Thursday, July 14, 2016

The Tailor

Asalamu Alaykom,

There have been so many shocking deaths this summer.  It began in Orlando with only one and then the next one became so horribly monumental.  Later, the news came from Louisiana and from Minnesota.  Yes, black lives matter, but they don't seem to matter to police.  I have been reeling from the news from Lake Wobegon.

Yet, yesterday, in my quiet life here in Egypt, there was one very quiet death.  The tailor passed away.  Allah yerhamo.  

We called him "Geddu" for Grandpa, even though he wasn't really a family member.  He was a dignified man in his sixties.  He held court at the end of our street.  His shop had one of those garage doors which opened his work space up to the world.

From our windows, every time I looked out into this country where I've immigrated, I would see Geddu hard at work.  He was a constant in my life.  Often, especially in our first years of marriage, I would see my husband escaping to this neighbor of ours for some male bonding.

My husband's father passed away when my Ahmed was only 16.  This left a void in his life that I've seen him fill with those male elders who are father figures for him.  Geddu was certainly one.  It's not that Geddu did or said anything in particular that was wise or even remarkable.  He simply was a person who welcomed you in.

I felt that from him too.  For three years, I worked close enough to home to walk or take a short taxi ride back.  El Kid and I would have just done our stint at school before arriving home.  Do you know how that feels to arrive?  It feels good if someone greets you and bad if they don't.  Geddu always greeted us.  He'd call out to my son and shake his hand.  It was a ritual; a ritual of acceptance and love.

It wasn't only hand shakes that Geddu shared with El Kid.  He has been the one to tailor all of his school uniforms for the last six years.  It takes some trust to spend hundreds of pounds on new clothes and then give them over to someone to alter.  Geddu always did his best for my son.  He saw El Kid grow from age four to eleven.  

He tailored my clothes too.  He saw my waist measurements go back and forth and my hems go up and down.  He did what he could to make me look presentable.  He never was anything but respectful.  

In the end, it was the loudspeaker from the tuk tuk that signaled his passing.  Geddu hadn't been at his shop since the spring.  The garage door had remained down for months.  My husband last called him towards the end of  Ramadan.  Geddu wasn't well and it didn't look good.  Still, you hope.  The announcement of his death came yesterday after asr.

I cried.  I cried for a good man leaving this earth.  I didn't cry for him dying because that was Allah's plan.  Alhumdulillah.  I cried selfishly for wanting to still have him in our lives.  Egypt has been a good place for us, but it was better with Geddu in it.  

After magrib, my husband said the jannazah prayer with his family.  I had wanted El Kid to participate too, but they were heading to the cemetery at night.  My husband didn't want El Kid to experience something so difficult.

As I wrote all of this, I started to cry again.  Yes, I feel a lot and cry a lot.  I took off my glasses and then something caught the corner my eye.  Something moved on the carpet.  I turned my head and saw a feather.  In all my years here, I don't think this has ever happened.  A feather has never come in through the window. 

I hadn't had a photo of Geddu and I had lamented that.  Funny how we take photos of too many stupid things and not enough of the people we love.  I didn't want a generic picture of a tailor.  I remembered something called a tailor bird from the story "Rikki Tikki Tavi".  That's the bird at the top of this post.  

Funny that I chose a bird to symbolize Geddu and that a feather floated in just when I had started to cry.

Whether or not anyone else feels the connection, I do.  I feel how everything is connected if you want it to be.  Alhumdulillah.     

Friday, July 8, 2016

Yusuf 99

Asalamu Alaykom,

فَلَمَّا دَخَلُوا عَلَىٰ يُوسُفَ آوَىٰ إِلَيْهِ أَبَوَيْهِ وَقَالَ ادْخُلُوا مِصْرَ إِن شَاءَ اللَّهُ آمِنِينَ

And when they entered upon Joseph, he took his parents to himself and said, "Enter Egypt, Allah willing, safe [and secure]."

Normally, this is where you'd see a picture on my blog.  We are very visual people in 2016, aren't we?  We need to see it to believe it.  Yet, The Holy Quran is not a picture book.  

For me?  The Quran is not even a book that I can actually read.  I don't read Arabic enough to read it directly.  I have to read a translation.  That person who has translated Quran has had a monumental task.  God bless each and every one.  

I have translated back and forth between English and Arabic throughout each day of the last  fifteen years of my life.  It's essential to understanding Islam to know Arabic.  It's not that your whole spiritual life is tapped out on an Arabic keyboard; I think in English, make du'a in English, and pray in English when I'm making sujud (with my forehead on the prayer mat).

When I read Quran, I read in English.  My first Quran was a translation in paperback by Ahmed Ali.  It was that Quran that helped bring me to Islam.  I read it fully before I took shahaddah, alhumdulillah.

I do imagine if I had read a translation that hadn't spoken to me.  The same message might have not reached me.

My second Quran was a gift.  After a horrific divorce, I had been trying desperately to find a good Muslim husband and for some reason thought that online was the best place for that----because we all know how honest and upfront people are online.  

One of the gentleman was a doctor doing his residency on the east coast.  We got along really well and talked until he admitted to himself and to me that the Indian or Pakistani culture of his family (I can't remember which) would be a major obstacle.  He actually was honest!  It had only been a couple weeks of talking and all of it very decent at that.  We were going to part ways very peacefully (and I can't say that about every man who crossed my path).  

Before we said our last goodbye, he asked if he could send me a Quran.  I told him that I already had one, but he insisted that what he wanted to send me was what really spoke to him; he believed that I could really benefit from it.  I trusted him enough to give him my address and a week later a huge, heavy package showed up.

The Muhammad Asad Quran has not only the Arabic and English, but the transliteration (how to say the Arabic using English letters) AND tasfir (footnotes to understand the deeper meaning better).

It's heavy stuff---and I mean that both figuratively and literally!  It's 998 pages and heavy at 2.58 kilograms or (for the metrically challenged like myself 5.7 pounds).  I decided not to bring it to Egypt back in 2009.  This was before Kindle had a lot of titles and before tablets really took off---you can now get this Quran both at amazon and itunes).  The other reason I didn't want to bring it to this part of the world is that it was banned by the Saudis; I wasn't sure if Egypt might care to confiscate it.  Later, when I returned to the U.S. for a visit in 2011, I made sure to bring it with me.  Egypt isn't into censoring religion.

You can read more by Mohammad Asad by downloading pdfs here.

 Mohammad Asad's translation was not to be my last Quran.  There was also the one I bought as I drank juice in Al Hussein Square in Cairo one Ramadan night with my future husband.  A man approached Ahmed and me about buying from him.  I actually was interested to have an Al-Azar approved Quran, so I purchased this one.  It's not my favorite, but I still honor it is as a good effort.

One of my lifetime goals is to help Al Azar make dawah inshahallah.

There are so many translations.  Take a look at how the Surah Yusuf,

Verse 99 is translated thanks to The University of Leeds.

فَلَمَّا دَخَلُواْ عَلَى يُوسُفَ آوَى إِلَيْهِ أَبَوَيْهِ وَقَالَ ادْخُلُواْ مِصْرَ إِن شَاء اللّهُ آمِنِينَ {99 
012:099 Khan
Then, when they entered unto Yusuf (Joseph), he betook his parents to himself and said: "Enter Egypt, if Allah wills, in security."
012:099 Maulana
Then when they went in to Joseph, he lodged his parents with himself and said: Enter Egypt in safety, if Allah please.
012:099 Pickthal
And when they came in before Joseph, he took his parents unto him, and said: Come into Egypt safe, if Allah will!
012:099 Rashad
When they entered Joseph's quarters, he embraced his parents, saying, "Welcome to Egypt. GOD willing, you will be safe here."
012:099 Sarwar
When they all came to Joseph, he welcomed his parents and said, "Enter the town in peace, if God wants it to be so."
012:099 Shakir
Then when they came in to Yusuf, he took his parents to lodge with him and said: Enter safe into Egypt, if Allah please.
012:099 Sherali
And when they came to Joseph, he put up his parents with himself and said, 'Enter Egypt in peace, if it please ALLAH.'
012:099 Yusufali
Then when they entered the presence of Joseph, he provided a home
for his parents with himself, and said: "Enter ye Egypt (all) in safety if it please Allah."

I know that I am biased, but I simply can't think that any of those translations speak to me better than Muhammad Asad.

فَلَمَّا دَخَلُواْ عَلَى يُوسُفَ آوَى إِلَيْهِ أَبَوَيْهِ وَقَالَ ادْخُلُواْ مِصْرَ إِن شَاء اللّهُ آمِنِينَ (12:99)f

Falamma dakhaloo AAala yoosufa awa ilayhi abawayhi waqala odkhuloo misra in shaa Allahu amineena

AND WHEN they [all arrived in Egypt and] presented themselves before Joseph, he drew his parents unto himself, saying, "Enter Egypt! If God so wills, you shall be secure [from all evil]!" - 12:99

When I read that ayah, I cried.  I only broke down twice reading Quran this Ramadan.  I already told you about the time when I read about Prophet Noah (peace be upon him).  This second time was about Prophet Yusuf (peace be upon him). 

It many ways, it spoke to me on my hijrah here in Egypt.  I will be honest that I didn't really want to stay in Egypt for the coming school year.  I tried my best to get the heck out.  I went through my school's worldwide didn't work.  I went through teacher placement services...that didn't work.  I tried contacting schools directly...nope!  My mom kept asking me to give America another chance, but I told her that it would be like going backwards.  The last week of school, the contracts for next year had to be signed, so I did.  I made my commitment to staying put.

Staying put always seems like a cop out to an American because we are people on the move.  We like to shake (not sheik) things up and make things happen.  Staying put is akin to getting stuck.  When the going gets know the rest, right?  The tough get going.  Well, I'm tough and things have been hard this past year (both at home with my in-laws and at school).  I really imagined a life of leaving this place.

It didn't happen.

As a Muslim---and I do hyphenate myself as Muslim-American, not American-Muslim---I have to accept what is the truth.  I do have to submit to what might not be my plan, since Allah is The Best of Planners.  That isn't a snap-your-fingers solution.  It takes some processing (especially if you are culturally predisposed to think you are in control of your own destiny).  

That moment when I read to my son, "Enter Egypt, if God so wills, and you shall be secure from all evil", during my Ramadan fasting, it broke me.  Being a broken person is not the worst thing.  Sometimes, it's best to crumble and let the pieces fall apart from what had been painful to hold together.  I cried because I've been wondering about staying in Egypt and wondering about my elderly parents.  There, in the surah were both issues in one comforting line.

The Quran does speak to us, although, it doesn't call out to us from the dusty shelf.  We do have to pick it up and read it.  If we are reading it in English, please do make sure that the English translation speaks to you.  When it speaks, I hope you are open to really listen.

May Allah accept all your prayers and fasting this Ramadan and grant you a year of an improved life for you and your family.