A True Story.
The details of the 11th March 2011 will forever be fondly cherished in my mind's memory book. It was to witness a most uplifting experience which can only be beaten i think by my first trip to see the Holy Ka'ba at 16 which was pretty awesome! And sorry to sound so boringly cliche but the day really did start off as a normal cold morning in North London with nothing to look forward to besides the Friday sermon, but it very quickly turned into a series of divinely orchestrated happenings that nobody could so perfectly arrange except the Lord of that day.
Having only recently returned (much against my will mind you!) from Saudi Arabia, I found myself in North London at a sleepover at my Gran's house which has never lost it's enjoyability since chidhood! My Grandmother ever full of life and I often playfully race each other to see who will be the first one to wake the house up for fajr, although she beat me that day i do usually win of course, (yeah right!). I wake up and carefully make my way downstairs in the dark to turn on the hot water so my gran is spared the hardship of a cold fajr ablution, I hear her whispering from the top of the stairs, "Son, the hot water isn't working," much to our aggravation. The boiler man was supposed to have fixed it already! No point crying over spilled milk, we brave the cold water, pray Fajr and jumped back in our warm cosy beds rescued from the biting cold.
Now I usually leave my house straight after fajr to head to my university library, but that day the bed seemed to be so much more welcoming! I snuck up next to my gran in her room the way I've always done since 10 and im not ahsmed to admit it! Doesn't take a genius to work out it wasn't long before I knocked out! Before I knew it it was 11.10am, oh my God i was late, this is the first time I had gone to sleep after Fajr in months, i was very upset and disappointed, yet trying to convince myself it was the cold's fault! Tut tut! Grumpy I was as I left the house with my whitest dressing and newly bought muslim hat.
I got on the 29 bendy bus which, as usual, was packed out like a tin of sardines!. However, I was fortunate enough to fight my way to a seat to open my Quran and read surah Kahf on my way to Jummah prayer as is recommended. A couple of stops further I noticed a very old and fragile woman get on the crowded bus with enough shopping and bags to cause a nuisance to many who mercilessly barged her side to side! My heart warmed to her and I called her over from the other side to sit down and offered her my seat and that's where it all started. She returned my gesture with such gratitude that I don't recall receiving from anybody before, she definitely left an impression on me as she struggled to mount herself on the seat.
"Thank you very very much" she finally said whilst seeming out of breath from climbing the chair "That's very kind of you to get up for me," she added in a very soft just about audible Italian accent.
"My pleasure, you are like a mother to me and your right is far greater than I have put forward," I politely replied. A courteous gesture which in the Arabic language would have been quite standard?? Yet it seemed to resonate quite deeply with her, she stared at me while her smile grew wider and wider, complimenting the blush on her face!
Wow I thought, I mean apart from how cute this old woman looked, being away for some time I started to realise the chasm between how our senior citizens are treated in the Arab world and how they are treated or mistreated should I say back home in our London streets? Definitely food for thought and a social responsibility that needs to be urgently flagged. It's quite a woeful state and offensively shocking I think that one in five pensioners in our country as rich as it is officially live below the poverty line.
"What's that you are reading in your hand?" she asked me. "Is it the qur'an?" she said as she smiled beating me to the answer.
"Yes!" I jumped, overwhelmed, marveling over this woman. My sympathy quickly turned into admiration and awe. She had caught my attention. She just had something about her, I couldn't put my thumb on it?
"I have always wanted to read the qur'an" she added. The passenger next to her got up to leave the bus for her stop, I rushed to fill it and learn more about this woman.
"This book is from God to raise man's conscience and guide him towards that which will allow him to prosper," i said excitedly in a trained evangelical tone.
"Yes I have come across many Muslims in my life, they are very nice and courteous people to me," she said
"That's very kind of you to say that," I replied. A barrage of questions flooded into my mind, but she seemed to tell her own story quite well to my attentive ear so I preferred to listen more than speak for now.
"Did you see the news today," she said in shock... "what happened in Japan, the earthquakes and tsunami?! it's just terrible. God is fed up of us," she remarked, "we have made a mess of everything," she added.
I had assumed she was Roman Catholic given her Italian background which she later revealed in our conversation. The lady went on to quite a lengthy analysis of massive social and moral degradation. I was thoroughly enjoying our conversation, I felt like I was talking to a friend, she met my inquisitve questions with deep insight. It was clear she had seen a lot in her life.
"I am 81 years old," she smiled. I almost dropped my jaw. This woman was older than my Gran and had lived longer than most could even dream of living.
"What do you do?" I asked.
"I own a book shop" she replied which explained quite a bit since she seemed quite well-read and with-it up there. "The catholic church have lost it," she randomly added bringing the conversation back to religion, "only the Muslims have really held on to their teachings and values," she added.
My heart began audibly pounding now, could it be that Allah will save this woman hours before her appointment was the thought running through my head? Dawah Dawah Dawah I told myself! We continued to sing Islam's praises. One thing I can say in hindsight is that she definitely seemed impressed and almost moved throughout the conversation of the Muslims' general will to be convinced by God's law within an unforgiving culture of anti-God.
"I am so happy that I've met you" she randomly said touching her chest as her eyes slowly welled up. Strange I thought, but i could see sincerity all over the face of this woman? A truly bizarre meeting and by this stage the whole bus was fixed on our story as it slowly seemed to be climaxing.
My bus stop was fast approaching, I quickly tried to turn the topic of conversation to what really mattered, Allah (praised and exalted be He), or at least regurgitate anything I could recall from my meager understanding of Aqeedah classes.
"Islam is a beautiful religion," I preached, "it hasn't left anything out for the guidance of man, the most important of them is His (God's) service and worship and to get to know Him. He created us and was too compassionate to leave us without a messenger to guide us to a straight path. Mohammed (peace and blessings be upon him). Everything between the Heavens and Earth celebrate His praises and He has no partners."
I noticed her leaning more and more towards me. Her shoulders now pressed against mine as she struggled to hear. I continued.
"I am so happy I am so happy," she exclaimed in her very soft tone with highly emotional break ups in her voice. "In this world, the believer is travelling to his Lord until he reaches Him, those who do not know the path to their Lord and nor do they strive to know it are truly in loss."
By this time I was praying in my heart that Allah guides this woman, she certainly seemed sincere The water in her eyes slowly amassed while I described Allah to her until one stream managed to escape and run down her cheek.
She interrupted me as she reached for my hand, "you know I was in a coma when I was 79, I am lucky to be alive the doctors tell me, I am so happy that I've met you, God has saved me for a moment like this, oh how I'd love to read the quran, can you get one for me please, I'll give you the money?!" She reached for her bag.
"No no of course not, I will not accept, it's honestly my pleasure, how many of your likes will I get to meet again in my life," I courteously said.
She smiled and was deeply touched, I quickly learnt that she was not used to being spoken to so politely.
"Let me give you my address," she said as she wrote it down. "Here, please send it to this address,"
"Sure," I replied, "I will drop it off personally."
"Oh, but do get me a large print," she requested, "my eyesight isn't what it used to be you see." She put the pen back in her bag and smiled as though she had been reunited with a long lost friend.
I was sitting there rattling my brains about this woman, I mean she is very old, what happens if she dies before I get to her with the Quran? What if she dies before saying the shahaadah?!
She interrupts my thinking and enquires "so where is the nearest mosque son, I know there's a very big one in Regents Park, no?"
I'm still not sure what her exact intent was behind that question but this was my chance and I'd never forgive myself if I don't take it. My mind told me that she wants to take her shahadah, but thinks the conversion process is like christianity and you must be baptised and what not! I went for it..
"No ma'm," I replied. "You can meet God as a Muslim merely by an utterance of the tongue, a testimony that He is one." Her face lit up as she implicitly ushered me to keep going.. "Repeat after me," I said "Ash-hadu....", "Ash-hadu"..... all the way to the end.
Slowly we completed the testimony of faith in Arabic and began to pronounce it in English. She struggled but showed determination to even pronounce every letter. And given that she was from a catholic background, pertinent to add to the shahaadah was that 'Jesus is the prophet of God and that God is above having any offspring".
Oh no, she didn't repeat after me, she paused and withdrew her closeness to me. I was heartbroken, I really wanted her to say it, it anti-climaxed, she paused, struggled to speak.
"What a beautiful thing to say," she said much to my relief! Her voice emotionally breaks up again. She gathered her strength, "yes, yes, Jesus is the prophet of God, you know I have felt like that my whole life and didn't know where to turn I'm so happy," she began wiping her eyes now.
I fought back my own tears as my hairs started to stand on end. I promised that I'd send her the Qur'an.
"Please write that down for me," she said "that testimony we just said, it's so beautiful," she added.
I happily obliged.
"And also please, I have a son, he's not Muslim, please can you speak to him, he's 45 years old," she pleaded.
I was speechless and in awe of this woman's story that I could only nod my head in silence and say "of course."
She smiled an unforgettable smile. "My name is Filomena," she said.
I smiled at her, "and my name is Ismail"
My stop had approached, I pressed the bell, heaved my heavy bag onto my back, gave a polite smile and briskly walked to pray Jummah prayer pinching my friends, I was to meet my friends and share with them the amazing story of this women who Allah had saved from the Hellfire moments before her appointment. I only hope that I get the Qur'an to her in time...
MKI Ramblings Unlimited,