to move on. “Let’s go now, otherwise, it’s going to take a really, really, really long time to get to jannah, isn’t it Amna.”

Amna looks over at me and smiles then starts to take out her colored pencils. Ibrahim finally grasps my point, appreciating that he is receiving more attention. He stands up to get me his mushaf, which is already open to Surah Ar Rahman. The Most Merciful.  I can only smile at the beauty of it all, as if someone were actually giving us a perfect script to follow, but one that is clear only at the end of the dialogue.

[1] It was narrated from Abu Hurairah that the Messenger of Allah SAW said: “Be moderate and adhere to moderation, for there is no one among you who will be saved by his deeds.” They said: “Not even you, O Messenger of Allah?” He said: “Not even me. Unless Allah encompasses me with mercy and grace from Him,” Sunan Ibn Majah, Zuhd, English reference: Vol. 5, Book 37, Hadith 4201, http://sunnah.com/urn/1293030).

[2] Ibn ‘Umar (May Allah be pleased with them) reported: I heard the Messenger of Allah SAW saying, “A believer will be brought close to his Rabb on the Day of Resurrection and enveloping him in His Mercy, He SWT will make him confess his sins by saying: ‘Do you remember (doing) this sin and this sin?’ He will reply: ‘My Rabb, I remember.’ Then He SWT will say: ‘I covered it up for you in the life of world, and I forgive it for you today.’ Then the record of his good deeds will be handed to him,” Al-Bukhari and Muslim (Arabic/English book reference: Book 1, Hadith 433 http://sunnah.com/riyadussaliheen/1/433).

[3] See 2:177 for an example of the behaviors expected of Muslims, one of countless such Quranic ayaat: “Godliness and virtue is not that you should turn your faces in the direction of the east and west; but godliness and virtue is (the state of one) who believes in God and the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the Prophets, and gives away of his property with pleasure, although he loves it, to relatives, orphans, the destitute, the wayfarer, and those who have to beg (or who need a loan), and for the liberation of slaves, and establishes the Prayer, and pays the Prescribed Purifying Alms; and (of) those who fulfill their covenant when they have engaged in a covenant, and who are patient and persevering in hardship, and disease, and at the time of stress (such as a battle between truth and falsehood). Those are they who are true (in their faith), and those are they who have achieved righteousness, piety, and due reverence for God (Unal 2013:83).

[4] Immediately after receiving the first revelation, Khadija RAA consoled Prophet Muhemmed SAW saying, “God will not let you suffer any humiliation, because you are kind to your kinsfolk, you speak the truth, you help those in need, you are generous to your guests, and you support every just cause,” (cited in Ramadan, 2007: 30, Sahih Muslim 160 a, USC-MSA web (English) reference: Book 1, Hadith 301, http://sunnah.com/muslim/1).

[5] The surah is full of powerful imagery. As summarized by Ali Unal: “Revealed in Makkah, this surah of 46 verses takes its name from the word an-nazi’at (those angels who fly out) in the first verse. It reminds us of death, warns against those who deny the afterlife, and draws attention to the Pharoah, whose power could not save him from God’s punishment. It also mentions some acts of God in the universe and establishes the truth of the afterlife (2013: 1204). See also, ‘The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an for School Children (Emerick 2010). Chapter 39 from A Qur’aanic Odyssey: Towards Juz Amma, provides additional ideas for how to animate the surah with children.

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From Surah Al Kahf: journey of a lifetime (Chapter 2: Sakeena)

Selected chapters from the 3rd book in the Quranic Odyssey series, ‘From Surah Al Kahf: journey of a lifetime,’ are being shared via this blog. Immediately below please find an excerpt from Chapter 2: Sakeena. 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: one week later, family home, study, late evening
Characters: Khadija and Hafidha Rabia (via Skype, from Jakarta)

“It’s really not a long surah, it just looks that way,” says Hafidha Rabia, encouraging me.

I’m staring down at my mushaf, trying to wrap my mind around the next challenge. It would almost seem that Hafidha Rabia and I are looking at two totally different suwar. I see 12 pages of Arabic in front of me and shudder. A year, two years. How long realistically before I can remember all of this, and then won’t I start forgetting? I’m glad the children are asleep and don’t see the doubt on my face. I feel borderline hypocritical after all I’ve told them about memorizing long suwar.

“We’re going to break it up, Khadija, into small packets.” There is some static on the line, and her voice fades out for a moment. Finally, I hear her clearly again. “We’ll take it ayah by ayah, as we always do, and then you’ll get into the stories and you won’t want to put it down. I promise.”

I shake my head, still unconvinced, then look around the dimly lit study. There is a small piece of calligraphy, hanging behind me, that my neighbor, Maryam, made as a farewell gift before we left Cape Town, now almost five years ago. She overlaid shades of blue, then gold. Al Hakeem. The All Wise. In all its cliché, art imitates life, and signals yet again that He is always there, listening and encouraging, in His infinite wisdom and mercy. Al Hakeem. Who am I to doubt His presence, the miracle of the Quran and the miracle of hifdh? It’s never just us memorizing. That would be futile. His book speaks through us, if we open ourselves up—again, a lesson I’ve preached to the children so many times, but have somehow forgotten as I advance into Surah Al Kahf.[1]

“It will illuminate you, jumah to jumah,[2]” Hafidha Rabia says, following up with a well-known hadith, unwilling to let go.

“Yes, of course,” I finally say, smiling.

She returns my smile, removing some of the distance–Jakarta to Houston and back. Al Hakeem, then a smile. I take a deep breath.

“Hafidha Rabia,” I say tentatively, “May I ask you something before we begin?”

“Surely,” she says, still smiling.

“Abdurrahman would like us to go on hajj this year, well, actually, we both would like to go,” I rephrase, but it still sounds presumptuous. Hajj is about being Allah Subhanahu wa-ta’ala’s guest, not about our mere desires.[3] “We’ve made the intention,” I finally say.

Masha’Allah, that’s beautiful,” is her response.

“But I just don’t know about leaving the children. My mother has offered to help, and of course they’ll have school, but it’s three weeks. Anything could happen. What if something did happen?” I say, confessing my deepest fears.

“Khadija, hajj is about letting go. You do realize it’s the only real spiritual death we live through,” she counsels. “Everything you’re feeling is normal, but the children will be absolutely fine. Some say that the children whose parents go on hajj are filled with sakeena. Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala puts tranquility in their hearts for the duration of their parents’ journey.”

I hadn’t heard this particular wisdom, but feel almost a sudden calm myself.

“There are many things you can do to help prepare Ibrahim and Amna and special activities for when you’re gone. We can talk about all of that later, but I don’t recommend you speak to the children, not yet. It’s too early. You have months to prepare yourself and them insha’Allah. For now, I would focus on your niyyah and do lots of du’a. Then start to work on the logistics and entrust the children to Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala.  After all, ultimately, like you, they belong to Him.”

Silence.

“Are you ready to start, Khadija?” she asks.

“I am,” I finally assert, nodding at the screen in front of me.

“Repeat after me three times. We’ll take only the first three ayaat today, one at a time and then we’ll turn back to review. Authu billahi minashaitanir rajeem. Bismillahir Rahmanir Raheem….” As she starts in, I follow along in my mushaf, glimpsing the translation on the margin:

  1. All praise and gratitude are for God, Who has sent down on His servant the Book and has put no crookedness in it (so that it is free from contradiction and inconsistency, and anything offensive to truth and righteousness).
  2. (He has made it) unerringly straight, to warn of a stern punishment from Him and give the believers who do good, righteous deeds the glad tidings that for them is an excellent reward (Paradise).
  3. Abiding therein forever.[4]

[1] As described by Ali Unal, Surah Al Kahf, “was revealed in the Makkan period of the Messenger’s mission, at a time when the polytheists had begun to escalate their opposition to the preaching of Islam. Searching for a way to stop this preaching the Makkans occasionally made contact with the People of the Book in order to get from them questions they could put to the Messenger. This surah apparently was revealed in a response to questions about the People of the Cave, the story of Moses and al-Khadr, and Dhul’l-Qarnayn. It also contains the parable of two friends who owned vineyards. The surah takes its name from the ninth verse, where the people of the Cave are mentioned. It consists of 110 verses (2013:599).

[2] “Whoever reads Surah al-Kahf on the day of Jumu’ah, will have a light that will shine from him from one Friday to the next.”(Narrated by al-Haakim, 2/399; al-Bayhaqi, 3/249. Ibn Hajar said in Takhreej al-Adhkaar that this is a hasan hadith, and he said, this is the strongest report that has been narrated concerning reading Surah al Kahf. See: Fayd al-Qadeer, 6/198. It was classed as saheeh by Shaykh al-Albaani in Saheeh al-Jaami’, 6470) (further reference forthcoming).

[3] Abu Hurairah said: “The Messenger of Allah said: ‘The guests of Allah are three: The ghazi, the Hajj (pilgrim) and the Mu’tamir” (Reference: Sunan an-Nasa’I, The Book of Hajj, 2625, English translation: Vol. 3, Book 24, Hadith 2626, http://sunnah.com/urn/1078020).

[4] The Qur’an with Annotated Interpretation in Modern English (Unal 2013: 18:1-3).

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Part 3 in the Qur’anic Odyssey series

For those of you interested in Part 2, Ya Sin: a hifdh journey in America, alhumduilah it is now available via Amazon & Createspace. See below for a taste of Part 3, Chapter 1:

From Surah Al Kahf: journey of a lifetime (forthcoming part 3 in the Qur’anic Odyssey series)
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. 

Chapter 1: A departure
Setting: Kitchen, family home, Houston, February 2015
Characters: Khadijah and Abdurrahman

“Do you think they’ll understand?” I whisper to Abdurrahman, who is seated next to me at our kitchen table. We’ve just said goodnight to the children and I’m concerned they may still be awake and listening to our conversation, despite the fact doors are closed, upstairs.

“I do,” he responds clearly, nodding his head for emphasis. “And I also don’t think you need to whisper, but it’s your call,” he adds, smiling at me, and brushing a crumb off the table. He stands up to get a glass of water.

A residual pots soaks in the sink, but otherwise, the dinner dishes are done.  There is a sense of closure to the day when everything is put away in the kitchen—the hub of every home I know.  At least that’s how it feels for me, but probably Abdurrahman would have another perspective.

“My parents went before we were born, and then Ammi went later with Abdullah, but before their children,” I explain, while simultaneously wrapping a loose purple thread from my dupata around my index finger, as if that might help put things in order. My back is turned to Abdurrahman, though I watch his reflection in the window. Eventually comes back to sit down next to me with his glass.

“I know, janu. I’m well aware of that, but, with all due respect, we’re not you’re parents. Every year, I’ve asked you, and every year, you’ve told me that they are too young, but Khadija do you see us now? At some point, we might be too old. It’s already been eleven years. Ibrahim is almost ten masha’Allah; Amna will soon be seven. They are going to be ok. Quite honestly, it’s you I’m more worried about,” he says, putting his hand on my index finger, where I’m starting to the cut off the circulation by incessant winding.

I look at him and let go of the thread. Tears start to form in my eyes at the prospect of leaving the children. I wasn’t expecting the struggles of hajj to start so early. We haven’t even booked our tickets, and my heart feels as though it’s being squeezed.

“Listen, let’s not talk about this anymore tonight,” suggests Abdurrahman. “Why don’t you speak to your mother in the next couple of days? Hafidha Rabia and Ruqiyyah should also have some ideas. Let’s head up,” he says beckoning to me. “Maybe I can even help you review tonight?”

I nod my head in agreement, as tears continue to fall gently. Part of me senses that we’ve already left.

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