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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