A few minutes later…minutes that ticked by excruciatingly slowly, the slow thumping of my heart keeping time with the seconds that ticked by…the door opened a few inches and a pair of eyes peered through cautiously, the bottom half of the face concealed by a peach coloured scarf. The eyes widened in recognition then the door was thrown open.
“Fazila!” The scarf promptly dropped as well, I beheld a familiar, round face before I was enveloped in a warm hug, “how are you, ma? So nice to see you. Come in, come in!” She stepped back, her face creased in a broad smile, and I felt my apprehension slowly dissipate. Returning her smile I followed her into the house and into the small lounge on our left. Apa Tasneem waited for me to sit down before taking a seat opposite me.
“How are you, ma?” She repeated.
“I’m fine, alhamdulillah, and you?” I replied.
“I’m okay, shukar. Glad that madrassah is starting tomorrow. I get so bored staying at home…though I know you probably aren’t happy,” she laughed.
“Oh, no, I’m looking forward to madrassah as well. I miss it,” I said with utmost sincerity. I caught a flash of surprise in her eyes and smiled inwardly. She would be surprised, given the amount of times she’d caught us fooling around in class.
After a while the conversation dwindled and I looked down at my hands, twisting them over and over again in my lap. Cold fingers of apprehension were slithering up my spine again.
“Is anything wrong, Fazila?” I heard Apa ask kindly.
“I…yes…” I took a deep breath and raised my eyes to meet hers, wondering how…and where…to start. Her eyes met mine, gently encouraging. Drawing another breath I decided to just plunge in.
I started by outlining my relationship with Zee…and Bashir…then moving on to how I used to keep popping in to collect Laaibah and mine and Bashir’s interactions. I kept my eyes in my laps the whole time, but when I came to that fateful day my hands clenched tight, my breath coming short. I felt the sense of shame, of angry humiliation wash over me again as I spoke but I trudged on doggedly till the end.
“He kissed me,” I mumbled, so low that I wondered if she could hear me, “and I…didn’t do anything. I…I didn’t know it was going to happen. I was in shock.” My hands were clenched to tightly that I could feel my nails digging into my palm. I felt warm moisture tickle my cheeks and only then realised that I was crying.
I felt the seat next to me sag as Apa Tasneem lowered herself into it. Her arm came around my shoulders, pressing my head into her shoulder. I turned wordlessly into her and cried for a little while, then pulled back self consciously.
“I’m sorry,” I said, wiping my eyes…and nose…on my sleeve, “I’m not usually so emo, you know.” I tried to laugh but it emerged as a small, shaky sound.
Apa Tasneem got up and handed me a tissue then waited while I blew my nose, wiped my face and got myself under some semblence of control.
“What did you do after that?” She asked.
“After…?” I was confused.
“After he…ermm…kissed you.”
“Oh! I pushed him away…then I slapped him,” my mouth turned up a little at the memory, “and ran away.”
“Well, there you are. You didn’t do “nothing”, did you?” Apa smiled.
“Yeah, but meaning I didn’t stop him from kissing me! I should have run from the beginning!” I responded vehemently.
Apa shook her head. “It wasn’t your fault, Fazila. Don’t beat yourself up over it,” she paused, as though trying to decide what to say, “can I give you a bit of naseehat, my dear? I’ll try not to make it like a big, long bayan…”
“Yes, of course. I don’t mind!” I interrupted, “I did come here to get guidance and naseehat.”
“Okay, then…” Apa nodded and settled herself more comfortably next to me.
“You know, Fazila, these things happen quite often. I’ve heard cases of men having affairs with their wives sisters or friends, or with their brothers wives…of women having affairs with their sisters husbands or with their husbands brothers or friends. It happens a lot and then there is a big hoo-haa over it and everyone blames each other and calls each other names. But no one looks at the root of the problem. Why did it happen? What led to such cases of infidelity? Why do people get caught up in such traps? It is the trap of shaytaan, definitely, but how did we give shaytaan the opportunity to deviate us? It all boils down to one thing…lack of haya…and lack of purdah,” her eyes held mine, allowing the words to absorb.
“You see, islam has a set of guidelines on how we have to lead our lives. Allah has laid down a set of rules, what we can do and what we cannot do. And in every rule there’s khair. Every rule has been placed only for our benefit, in this dunya and the akhirah, and only to save us from harm. Wallahi, if we lived our lives according to what shariah dictates we would never have any complications in our lives. Or we might still have, but these would be tests from Allah and not due to our actions. But when we move away from the laws of shariah then we see many problems in our lives and all brought upon ourselves by none other than us. We have no one to blame but ourselves.
“Now, one of those rules is the rule of purdah. Islam is very strict in that matter. It has clearly defined who is our mahram and who is not. Whoever isn’t our mahram, we have to cover ourselves completely infront of them. And not only cover ourselves but we need to protect our gazes and tongues infront of them, only speaking to them when necessary. But us indians are very lax about this. Our parents have brought us up allowing us to intermingle with our cousins and family friends, seeing nothing wrong in this. They allow us to go to mixed schools without educating us on the aspects of purdah and haya. So we grow up thinking all this is normal. You yourself think like this, don’t you, my dear?” Her eyes held no accusation when they looked into mine but I dropped my gaze, nodding, ashamed.
“You see, Fazila, if you had observed true purdah with Bashir and if he had observed true purdah with you this wouldn’t have happened. It comes in a hadith, isn’t, that whenever a man and woman are alone shaytaan is the third one present. You’ll gave shaytaan to work his wiles on you’ll and that’s how you’ll fell in his trap.”
“But I don’t wear purdah,” I mumbled.
“You don’t have to…well, actually, you do have to, it’s wajib to wear purdah, but even if you haven’t started yet you could still observe purdah with ghair mahrams. Firstly you lower your gaze infront of them. Zina starts with the eyes so if you lower your gaze you’ve automatically cut off a very important branch of zina. Then you keep out of their path, meaning try as much as you can not to intermingle with them. And if you do this you won’t have to talk to them as well so that’s another problem out. Even if you talk to your cousins…are you close to them?”
I looked up and nodded. “Yes. It’s like you said. We’ve been brought up like that. They’re like my brothers,” I shrugged.
“Hmmm. Then it will be more difficult but nothing is impossible. Try and lower your gaze first. You yourself will see how difficult it is to talk and joke with them if you look down the whole time. I know, I’ve been there.” She laughed when I looked at her in surprise, “I wasn’t born an angel, my dear. I had my fair share of mischief in my younger days. I was also brought up like that, mixing with cousins and all. We used to hug and kiss on the cheeks, everything. Do you?”
“No, I try not to touch them as much as possible. I’m conscious of that much at least,” I smiled wryly.
“Then your job will be easier than mine. When I started purdah, at first I couldn’t make purdah with my cousins. It was so difficult! Then when I got the courage to finally start it made them so naar! They used to rip off my purdah and tell me not to be so holy-holy, they were my brothers and were not looking at me in a dirty way. They felt insulted. So many times I would run away from family functions when it became too difficult, run away home and cry my eyes out. My aunties and uncles also felt offended and stopped speaking to me nicely. My own parents told me to just stop making purdah with family because it was causing problems…” she sighed and shook her head.
“And then?” I was watching her with avid curiosity.
“I stuck to my guns. I said I won’t meet anyone if they’re offended by me following my deen but I won’t give up my purdah because I wasn’t doing anything wrong. It was very difficult for a few months. I didn’t attend so many functions because I was scared of starting arguments again and the few I attended I got the same response. But I continued making dua and Allah finally softened their hearts alhamdulillah,” she reached over and squeezed my hand, “it won’t be easy, Fazila. It’s much easier to follow the crowd and do what everyone is doing, trust me. But if you do this just for Allah’s sake, you will get tremendous rewards and you will see the effects even in this dunya. I was in my second year of alima course when I started purdah and the ilm I learnt after starting purdah was just different because I had cut the major sin of zina from my life. I’ve said this many times, isn’t…ilm is light and sin is darkness. Light and darkness can not be in one place at the same time so the light of your ilm will only truly shine when the darkness of sin is removed.”
“Is what I am doing really zina?” I knew the answer to this but I still asked. It was so difficult to imagine talking to Immy, Ibu, Ridwaan, and all the other guys as zina.
“Yes, it is. Looking at a ghair mahram is zina of the eyes. Talking to a ghair mahram is zina of the tongue. Walking towards a ghair mahram is zina of the legs. Touching a ghair mahram is zina of the hands. And the final, indecent act is zina of the private parts. The problem is, we only consider the actual act as zina and shrug off the other interactions as harmless, whereas all of them are major sins.”
“Yes…” I murmured, lost in thought.
Apa Tasneem squeezed my hand again, her own face abstracted. I supposed she was lost in her own memories as well.
“You are a true warrior!” I suddenly declared. And my role model. I want to be just like you when I grow up. My lips trembled in amusement at the thought.
Apa Tasneem laughed. “I am not. But you are one, Fazila. I can see your determination and I know you will succeed.”
“I hope so, inshaAllah. It seems so daunting, I don’t know if I’ll manage.”
“You will. One step at a time. Don’t do everything too suddenly. Go one step at a time and you’ll get there, inshaAllah. Now, do you want tea or coffee?”
Thirty minutes later I left Apa Tasneem’s house, comfortably full with Apa Tasneem’s hot coffee, fresh, buttery scones and warm words of encouragement. I felt exhilarated and apprehensive at the same time, my mind glad to finally grasp at a course of action but scared of what the outcome would be.
One step at a time…