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Choosing a Good Quran Teacher

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One of the most challenging things that Muslim parents can face in their children’s Islamic education is teaching their kids how to read the Qur’an in Arabic. In my own Qur’an reading education as a child, I unfortunately was taught by an Indian woman from South Africa who had no idea how to read the Qur’an correctly and had very little ability to teach kids. It was only in high school that I realized there was something wrong with the way I read Qur’an. I then went through a grueling process in college to fix my Qur’an reading. When I signed up for my first tajweed (the science of Qur’anic recitation) class in my freshman year of college, I went in there with a furious determination. My goal was that I would become so good at reading the Qur’an that I’d be able to teach my own kids (biological and/or adopted) one day and never subject them to an unqualified Qur’an teacher.

Well, I never expected it to happen, but I teach other people’s kids (and adults, too!) how to read the Qur’an. I love teaching the Qur’an and am using my training from my ongoing Master’s in Education and high school English teaching certification program to inform my Qur’an teaching. As a Qur’an teacher who has a fierce protectiveness over entrusting kids to other Qur’an teachers, here’s some advice I have to offer to any parents looking for a Qur’an teacher for their kids. (This advice can be used for adults, as well, looking to learn to read or improve their reading.)

Photo Courtesy of Tabi Davenport

What to Look for:

Recitation correctness. The main question you have to ask is, does this Qur’an teacher recite the Qur’an correctly? When you’re going in to meet a teacher for the first time, make sure you conduct a basic recitation test. My suggestion is ask them (1) to recite a surah (from memory) they are comfortable with/have memorized, (2) to read something that they are not that familiar with (what I call “cold reading” from the book; but this will be less or more valid depending on whether or not the teacher has memorized the Qur’an), and then ask them (3) to recite another surah they are comfortable with but this time at a speed half as fast as they had been reciting the first two tasks.

If you don’t have much of a Qur’an reading background, then something to try is to record the Qur’an teacher reciting Qur’an according to the suggested test above and have a couple of people check his or her recitation on your behalf. Approach your local imam and some friends or family members who have a better background than you do (it’s also a good idea to have someone from a different cultural or ethnic background listen to the Qur’an teacher!) A caution–don’t just ask the teacher for a recording because the teacher might try recording multiple times to select the best one. You do the recording yourself! Always ask the teacher if it is alright for you to have someone check their recitation, and make sure to operate within their boundaries (the female Qur’an teacher may only want other women to hear her recitation, for example.)

Maybe this sounds a little crazy–but keep in mind, this person will teach your kids how to read the Qur’an and your kids will most likely not be any better than their teacher is.

Ability to Teach. Just because someone can read the Qur’an, even perfectly read the Qur’an, does not mean that he or she is capable of teaching others how to do the same. You have to ask, does this teacher have the ability to teach Qur’an reading (and/or basic memorization)? Consider what it takes to be a teacher–having the ability to explain something in more than one way, knowing when to push a student and when to support a student, being patient and caring, and understanding how to connect lessons to each other. There are more technical types of teaching-related things (like skills, knowledge, and sound practice) and softer character/personality types of things (like being kind, being assertive, managing undesirable behavior in a positive way.)

A way to gauge your child’s prospective Qur’an teacher’s ability to teach is to either do a handful of trial sessions (two to four should be enough for you to make a judgment call). These trial sessions can be you sitting in on your kid’s lessons, you sitting in on another student’s (or multiple students’) lessons, or you asking the teacher to treat you as a student and see how you like the teaching style being used.

Again, this might sound a little overboard, but we don’t take our kids’ Qur’an education seriously enough. Many times Qur’an teachers don’t have formal teaching training for kids, don’t even want to teach, or simply don’t know how to teach. The last thing you want is to demoralize your kid when it comes to learning how to read the Qur’an by sticking them with a horrible Qur’an teacher. Whether it’s shouting, losing his or her temper, hitting (do Qur’an teachers really still do that…?), or any other negative personality trait, your kid will probably be terrified of the teacher or start to resent him or her. Just compare your kid’s school teacher (if you’re not homeschooling your kids) to the Qur’an teacher on basic things like personality. You don’t want the kid to have a teacher in the public elementary school who gives out stickers for excellent work, but have a Qur’an teacher who yells or screams every time the kid makes a small mistake. You want to protect your kids from a teacher who will make them feel stupid or incapable of learning to read or recite.  Reading (in any language) is a challenging skill to learn, not to mention reading the Qur’an which is like reading a book + reading music at the same time + performing the recitation with proper pronunciation and pacing. If the Qur’an teacher is incapable to guiding your kid through learning to read, then the kid will feel frustrated that he or she is not getting it, when in fact it is actually the teacher’s fault (if not entirely, at least two-fold.)

Moral Uprightness. Now, this is a hard thing to judge. It’s problematic, actually, to look too deeply into without a good reason, generally speaking. But I believe that a Qur’an teacher should be an example of basic moral goodness. This means doing just the basic things–praying regularly, not cursing or using profane language, being trustworthy with business and other money issues, not having a loose tongue in terms of gossiping, and being involved in other social ills. This is difficult to explain, but just imagine if your kid’s Qur’an teacher smoked or was in an illicit relationship or was behind spreading a vicious rumor in the community. Of course, no one is perfect and Qur’an teachers are not angels. But especially with younger kids, it’s important for them to see their Qur’an teacher as affected by the light of the Qur’an in some way.

Common Mistakes

Beautiful recitation and the ability to read quickly do NOT mean correct recitation. Don’t get lost in the dulcet melodies of a reciter’s voice. Don’t just assume reading the Qur’an means reading the Qur’an quickly or confidently. Some people can read the Qur’an beautifully but do so at the expense of correct recitation and some people can read the Qur’an quickly but also at the expense of correct recitation. Although these might not seem great, there is no problem if a person can read the Qur’an perfectly but it  sound like nails on a chalkboard or they read slowly. These two measures aren’t relevant to the quality of the recitation in terms of correctness.

Spoken language barriers between the teacher and child. Many parents I know hire online teachers from different countries, which may be cheaper and more convenient. But often times the teacher and the child have an intense language barrier and cannot effectively communicate. Talking about and describing sounds is incredibly difficult in the first place (try describing the sound of a baby crying or rain drops falling) and adding a language barrier is going to be disastrous for your kid. You’ll see your kid and the teacher going through cycles of frustration and the kid may only be able to mimic the correct sounds without understanding any further the what, how, or why of those sounds.

Qur’an Qualifications, AKA “Ijaazah” (or Permission to Teach): Although the ijaazah system can be highly rigorous and organized, an ijaazah doesn’t mean too much in my book. (This is my opinion, maybe it’s slightly blasphemous.) What is an ijaazah? An ijaazah is basically a license that the a person’s teacher has given after determining that he or she has mastered the Qur’an recitation enough to teach others. The most crucial thing to understand about an ijaazah is: each ijaazah has the potential of being entirely different from another ijaazah. In other words, ijaazahs are entirely relative when you are considering whether or not someone’s ijaazah makes them a better person to teach your kid how to read the Qur’an. Someone may have gotten an ijaazah from a teacher that simply is horrible at reading the Qur’an. Someone may have gotten an ijaazah from a marvellously brilliant reciter, but that ijaazah may have nothing to do with their ability to teach the Qur’an or teach the Qur’an to kids. It is almost impossible to determine the worth of a person’s ijaazah, so if this is a huge deal to you, hopefully you know enough about the ijaazah system in regards to the Qur’an to be able to understand what that particular person’s particular ijaazah means.

Just a personal note, I do not have ijaazah in the Hafs an Asim recitation (the most commonly used Qur’an recitation in the world). My Qur’an teacher’s students who helped me improve did not have ijaazah at the time (and maybe still don’t). In another example, a Qur’an teacher once approached me to be her student so that she could train me for an ijaazah under her. But I had already heard her recite before and I thought she was (quite honestly) horrible and made a bunch of mistakes that my original Qur’an teacher always taught me to avoid. So I just made an excuse about not having the time, because if I got an ijaazah, I didn’t want it to be from someone with reading like hers.

Masjid Farooq Quran students preparing for a competition

Having Private Qur’an Lessons in Private Settings. A huge problem that needs to be addressed in the Muslim community is predatory behavior which can literally happen with any person and in any context. Sending your kid to the Qur’an teacher’s house to have private lessons (or even semi-private lessons) is not a good idea. Qur’an classes should be hosted in public spaces, like the masjid’s prayer hall or a classroom with many students inside of it, or in another space in which you have constant access to and the ability to monitor, such as at your home in an open room constantly in your sight.) Many families use online Qur’an classes (I teach only online through video calls at the moment) out of convenience or lack of teachers nearby, but there are some dangers to using webcams and video calling as well (just think about sexting.) Make sure you have access to the video call at all times, maybe even check in a few times during each lesson. Taking the appropriate preventative measures is necessary, and then educating your kids on what behaviors are appropriate for the Qur’an teacher to engage in with them is also crucial.

Let’s not be naive any longer. Chances are you probably know of someone who was taken advantage of by their Qur’an teacher. If you only take one thing from this post, let this be it!

Pairing Teachers and Students of Opposite Genders. Although this is not a black-and-white issue, I personally believe that once your child has reached Islamic maturity/puberty, it is important to make sure that the Qur’an teacher is of the same gender as your child. Although having a teacher of the same gender does not ensure your child’s safety in any way, I do believe that it is most appropriate to maintain gender segregation between Qur’an teachers and their students. Here’s a few reasons that lead me to this opinion: I never feel comfortable reciting in front of men because I have to worry about embellishing my recitation with any sort of melodic beauty, it is easier to communicate about current circumstances (like menstruation) that may affect Qur’an reading, and because there is a lot of mimicking that the teacher expects the student to do it is easier for this to occur in same gender pairings (because of things like tonality and pitch of the voice.)

Confusing Ethnic Ties with Proper Qur’an Recitation. Just because a Qur’an teacher has an Arab ancestry or is from an Arab country or is a native Arabic speaker does NOT mean that he or she is the best Qur’an reciter or teacher. (In fact, the best I know of personally are pretty much not of Arab origin.) Another mistake related to ethnic ties is that a person assumes that going to someone of the same ethnic or national background is the best. For example, an Egyptian family will find an Egyptian teacher and an Indian family will find an Indian teacher. This is also fraught with many potential problems because, especially with immigrants, there is this false notion that “the way it’s done back home is correct.” This is the same problem that I faced in my Qur’anic reading education as a child–the assumption was that the imam reads Qur’an “like an Arab” and the teacher reads Qur’an “like a Desi” and there is no valid distinction between the two. There are actually a host of common recitation mistakes that are traced to people’s national/ethnic origins. (For example, when I work with older Desi students, I expect certain mistakes. When I work with Egyptian students taught by Egyptians, I expect another set of certain mistakes.) The best way to not get caught up in this confusion is to simply get multiple opinions about a potential Qur’an teacher’s recitation from people of different ethnic backgrounds.

Last Thoughts

I hope you can find these suggestions useful in choosing a good Qur’an teacher for your child (or yourself.) Learning to read the Qur’an can be a huge investment of time, effort, and money but in this hyper-educated and hyper-literate society, if we don’t take the time to teach ourselves and our kids how to read the Qur’an, then what does that say about us?

Related Posts:

https://muslimmatters.org/2016/02/04/why-i-let-my-child-quit-the-quran/

https://muslimmatters.org/2010/12/16/child-teacher-parent-quran-lessons/

Standing at just under 5’2,” Meena is still growing (figuratively, sadly no longer literally) into her place in the world. She is a graduate of Comparative Literature studies at the University of California, Irvine, where she was active with the Muslim Student Union.As a student of knowledge, Meena has discovered the power and beauty that words can have, the highest example being the Words of Allah preserved in the Holy Quran. In her own capacity and with the help of Allah, she hopes to capture and communicate her reflections and thoughts as she continues on in this exciting time of her life.You can follow her on Twitter @imeanking & read more of her posts on her personal blog: http://imeanking.wordpress.com/

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    November 29, 2017 at 12:50 PM

    Jazakillahu Khayran, this was an excellent post bringing up many good points.

    Are you currently taking new students? :) Please contact me if you are.

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Our Struggles – Mental Health And Muslim Communities | The Family and Youth Institute

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By Elham Saif, Sarrah AbuLughod and Wahida Abaza

Fariha just started her freshman year at university. Overnight, she was separated from her support system of family and friends and thrust into a foreign environment. She was facing many new challenges, including a heavier workload, new friends, student clubs and organizational responsibilities. She was drowning in endless assignments, exams, and meetings.

Fariha never thought much about mental health issues beyond the few “mindfulness” posts that she’d scroll through on her Instagram feed, but recently she was starting to feel out of sorts. She started to feel anxious as a hijab-wearing woman on campus especially after hearing about anti-Muslim incidents on the news. All of the possibilities of what could go wrong played over and over again in her head–and kept her up at night. Everything was beginning to feel overwhelming. She started having trouble getting out of bed in the morning and was losing motivation to complete her assignments. She felt confused and at times, even afraid. 

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, close to 50 million Americans suffered from mental health issues in 2017. One in 5 adults in America is living with a mental health illness at this very moment. American Muslims are not an exception to these statistics. According to different studies, like Fariha, 15-25% of American Muslims report suffering from anxiety disorders and 9-30% report mood disorders. Many of these mental health issues in the Muslim population go unaddressed and unresolved because of lack of knowledge, stigma and shame experienced in many Muslim households and communities. 

When these issues go unaddressed, people report that the pain and suffering they experience rises and that overall their problems tend to get worse. Sadly, their struggles can snowball into additional illnesses that were not present before, such as self-harm or addiction. According to the research, mental illnesses such as depression, anxiety, and bipolar disorder are sometimes not considered to be “real” illnesses. Community members often see mental illness as a sign of weakness, a mark of poor faith, or something that doesn’t affect Muslims. They may also see it either as a “test from God” or sometimes as possession by evil spirits. Even when there is an awareness, many of these illnesses and issues are culturally stigmatized as shameful and kept hidden within the person or family. People may be concerned about the reputation of their family or their marital prospects should a psychiatric diagnosis be disclosed. 

The irony is that Islam ought to be more of a protective factor given how intertwined Islamic history is with the fields of psychiatry and psychology. The contribution of Islamic scholarship to the field of psychology is documented in our history and legacy from health promotion in the Quran and Sunnah, to early scholarly diagnosis, treatment, and intervention. Alaa Mohammad, FYI researcher and co-author of the chapter “Mental Health in the Islamic Golden Era: The Historical Roots of Modern Psychiatry” in Islamophobia and Psychiatry points out that,

“there was a lot of focus on concepts like ‘sanity’ and the significance of mental capacity as well as the general mental/emotional state in many of the early Islamic texts especially in regards to Islamic rules and law.”

Early Islamic scholars described the “cognitive components of depression and sadness, anxiety and fear, obsessions, and anger in detail and suggested a variety of therapies and treatments.” Learning more about this rich history and pulling from these stories in the Prophet’s (SAW) seerah is a key step towards opening the way for people to get the help they need and learning how to support one another. 

Fariha knows that she needs help. She was considering seeing one of the mental health workers on campus, but she’s afraid of what her parents would say if they found out she shared so much with a stranger, especially one that is not a Muslim.

What can parents do?

Research has found that in the face of rising Islamophobia, supportive parenting serves as a protective factor and helps strengthen young Muslims’ sense of identity while unsupportive parents who don’t help their children navigate their experiences end up weakening their identity, which then increases their chances of participating in more risky behavior. 

When Fariha finally shared her fears and anxieties with her parents, she was surprised and relieved to hear that they took her seriously. They listened to her and she didn’t feel like they were ashamed of her, only concerned for her well being. They were eager to find her the help she needed to feel like herself again. 

As Muslims, we need to shift our mindset around mental illness and the effects of Islamophobia. Like Fariha’s parents, it is imperative that we listen carefully and look more deeply at the issues facing our youth. It is through this openness that we can reduce the stigma and encourage more people to seek help. 

The Family and Youth Institute recently released an infographic that talks about some of the struggles facing our American Muslim communities. They teamed up with Islamic Relief USA to get this infographic printed as a poster and will be sending them to over 500 masajid/community centers around the United States in the coming months. 

What can you do to help?

  • Reduce the stigma by sharing this article and infographic and starting a conversation with your friends and family members. The more we talk about it, the more we normalize and destigmatize mental illness and move towards mental health. 
  • Organize a community conversation around the issue of mental health. Invite a mental health specialist to come speak to your mosque youth group or parent group. 
  • Seek therapy when needed. Connect with SEEMA and the Institute of Muslim Mental Health for a list of Muslim therapists. If you are seeing a clinician who is not Muslim, share this book Counseling Muslims: Handbook of Mental Health Issues and Interventions with them to give them a better sense of the specific religious and cultural needs of their Muslim clients. 
  • Educate yourself – There is a plethora of information out there about mental wellness and wellbeing. For help navigating through it all, sign up for The FYI’s daily article share to receive vetted infographics, articles and videos on this topic. Mental health affects our whole life. Whether you are struggling with bullying, helping a loved one with depression, living with and caring for an elder or wanting to build the best environment for your new baby, we have a resource for you! 

These steps are just small ways we can begin to shift the conversation away from shame and stigma and towards help and healing. Mental illness and mental health issues can be scary, but they do not need to be faced alone and in isolation. As the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)said, “The parable of the believers in their affection, mercy, and compassion for each other is that of a body. When any limb aches, the whole body reacts with sleeplessness and fever.” Together, we can fight the existing stigma and misconceptions, provide support, educate the community and advocate for our brothers and sisters suffering with mental illness and their families. 

Sources:

Aftab A., & Khandai, C. (2018). Mental Health Facts for Muslim Americans. APA Division of Diversity and Health Equity, Washington, DC. 

Basit A, & Hamid M. (2006). Mental health issues of Muslim Americans. The Journal of Islamic Medical Association of North America, 42(3), 106-110.

Ciftci A., Jones N., & Corrigan, P.W. (2013) Mental health stigma in the Muslim community. Journal of Muslim Mental Health, 7(1), 17-32.

Hodge, D.R., Zidan, T. & Husain, A. (2016). Depression among Muslims in the United States: Examining the role of discrimination and spirituality as risk and protective factors. Social Work, 61(1), 45-52.

Zong, X., Balkaya, M., Tahseen, M., & Cheah, C.S.L. (2018). Muslim-American Adolescents’ Identities Mediate the Association between Islamophobia and Adjustment: The Moderating Role of Religious Socialization. Poster session presented at the biennial meeting of the International Society for the Study of Behavioural Development, Queensland, Australia. 

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Loving Muslim Marriage | Is it Haraam to Talk About Sex?

Saba Syed (Umm Reem)

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Loving Muslim Marriage

Female sexual nature and female sexual desires are often misunderstood, especially among Muslims. There are some classes and seminars by Muslim speakers that offer advice to Muslim couples about intimacy but unfortunately, the advice is not exactly aligned with correct female sexual nature.

So we decided to come together to clarify these misunderstandings and explain the sexual nature of women and their desires, so we can help build healthy intimacy within Muslim marriages leading to happier Muslim marriages.

This is going to be a series of videos that we will release every week, inshaAllah.

What should be expected out of these videos?

Each video will address a specific myth or misconception about either female sexuality, or Muslim marriage to help men better understand women. We will also explore male sexuality and other subjects.

We hope

– to help better quality marriage
– to help couples- both men and women- get a more satisfying intimate life
– to help women navigate intimate life in a manner where they are fulfilled, paving the way for involvement and desiring of intimacy; breaking the cycle of unsatisfying intimate lives for both husband and wife

Disclaimer:
Please keep in mind that these videos are for people with normal sexual desires — they are not meant to address asexuality.

The content of these videos is a mean to provide marital advice based on mainstream orthodoxy as well as best practices and relationships.

Some experts joined us in these videos to offer their expertise from an Islamic and professional perspective:

Shaikh AbdulNasir Jangda: He was born and raised in Dallas, Texas and at the age of 10 began the road to knowledge by moving to Karachi, Pakistan, and memorizing the entire Qur’an in less than one year. After graduating from high school, he continued his studies abroad at the renowned Jamia Binoria and graduated from its demanding seven-year program in 2002 at the top of his class with numerous licenses to teach in various Islamic Sciences. Along with the Alim Course he concurrently completed a B.A. and M.A. in Arabic from Karachi University. He also obtained a Masters in Islamic Studies from the University of Sindh. He taught Arabic at the University of Texas at Arlington from 2005 to 2007. He served as the Imam at the Colleyville Masjid in the Dallas area for three years. He is a founding member and chairman of Mansfield Islamic Center.

He is the founder of Qalam Institute and he has served as an instructor and curriculum advisor to various Islamic schools. His latest projects include Quran Intensive (a summer program focusing on Arabic grammar and Tafsir), Quranic analysis lectures, Khateeb Training, chronicling of the Prophetic Biography, and personally mentoring and teaching his students at the Qalam Seminary.

In these videos, Sh. Jangda helped present the Islamic rulings and corrections of various misconceptions regarding intimacy and female sexuality.

Dr. Basheer Ahmed: He is a Board Certified Psychiatrist with 18 years of teaching experience at various medical schools. He started off his career by teaching at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York as a Psychiatrist in 1971. Then he started his own private practice in 1984 till the present time. Meanwhile, he continued to teach at various universities around the U.S.
He is also the Chairman of MCC Human Services in North Texas.

In these videos, Dr. Basheer explained several psychological conditions that women may suffer through when they are sexually dissatisfied in a marriage.

Zeba Khan: She is the Director of Development for MuslimMatters.org, as well as a writer, speaker, and disability awareness advocate.

She helped address the uncomfortable myths and misconceptions throughout these videos and helped provide the correct perspective of female and marital intimacy for Muslim couples to enjoy a better marriage.

Usman Mughni: He is a Marriage & Family Therapist and holds a Master’s of Science degree
Northern Illinois University and a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Maryland, along with a degree in diagnostic medical imaging. He worked as a therapist at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital in the Center for Addiction Medicine. Usman has experience providing counseling to individuals, couples, and families at Northern Illinois University’s Family Therapy Clinic along with experience working with individuals, couples, and families struggling with chemical dependency and mental health diagnoses and running psychoeducational group therapy at Centegra Specialty Hospital’s partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient programs.

Since Usman enjoys working with couples to help bring tranquility back into the marriage and providing premarital counseling to couples who hope to have a successful marriage at a time when divorce seems to be on the rise, he especially joined us in this series to offer his expertise. He highlighted the most common intimacy issues in Muslim marriages that he has observed throughout the years of his experience as a therapist. His insights and knowledge has helped us clarify many misconceptions not only regarding female sexual nature but also about men and marital intimacy.

Ustadha Saba Syed: She has a BA degree in Islamic Studies. She studied Arabic Language and Literature at Qatar University and at the Cairo Institute in Egypt. She also received her Ijaazah in Quranic Hafs recitation in Egypt from Shaikh Muhammad al-Hamazawi.

She’s been passionately working towards empowering Muslim women through the correct and untainted teachings of Islam. She is a pastoral counselor for marriage, family, women and youth issues. She has hosted several Islamic lectures and weekly halaqas in different communities all over U.S and overseas. SHe also hosted special workshops regarding parenting, Islamic sex-ed, female sexuality, and marital intimacy.

She took the initiative of putting together these videos because through her pastoral counseling experience she realized that there are many marital intimacy problems in Muslim marriages, mainly due to the misunderstandings and misconceptions regarding female sexuality and female sexual nature.

Hence, with the speakers above, and with these videos we hope to clarify and explain as many myths and misconceptions that we believe have become a hindrance to happiness and success in Muslim marriages. We welcome your comments and suggestions in order to make this series more successful.

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Losing Our Parents, Finding Ourselves

Hiba Masood

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losing parents

“To lose one parent is misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.” – Oscar Wilde

If I am to take Mr Wilde’s words to heart, I’ve had an extremely careless kind of year. Despite our utter devotion to our extremely beloved parents and our best efforts to hang on to them, my siblings and I still went ahead and lost them both about ten months ago.

A long-drawn-out, physically and mentally ravaging illness in which he (and us) suffered for over a decade, took my brilliant, generous, math genius of a laughing, twinkly-eyed father. Upon which, a day after his funeral, my wise, gentle, hostess in chief, caregiver-supreme of a mother promptly contracted a deathly cancer of her own and within a few rollercoaster months, went out like a shooting star.

In between, just to keep things interesting, I also unexpectedly lost a beloved khala (my maternal aunt), a dear long-time family doctor, and our pet cat, who in perfect health one day, dropped dead on our front door the next morning, without any warning whatsoever, completing what was certainly a most eventful year.

I like to think my sister, brother and I, we took all these losses with patience and resilience, in more or less stride…holding fast to the rope of Allah, understanding His qadr and accepting His will as better and wiser than anything we could’ve willed for ourselves. We did this not because we are unfeeling robots or super-mu’mins but because this is how our parents raised us. They raised us to be strong and smart and strong, smart people don’t crumble in the face of what life throws their way. Doing so would be a betrayal of who we were as a happy family and we loved each other just too much to betray.

At least, that is what I loftily tell myself during daylight hours, when the sun is shining and the business of living takes precedence over the philosophy of dying. Because at night, when the house is still and quiet, when my children are curled up in their own beds when the work is done and I put my head to pillow, it is a lot trickier to be so practical-minded.

Every night, every single night for the last 10 months, when I lie down in the dark, before I fall asleep, no matter how hard I try to not have it happen, my mind insists on playing a torturous film. First, I watch my dad die. I am catapulted, in the pitch blackness of my room, back to the night of him in his bed, his eyes closed, his chest slowly rising and falling, rising and falling. I see myself standing beside him, my hand resting on his heart. I see my mother sitting beside us, head bowed.

We are breathing with him, both willing and not willing each next breath. There is nothing different in his outward appearance to suggest the end is near, but the air in the room is holy and we know what’s coming. We don’t move from beside him for one hour, then two, then three. Somewhere past midnight, I see/feel/hear the absolutely deepest silence I have ever encountered. He is gone. So quietly, one would have missed it if they weren’t right there. I see myself exclaim through the tears, “All praise to Allah for He has rescued my Baba from pain.” and I hug my mother.

But my hug doesn’t last. Because, immediately after, it is my mother’s turn. She is in the same bed, the bright morning light flooding into the room. Everyone dear to her is assembled around her, praying and reciting, in aching disbelief that something so similar is happening so soon. Her eyes are wide open and she is breathing faster and faster. I am telling her “Allah loves you, I love you, you’re doing so great, don’t worry about us, we’ll be fine, straight to Jannah, Ma, straight to Jannah“. Suddenly, her whole face softens, relaxes, eases into a radiant smile. She recites the kalima, the room rings with Allahu Akbar and she’s gone.

Earlier, I used to always sob through this entire montage. Pity for myself, grief for who I had lost, the ache of missing them in every imaginable future that lay ahead, would fill my eyes and drench my pillow. The reality of our situation hitting me afresh in the gut: We are orphaned, the roof blown off our heads in a whirlwind of a year, wondering how exactly does one live without the people who taught them how to. Later, as a few months passed, I watched with a more grim, gritted teeth patience. I knew I had to get through this if I wanted to eventually fall asleep. More recently, and this is perhaps the evolution of grief, I have begun to watch with a tender fondness, a dawning understanding of how privileged I was to see the peaceful passing of two righteous people, how lucky I have been to be taught that to love someone, to truly love them, means to bear witness to their journey of becoming more and more human.

And is there anything, ANYTHING more essentially human than death? I bore witness to my parents’ humanity till their very last breath on earth. And because I am human, and I believe in being kind to myself, I finally know that I am not losing my mind or being weak when I keep revising and reviewing this film each night. Instead, I am taming and teaching my very human mind to accept, to submit. I know that all my mind is trying to do as it wrestles every night in the dark, is attempting to make the most beautiful sense out of a most necessary reality.

How do we love? How do we let go? How do we gracefully bear witness to the final moments of our beloveds? How do we prepare for our own final moments?

These questions will take a lifetime to answer.

Perhaps you, dear reader, are already facing these questions. If not, you will certainly face them someday. The truth is, we will all, each of us, one day lose someone we desperately love, despite our very best efforts and most valiant hopes not to. This is the reality of this world. It will not be misfortune or carelessness on our part…it will simply be Allah reminding us that we belong only to Him, that only He knows what is good for us.

If last year, for me, was the year of loss, then this year and all the years ahead are the years of making sense of this loss and deriving meaningful meaning from it. In losing my parents, I must find my self. That is the only thing that will help my parents now. Because, when they were alive, I think I tried my very best to do my due diligence in bearing witness to their humanity. Now that they are in their graves, I can only hope and pray that on the Day it really matters, I am able to bear witness for my parents again: “Oh Allah! Have mercy on them as they did on me when I was younger.”

This is what our loved ones need from us. Prayers, good works so that we may be sadaqa-jaariah, and a relentless testifying to He who listens to all aching, breaking hearts, both in day and night: They were good, Allah. They were good. Have mercy on them.

May Allah forgive our parents, elevate them and reunite us all in Jannah.

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