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The Things He Would Say – [Part 1]

A father with a severely autistic son dreams of going to Hajj, but will it ever happen?

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Pakistan Versus Germany

The kids were finally asleep, and Murid settled onto the lumpy cushions of their old sofa to watch the Pakistan versus Germany match. These moments of peace, these small pleasures, helped him stay sane.

Next week would be Junaid’s fourteenth birthday. Murid always found himself depressed on his son’s birthday, as it prompted comparisons to the boy’s peers, and reminders of all the things the child would never do, at any age.

The teams were running out onto the field. Pakistan was fielding a strong team this year, but Murid was not hopeful.

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Football. That was something his son Junaid would never do. Oh, sure, he could kick a ball randomly, but an organized match? He would never experience the joy of dribbling the ball past an opponent and driving it into the goal.

Junaid was severely autistic. The boy had never spoken and would never speak. He did like to sing – a sort of formless moaning and humming without melody or beat – but language was not within his capability. Drawing interested him as well, but they were scribbles. He could not dress himself, though he could take his socks off and liked to do so often, as he didn’t seem to enjoy the sensation of material on his feet. It was a bit maddening at times, especially when Murid would be trying to get the boy dressed to go to his special school, and every time he turned around Junaid would pull his socks off.

Junaid could not make a sandwich or get himself a glass of milk from the fridge, though he could hold a spoon or fork and feed himself at mealtimes. He could not recite the Quran or repeat a dhikr. He could not properly do a salat, though at times he liked to mimic his father’s movements of ruku’ or sujood in his own playful way, just as a toddler might do.

The Call to Hajj

Murid desperately wanted to go to Hajj. He was nearing forty years old and had never been able to afford the trip. Now, with the costs associated with Junaid’s healthcare, it seemed impossible. But lately, Junaid had been feeling like he was in a deep hole, looking up at a shrinking circle of light.

The cost of living was rising like a hot air balloon. Murid was a land surveyor for the California transportation agency. It was a decent job, but San Diego was an expensive city, and Murid’s salary was not keeping up with spiraling inflation. Every month he found himself poring over the bills, asking himself what costs he could cut. The worry was a pressure in his head that kept growing.

At times, he was overcome by an intense desire to have someone hug him and say, “It’s alright, you’re on a good path, you’ll be okay, and so will your kids.” The feeling was so strong that Murid would pause, even walking down the hallway at work, and once in the middle of a casual after-work football match, and wait for the sensation to pass.

He wasn’t a fool; he knew that going to Hajj would not magically solve his problems. But to be at Hajj, on the plain of Arafah, beneath the broiling sun, in ihram, and to plead his case to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) in that place – it felt momentous. It would change him, though he could not say how.

Always a Child

Murid was not ashamed of his son. He loved him with all his heart. Junaid was happy, for the most part. He liked to hug his father and sit on his lap. He enjoyed watching cartoons, stacking random things on the floor – tomato sauce cans, or toilet paper rolls – and loved it when his younger sister Mina read to him, even if he could not understand the words.

But yes, at times Murid was sad for him. At this age, the boy should be preparing to enter adulthood. Any other boy would now be ready to step out of the back row at the masjid, and up to the front row with the men. But Junaid, no matter how his body grew, would always be a child. He would never drive a car, go to university, or marry and have children of his own.

Tomorrow was jumu’ah, and after work Murid would take the kids to their grandparents’ home for a party. His father would hound him with the usual useless and unkind comments – “You need to stop coddling the boy so he can grow up properly. Take him out of that special school and put him in a normal school. He needs tough love.”

On the TV, Pakistan were pressing Germany, pushing toward the goal, passing the ball flawlessly. Murid exclaimed, “Yes!” and reached for the bag of potato chips on the coffee table.

It’s Too Much

His wife – or ex-wife, since he had filed a divorce in absentia – had enjoyed football as well. He often wondered where she was. In fact “wondered” was an understatement. He imagined feverishly, raged, castigated wordlessly, made dua’, and played and replayed scenarios in his mind.

She had left when Mina was three years old. Mina had not yet spoken a word at that time, and the doctors thought that she too might be autistic. One day Murid had awakened to find that his wife had vanished, with only a note: “It’s too much, I can’t handle it. I need to find myself. I am sorry.”

She’d never returned, and no one knew where she had gone, not even her parents; or so they claimed.

Murid wondered, had the woman changed her name and become a waitress in some greasy spoon in the middle of nowhere? Had she fallen into degeneracy, giving up Islam, becoming addicted to meth, and earning her living as a stripper in a roughneck roadhouse just past the county line? Had she married a rich man, and was now basking in the sun on the deck of a villa on the Adriatic Sea? Or had she gone randomly traveling and been murdered by some flyover state serial killer with the bones of fifty women buried in a cow field?

Potato Chips

“Baba, you know you’re not supposed to eat chips.”

Startled, Murid glanced up at Mina standing on the staircase. A skinny ten-year-old, she wore pajamas with kittens on them, and her curly hair was flat on one side.

“The salt,” Mina continued, “isn’t good for your blood pressure. The doctor told you so.”

Murid shrugged guiltily. “I read about a study that casts doubt on the link between potato chips and hypertension.”

Mina rolled her eyes. “Whatever. Who funded the study, the National Association of Potato Farmers? Are you trying to say that a bag of chips is the same as a bowl of steamed broccoli, or a nice salad?”

“No, but it sure tastes better.”

“Baba…we need you to be healthy. You know that.”

Murid felt a flash of irritation accompanied by a wave of guilt that nearly knocked him off the sofa. He understood exactly what Mina was saying: Junaid needs you to be healthy. Mina was reminding him that there was no one else in this world who could care for Junaid. That she, Mina, would do it herself but she was too young. That if anything happened to Murid it would devastate the lives of the two people in the world he loved most. He felt ashamed that Mina should have to worry about such things, but what could he do?

Anyone In Mind?

“Fiiine,” he said, clipping the chips bag closed and tossing it onto the coffee table. “No more chips. But we don’t have anything else to eat. I’ll go shopping tomorrow.”

“My friend, you need a wife.”

Murid knew he should be stern with his daughter for addressing him so informally, but instead, he turned his face away so she would not see his smile.

“That’s a bit misogynist, isn’t it? Implying that shopping is a woman’s job. Anyway, do you have anyone in mind?”

“Not Juliana.”

Ah, Murid thought. That’s another thing worrying her. “I know, honey bear. She’s just Junaid’s part-time caretaker. And she’s not Muslim. I don’t think about her that way.”

“Okay… Well if you’re waiting for Mom to come back, better not hold your breath.”

Murid frowned. “That’s a low blow. I don’t appreciate that.”

“Sorry. But you can’t stay stuck in the past.”

Murid sighed. Mina was a little too perceptive sometimes. When you combined that with a lack of a filter – the kid just said whatever she thought – it was like living with an Austrian drill instructor/therapist.

“Why are you awake anyway?”

“The TV woke me up.”

Murid promised to turn the volume down, and Mina went back to bed.

The Irony

This was the irony, that Mina had turned out to be a brilliant child. When she finally began to speak it was in full sentences. She was reading her father’s newspaper while other children her age still struggled with Dr. Seuss. She memorized the Quran rapidly and easily, carried out hobby-kit science projects for fun, and taught herself to play the violin. If only her mother had been patient enough.

On the other hand, any mother who would abandon her children was not someone who should be in their lives anyway.

Certainly being the father of such a gifted child was a source of great joy, and a relief as well. It went a long way toward tempering Murid’s sadness over Junaid. That was not to say that he did not love and cherish Junaid. He loved both children equally, no matter what. Nevertheless, Mina made the burden easier to bear. At the very least, Murid knew that one day, when he was gone, Junaid would have someone to watch over him. That was a tremendous comfort.

Watching TV at night He fell asleep during the match. He woke in the middle of the night to the sound of breaking glass outside, and someone screaming. That was not unusual in this neighborhood. He had often wished he could move the family to a safer, cleaner area, but this clapboard rat’s nest was all he could afford.

The match was over. An infomercial for a cat-safe fan droned on the TV. Wiping the drool from his chin, he looked up the results of the game on his phone. Pakistan had won 2 to 1. Happy that his team won, but annoyed that he missed it, he stumbled up the stairs and went to bed.

Just before falling asleep he made a dua:

O Allah, allow me to go to Hajj. Open a way for me to visit Your sacred house, Ya Rahman, Ya Raheem. Guide me, show me the way forward. Protect my children, no matter what. O Allah protect my daughter and my son. Whatever you wish to do to me, O Allah, do it; but keep Mina and Junaid safe.

***

Read Part 2

 

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

 

Related:

No, My Son | A Short Story

A Hassan’s Tale Story: No Strings On Me

 

Keep supporting MuslimMatters for the sake of Allah

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Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including, Zawaj.com, IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com. He teaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at WaelAbdelgawad.com. For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

10 Comments

10 Comments

  1. 🥭

    June 21, 2024 at 6:41 AM

    Why the obsession with Hajj while facing monetary problems when Umrah is cheaper and you still get to see the Kaaba and Prophet’s mosque.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 21, 2024 at 8:30 AM

      Precisely because he is poor. We are not commanded to see the Kabah once in our lives. We are commanded to perform Hajj. There are people all over the world who work half their lives to save the money to go to Makkah. They dream of seeing Allah’s house once in their lifetimes. When they manage to go, they do not go to Umrah. They complete their religious obligation of performing Hajj.

      Also, I would not call it an obsession, but an aspiration.

      I’ll see if I can work this into the story somehow.

  2. 🥭

    June 21, 2024 at 9:40 AM

    We are not commanded to do Hajj if we can’t afford it. I went for Umrah recently as I desired to see the Holy Kaaba and Prophet’s mosque but since I don’t have money for Hajj I don’t worry about it since it is not an obligation for me.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 21, 2024 at 11:49 AM

      That’s a cop-out. Someone who can afford Umrah can continue working and saving and go to Hajj instead.

  3. 🥭

    June 22, 2024 at 4:21 PM

    It’s not a cop-out. Even people with good jobs are struggling to keep up with the increased cost of living. As for working and saving, people spend a large chunk of their savings on their children’s college fees, buying a car, house, etc. These are necessities. And as you mentioned in your first comment – “They dream of seeing Allah’s house once in their lifetimes.” That’s exactly why millions of Muslims go for Umrah every year. (Over 13.5 million last year). No one should be under ‘stress’ to perform Hajj if they can’t afford it.

  4. Batman

    June 23, 2024 at 8:04 AM

    The zeal for Hajj is commendable but Islam doesn’t pressurise us to perform Hajj if we are not financial stable. Furthermore, to say that anyone who performs Umrah can also work and save for Hajj is unreasonable because people also need savings in case they become jobless, for a medical emergency, to get married, to buy a car, for
    retirement, etc.

    • Wael Abdelgawad

      June 23, 2024 at 8:19 AM

      It’s a matter of priorities and tawakkul. Is saving to buy a car more important than fulfilling a once in a lifetime religious obligation?

      In any case it doesn’t matter if you agree with Murid’s zeal. It is how he feels.

  5. Batman

    June 23, 2024 at 4:03 PM

    After buying a car if a person is not financially capable to perform Hajj it will not remain an obligation.

    Having zeal for something doesn’t mean putting yourself in financial distress.

  6. Shoaib

    June 24, 2024 at 10:51 AM

    Jazakallah Khair Br Wael as always for this moving story.

    Yes, the shariah does not mandate Murid to go to Hajj. But people do not always live their lives through a legalistic framework. For Murid, Hajj is not just another obligation to check off his list. It is a dream that motivates him to keep living. It is a hope that stems from a deep emotional need to relieve his stress and worries. He dreams of standing “beneath the boiling sun” to “please his case to Allah.” It is quite common for people under chronic stress to have dreams that may not be logical. For instance, I know people that struggle with poverty and hunger who would rather spend their money on new clothes rather than a meal, for the sense of self dignity that they get from clothes.

    I notice that this story tends to prioritize telling over showing. For instance, “Murid was not ashamed of his son,” and “The cost of living was rising like a hot air balloon.” Personally, I appreciated the exposition because it quickly and efficiently grounded me into Murid’s situation without having to work too hard, and it did not feel like an info dump at all.

    I wonder, though, if the reason why other commenters have questions about Murid’s motivations for Hajj is because they have not been able to step into his shoes deeply enough, and maybe the exposition-heavy style is a barrier for them? Not sure, just offering ideas.

    To provide more clarity, in any case, may I suggest in future drafts a scene in which Murid is having a conversation with a very legally-minded neighbor? The neighbor can serve as a mouthpiece. I can see potential for a dialogue that is both humorous and at the same time containing interesting tension.

    My favorite part was Mina’s character!

    I also loved how you framed the structure of the story all around the sports match. Genius! Other wise, I think the story would have lacked forward movement and have felt like a man wallowing in self pity.

    The part when Mina suggested a new wife threw me for a curve. I thought this story was about Hajj, based on the lengthy setup. On the other hand, the quest to find a wife seems like a way more organic goal for Murid to have from a narrative perspective. Curious how this will be dealt with in part 2. Will the story be about Hajj after all, or will we shift gears to looking for a wife? Or will there be a plot twist and the quest to gain one will lead to Murid getting both? Can’t wait to find out!

  7. Wael Abdelgawad

    July 5, 2024 at 2:30 AM

    A note to my readers: I have not forgotten All That Is In The Heavens. I’d hit a point with it where I felt stuck, but a few epiphanies recently came to me and I’m ready to resume. Unfortunately, a new idea I had for the story requires that I go back to the beginning and revise much of what I wrote. So I will do that first inshaAllah, then will resume writing new chapters.

    Also, believe it nor not, I still plan to complete Death in a Valley Town. The main character in that story is an orphan, and midway through the book I realized that I didn’t understand enough about what it meant to be an orphan, and how it would affect my character’s emotional state. So I took some time off, and it happened that while working for Uber I drove some young people who had grown in up foster care, and were able to give me insight. So yes, I will eventually get back to that one inshaAllah.

    One of the challenges of writing serially like this is that sometimes you hit unexpected obstacles, and it can take time to overcome them. I appreciate your sabr.

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