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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 dear...as 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!”