Without further ado, I present to you… the one… the only… GRAND PRIZE WINNER of MuslimMatter’s Short Story Contest ’08: Sister Azra Tashfeen of Qabeelat Hayl, Columbus, Ohio!1st prize package includes: $150 Cash + Book: “Towards Understanding Our Religion – collected articles from al-Basheer, the magazine” edited by Sheikh Jamal Zarabozo + 1 Free AlMaghrib Registration.
It was the first night of Ramadan in Columbus, Ohio. I listened with awe as the melodious voice of Sheikh Abdelkarim echoed through the ISNA convention prayer hall. My younger siblings were beside me taking turns to pray, struggling not to fall asleep. When it was over, I felt a sense of accomplishment descending upon me, satisfied that I had just prayed all twenty raka’at. After all, Ramadan was about increasing in one’s worship, praying nawafil, reading more Quran, and staying up at night making dhikr, right? Or so I thought.
As we waited for the men in my family to join us, my mom and siblings sat down exhausted and thirsty. Around us, all the restaurants were closed and there were no water fountains in sight. My mom asked me to go search for a drink, anything at all, and said she would wait until I returned. I left upon her request with three little ones tagging along. “Behave!” my mom admonished them.
We walked and walked through the main hall of the convention center, passing by the crowds of people still pouring out of the prayer hall. Nothing. No sign of water, juice, pop, coffee, nothing. Finally, my little brother spotted a vending machine in a corner so I immediately pulled out a five dollar bill and waited for the people in front me to finish. They were a group of brothers, bearded ones, who seemed to be struggling to get their choice of soda. “Is it jammed?” I inquired. Apparently, all the drinks were sold out. Just when my siblings felt relieved to finally be able to quench their thirst, my insides melted in having to explain that the machine was empty. Poor kids.
“So which is the magic button?” One of the brothers asked just as a Nestle’s Iced Tea popped out from the machine. It seemed that Iced Tea was the only bottle in stock. When the guys moved away, I quickly helped my little brother straighten the five dollar bill and insert it into the machine. It didn’t go. I attempted once more, but still no luck.”It’s only taking change,” one of the brothers turned around to say. When I opened my wallet, however, all I had was a quarter, a penny, and some foreign currency. So for the second time, I looked down at my little siblings and gently explained that I didn’t have enough change, thus could not purchase a drink. The two girls clung tightly to my abaya as I tried to sift through my purse, keep my hijab on straight, and re-explain the concept of “SOLD OUT” to my seven year-old brother.
Before I could even zip my purse shut, however, the brothers began pulling out nickels and dimes from their pockets and held it out before me. “No, no! JazakumAllahu kheir, no it’s okay!” I persistently refused. But upon looking at the three innocent little faces around me, I slowly extended my hand, cupped, so they can drop the change in it. Those brothers must have thought I was a mother of three kids, desperately seeking to feed her children. Immediately, my siblings rushed to insert the coins in the machine, one nickel at a time, shrieking, “I want to put the big one in!” “That’s not fair, he already got a turn!” “Can I keep one?!” The generous men kept producing coins until they were assured the machine read $1.50. I hit the last button on the machine, and at last, out came the much waited for Iced Tea. But by the time I turned around to thank the brothers, they were gone.
I was highly embarrassed. For the first time in my life, I felt what it was like to be on the receiving end of charity. The idea of not being able to afford something had never even occurred to me in the past. Yet, now a matter of a few nickels and dimes made a world of difference. And though I didn’t want to take their sadaqah, I felt compelled to accept it because there were six other people depending on me to satisfy their thirst.I went home that night awe-struck. If this was how needy I felt for one moment in time, what then of the thousands, millions of children who will wait for food every sunset of every day this month but won’t receive any? What then of the parents whose hearts are crushed because they will return home to their families with nothing to feed them? I will not pretend to understand the suffering they face. But that night, just for one moment, I believe I got a taste of what it might be like to genuinely be in need of something, as simple as a drink of water, as cheap as $1.50.It is likely that I will never find out who those good-hearted brothers were. Yet, the charitable act they showed towards me and my siblings will remain etched in our faith forever. Their kindness illuminated a deeper meaning to Ramadan than prayer and fasting. It is to rekindle that sense of human compassion that is so much a part of our fitrah, that we as Muslims should care for others as we do for our own families. It is that of giving, spending from one’s wealth, and doing so without attaching a “You owe me” price tag to it.
Allah SWT says in Surah Insan, “And they [the pious people who will enter Jannah] give food, out of love for Him, to the poor, the orphan, and the captive [saying] “We feed you seeking only the Pleasure of Allah; we neither want from you reward nor thanks.” (76:8-9).
Dear brothers and sisters, Ramadan is the month of sharing with others. Give, give, and give more; do not underestimate the potential of even the most trivial quantity, even if it be nickels, dimes, and a couple quarters.For the brothers who moistened the mouths of seven thirsty people, may Allah SWT provide them with an endless supply of drink from the river of Al-Kawthar. Ameen!