Monday, April 23, 2012

Timeless Gift (chapter 5)

Ever since the meeting in April during Ramadhan, Ashraff had kept in touch with Yusuff every now and then. Their meeting at the mosque was “a blessed meeting” according to Ashraff. He had grown to care for Yusuff and his family. Yusuff felt the same connection with him. They had invited him to spend Eid in Bloomingdale. Ashraff had to turn down the invitation. He had already made plans to celebrate it in London – the place where he reverted to Islam the previous Ramadhan. He wanted to be with his family on his second Eid. ~ In early summer, June ’90, after a recommendation letter from Ashraff, Shafikah was hired to work part time at the Bloomingdale Chronicle. However, two weeks later she received a call from her friend, Jameelah, a Muslim African American who lived in the neighboring town. They were course mates at IUPU. Jameelah’s family owned a small publishing company and was starting a new Muslim magazine. They wanted her to be one of the editors. Shafikah did not want to let Ashraff down by leaving the job at Bloomingdale chronicle, but at the same time she felt a strong obligation to work at the Muslim magazine. After doing istikharah prayer, seeking Allah’s (s.w.t.) guidance in making the right decision, and discussing with her brother and sister-in-law, she made up her mind to quit the job at the local papers. Ashraff called Bloomingdale Chronicle to speak to Shafikah and ask how she was doing, but was informed that she had quit. So, he called her at home in the evening to speak to her. Unfortunately, she was having a meeting about the premier edition of the magazine. “Brother Ashraff, my sister’s still worried that she has let you down.” “Tell her to stop worrying. I’m happy for her, alhamdulillah! I think she made a wise decision, brother Yusuff.” “I think she looks up to you as a mentor in some ways.” Ashraff laughed. “I’m flattered to be a mentor to a cub magazine editor…a Muslim editor. Insha Allah, I will help her in anyway I could. But from the look at things right now, I think your sister is going to do well, insha Allah.” “I hope so too, insha Allah. I know she loves writing. It’s been her strong interest…her passion I‘d say, since she was in school.” Yusuff explained to Ashraff about Shafikah’s involvement in writing at school, and later at the college, that led her to study Journalism. Ashraff was pleased to hear it. “How’s the family anyway?” Ashraff changed the subject. He noticed he had asked too much about Yusuff’s sister. “Umar is active as usual. Insha Allah, we’re going to have an addition to the family…say in about seven months or so…a brother or a sister for Umar.” “Masha Allah! Congratulations, brother Yusuff. Two good news in one day. Alhamdulillah!” “Well, there’s the third one.” Yusuff added eagerly. “More?” “Yes. The committee members of the Islamic Center have agreed to open another Islamic class for the children to add to the present one. Fatima and Shafikah might be involved in it too.” “Masha Allah! You’ve all really been blessed by Allah Ta’ala. Alhamdulillah. Thank you for sharing the good news with me.” Yusuff and Ashraff realized their growing friendship had become stronger by the day. It was the bond of Muslim brotherhood that pulled them together. “Who else to share the good news of Muslim achievements, if not with one’s own brothers and sisters in Islam!” “Alhamdulillah.” Ashraff felt touched by Yusuff’s comment. “Alhamdulillah.” “I hope with this Islamic class, your sister won’t have too much on her plate. After all, she’s a newly appointed editor.” “I’ll make sure to pass that advice to your student…I mean the cub Muslim editor...” They both laughed. “Do so! Please send my regards and salams to her and sister Fatima too.” “Insha Allah, I will, brother Ashraff.”

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Timeless Gift (chapter 4)

Chapter 4

Yusuff was fixing Umar’s toy when he heard a knock at the door. It was Ashraff. He arrived an hour before iftar. Yusuff invited him in. They talked about Ashraff’s visit to the town. Suddenly Umar tugged at Ashraff’s pants. The little boy wanted to show him his fire truck. Ashraff gave his attention to the boy and played along. Yusuff watched them with a smile. Later, they broke the fast with some dates and drinks. Before eating the main food, Yusuff led Maghrib prayer in congregation.
Ashraff studied the food in front of him. “I ate Malaysian food once…a couple of years ago in Kuala Lumpur. Kind of spicy I think, but delicious! Masha Allah!”
“You are welcome to try every one of these. The ladies specially prepared them for you…the guest!” Yusuff smiled. Ashraff returned the smile and glanced at the women happily.
“He’s right brother Ashraff, help yourself, please,” Fatima added.
They talked about Malaysia and places Ashraff had been to for his assignments as a journalist. He was in Malaysia for two days in 1985 after covering a story in Singapore. Yusuff mentioned that Shafikah was graduating in Journalism that spring. Ashraff was surprised she had not mentioned it when they met at the library of the Islamic Center’s. He had told her he was a journalist when he introduced himself.
“Congratulations, Sister Shafikah!”
“Thank you, insha Allah, if everything goes well.”
“So, what’s your big plan after graduation? Leaving for home to be a reporter or a writer, perhaps?”
Yusuff and Fatima looked at Shafikah with a smile. They knew this was a decision she had been trying to make since finishing her internship in the fall.
“I still have this semester to complete, but yes, I have that in my plan, insha Allah.”
“You could stay here for a while and seek for a part time job at the local paper to get more hands-on experience. It would be good for your reśumé later, insha Allah,” Ashraff suggested.
Shafikah turned to look at her brother who then raised his eyebrows as if waiting for Shafikah’s response to the suggestion.
She turned to face Ashraff. “I’ve also thought about that, Brother Ashraff, but really I haven’t made my final decision.”
“I know someone at the local paper here. If you decided to stay and work here for a while, I could help. Just don’t hesitate to ask.” Ashraff explained that his old friend worked as an editor at the Bloomingdale Chronicle.
“Thank you, jazak Allahu khairan.”
“Wa anti kathaalik.” He gave her a friendly smile.
After dinner, the women left Yusuff and Ashraff alone. They were discussing the lecture tapes he was looking for at the Islamic Center. Later, they all left for tarawih prayer.
After the tarawih prayer, Yusuff invited Ashraff for another iftar since the next day would be his last day in Bloomingdale to finish his work. However, he had already accepted the Imam’s invitation. He told Yusuff that they might meet again at the Islamic Center tomorrow night. He planned to leave for Indianapolis after tarawih prayer.
Ashraff walked Yusuff to the car to say goodbye. The ladies were already waiting at the car.
“I guess this is goodbye, then… just in case I don’t get to see all of you here tomorrow night. Thank you for everything, alhamdulillah. I really had a great time at your home tonight. It’s a pleasure meeting your lovely family, Brother Yusuff. I won’t forget this.”
“We’ll keep in touch, insha Allah.”
“That would be great, insha Allah.”
Fatima was already at the back seat of the car holding the sleeping Umar.
Shafikah opened the car door to the front seat. “Take care of your iman, Brother Ashraff.”
“Insha Allah. Make du’as for me too Sister Shafikah…we’re in a great month right now.” He smiled at her.
“Insha Allah, I will. As salam alaikum.”
Yusuff met Ashraff after his last tarawih prayer at the mosque. He sent his salams to Fatima and Shafikah. He reminded Yusuff to tell Shafikah again about his offer to help her.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Timeless Gift (chapter 3)

Chapter 3

1990 was Shafikah’s final year at IUPU - Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis. Shafikah had been contemplating working in Bloomingdale, the town where her brother and his family resided. Her plan was to get some additional experience in journalism before leaving the town for good. However, Allah (s.w.t.) gave her more than what she had bargained for.


Indianapolis Airport in August 1988 was busy, just like the one in L.A thought Shafikah. This one was smaller but still packed with people who were caught up with their own travel arrangements. Shafikah was looking at her watch when a light tap landed on her right shoulder. She quickly turned around and smiled.

“As salaam alaikum, Fikah.” Her brother, Yusuff, greeted her with a big grin.

“Wa alaikum salaam, Abang Yusuff!” She excitedly returned his salaam. She took her brother’s hands to kiss and they hugged. They talked about her long trip and she conveyed salaams from their family and relatives.

“It’s really been a while since we last met. You look…” Yusuff quickly took two steps backward and studied his little sister. “…different!” He smiled at her.

“No, I don’t! Not that much different!” Shafikah immediately gave Yusuff a light punch on his left arm. She rearranged her light blue flowery satin scarf. It was fully covering her hair and flowing onto her chest. She wore it differently the last time he saw her – not exactly covering the whole hair, letting the bang showing on her forehead and tying the scarf at the back of her neck, thus leaving the front of her neck and chest uncovered by it. That was a year and a half ago, not long after his marriage to Fatima. Yusuff had come home to introduce his wife to his family, and to meet his wife’s families and relatives for the first time.

“Well, I’m not going to comment on that yet…but one thing remains the same…still as perky as ever! Now, let’s go get your stuff and leave this place! Umar Hafzi is waiting for you.”

Shafikah was all excited at the mention of her six-month-old nephew whom she had never met. “I can’t wait to see him and Kak Fatima. Let’s go….lead the way, bro!”


“Fikah?” Fatima called Shafikah when she noticed that her sister-in-law was lost in thought. They were cleaning the table after iftar. Yusuff was looking after the two-and-a-half-year-old Umar Hafzi in the living room.

“Earth to Shafikah…” She joked and finally caught Shafikah’s attention.

“Uh-huh…oh, I’m sorry, I was just thinking….this might be my last Ramadhan here with you, Abang Yusuff and little Umar. How fast time has gone by …it’s been two years…well, almost!” There was a little sadness in her voice.

“I know…it is, especially when you’re not looking at the clock… counting the minutes and the seconds…” Fatima made a small laugh, trying to cheer her up. She glanced at Shafikah and caught her half smiling. Fatima detected a little sadness in her sister-in-law’s voice and wondered. “You’re not happy to go home...for good? Are you sad?”

“I’m not sad…well maybe a little…I’ve grown attached to this place. It’s just that…this place…all that has happened to me here, living with you and Abang Yusuff has changed my life. I guess I grew up more here in two years than I did twenty years living at home…masha Allah! I wonder how Mama and Papa will react when they see me.” Shafikah ended with a wondering look.

Living with her brother and sister-in-law in a non-Muslim land had made Shafikah see how beautiful Islam was. The Muslims tried hard to hold on to their faith and really put the teachings of Islam into practice in their daily lives. It was a gift that she doubted she would have experienced and felt, living in her own home in a Muslim country. In fact, the experience had made her feel she had taken for granted being born a Muslim.

“They’ll be just as happy and grateful as I am right now to have you as my sister!” Fatima made another effort to cheer her up.

“And you’re partly responsible for that positive change. Alhamdulillah!”

“Alhamdulillah. I’ve also learned some things from you…and Yusuff. Allah Ta’ala has made us learn something from each other I believe…here.”

“I still remember the first time Abang Yusuff came home during the summer break after a year studying here. I was still in high school…in form four, I think. The family and I thought he had changed a lot! We were all so surprised. I even teased him by calling him Brother “Ustaz”…he tried to talk some sense into me about being a better Muslim girl…but I was too stubborn back then…kind of a rebellious daughter and sister… too much affection got to my head…I was like a spoiled princess in the family, you know!” They both laughed at what Shafikah had just said.

Living with Fatima had taught Shafikah one thing in general about being a Muslim. “I guess I took the fact that I was born Muslim for granted…never really realized how many converts…or should I say reverts….there are. How much these reverts struggle to find “the true path”. Living in a non-Muslim country and trying to stand up for my religion has opened my eyes about the true meaning of life. I really need this wake up call. Alhamdulillah, I’m grateful to Allah Ta’ala and thanks to you too Kak Fatima. You’ve made me see how much of a struggle becoming a Muslim is. In the end, at least you know, insha Allah, you will get to heaven and all the struggle of finding the right religion will pay off…insha Allah.” Shafikah smiled at her sister-in-law.

They sat around the table for a glass of water. Both were reminiscing the past, as if trying to capture and to share every unforgettable moment of their past lives. They had never talked about this side of each other before.

“When I first met your brother, the only thing we shared was our nationality – Malaysians! He was sitting at the da’wah table in the student center…and this Chinese girl…that was me…and her friend stopped by his table. He smilingly and politely gave us a couple of pamphlets about Islam. We didn’t stay for long and left. It took me a year later to accept Islam as my religion. But I believed that what I saw and learned that day marked the beginning of my soul searching. Alhamdulillah for the hidayah and taufiq from Allah Ta’ala.”

Shafikah remembered the first time she had learned about her sister-in-law’s pain and difficulties after her conversion to Islam. Her family had disowned her. Her marriage to Yusuff had made it worse. However, the birth of Umar Hafzi was the beginning of her reunion with her family. Even though the strain in their relationship was still there, at least now, Fatima and her family were communicating.
They were still engrossed in their conversation when Yusuff popped his head through the door to the kitchen.

“Excuse me my ladies, I hate to bug, but let’s get going.”

The women laughed at him and left the kitchen. It was 10th April 1990, the fourteenth day of fasting for the Muslims all over the world. The night was the 15th Ramadhan night. And like the previous nights, they were leaving for tarawih prayer at the Islamic Center.


After the tarawih prayer, the Imam’s wife reminded Shafikah and Fatima about the second family gathering for iftar that weekend. They agreed to come and promised to invite more families to attend. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door to the women’s praying section. It was Yusuff, signaling them to leave.

Yusuff was talking to a man by their car as Shafikah and Fatima were approaching. They could not tell who it was, but Shafikah thought the man looked familiar. He seemed to have just finished the tarawih prayer there too. Yusuff excused himself and walked towards the women. He handed Umar to his wife. “I offered this brother a ride, but I will drop you ladies home first. Umar is asleep anyway.”

The women took the backseat. As the car was pulling out of the driveway of the Islamic Center, Yusuff introduced the man to his sister and wife. His name was Muhammad Ashraff Matthew. He nodded slightly to his left as a sign of courtesy. Shafikah, who was sitting behind the driver’s seat, was surprised to see his face and so was he. He quickly glanced back for confirmation.

“Oh! Sister, so that was you this afternoon?”

Concealing her surprise on meeting him again, Shafikah answered. “Yes, that was me.”

“You’ve met my sister, Brother Ashraff?”

“We met at the library of the Islamic Center this afternoon. I was looking for some books and asking her about the latest lecture tapes…”

“…which, unfortunately, I couldn’t get for you. Someone had already checked them out…” Shafikah felt sorry for Ashraff as she recalled him looking so hopeful of getting those tapes from the library.

“Perhaps I have some at home that you might be interested in,” Yusuff suggested. The men continued talking about the tapes. Yusuff invited Ashraff for iftar at their house for the next day.


After putting Umar to bed, the women sat on the couch, folding some laundry while waiting for Yusuff. Shafikah told Fatima about her meeting with Ashraff at the library. She had planned to tell her brother and Fatima about Ashraff.

“It must have slipped my mind.”

Both smiled at her forgetfulness.

“I was going to ask if Abang Yusuff could lend him some tapes. I did ask for his contact info so that Abang Yusuff could get in touch with him about the tapes. Now I think it’s all taken care of, alhamdulillah!

“He seems like a good brother…reminds me of myself when I was a new Muslim a few years ago. I also went to the library of the Islamic Center to find materials on Islam.”

Shafikah said she and Ashraff talked a little about the Muslim families in Bloomingdale. He had told her about his short trip to this town. “He came here this morning…a journalist on assignment…”

Fatima interrupted with a surprised look. “Did you just say a journalist, Fikah?” She stopped folding a shirt and waited for Shafikah's answer.

“Yes, a journalist.” Shafikah replied short, but the thrill in her voice was too obvious to Fatima's ears.

Fatima smiled, noting Shafikah's excitement at the word “journalist”. With a teasing smile, she said, “Perhaps there’s something special Allah Ta’ala has in store for you, Sis. This is, after all, a blessed month, Ramadhan. Have you made the decision yet? Or, perhaps you can get some advice from the pro, insha Allah!”

Shafikah smiled sheepishly at Fatima. “Perhaps, Kak Fatima...insha Allah.” Then, with a thoughtful look she added,“I wonder if he’s been a Muslim for a some time already. He seems to know much about Islam, but still in quest of knowledge.”

“Well, aren’t we all supposed to, my Muslims?”

Shafikah smiled, nodding in agreement, but her smiling face slowly turned pensive.

Fatima chuckled, slightly shaking her head at the curious look on her young sister-in-law’s face. “Insha Allah, we’ll know more about our new Brother Ashraff tomorrow, my dear Sister Shafikah!”