Osu alapanle – – The Noble Month
I was sitting on the bed in my dorm and Raqeeb was there with me. There was a video game console on a stool near the window and our hands gripped the game controllers firmly. Then someone dashed in, without knocking. It was Layla, Raliat’s little sister, on her head sat a huge gele. She looked more grown. I asked her what she was doing in my room, and she rolled her eyes.
“This is our house,” she said, and jumped on the bed. And the next thing I knew, the room was now the living room of their old house from which they were evicted.
Raliat came in, walking gently and as she got closer and closer, I realized it was not her anymore, it was Jenn. Jenn wore a pink t-shirt and tight black pants. She flashed a smile at me, then started hitting the table, which was now a class desk with a baton in her hand.
The sound kept disturbing me until I opened my eyes to know that someone was knocking on my door.
“Malik, wake up. It’s almost time for sahur.” My father announced behind the door.
That’s when I realized it was time for the first predawn meal of that year’s Ramadan.
I went into the bathroom, and after easing myself, I stood by the sink to make wudu’. I splashed water on my face and its coolness was soothing and rejuvenating. I stared at my reflection in the mirror, and for the first time, I realized and acknowledged the semblance between my mother and me. I looked exactly like her as people used to say all the time. It was an immense pleasure knowing that my mother wasn’t angry at me again; for even though my father seemed more understanding than she was, there was this profound bond I had developed with my mother which I didn’t have with my father.
I was in the sixth grade and I used to have frequent nosebleeds. One day the bleeding got so intense that it led to a serious migraine which in turn resulted in me losing consciousness. I was rushed to a hospital in Brooklyn where I stayed for two weeks before the doctors decided I had to have surgery. My father was on a vacation in Nigeria then, so the burden of my ailment fell wholly on my mother’s shoulders. Waking up after the surgery, the first person I saw was my mother. She was sitting on a chair, her head resting on my bed, close to my hand. “Mom,” I mustered all the strength to speak.
“Oko mi,” she exclaimed in a low voice, “you’re awake, thank you God.” Her eyes spoke dozens. She was excited but still worried. She was awake, but her eyes were blood. “Malik, my little husband, have mercy on me. You know you’re the only one I have.”
I smiled at her and told her I was fine. “I’m thirsty,” I said, turning my head towards her. She jumped out to get water instantly.
It was the Ramadan that propelled my world into real spirituality and religiosity. The month of fasting fell into the hottest and lengthiest days of summer that year. We fasted from mid-June till mid-July. It was brisk hot throughout, but Muslims understood that their lives were to be in servitude to God so we didn’t let that deter us. The first night of Ramadan I prayed tarawih at Masjid Taqwa at the intersection of Fulton Street and Bedford. It was a beautiful tarawih, the mosque was jam-packed, as believers from all walks of life and backgrounds lined in rows in devotion to the Lord of the Worlds. I had gotten my license at upstate so that afforded me the opportunity to drive my mother’s white Chevrolet car around.
The second night, I moved my compass upwards and decided to visit Masjid Tajjul Huda, the mosque of Imole Adini Muslim Society in the Bronx. When I was young, my father used to take me to the mosque on weekends because the Arabic school there was strong. I had a couple of friends there too but I never really took an interest in going there afterwards. In fact, I never really liked to go to any Asalaatu until after my first year at college when I had a spiritual awakening. That night, however, I went there in order to enjoy the recitations of some children who had just returned from Egypt as eloquent reciters of the Qur’an. And I wasn’t disappointed. The recitation was so good that I didn’t want the tarawih to end.
A week before Ramadan, Raliat and I had bumped into each other at Istijabah Mosque in Brooklyn. It was close to eleven o’clock at night. I had driven my mother who wanted to join the congregation in their recitation of the entire Qur’an in a sitting, a tradition repeated at the end of every month. I had dropped my mother and driven off to find a parking spot three blocks away from the mosque. While returning, I chatted away with one of my friends from Ithaca, and the next thing I knew I bumped into her.
“O’ I’m sorry,” I apologized without lifting my gaze to know who I had collided into.
“It’s okay,” she shrugged, “I wasn’t looking too.”
It had been three years since we last saw each other but I had not a single trouble knowing that it was her, hearing her soft voice. “O’ it’s you, Malik,” she exclaimed about the same time I mentioned her name.
“How long has it been?” I asked after retreating a few steps from her.
““Well, it has been over three years now,” she replied, her hand fixing her hijab broach.
“Are you just getting here?” I asked but her phone rang before she could answer and she told me to excuse her. She walked gently away from the lighted anterior of the mosque, where the recitation going on inside escaped to the ears of people on the sidewalk, and she moved towards a closed deli shop where the light was dimmer. In about a minute, she walked back to the front of the mosque.
“That was my mom,” she said as she inserted her phone back into a green purse in her hand.
“She’s worried?” I grinned.
“O’ yes! She is. She wanted to know if I had gotten to the Tahajud and when I would be returning home.” I didn’t know where they now lived because ever since she got back from Nigeria we had never engaged that much. “How far is your place from here?” I demanded, toying with my phone so as not
to meet her gaze.
“We now live in Harlem.’’
I told her if she didn’t mind, I could drive her home since the recitation wouldn’t end until around one o’clock in the morning, and she said she would appreciate it. We didn’t join the congregation in the mosque that night, rather we sat on the door step of the closed deli and talked into the night.
We brought our discussion to an end only when people started egressing the mosque. I went inside the mosque and claimed my portion of the spicy rice Istijabah women are renowned for before going to get the car. I dropped off my mother at home and proceeded with Raliat towards Manhattan. While on the road, we discussed many things and during the course of our discussion three books came out. She told me that they were Islamic novels which had had tremendous effect on her and that she wanted me to read them.
That Ramadan, Raliat and I saw each other twice: the first at Imole Adini and the other time at the Nigerian American Muslim Community (NAMIC) Mosque in Brooklyn. NAMIC was having a fund raising event that night and my father had been one of the special guests. We barely got the chance to talk amid the crowd tightly packed in the mosque. Before my father and I left, I saw her outside and she introduced me to a Latina friend of hers who had just converted to Islam. The sister’s name was Patricia. A slender girl with a beautiful frame. She was taller than Raliat but a few inches below my height.
The first book I read was If I Should Speak by Umm Zakiyyah. The book resonated with me in that it dealt with college life and the struggles of holding on to one’s beliefs. The main character, Tamika, went through trials; debating with herself whether to stay a Christian to please her family or accept Islam and please her Lord. In A Voice, its sequel, Sulayman also had to choose between pure academics to the neglect of natural desires or find a way to mitigate between both. And in Umm Juwairiyah’s urban Muslim fiction, The Size of a Mustard Seed, Jameela too had to decide if she would follow her heart or conform to the shallow expectations of others. So in a subtle way, those fictions prepared me for the dilemma I would fall into as the blessed month began its decline.
But I didn’t spend the entire month reading only those novels. I expanded my horizons and got engaged in the remembrance of the Creator by any means which came my way. I followed the leading American Muslim scholars on their Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram pages and listened to their lectures on YouTube. Al Maghrib Institute had a weekend seminar at New York University and I made sure not to miss it. The instructor, Shaykh Yasir Qadhi, was a first generation Pakistani American just like I am Nigerian American. So, when he spoke about Islam and connected the religion with the mundane activities of American life, I felt a kind of connection to his speeches in ways our immigrant scholars had never been able to reach my heart. I subscribed to his page after that seminar and began to enjoy his weekly Seerah Class.
Another scholar I resonated with a lot was Ustadh Nouman Ali Khan of Bayyinah Institute. His specialization was the Qur’an and whenever I listened to his interpretations of the Qur’an that Ramadan, my heart would soar in delight. I would be renewed in my love for the Book of God and would desire nothing more than to put my head on the ground in prostration to my Creator. Towards the end of the month of blessings, I saw on his Facebook page that he was coming to Queens College to give a lecture, and of course I was there waiting for him when he arrived the night of his lecture. He spoke about the challenges of Muslim youths in America. He touched the issues that were of pressing importance to me such as how to navigate through the demands of college life without losing one’s soul in the process. He also cited his personal story and struggle as an undergraduate student in Baruch College during the late nineties. I was amazed when he recounted how he had married his wife at the age of twenty one and how that didn’t stop him from reaching his potentials. Ustadh Nouman that night left an indelible impact on my mind.
By the end of Ramadan, I had grown to love and appreciate Islam in a way I had never before. The Qur’an became my friend, and ever since then whenever I have something bothering me, I would turn to God at the end of the day. I would offer the Witr prayer and reflect on words of God through a copy of English Translation of the Qur’an which was on my book shelf. I did this before sleeping at night.
On the twenty seventh night of Ramadan, I was standing in my room on my red praying mat, lights off, and the air condition soothing me with its cool breeze. I stretched my hand out and faced my palm upward as if waiting for God to drop something in them. I threw my heart out and prayed that God guide me to the straight path in both my worldly affairs and that of the hereafter. After that supplication to God, I felt a calmness in me that was too profound and impalpable to put down in words. The calmness transpired into some kind of assurance. From that night onwards, I left my affairs in the hands of God, for He is ever watchful over me.
– Except from Tohib Adejumo’s short novel Love in Ramadan
May Allah bless us with Laylatul Qadr.