Part 15

I started teaching at the orphanage the following Wednesday. Khadija taught there every Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, and I was going to teach every Wednesday and Friday so Khads gave Yusha Tuesdays, so that the kids could at least have lessons from Monday to Friday. We grouped the kids into two groups, based on their ages, and decided to teach each group for an hour everyday. Then we could increase the timings later on as they progressed and we had more volunteers.

The first day I decided to teach the younger group first. I went in the room they had turned into a classroom for the first lesson, greeted them with a smile and gave them a short introductory talk. As I was concluding the talk I noticed that Brianna was missing. “Where’s Brianna?” I asked the class. Some of them shrugged, looking disinterested, others mumbled something and a few of them snickered. I frowned. What was going on here? I remembered Khads saying that Brianna was subject to taunts and bullying and abruptly got up,”all of you remain sitting and be quiet, I’m just going to fetch Brianna.”

I went to look for Brianna and found her in the same room as before. She was sitting on the settee, her knee drawn up, looking out of the window, lost in thought.

“Brianna,” I said softly. She jumped and turned to look at me wide eyed. She relaxed a bit when she saw me but the guarded look in her eyes was back. I sat down next to her, carefully leaving a space between us. “Brianna,” I repeated,”how come you haven’t come to class today?”

She shrugged and looked down, fiddling with her hands. “Don’t you want to come?” I continued,”we’re going to have so much fun learning about different things! Don’t you want to show me how much you know?”

“No,” she replied sullenly,”I don’t want to come.”

“Why not, Brianna? Do you want to tell me why?”

She shrugged again, avoiding eye contact. I sighed. How was I going to get through to her? I decided to be blunt. “Is someone troubling you, Brianna? Does anyone laugh at you or make fun of you? Is that why you sit by yourself here?”

I had struck a nerve there. Her eyes filled with tears and she clenched her little fists in her lap. “Yes,” she whispered,”they laugh at my leg. Because I can’t walk nicely. They say I walk like a grandma. And one big boy…he said my mummy threw me down the stairs because I’m a good…good for nothing.” Tears started spilling out of the corners of her eyes and my heart just broke a little for her. How cruel this world was, for people who didn’t fit the “perfect” image.

I took Brianna’s hands in my own and leaned forward to look into her eyes,”no Brianna, you’re not a good for nothing. You’re a very special, and a very strong girl. Don’t listen to what anybody says, ok? I’m here for you and you can come tell me anything you want and I’ll help you out. Now will you come to class with me?” I looked earnestly into her eyes. She hesitated for a while,”they’ll laugh at me again.”

“Nobody is going to laugh at you, my darling. Everyone is going to see how strong you are. Come show me how nicely you walk with those crutches.” She got up slowly and walked forward a bit. I clapped my hands,”that’s it, darling! So many people can’t even walk with that, it’s so hard! The next time anyone teases you just lift your crutch like this,” I placed my hand over hers and lifted the crutch,”and whack them one! Then they’ll never trouble you again!” Brianna broke out in a giggle and I smiled at her,”you’re my strong warrior and don’t you ever forget that.” I brushed her hair away from her forehead and pressed a kiss there. Her eyes shone with joy at my small gesture and it touched me so much. It was a small gesture that I did without thinking and yet it meant so much to this little child who was deprived of a simple, loving touch.

“What’s a warrior?” she asked shyly.

“A fighter,” I smiled at her.

She smiled back at me and walked a little straighter. We entered the classroom where the kids were talking and laughing away; as soon as they saw us they stopped talking. I heard a few snickers again and frowned. I led Brianna to the front then turned to face the class with Brianna sitting by my side.

“I want to tell you all something,” I began,”I have noticed you all teasing Brianna about her leg. This leg of hers,” I tapped her leg gently,”is a sign of courage, not of weakness. It is a symbol of the hurt she has born yet she continues to rise everyday. She has been through alot and you all aren’t making life any easier for her by constantly picking on her. Shall I tell you all a story?” They nodded and I took a deep breath. This was totally off the top of my head and I had no idea how I was going to put this story forward but anyways, here goes,

”There was a man who lived a long time ago. His name was Nuh (A.S). He was such a good man that everybody loved him. And everybody wanted to be his friend. Then one day Allah made him a prophet. Allah told him to tell people to stop doing wrong things and worship only Allah and pray to Allah. Now the people didn’t like that. They didn’t want to pray because they were bad people. So they stopped liking Nuh (A.S) because he was telling them to pray. They started making fun of Nuh (A.S) and teasing him. He got very sad and prayed to Allah to take him far away from those bad people. Allah told him to build a ship then he could go far away from those people. When Nuh (A.S) was building the ship all the bad people started laughing at him because there was no water anywhere so where would he sail his ship? But Nuh (A.S) ignored them and continued building the ship. After Nuh (A.S) finished building the ship Allah told him to take all the good people in his ship and leave all the bad people. Then Allah sent down lots of rain and all the bad people went away and only the good people remained. So, my dear children,” I continued,”what we learn from this story is that just because a person is different he doesn’t have to be a bad person. Nuh (A.S) was different from all the other people but he was a good person. Even though people were teasing him and making fun of him he was actually a good person so Allah saved him…” I paused to take a breath. One girl stood up,”so are we bad people for teasing Brianna?” she asked timidly.

I shook my head,”no sweetie,no one is a bad person here. You are all very good boys and girls and but you always need to do good things. Don’t tease someone just because they’re different from you because they might be such wonderful people and you would just be hurting them by making fun of them. Let’s all be friends ok? I don’t want to hear anyone getting hurt by anyone anymore. You all are brothers and sisters so live together nicely and you all shall be happy.” I decided I had said enough for one day and stood up. As I was gathering my things I heard one boy asking,”who is Allah?”

I smiled and turned to him,”Allah is our God, sweetheart. He made you and me and all of us here and this whole world and everything in it. Allah loves all of us, sweetie so if you all want anything ask Allah to give it to you and he will definitely give it to you one day inshaAllah.”

The children were all smiling as I left them and I felt a sense of joy and accomplishment that I hadn’t felt before. Mum was right, spending time with children and especially orphans softened my heart, and it made me grateful for the little blessings I had taken for granted before.

As I was leaving the place I heard someone calling me. I turned and saw Brianna making her way towards me as fast as she could. I went towards her and as I reached her she threw down her crutches and threw herself in my arms, twining her arms tightly around my neck and burying her face in my neck. I felt her body shaking and grew alarmed. What had happened now? Had those kids not heard a word of what I had said?

“Brianna,” I said gently, prying away her arms from my neck and moving her back slightly so I could see her face,”what’s wrong, sweetie? What happened?”

Her lower lip trembled,”they…they said sorry! They want to be my…my friends now!” she smiled happily at me through her tears, a bright ray of sunshine bursting through stormy clouds.

I broke out into an exultant smile as I realised that the worst of the storm had passed for this beautiful child. The path from here was still long and rocky but there was finally a glimmer of light at the end of the long, dark tunnel. I embraced her tightly and held on to her a little longer, willing my touch to begin stitching together the fragments of her broken heart. As I pulled away from her, I smiled into her eyes and whispered,”warriors never lose.”

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Part 14

I heard the hoot of a car outside seconds before my phone rang. I picked up on the second ring,”yes Khads, are you here?”

“Yes I am!” Khads sounded impatient,”yallah, come hurry up Faz, we’re late as it is!”

“Coming, I just can’t find my coat and it’s so cold outside!”

“Cold?” Khads started laughing,”this isn’t cold my dear! Wait till December comes, then you’ll know what cold is!”

“Yeah yeah, don’t remind me,” I shivered,”the only thing I’m looking forward to is playing in the snow!”

“Well snow is cold as well, you know! We’ll see how much you enjoy it when you’re knee deep in snow, shovelling the driveway!” I could hear her cackling away in my ear.

“Ok I get it you mad cow! Thanks for ruining my lovely dreams of playing in the snow and building a snowman! Now let me look for that coat then I’ll be right down. You can come sit in the front room if you want.”

“Nah thanks I’m fine. Just hurry up Faz, we really don’t have much time before asr.”

I found my coat and pulled it on before shoving my purse and phone in my bag and running down the stairs,”nani, I’m off, salaams!”

I locked the front door behind me and hopped into Khads’s car. We were going to the orphanage, Khads wanted to show me around and get me familiar with things before I started teaching next week. We pulled up outside the orphanage in ten minutes; Khads was right, it wasn’t far from my place. We got off and Khads pointed to a house opposite the orphanage, “That’s Steve’s house. Let’s pop in there first, I told him I’ll introduce him to you.”

We went and rang the doorbell. A young, pleasant faced man opened the door, smiling when he saw Khads,”Hello Khadija. Nice to see you!” He saw me standing there as well and turned his smile on me,”hello! Come in, both of you.”

He ushered us in and made us sit in the living room.

“Steve, this is Fazila, who I was telling you about. She’s volunteered to teach the kids twice a week.” Khads said.

“I see,” Steve smiled warmly at me,”I really appreciate it, Fazila! We’re struggling to find volunteers at the moment and poor Khadija is running around trying to manage as much as she can. I would have helped her out but my work times are too hectic, I only knock off at 7 p.m each night. Every little help counts, you’ll see how totally worth it this is when you see their achievements.”

Steve spoke with a passion. I could tell he cared for these children a lot. I couldn’t wait to meet them myself. After greeting Steve we made our way out and went to the orphanage. A lively chatter hit my ears the moment I stepped in. Khads took me to the common room where children of all ages were playing about. Khads clapped her hands to get their attention and as soon as they saw her they came running to her, screaming,”miss Khadija!” Khads laughed and told them to settle down then introduced me as their new teacher. They looked at me curiously, some apprehensively. I smiled at them reassuringly and greeted them warmly then sat down with them and chatted to them for a while to make them comfortable with me. After a while Khads offered to show me the place. It was simple but clean and well kept. I met the few staff members that were there including Dora, the woman who ran the place. She was a friendly cheerful woman and welcomed me on board. As we were passing by one of the rooms I saw a small girl sitting alone inside, her head in a book. I nudged Khads,”who’s that?”

Khads looked in,”oh, so that’s where she is. I was wondering where she’d gone to.” She raised her voice slightly,”hello, Brianna!”

The girl jumped slightly then looked up and smiled when she saw Khads. She was gorgeous, with a mop of red curls and ice blue eyes. She saw me and her smile faded slightly, her expression becoming guarded. Khads extended her arms towards her,”come here Brianna! I want to introduce you to a friend of mine.” Brianna hesitated then fumbled with a pair of crutches propped by her side. She slowly stood up and began making her way over to us haltingly with the aid of her crutches. I noticed her left leg was at an awkward angle, dragging behind her as she limped over to us. My heart went out to this little girl who couldn’t be more than five years old. I smiled brightly at her,”hello, Brianna! How are you?”

“I’m ok,” she said shyly. Khads hugged her and we went over to the settee with her. She showed Khads the book,”I can read now! That’s ‘A’ and that’s ‘B’!” She pointed out the letters happily and Khads beamed at her,”that’s wonderful Bri! I’m so proud of you!”

I leaned over to get a better look,”can you tell me a story, Brianna?” She hesitated again, looking at Khads.

Khads smiled reassuringly at her,”miss Fazila is going to be teaching you all from next week. You’re going to be her friend aren’t you?” She nodded, smiling shyly at me. I got up and sat down next to her, telling her to tell me what’s in the book. She spoke a little but was still a little reserved with me. I sensed that she wasn’t only shy but slightly fearful as well, so I spoke to her as gently as possible.

“She’ll get used to you in time,” Khads told me later once we had bid farewell to everyone and were back in the car again,”her trust has been broken by the ones she trusted the most, so she needs a lot of love and care. What makes things worse is the other kids teasing her and making fun of her because of her leg. That’s made her more withdrawn than before.”

“What happened to her?” I asked.

Khads sighed,”same story. An alcoholic mother, absent father, lack of a proper family unit. Her mum’s really young so she must have been in her teens when she gave birth to Brianna. Her dad bolted when he heard he’d made her mum pregnant so she had to raise Brianna alone. She became depressed, turned to drinking, and used to take out her frustrations on the poor child. She blamed Brianna for her relationship breaking so that made her bitter towards her child. We don’t know how bad the abuse was, but one day their neighbour heard screams coming from their house and went to investigate. He found Brianna lying at the bottom of the stairs unconscious, and her mum passed out in a drunken stupor at the top of the stairs. The neighbour called the ambulance and took both of them to the hospital. Brianna must have been thrown down the stairs, she had a fractured skull, and she’d landed on her leg so it was mangled beneath her. The doctors managed to save her leg but it’s useless to her, she can’t use it anymore, so she has to use crutches full time. Her mum was taken to the police station and charged and the neighbour knew Steve so he contacted him to keep Brianna here till she gets taken in foster care as her mum is not responsible enough to care for her. But a little while ago her mum was set free and the next day we found an old tattered suitcase on the doorstep with Brianna’s name on it. When we opened it we found Brianna’s few clothes and toys inside with a note,”keep her with you, she’s better off there. I don’t want her back.” Can you believe it Faz? Can a mother really be so unfeeling?” Khads had tears in her eyes as she spoke. I was in tears myself as I thought of that sweet innocent child who had just been abandoned like that. “You know Faz, how vulnerable and loving children are,” Khads continued,”Brianna’s admitted to being beaten by her mum even before this incident, yet she still asks every day when her mother is coming to take her back. What can we say to her? How do we explain to that poor child that her own mother doesn’t want her? We keep telling her her mum will come one day to pick her up but I think she’s starting to realise that her mother is not coming back. And it’s breaking her up inside. I see the broken look in her eyes and I want to cry but I keep myself together for her sake. I hope her mother just dies so we can tell her she’s gone and can’t come back. Khalaas!” Khads finished fiercely, wiping away her tears. I laughed through my own tears at her fierce expression but I was so heartsore inside. How irresponsible of adults to make children pay for their own careless mistakes! How could a mother carry her child in her womb for nine months then just discard her like that? I could not understand it. I vowed to show Brianna more love and attention than the other children. She had already stolen a piece of my heart…

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Brianna

        

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Part 13

I looked quizzically at Khadija,”ok, what is it? Shoot.” I took a doughnut and began eating it, my eyes on her.

“Well, the thing is,” she began, chewing slowly,”I’ve been teaching at this orphanage for the past six months. When I joined, there were two other teachers already teaching there. But then a couple of months later one of them left because she was getting married and moving to London, and the other just upped and left about six weeks ago, saying she was too busy at work and couldn’t find time to teach as well. I think she just found it too much, because there were just the two of us and forty kids to teach. The orphanage hasn’t been running for long and Steve-the owner-is barely managing to raise funds to keep it running, even with the government aid. He can’t afford to hire teachers to teach so we need volunteers who will be willing to teach for free. For the last six weeks I’ve been struggling to manage on my own. Steve and I decided that I should only teach the kids who are seven years old and above to lessen my load, but there’s still thirty of them and of all ages. Plus I can only go in thrice a week so they’re progressing really slowly. So I was wondering if you could maybe volunteer to teach as well? You won’t have to teach everyday, even once or twice a week is fine, you can go in at whatever times you want, plus it’s close by so it won’t take you long to reach there even from your house…”

“Khads,” I broke in, holding up my hand,”relax! Take a breath!” Here,” pushing her coffee towards her,”drink this.”

Khads smiled at me gratefully and sipped on her coffee while I thought over it. I did have quite a bit of free time on my hands since my course was pretty flexible, and I had been wondering what to do in my free time. This could be a solution for all of us.

“I’ll think about it ok,” I told Khads,”I’ll let you know in a couple of days inshaAllah.”

“No problem,” Khads said with a smile,”you have no idea what a great service it’ll be. To me and to those poor children.”

Just then Khadija’s phone rang. She answered it,”yes Yush?……I’m at the cafe with Faz…..eating of course, what else do you do at a cafe?……fine, come. We’re in the right hand corner.”

She cut the call and looked at me,”Yusha is coming over to grab some goodies, he said.”

I looked at the plate before us. Two doughnuts left. I grabbed one and began eating it. Khads looked at me curiously,”how come you only left one for him?”

“So that he can buy us another plate,” I grinned.

Khads looked at me in disbelief,”I’m ready to pop, man! Do you ever get full?”

“With doughnuts? Nope!” I replied with my mouth full.

Just then Yusha arrived. He looked at the plate,”only one left? Hang on, lemme go buy another batch.” He jingled the coins in his pocket and walked off.

I looked at Khads triumphantly,”mission accomplished!” She rolled her eyes in response. After a while Yusha came back with a plate of doughnuts and cupcakes. I took a cupcake and began peeling the casing off it. Yusha looked at me,”aren’t you done yet?”

I looked at him in mock horror,”with food? Never! It’s the love of my life!”

Yusha rolled his eyes,”so what were you guys talking about?”

“The orphanage,” I told him,”Khads wants me to volunteer to teach there with her.”

“Yea, you’d make a good teacher,” Yusha said,”you have a knack of explaining difficult things and making them sound easy.”

I waved my hand,”that’s because it is easy stuff! If you paid attention in class you wouldn’t be lost afterwards.”

“You need to get serious,”Khadija added,”you waste too much time doing nothing.”

“I know!” I exclaimed as an idea struck me,”you can join us! Volunteer to teach as well!”

“Us?” Khadija asked with a smile,”have you decided already?”

“Nah, not yet. But Yusha can also think about it.”

“Forget it,” Khads said before Yusha could even reply,”I’ve already tried convincing him. He just refuses.”

Yusha nodded his head in agreement,”not my cup of tea. You guys go ahead, you know how to teach.”

“It’s not about knowing how to teach, Yusha!” I said,”what’s so difficult about teaching basic things to kids? But it’ll make such a big difference in their lives.”

“Nah man, I’m busy enough! Just copying your notes takes up quite a bit of time.”

“Copying!” Khads burst out laughing,”stop being dramatic! The only “copying” you do is making a copy of them…in the machine!”

“Whatever, it still takes me time.”

“Let me make a deal with you,” I told him,”I’ll make a copy of all my notes for you, if you agree to teach there even once or twice a week.”

“No Faz, don’t spoil him!” Khads protested,”he must join out of his own concern and worry! Why must you write your own notes then take out more time for his notes as well?”

“I’ll do it, I don’t mind,” I replied,”the kids need all the support they can get. So Yusha, what do you say?”

“Ok, fine! I’ll join but only once a week. I’ll see what day I’m free.”

“Yayy, alhamdulillah!” I clapped my hands, causing a few people to look at us curiously. I beamed at Yusha happily and he laughed,”I should do more things to make you happy. You look adorable when you smile like that.”

I blushed slightly and changed the topic before things got awkward. After a while I looked at my watch and jumped up,”I’ve got to go! My granny must be wondering where I am.”

Khads got up as well,”let’s walk home today. I need some exercise after stuffing my face like that.” Khads lived two blocks away from my house so we walked home together on some days. Yusha had his own plans so he went off, and Khads and I walked home, then separated after I  promised to let her know of my final decision in a couple of days.

I decided to speak to nana and nani about it that day. Old people are wise and there’s a lot of good in making mashwara (consulting) with elders. It comes in a hadith:

”He who resorts to Istikharah will not be at a loss; and he who resorts to Mashwara will never regret.”

I broached the topic at lunch and told them everything Khads had told me. They were more than happy to have me teach there.

“It’s a brilliant idea, Fazzu! You’ll be doing a great service to those poor orphans. Everyone only thinks about money, money, money nowadays, no one wants to open their hearts and give their time to the underprivileged. You might not get anything for it in this world but you’ll get rewarded greatly for it in the akhirah.” nana said. I nodded my head in agreement.

Now I had to see what times I’d be free. I didn’t have classes on Wednesdays and Friday afternoons, so I could probably manage on those days. And if I found free time on the other days I could always pop in, like Khads said.

That night I decided to skype my family and Zee. I tried to skype them every week but I’d been quite busy recently so I hadn’t managed in almost two weeks. I just knew I was going to hear about it from Zee! I called my family first because I knew Zee would chat for ages. Adnaan’s face popped up first with a wide smile,”Faz! Long time no hear, stranger!” Says the guy who used to go weeks sometimes without having a proper conversation with me when we used to live in the same house,I thought with a smile.

“Why are you smiling?” Adnaan asked.

“Nothing,” I replied,”good to see you too, bro!”

Adnaan called mum and soon all of them were sitting around the laptop. I chatted to them, laughing over random things. I missed home so much! I liked it here but nothing could beat home, and as much as I loved nana and nani and was happy to stay with them, nothing could beat my parents’ love and their warm, comforting embraces. I told them about me wanting to teaching at the orphanage and they encouraged me to go for it.

“It’s a good chance for you, Faz,” mum said,”don’t just give them your time. Give them a piece of your heart as well. I read once in a kitab:

Sahl ibn Sa’ad narrates that Nabi SAW said,”I and the person who looks after an orphan and provides for him will be in paradise like this,” putting his index and middle finger together.

So my dear, spend time with them, it’ll soften your heart. And give them lots of love, shower them with all the love you have because these are the poor souls who have never known the love of a mother and father. And no other love can beat the love parents have for their children.”

This was what I loved about my parents. They always gave me the virtues of doing good actions and that motivated me to do that action, and it also corrected my intentions and made sure I was only doing it for Allah’s sake. And at that moment I was truly grateful for having my parents around. We take these blessings for granted till we are deprived of them. I prayed silently to Allah to give my parents long life and keep them in good health always.

After I had ended the call with them I called Zee. As usual she was overdramatic!

“Oh em jee! Look who’s alive!” she shrieked.

I rolled my eyes. “I’m supposed to be saying that. I called you ten days ago, Zee. You haven’t even replied to my messages since three days!”

She laughed,”guilty! I’ve just been busy with madressa I guess.” The local madressa apa had given birth recently and they needed an urgent replacement so the maulana had asked Zee’s dad if she could teach. I told her to go for it and she did alhamdulillah. So far she loved it though she complained that the kids drove her crazy sometimes with all their questions! I told her about the orphanage and how I was thinking of volunteering to teach there. She was really happy for me and told me to go for it the way I had encouraged her to take up teaching. Well, that sealed the deal for me then! I texted Khads and told her that my answer is yes…

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Part 12

“Fazilaaa!” nani called from downstairs,”what’s taking you so long? The twins are waiting!”

“Coming!” I yelled back, looking frantically through my cupboards. Where had I put my gray trackpants? I remember folding them and putting them in this very drawer so where are they now?? I could hear the twins chattering excitedly below, then the patter of little feet on the stairs before my room door flew open and the two scamps burst in!

“Come, Faz, we’re going to be late!” Uwais squealed, pulling at my arm.

“Yeah, we want to go now, now, noww!” this from Uzair who was jumping up and down on my bed.

“Calm down guys, calm down!!!” Gosh, how did Imaan cope with these two on a daily basis? They drove me crazy in the few hours I spent with them. Since Imaan was due in about a month or so it was more difficult for her to keep running behind the twins everyday so I had offered to babysit them every Saturday so she could get some free time for herself. I had to think of activities to do with them every week to keep them occupied. Today I had decided to take them to the park close by. Only I couldn’t find my comfy trackpants! I rummaged through the drawer again and finally found them stuffed in the corner. I grabbed them and an abaya, handed the twins my iPad to occupy them for a bit then went for a quick shower. After getting ready we went downstairs where nani had made polony and toast with tea.

“No time for breakfast nani! I’ll just grab one on the go! Oh wait!” I exclaimed as an idea struck me,”I’ll make sandwiches out of these and we’ll have a picnic at the park. The twins will enjoy that!”

I quickly packed a basket of sandwiches, juice and a few apples then called the twins. As I was leaving the house Khadija called. ”Where are you?” she asked.

Just leaving for the park with Double U,” I told her.

“Who’s W??” she asked, confused.

I laughed,”the twins.”

“Ohh, you mean Double U. I thought you meant the letter W.” she started laughing as well.

“Do you want to come with us?” I asked.

“Sure but I’ll meet you there. I still have to bath and eat.”

We went to the park and the twins ran to the slides and swings. Luckily it wasn’t raining today, though the sky was cloudy. How I missed sunny PE! I settled down on the grass to watch the twins as they pushed and shoved each other down the slides and pushed each other on the swings. It must be so nice to be a twin, I thought, you always had a companion at hand.

After a while Khads came with a bag of penny sweets and chocs. Yum! I loved penny sweets! I dug in while we chatted and kept an eye on the twins. After a while they came running up to us and pulled us up,”come Faz, you also go on slide!”

“No I can’t go sweetie, I’m too big for that.”

They insisted until I finally sat down on a swing and told Uwais to push me. Uzair made Khads sit on another swing then they started pushing us while we laughed at them.

“We can get imprisoned, you know, for child abuse,” I laughed at Khads.

“Forget that, I’ll get imprisoned for killing this poor child! I don’t know how he’s managing to push this big lump!” Khads pointed at herself and I burst out laughing again. The twins also laughed then Uzair said,”you pretty lump.”

“Gee, thanks lovey,” Khads said while I held my stomach while laughing and tried not to fall off the swing!

After playing tag with the twins and eating the scrumptious goodies we went back home. Khads went to her house saying she’ll see me on Monday. Nani had made akhni and the twins and I tucked in again. Luckily I had a high metabolism or else I wouldn’t be able to fit through the doorway with the way I ate! After lunch I sat with the twins on the rocking chair in the lounge and read a story to them. Midway through I looked at them, wondering how come they were so quiet and found them fast asleep, their heads lolling on my shoulders. I smiled at them affectionately, kissing the tops of their heads, then put down the book and rested my head on the backrest and within seconds fell asleep myself. Nani took a photo of us like that and showed me later on. I looked hideous of course, with my mouth wide open, but the twins looked adorable so I left the photo. It would make a good memory some day…

On Monday after class I decided to head to the library to do some research. I searched through the shelves to find the books I wanted, and once I had gotten all of them I sat down at a table near the entrance and started reading.

A little while later, I heard the door open. I looked up to see a tall, fair guy enter the library. It wasn’t his height that caught my attention though, nor was it his complexion. It was the full, sunnah length beard that graced his face so flawlessly. It was the black imaama (turban) that sat on his head so comfortably, and the long, sunnah length hair that peeked out from beneath his imaama and curled on his nape. It was the pristine white kurta that fell till just above his ankles. It was a sight that I hadn’t seen at campus before, a sight that I would expect to see in a madressa. Yet despite the way he stood out, he carried himself so confidently, and looked so at ease with himself. Behind me I heard people whispering. One in particular caught my attention; ”bloody ISIS terrorist!” My blood started boiling. How dare they!? Just because of the way he was dressed? What happened to freedom of choice? Yet even though they whispered loud enough for it to reach his ears, not once did he turn his head. He looked straight ahead and moved quickly, passing us and disappearing into another section of the library. That’s when I noticed the other guy who was with him. He was shorter and stockier, with short cropped hair and a skin tight beard. He said something laughingly to imaama dude then followed after him. After a while they reappeared and still walking rapidly, imaama dude exited the library with the other guy walking at a more relaxed pace. I stared at the closed door for a few seconds, wondering who he was. I heard those guys still whispering behind me and turned around to look at them. One guy caught me looking and smirked at me,”is that guy your husband or something?” The other guys snickered.

“Yea, don’t you think we make a good couple?” I smiled sweetly at him.

“Good couple of ISIS bombers,” he retorted.

My smile disappeared,”well, be sure to call your nuns ISIS bombers as well because I don’t see the difference between my dressing and theirs!”  I turned around again and immersed myself in my work, ignoring them completely.

After I’d finished my work I headed out of the library, checking to see if Khadija had texted me. She had. “Meet me at the cafe in 10.” She had sent the text 15 minutes ago. I quickly replied to let her know that I was coming then made my way there. Khads was already waiting for me, 2 tall glasses of iced coffee and a plate of chocolate doughnuts on the table in front of her. I raised my eyebrows at her,”iced coffee AND choc doughnuts?? Someone’s in a really good mood today!”

“More like a bribing mood,” she grinned at me.

“Ahh, that makes more sense. So tell me, why do you have to bribe me?”

Khads grabbed a doughnut from the plate and bit into it, her expression turning serious,” I need to ask a favour from you Faz. A major favour.”

Someone would think this is a food blog, with the way I go and on about food😂 but well, penny sweets are a personal favourite of mine and I’m really wishing for them right now so I thought, why must I suffer alone😜 just look at them will you!:| someone be kind enough to post me a bag please!!! I’ll be indebted to you for life!😍

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Penny sweets😋

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Part 11

I woke up as my alarm rang for fajr, switching it off then stumbling towards the bathroom. I made wudhu and prayed fajr, then went downstairs by nana to revise my dhor. Nana was perfecting my tajweed and qira’ah as well, saying I had the ability to master qira’ah. I recited to him while he listened attentively, praying along silently to the verses, and let the beautiful words wash over me. One of the miracles of the Holy Quran was that no matter how many times we recited the same words over and over again, we could never tire of them. With any other book, we could read it once, twice, 5 times, 10 times, but a day will come when we’ll get bored and not want to touch that book again. But not with the Quran, we could never get bored of it subhanallah!

After revising my dhor, instead of going back to sleep like always, I decided to head into the kitchen…not to eat which is what I usually do there, but to bake. I had classes a bit later on today so I would have time to whip up a batch of croissants. I had asked Imaan for the recipe of her croissants the day before and I was itching to try them out. And I could surprise nana and nani with them for breakfast when they woke up a bit later on. I wore my apron and set to work…

Just as I was putting the last batch in the oven, nani walked in, sniffing the air appreciatively,”mmmm,something smells delicious! What are you making, Fazzu?”

I wrinkled up my nose,”nani! Fazzu??? That makes me sound like a fuzzy bear!”

Nani laughed,”well, you are my fazzu bear! You didn’t answer my question though!”

“Croissants,” I told her,”I had some at Imaan’s house and they were so yummy, I had to try them out.”

Nani broke a piece and popped it in her mouth then hummed appreciatively,”these are really nice Fazzu! Your nana will also enjoy them.”

Just then nana walked in,”is there a dawat today? So much cooking so early in the morning!”

“No, Fazzu made croissants for us,” nani told him.

Nana laughed,”Fazzu huh! Nice name!”

I groaned,”no, please not that! Faz is perfectly fine, thank you very much!”

But there’s no reasoning with oldies is there?! So from that day on I was Fazzu, to my infinite horror. Blegh!

Nana, nani and I sat down for breakfast, talking in between mouthfuls. Nana was reminiscing about his old days and making us laugh at some of the incidents. I loved spending this time with them, precious moments that I didn’t know if I would have a chance to witness again. A little while later I casually glanced at my watch…and froze!

“Innalillah!!!” I exclaimed, jumping up from my chair,”I’m going to be late!” I had only 30 minutes left for my first lecture. I raced upstairs, had a quick shower, threw on the first abaya and hijab I found, grabbed my bag and zoomed out of the house, slamming the door after me. I felt moisture on my face and halted abruptly. It was drizzling again. Great! Did it ever stop raining in this place? I went indoors again, grabbed my coat and umbrella and ran out, pulling on my coat as I ran towards the bus stop. As I reached there I saw that it was empty; and the next bus would only be coming after 15 minutes. Urgh! That meant I would have to walk to campus. Or more like run to campus. I checked my watch; 15 minutes left. Crap! I started running, ignoring the weird looks I was getting from people. Stop staring folks, I’m the new batman…or batwoman…on the block! I reached campus in record time and checked my watch again, pausing to catch my breath. 5 minutes left. I patted my hijab to make sure it’s in place then walked towards my lecture room in a dignified manner. I slipped in and made it to my usual seat just as the lecturer walked in. Phew! Made it in the nick of time.

I started jotting down notes as the lecturer spoke, but seems like today wasn’t my day. Just as I got into the writing mode some idiot decided to slip into the seat next to mine, jarring my elbow in the process and causing me to leave a vicious blue streak across my notebook. I glared at the offender who hastily whispered an apology and resumed writing furiously, shifting a little to widen the gap between myself and him. Luckily he got the hint and there were no more incidences after that.

After class I was walking in the hallway when I heard someone clear their throat behind me,”excuse me?”

I turned around and saw the same guy who sat next to me during class. I took a good look at him this time and my eyes widened. He was tall and lanky with messy sandy hair and light brown eyes. ‘Stop staring, idiot!’ I berated myself, and quickly looked down, flushing slightly. I realised the guy was speaking to me…

“…sorry about that. I didn’t mean to disturb you, that was the closest seat I could find in my rush.”

“Ummm, no it’s fine, sorry about being rude to you.” I replied, raising my eyes again.

“No problem,” he smiled,” I’m Yusha, by the way.”

“I’m Fazila,” I smiled back at him.

“So what were you writing in there? You seemed to be quite engrossed in it.”

“The main points,” I told him,” it makes studying easier.”

“Oh that’s nice. You must give me your notebook, I can make a copy of it. I’m always late for classes anyways.”

I laughed,”so make your own notes, it’ll make you come on time.”

“Nawh, can’t be bothered!” he faked a yawn then grinned at me. I rolled my eyes. This guy was a character.

“Yusha!” we turned to see a girl in hijab walking rapidly towards us,”gosh Yush! I was waiting for you near the front and you’re gabbing away here!”  She turned to me and smiled,”is my brother talking your ear off as usual?”

Yusha rolled his eyes,”Fazila, this is my sister Khadija. Khads, this is Fazila, my new deskmate.” he grinned at me. Khadija looked totally different from her brother. She was darker in complexion and had chocolate brown eyes like mine.

“Oh boy. I hope you know what you’re letting yourself into,” Khadija told me,”he’s ever late, and noisy on top of that. I hope you can concentrate with him next to you.”

“Don’t worry, I know how to handle him.” I winked at her.

“Yeah she does. If looks could kill…!” Yusha held his heart dramatically,”I’d be fried right now, man!”

We laughed then Khadija turned to me,”where are you from? You don’t sound British.”

“I’m from South Africa,” I said,”how about you?”

“We’re from here,”she replied,”born and brought up here. My parents are from Yemen though.”

“Oh that’s nice mashallah!” I said with a smile.

I’ve always had an inclination towards arabs, and even more when I heard the hadith regarding them;

Nabi SAW said,“Love the Arabs for three things: because I am an Arab; the Qur’ān is in Arabic and the language of the people of Paradise is Arabic.”

Now Allah sent me arab friends alhamdulillah. Khadija and I started spending time together whenever we had free periods in between classes. She was two years older than me and in her second year of law. As I grew closer to her I saw qualities in her which I could only hope to have. She was empathetic and big hearted, always willing to put others above herself. She had such a clean heart and only saw good in others. She wouldn’t speak bad about anyone and if she heard anything bad about someone she would try and make excuses for them and try to look at their good points. I was lucky to have found her, for in her I found a true and loyal friend. And over time she turned me into a much better person…

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Part 10

I entered the kitchen to find nani standing in the pantry doorway, her hands on her hips. “You come out this instant, you little scamp! I told you the choc chip cookies are all finished! Now look at what you’ve done, I cleaned up here just this morning!”

Little scamp?? I went to where nani was standing and peered over her shoulder. And I saw an adorable sight…

A little boy stood there, covered head to toe in flour. Clumps of light brown hair stuck out in between flour coated hair. Large green eyes peeked out at us from beneath a face smothered in flour, regarding us with trepidation. I tried to suppress my laughter at the comical sight he made. He saw me smiling over nani’s shoulder and smiled tentatively. Nani tskd,”don’t smile now, Uwais. You’ve been a naughty boy, haven’t you? Now will you help me clean up here?” The boy nodded mutely.

“Who’s he, nani?” I asked.

“The neighbour’s son,” nani replied.

I told her to leave it, I’ll sort this out. I crouched down next to the boy,”hello Uwais. Let’s get you cleaned up, shall we?” I smiled at him and he nodded. I took him to the bathroom and brushed him down. Then I led him back into the kitchen, took a broom for myself and handed him a small dustpan and brush,”use this and sweep up the flour into this, ok?” I pointed at the dustpan. He nodded again and we set to work. I looked at him studiously sweeping a little flour at a time into the dustpan and smiled again. He was such a gorgeous kid.

After we had finished I patted him on his back,” well done, Uwais! Let me give you a chocolate now for working so hard!” He finally smiled up at me and asked,”what’s your name?”

“Fazila,” I answered,”but you can call me Faz.”

I took his hand and seated him at the kitchen table, then gave him a glass milk and a choc. He was drinking his last bit of milk when we heard a voice calling out his name. Nani looked at him,”that’s your mama, Uwais! Come back again later, ok?” He nodded and shyly smiled at me before sprinting out of the house.

“He’s so gorgeous, nani!”

“He’s arab. Lebanese I think,” nani said.

Well, that explained it! Arabs were gifted with beauty mashallah, especially Lebanese people.

The next day after lunch, as I was washing up the dishes, I saw Uwais peeking in from the kitchen door. I smiled at him,”come in, Uwais.”

He looked at me for a moment before replying,”my name is Uzair.”

I was confused. Didn’t nani tell me the day before that his name is Uwais? I looked at nani who was sitting at the kitchen table, looking through a recipe book,”what’s his name,nani?”

Nani looked at him for a moment before turning to me,”Uzair.”

“But you told me his name is Uwais!”

“No Fazila, his name is Uzair. Maybe you heard wrong.”

I was completely baffled but I just nodded at nani. I was sure I hadn’t  heard wrong; had I???

Uzair hung around for a bit then disappeared. A little while later he came back, smiling at me from the kitchen doorway. I smiled back at him,”come in, Uzair.” He looked a bit confused before saying,”my name is Uwais, Faz.”

I stared at him, my mouth open. Then I turned to nani. ”Nani, what’s his name?” I asked calmly.

Nani looked at him then at me,”Uwais.”

“But…but…” I sputtered,”you just told me his name is Uzair!”

“No I didn’t Fazila. I remember telling you clearly that his name is Uwais!” saying so she buried her head in the recipe book. I stared at her in bafflement. Was nani going senile or was I?

“Urgh nani, I KNOW you told me Uzair a while back. I’m not deaf!”

Nana walked in just then,”what’s going on?”

Nani turned to him,”what’s this little boy’s name?”

Nana looked at him,”Uwais.”

Nani looked at me,”see! Go clean your ears, Fazila, there’s probably too much dirt in there.”

“But I’m sure I heard Uzair the last time he came!” I creased my forehead in confusion. Nana started laughing. Before I could ask him why he was laughing I heard a voice behind me. I turned around and saw Uwais/Uzair still standing in the doorway. And behind him was an identical face staring up at me. Realisation dawned on me as I stared at them,”twins!” I slapped my forehead,”why didn’t I think of that??”

Nana and nani burst out laughing at my expression. “Took you long enough to realise,Faz,” nani said, still laughing. I laughed as well and turned to face the twins,”ok, who is who now?”

Nani pointed out Uwais and Uzair. They looked exactly alike to me. “How do you know who is who?” I asked curiously.

“I know these two bachhas since they were babies, so I’m used to them now.” nani smiled at them fondly.

Uwais was telling Uzair,”this is my friend Fazila. She said I can call her Faz!”

I laughed and sat down with both of them,”You both are my friends now. Come, let’s go play in the garden.”

The next day nani handed me a container of cookies,”take this to Imaan, the twins mum, next door. I made choc chip cookies for them. They’re always raiding the larder for these cookies.”

Yum! My mouth began watering as I saw the delicious, melt-in-mouth cookies. Nani swatted my hand away as I attempted to sneak my hand in the container to steal a couple of cookies,”leave those,Fazila! I left some for us.”

Busted! I smiled sheepishly at nani, took the container and went next door through the connecting gate. I knocked on the door and a young, beautiful woman answered. She had long, light brown hair the same shade as the twins, but her eyes were a stormy gray. She smiled warmly at me when she saw me,”ahlan ukhti! Kaifik?”

I looked at her blankly for a few seconds before smiling politely at her,”I’m sorry, I don’t understand arabic.”

“Oh, sorry! I thought you’re arab. Maybe because of your complexion.” She smiled and ushered me into the house.

I laughed,”no I’m not. I’m aunty Hafsa’s granddaughter from next door.”

“Oh mashallah! So you must be the Fazila my boys keep going on about.”

“Yeah,” I replied with a smile,”where are they? Nani…my grandma…sent cookies for them.”

“They’ve gone out with their father. They love those cookies, they’re always sneaking next door to get some. Say jazakallah to your granny will you. I even have to come meet her, I haven’t seen her for long.”

Imaan was a very friendly, chatty woman. She was only 23 so we got along quite well. She told me stories of the twins that had me in stitches,”it’s hard work raising those 2 but these moments make it all worth it. But they’re even more of a handful now that I’m expecting my third.” I had noticed her protruding belly but wasn’t sure if she was pregnant or not. I smiled at her,”that’s wonderful news mashallah! U must send the twins to me whenever I’m free and you need a break. I love kids and I’ll be more than happy to babysit them.”

“Jazakallah habibti, that’s very kind of you,” Imaan said warmly,”now what will you have to drink?”

I refused to have anything but she insisted and brought coffee and fresh croissants, which were delicious! We ate and chatted then I went home, feeling like I had just made a new friend in this unfamiliar land…

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Part 9

I woke up bright and early on my first day of campus. I showered and got ready carefully, choosing a classy abaya and matching blue hijab which I carefully draped on my head. First impressions last, even in just abaya and hijab. I went downstairs to have breakfast and nani was already there, making rotis. She insisted I should have eggs and roti with tea because learning always makes one hungrier. I refused though, and hurriedly gulping down milk and a biscuit, I scooted out of the house. I wanted to be there early so I could familiarise myself with the place. I caught a bus to campus which luckily wasn’t that far from home. Getting down from the bus, I patted my head to check that my hijab was in place then walked up a pathway. The grounds were really neat and groomed, it looked quite pleasant. I saw a few people looking at me weirdly. Did I have something on my face? Or was it because of the way I was dressed? I shrugged it off and walked around for a bit, trying to get my bearings. Then luckily I saw a woman wearing an ‘ask me’ badge. I walked up to her and she kindly showed me the main places that I would need to frequent, the library and cafe being amongst them. She was quite talkative and friendly,”so where are you from, lovey?” she asked me kindly.

“South Africa,” I replied with a smile.

“Oh,what a lovely place! I went there for a holiday once and didn’t want to leave the beach!”

I laughed and told her I lived ten minutes away from the beach and she was most welcome to come there the next time she visited South Africa. We chatted about random things then she took me to the block where my lecture was going to take place and left me there. I walked in, finding it quite empty, with only a few people hanging around. I checked my watch and realised why; I was ten minutes early. I found a seat towards the front right hand side, next to the side aisle, so I could slip out easily after lecture. I took out a notebook and pen to jot down the main points, hoping the lecturer didn’t speak too fast…

After my last lecture of the day I came out to wait for my bus. I again found a couple of girls giving me sour looks. Had these people never seen a girl in abaya before? I wondered how they would react if I was wearing niqab as well. ‘Let it go,’ I told myself and turned the other way. I caught the bus home and walked in to delicious aromas wafting in from the kitchen. My stomach rumbled; nani was right, learning did make you hungry.

“Whats for lunch, nani?” I asked as I walked into the kitchen.

“I made pasta for u, beti. We have our main meal here at night since nana doesn’t always come for lunch. We’ll have rice and chicken curry for dinner.”

Nani and I had pasta then I went up to my room, intending to take a nap before praying salah…

The first few days at campus passed uneventfully, till that particular day. As I was on my way to wait for my bus, a few girls and guys came in my way. They looked at me derisively before one girl loudly commented,”don’t you feel hot in that?” she looked at me in disdain.

I smiled politely though my heart was thumping loudly,”not at all. It’s quite comfortable actually.”

“Maybe you should go back to where you came from, paki!” another guy spat at me.

I was shocked! I had never been a target of islamophobia before. I swallowed and turned to face him,  willing myself to remain calm,”I’m not pakistani, I’m south african. And I’ve come here to study, just like you have. I don’t think it’s fair of you to ridicule me just because I chose to dress differently from you all.”

I turned and walked away from there before I started crying or something. I couldn’t believe what had just transpired. Was I going to be a target of hate just because of the way I dressed? I had seen a few girls in hijab but none in abaya so far. Was it worth wearing abaya and going through this hassle? I hadn’t been wearing till now so I could put it on hold till I finished uni at least.

I was lost in thought all the way home. Nana was home early today and he took one look at my face and patted the seat next to him,”come, sit beti, and tell me what’s bothering you.”

I burst into tears on hearing his kind tone. Nana came forward and hugged me, patting me on my back,”there there. It can’t be that bad.”

I sat down with him and told him everything, including my doubts about carrying on wearing abaya. Nana’s face turned grave when he heard the last bit,”Fazila, you are following your deen and Allah’s commandments. Don’t displease Allah by trying to please the people. If you strive to please Allah alone, Allah will make the people pleased with you. And if you try to please the people, they will never be pleased with you, and Allah will also be displeased with you. Besides, we are living in such times that to follow deen has become strange. It comes in a hadith,
“Verily islam began as something strange and soon it will return as how it began; so glad tidings to the strangers.”
So if your clothing is regarded as something strange by people, you should take it in a positive light, and regard yourself to be amongst the “strangers” who were given glad tidings by Nabi SAW.”

Nana had this way of making a person feel so much better after speaking to them. I instantly felt more cheerful and reprimanded myself for even thinking of removing my abaya, a symbol of my muslim identity. After praying salah I made loads of dua for people to stop targeting me, for I was not strong enough to keep taking the backlash.

As I was on my way downstairs for lunch I heard nani scream. I stopped for an instant, the hairs on my neck rising out of fear, then I bolted downstairs to see what the commotion was about…

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Part 8

Salaamz lovely readers! Jummah Mubarak to you all! Don’t forget to recite abundant durood as a gift to our beloved Nabi SAW.
So sorry for the delayed post! This post required a bit more work so it took me longer to write down. Plus 1 thing I forgot to mention in the author’s note is, I’m a bit of a perfectionist. I’ll proofread my post till I’m satisfied with it, then only will I post it. That also takes up quite a bit of time. Well, as they say, quality is better than quantity right! Hehe..anyways, enjoy the post and tell me what you think of it.
Wassalaam xxx

I lugged my hand luggage out of the car, grunting as I did so. If my hand luggage was this heavy I wondered how heavy my suitcases must be.

“If you can barely lift your hand luggage, how are you going to carry your suitcases?”

I turned around to see Salim grinning at me, as though he had read my mind. I grimaced,” I’m not even gonna attempt to carry those. You can carry them for me. Go help out the oldies, they seem to be struggling as well.” The “oldies” being my dad and Salim’s dad.

I was having the typical indian send-off. Which meant that my whole tribe had pitched up at the airport to see me off. There was my family, Zee’s family, Amira’s and Aliya’s families, and this other uncle who was my dad’s good friend and whom I knew from young. He had come with his wife and young son. The already bustling airport was filled with their loud chatter, everyone trying to talk above each other’s voices and shouting to be heard. As if that wasn’t enough, I could smell the aroma of pies somewhere. Like some people had come to spend the night or something, instead of just a few hours.

I was standing around chatting to Zee, Amira and Aliya. They were both on a break and had come all the way to see me off. We promised to keep in touch through skype etc. They were laughing and teasing me that I shouldn’t start falling for some British dude and I shouldn’t start changing my accent and faking a british one. Amira imitated Riaz Moosa making fun of indians who spent 2 weeks in the UK and came back with a full-on british accent. We burst out laughing, causing quite a few people to turn around and stare at us. I really would miss this crazy bunch of mine!

Soon the boarding call came and Adnaan came to tell me that we should start checking in. Then the round of farewells started. I was hugged, kissed on my cheeks, cried over by my aunties; as though I was getting married and going away for good. I hugged them back and nodded dutifully at their various advices. I saved my parents for last, knowing the waterworks would start once I would reach them. Mum was already sniffling into a tissue. I hugged Zee and Han hard, telling them to keep in touch, then fell into dad’s arms. I started sobbing into his shoulder while he hugged me tightly and rubbed my back. There were tears in his eyes as well when I finally pulled away. Then I hugged mum, sobbing even more, not wanting to let go. Mum cried with me, telling me how much she would miss me and to be good to nana and nani. Dad had to pull her away finally and console her. I picked up my bag and walked out of there without looking back, incase I broke down again.

The flight was long and tiring, since we had to stop over in Jo’burg then again in Dubai. At least the transit in Dubai passed quickly, with me perusing the dozens of duty free shops. Dubai duty free was huge, and I was especially excited by the food sections. I made Adnaan buy me milkshake and brownie from Haagen Dazs, then went crazy over the chocs and sweets in the shop nearby…till Adnaan reminded me that I was on a budget and duty free was crazy expensive. I gasped in shock when I saw the receipt I held, and that brought me back to earth with a thud.

After a long flight, which I mostly slept through, we finally landed at Manchester Airport. After checking out, we came out and started looking for nana and nani. I spotted them first; a tall, bulky man with a full, white beard, wearing his signature white imama (turban) and kurta; and standing next to him was a petite woman in abaya and niqab. Squealing with joy I sprinted towards them, leaping into nana’s arms and burying my head in his shoulder, inhaling his familiar fragrance.

“Ya Allah, Fazila! As full of energy as ever!” laughed nana as he hugged me back.

I laughed as well,”just excited to see you both.”

I hugged nani as well, and she kissed me numerous times on my cheeks and forehead,”it’s so good to see you, beti.” she held my face affectionately.

“I’m also here, nani,” Adnaan joked. She laughed and hugged him as well, exclaiming over how big he’d gone.

We took our bags and went to the car. Nana took us straight to their house saying we must be hungry. My home now as well, for the next few years. I stepped into the house, immediately noting how cramped UK houses were compared to the houses back home. I had last come here when I was much younger, shortly after nana and nani had moved here so I didn’t remember much about the place. Nani took us upstairs to show us our rooms. I got the bigger room next to nana and nani’s room, and Adnaan got the smaller box room, since he was only staying for a week. We freshened up and went down to a table laden with nani’s scrumptious chows.

“Nani, you didn’t have to make so much for just the two of us! We would have eaten anything there was.”

Nani smiled,”it’s not everyday that I have my grandchildren eating here now, do I. Let me spoil you while you’re here.”

Nani definitely spoiled us the whole week. She would make delicious meals for us, despite us protesting and telling her not to overwork herself. And we used to polish everything every time, for she was a wonderful cook.

Adnaan wanted to see everything in the week he was here so he made sure he woke me up early every morning and took me everywhere.

We went to Old Trafford first, which was to be expected. I didn’t see the big deal in a big empty stadium but Adnaan was excited and took loads of pics. He wanted to meet the players as well but unfortunately didn’t get the chance to. We also went to Trafford Centre one day, which was my idea. The shopping mall was huge and I managed to buy everything I wanted, for myself, Han and Zee. I also got something for mum and nani. The following day we went to Heaton Park. Nana and nani came as well. It was a beautiful place, we had a picnic on the lawns, then Adnaan and I went for a boat ride. I also tried out horse riding, though I was scared as hell. I’ve always wanted to try it but I was too scared to before now. I held on tight and prayed all the duas I knew and luckily I was still in 1 piece at the end. Though my butt was so sore, I could barely sit down. All in all, it was a lovely week and Adnaan and I grew much closer. We never really did spend much time together before so this was a good bonding experience for us.

After a week Adnaan left, then I settled down to some sort of routine. I revised my dhor by nana everyday after fajr, and helped nani and nana out whenever I could. I would go grocery shopping for nani, or to the bank for nana. On one such trip, as I was leaving the house, I noticed nana looking at me oddly. I didn’t think much of it and went to run my errands. That night, nana came to sit by me in my room. He looked contemplative and I wondered what he had on his mind.

“Beti,” he began,”I noticed the dress you had on today when you left the house. It barely came till your knees. Can’t you wear something longer? And your pants were so tight I could see the shape of your legs through them. That’s not how a muslim girl is supposed to be dressing.”

At first I felt offended. My parents were also strict but so long as my tops were below my butt they were fine with it. And I wasn’t allowed to wear tights. Dad hated them, he said it was as good as wearing nothing at all, because the whole shape of your legs can be seen through them so what have you left to the imagination? I did wear fitted pants though, and I didn’t think the entire shape of my legs could be seen through them, as nana pointed out. So I protested,”nana! My top was quite long AND loose as well. And my pants were not so tight that you could see everything through them!”

“Your top wasn’t so loose that I couldn’t see your shape at all. I could see your outline, and the outline of your legs as well through your pants. Beti… A woman’s greatest asset is her modesty. Haya(modesty) is a part of imaan. Shall I tell you the story of Fatimah R.A?” I nodded and he continued,

“Fatimah R.A, the daughter of Nabi SAW was an extremely modest woman. Someone once asked her,”what is the greatest thing for a woman to have?” She replied,”that no man should see her and she should see no man.” When Nabi SAW heard her reply, he smiled and said,”Fatimah is a part of me.”
Fatimah R.A requested that when she passed away, she should be buried at night so that no one could see her shape through her kafan (shroud) also. And due to her modesty, on the day of qiyamah before Fatimah R.A will pass an announcement shall be made,”lower your gazes, oh people, for Fatimah, Queen of jannah is passing.”

Subhanallah! I was so touched by this story. Nana saw my expression and pushed further,”modesty is like a rare diamond, especially in these times. Acquire it, then hold onto it and guard it like a precious jewel.” He smiled at me and left the room, leaving me to my own thoughts.

After pondering over it for a few days, I decided to start wearing abaya full time. It was no easy decision for me and I battled with myself for long, but what nana said triggered something in me, made me want to better myself. And if I was going to wear clothes that were so loose, they didn’t show the shape of my body at all, I would rather wear abaya. That would look better than me looking like some charity case who was handed an oversize person’s clothes.

Few days later, I went for the orientation programme to familiarise myself with campus life. I was so lost, never having been to uni before, especially one in UK. I was rather nervous at starting but I calmed myself down and told myself to jump into this with open arms.

Let’s see what tomorrow has in store for me…

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Author’s note…

Salaamz all you lovely people!:D  hope everyone is enjoying the story. Please keep the comments and feedback coming in, it really motivates us bloggers to keep going and better ourselves. Jzk khair for all your kind words so far😘
So far,I haven’t made a posting schedule. I suck at sticking to timetables so I wont set out days for posting. Basically,whenever I have a bit of free time I sit and write however much I can. I’ve been free this past week so I could post everyday. But some days get hectic so please bear with me if I don’t manage to post everyday. I will try and post as often as I can.
Remember me in all your lovely duas!
Wassalaam xxx

Part 7

I woke up to the shrill ringing of my phone on the bedside table. I picked it up and looked at the time groggily…

4 A.M???? Why on earth was Zee calling me at this time??

“What???” I grumpily answered.

“Faaazzz!!! We passed!!!” an excited Zee squealed down the phone.

“Huh? Passed what?”

“Our exams, duh!!!”

“Ohh!” realisation dawned as I remembered that our results had come out last night. “couldn’t you wait till morning to tell me?” I asked, annoyed.

“It is morning! Stop groaning and start celebrating! You can start by praying 2 rakaat salah of shukr. Its tahajjud time now!”

I grunted and cut the call then made my way to the bathroom. Once I had made wudhu my brain started functioning and I started jumping with joy. I raced to my parents room; luckily they were already awake. “I passed!” I exclaimed, startling them both.

“Ya Allah, Fazila, you’ll give us a heart attack 1 day!” my mum said, putting a hand on her chest.

“Sorry mum, I’m just excited.” I said sheepishly.

“MashaAllah, I’m so happy for you, dear.” mum came forward and hugged me. Dad hugged me too and congratulated me.

In the morning I told Adnaan and Han the news and teased them that they have to treat me now. They laughed and Adnaan came forward to hug me,”I’m proud of you, sis!” He was the type who didn’t show much emotion so I was touched by this gesture of his. After breakfast Zee and I went to pick up our results. Alhamdulillah I had passed with distinctions. I went home and told my parents and Dad smiled and said he’ll tell Adnaan to begin applying for uni now.

Few weeks later Adnaan came to tell me that I had been accepted. I was stunned. It all seemed unreal till now but now that I had actually been accepted it made it seem more real. I took a deep breath to calm the nervous feeling in my stomach and went to tell mum. Mum teared up when she heard the news,”I can’t believe my baby is going so far away!”

“Who told you to suggest it then?” dad asked smugly. He shut up when mum gave him a look and turned to look at me,”I hope you realise how much trust we’re putting in you and don’t disappoint us.”

“Yes, dad, don’t worry. I’ll try not to let either of you down.”

Dad nodded and went to tell Adnaan to start sorting out the visa and stuff.

The year only started in September there so I had a few months left before going. Mum suggested that I do my hifdh in that time. I had a good memory alhamdulillah and I was free at the moment. If I pushed hard I could maybe finish in these few months. If I couldn’t manage to finish then I could just finish off by nana when I went there. She also suggested that since I have time right now, I must go in the kitchen and learn how to cook and bake. I was happy at her first suggestion and groaned at the latter. “Muuumm! Do I HAVE to?”

“Yes, you do my dear. After you finish your studies and come back it will be time for you to get married. Then you won’t have time to start learning everything. Rather start now. And this way, you can also help nani make things or cook on days you’re free so it can be easier for her.”

That convinced me. If I knew how to cook I could at least help out nani, like mum said. So I started learning hifdh in the afternoons by an apa that lived close by and I would go in the kitchen in the mornings. Zee also joined me because she said my mum had more patience to teach her than her mum. It wasn’t as bad as I thought. I actually realised that I loved baking and making desserts, and the added bonus was that we got to eat it all afterwards. Dad had an extremely sweet tooth so he was happy to try out all my experiments and mum was happy because she didn’t have to make sweet dishes for him every other day so it worked out well for everyone.

My hifdh was also going really well alhamdulillah. I was picking up really fast and Apa Nazia was in awe of my reading abilities. I told her it ran in my family and when she heard that I was Qari Hammaad’s granddaughter she understood,”oh mashaAllah! No wonder you recite so well! I knew your nani when she used to live here and my boys learnt hifdh by your nana. They said he is a very talented qari with such a mashallah voice. All the men used to love it when he led salah at the masjid. I didn’t know you’re that Rabia’s daughter.”

I pushed hard and managed to complete hifdh in 6 months alhamdulillah. My family was overjoyed and nana was also really happy and gave me lots of duas over the phone. People asked me how I did it but to be honest, it was no achievement of mine. Allah made it so easy for me. I was in awe of how easy Allah made the memorisation of the Holy quran even though we didn’t understand arabic. And what a great honour it was for us, because we were the only ummah who were given the honour of memorising their book. And Allah made that the means of preserving His holy book so that not a single letter can be changed till the day of qiyamah. How fortunate was I that Allah had selected me to be a means of preserving this sacred book and passing it down to my future generations.

Before I knew it the time had come for me to leave for UK. I had to be there a month before uni started. Adnaan was coming with me and he would stay there for a week to “see the place” as he put it. I knew the first place he would go see is Old Trafford. Adnaan was a crazy fan of Manchester United and was excited to finally be going there.

“Maybe I can even meet some of the players!” he said excitedly. Han and I rolled our eyes.

“And what’s so exciting about that?” I asked him,”they’re just humans like you and me. 2 ears, 1 nose, 1 mouth…and a sweaty, smelly body.” I scrunched my nose up.

“Errr, I’m not going to start smelling their armpits, weirdo! Just shake their hands, get their autographs. Or get them to sign my shirt or something! Then I can frame it in my room!”

“Whatever rocks your boat, brother dear,” I said while Han faked a yawn. Adnaan humphed and went to go find a more interested audience.

“I wish I could come!” Han moaned.

“Awww, don’t worry, maybe you can come next time. Give me a list of what you want and I’ll try to buy it for you and send it with Adnaan. Just don’t go overboard please!”

Next came the hard part…packing! I called Zee over to help me. She walked into my room and gasped at the sight of my room. Clothes and shoes were strewn everywhere, my hijabs lay in a messy pile in one corner, and other bits and bobs were scattered about. I had literally emptied out my closet to see what I had. A couple of suitcases lay open and in the middle of all this mess I was sitting cross-legged,”was there a hurricane in this room or what??”

“Help me, Zee! I don’t know what to take and what to leave out!” I groaned, holding my head in my hands.

“Just take the important stuff. You’re gonna come back, you know.”

“Zeenat! I’m only coming back after like a year. I have to take everything I’ll need but I don’t know if everything will fit in these bags!”

“You’re going to UK, man! You can buy whatever you don’t have.”

“Ok but just help me to pack will you!”

We managed to stuff mostly everything in the suitcases, though I had to sit on them afterwards and Zee had to force the zips closed.

“When you open these bags everything will explode out of there,” Zee laughed.

The next morning, before anyone was up, I wore a loose t-shirt and track pants, slipped on my trainers and hijab, and jogged down to the beach. We lived like 10 minutes away from the beach and I often jogged this way early in the mornings…when I was in the mood for exercising that is.

I slipped off my shoes and sat down on the shore, sinking my feet into the sand. The beach was almost empty at this time so I removed my hijab as well, allowing the strong breeze to whip through my hair and blow stray strands onto my face. I turned up my face, inhaling deeply, letting the crisp, salty air infiltrate into my lungs. Scooping up handfuls of sand, I let it drizzle through my fingers slowly as I stared at the endless stretch of water before me. I could look at the ocean for hours on end without getting tired…the way the waves rose high, their peaks frothing and gleaming white, then crashed down again on to the water, creating the muffled, dull roar that was so soothing to listen to…the way the waves gentled as they came closer to the shore, till they gently kissed the shoreline before receding again. As though they were making sujood to Allah Ta’ala…

I was reminded of the power and strength of Allah Ta’ala every time I watched the ocean. How great must be the One in whose control the oceans lay, the same oceans that had the power to destroy the strongest of ships, yet they could not go beyond the hukm of Allah Ta’ala, they had to stop and recede…

Looking at the water, listening to the muffled roar always brought me a sense of peace and calmed the turbulence in my mind. Whenever I felt restless or down, or had a lot on my mind I would come here to calm down and gain some perspective. I thought about my move now and wondered yet again if I was making the correct choice by going. Was I cut out for this? Would I be able to handle all the new challenges and hurdles that were thrown my way? Would I be able to stay strong and not get caught up in the temptation of sin? I mumbled a silent prayer,”oh Allah, keep me strong and steadfast on my deen and don’t let me stray in any way…ameen.”

I stood up and jammed my hands into my pockets, looking at the ocean again, trying to memorise the feeling. This was one place I would miss the most. I walked backwards, trying to linger as much as I could. Then I blew a kiss at the ocean (don’t laugh, the ocean was the love of my life), retied my hijab and shoes and slowly walked back home.

Two days before I left Zee called up all our school friends and we went out for coffee. We had a lovely time just catching up and being our carefree selves again. I looked at them wistfully. I would miss these familiar faces, these wonderful moments. I would have to make new friends in UK. I didn’t know if I would fit in or be an outcast. The thought was daunting and I almost wished I could cancel the whole thing. But then I pulled myself together. I had been in PE all my life. It was time to explore new pastures, time to venture into new territories and embrace the unknown…

UK, here I come…

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Living life cloaked in modesty and islamic principles…