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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