Copyright © 2003-2011, Aishah Schwartz. Permission granted to circulate among private individuals, groups, or in not-for-profit publications in full text and subject title. All other rights reserved.

October 29, 2005

Nerves Unravelling? Visit the Masjid!

AUTHOR'S NOTE: This was written during my first Ramadan in Egypt (Alexandria, 2005). 

Assalamu Alaikum. There was one day the other week that was just one of those days when I felt my nerves beginning to unravel, but I chose to beat it back. The walls of the apartment had begun to close in on me and after Maghrib I put on my abaya and went to a nearby masjid for the Taraweeh prayers. (Special evening prayers performed during Ramadan. During each night's prayer, one juz (1/30) (a/k/a chapter or 'surah') of the Qur'an is recited so that by the end of the month of Ramadan, the entire Qur'an will have been read.) 

Al-hamdulillah. The Taraweeh prayers were a wonderful reprieve, and rejuvenating, but by mid afternoon of the next day I felt the relentless infiltration of the darkness trying to creep up on me once again. So, I left the apartment on an errand (that's another story entitled, "Misadventures of Aishah's Ramadan Lamp!"), and ended up back at the masjid.  

It was an hour-and-a-half ahead of the time for Maghrib, so I just sat there as the time passed, making dua and remembering Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala; relishing the sense of serenity I felt coming from the masjid's enveloping protection which combined to re-awaken the knowledge that Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala is always with me. Al-hamdulillah. And then Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala gave me my something to be grateful for in the shinning eyes and immaculate smile of a beautiful, young, abaya and hijab clad girl who looked to be about 10-years of age.  

When I entered the sister's prayer hall I found it to be empty, in fact, before I could enter, I had to sort of peek my head in the main entrance of the masjid in search of the brother, who I surmised from previous visits is the "masjid keeper", to unlock the door to the sister's hall.  

Just before the adhan there was knock on the door, which had been resting just slightly ajar. In response I replied, "Aiwa" (meaning "yes"), whereupon the masjid keeper entered, by a single step, and stopped to address me in Arabic. I sadly replied, "Mafi Arabi", with a slight shrug of my shoulders. (A response I had learned in KSA when I wanted to convey that I didn't speak Arabic!) Understanding my reply, the brother took another step forward and, speaking in Arabic again, but this time including gestures (okay, charades I can do! *lol*), he brought his hand up and down towards his mouth like he was holding a eating utensil, and said, "hina?" – which I learned during my time at Hajj meant, "here", to which he added a sweeping gesture encompassing the prayer hall. This translated to my being asked if I would be breaking my fast at the masjid, to which I smilingly replied, "Aiwa!" 

Satisfied that his effort had garnered the response he needed, the masjid keeper happily turned and went back through the door whence he came whilst I returned to my thoughts.

A few short minutes later there was another knock on the door of the sister's prayer hall, followed by the immediate entrance of the aforementioned little girl, which I deduced to be the daughter of the masjid keeper. The little girl approached me carrying a small plastic cup filled with juice. I greeted her with "Assalamu Alaikum", and as she replied, "Wa'Alaikum Assalamu," she handed me the cup, whereupon I said, "Shukran!" (Thank-you.) As quietly and quickly as she had entered the prayer hall, she exited and returned just moments later with a small plastic container of dates. Subhan'Allah. I took a few of the dates and the young girl left me alone once again. 

So, there I sat, quietly, and all by myself (with the exception of the presence of Allah subhanaahu wa ta'ala, of course!) breaking my fast. Al-hamdulillah. And, no, surprisingly, it wasn't a lonely feeling at all...actually, I was filled with a wonderful sense of peacefulness and gratefulness. Subhan'Allah. 

You know, it is through some of the little encounters we have from time-to-time that our lives are enriched...and the nicest part of this particular encounter was yet to come.  

As the masjid keeper began the second call to prayer (Adhan), a door that is used as an entrance to the main part of the masjid from inside the sister's prayer hall opened, and passing through the doorway was the same little girl who had brought me juice and dates. Al-hamdulillah. She walked over to where I was and together, standing shoulder to elbow *smile*, we formed our own little line for salat. Masha'Allah… I was somehow immediately filled with a sense of wonder, combined with a surge of sadness mixed with longing, at what it would have been like for the girl standing beside me to have been my own daughter. (I am also, as many new Muslims are, the only [acknowledging] Muslim within my immediate family.) And my silly, sentimental-self had to bite back the flood of tears that were pushing at the brims of my eyes as we stood silently beside one another, hands folded in front of our chests, heads bowed, listening earnestly as the Imam led us in prayer.  

When we finished praying the young girl stood, and smiling as she turned to go, I caught her hand and said to her, "Do you know 'beautiful'?" To which she surprisingly replied, "Yes." So I continued with a smile and said, "You are beautiful!" And her face lit up. I then asked her, "Do you speak English?" To which, she answered with a slight frown, "No." This puzzled me a little as I had the impression she did speak English because of her previous responses and the fact that I am aware students are taught English in the Egyptian schools.  

Well, just about as soon as those thoughts passed through my mind, I found myself hearing her say, and rather forthrightly I might add, "I don't like it." I had hold back the chuckle that had risen in my throat *out of the mouths of babes!*, and smiling I said, with the utmost sincerity, "Thank you for praying with me." To which she answered back in her tiny, non-English speaking, voice (*lol*), "You're welcome."  

As she turned away once again to leave, my new friend called out, "Bye!" and quickly then, "Ma'Salaama!" (with peace) – to which I replied, "Fi Aman'Allah!" (in God's protection). Then just as she got to the steps that would take her out of the prayer hall and back into the masjid, she paused to look back and ask, "Will you come back tomorrow?" could I say no? So, insha'Allah, I would return to the masjid the following day.  

Yes, it occurred to me, too, that we had neglected to exchange names...*smile*...insha'Allah when we meet again we'll resolve that little matter! *wink*  

What happened that afternoon is why I like to venture off on my own from time-to-time. People say, "Aren't you afraid you'll get lost, being in a place that is new?" And I remember the words of a sister I met at an iftar Saturday before last. I was showing her pictures I had taken on my digital camera. We came to the three shots I had taken of Stanley Beach and she said, "Whatever you do, keep these pictures on your camera! If you get lost, just show them to any taxi driver (or whoever else is available), and they'll know exactly where you live!" So, naw, I'm not afraid...after's on life's little adventures that my journey stories are born!  

Hey! Don't go just yet…before you do take a moment and make this dua with me: "Our Lord! Condemn us not if we forget or fall into error. Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden like that which Thou didst lay on those before us; Our Lord! Lay not on us a burden greater than we have strength to bear. Blot out our sins, and grant us forgiveness. Have mercy on us. Thou art our Protector; Help us against those who stand against faith." (Surah 2:286)


Copyright © 2005, Aishah Schwartz Permission is granted to circulate among private individuals and groups, to post on Internet sites and to publish in full text and subject title in not-for-profit publications. Contact author for all other rights, which are reserved.

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