This was originally written in 2016 for the 2nd edition of Fajr Lifestyle Magazine. It’s the only time I wrote a short story of proper length and Islamic content. So I’ve been reeeally wanting to post it in my blog, but lost the softcopy 😥 Finally after a lot of searching I found it Alhamdulillah!! So here it goes (before I lose it again haha).
“It’s 3 am, Fahim. If I can’t wake up in time for class tomorrow, I won’t talk to you for the next two days. I’m not even joking.”
“Okay, okay, calm down. You make even death threats seem insignificant. And anyway, I know you can’t survive two whole days without talking to me.”
“Now hang up!”
Farah fought off a smile as she glanced at a picture of her and Fahim adorning her phone’s home screen. It was one of the hundreds of selfies they had, and was taken in one of their favorite cafes a month ago. It has been almost a week since their last date and she was trying her best not to make her restlessness too evident. She reluctantly put down her phone, its heat generated from 2 hours of converting emotions into digital signals almost burning her hand. As she prepared to fall asleep, something in the back of her mind put an abrupt halt to her state of euphoria. She remembered something she had heard the other day when a friend of hers had taken her to a sisters’ gathering.
It was a “Halaqa”, as her friend told her – a gathering where some sisters would talk about Islamic matters. She had felt too ashamed to say no to her friend’s request to accompany her there. As she entered the house where it was taking place, she had been engulfed by a mixture of intimidation and embarrassment on seeing so many women wearing hijabs, abayas (burqas) and even niqabs, in contrast to her own not-so-Islamic clothing. They had all been amazingly friendly, and to her own surprise, her initial feeling of intimidation had turned to admiration and awe by the time she had left.
Somewhere amidst all the positive thoughts and reminders that had enveloped her throughout the brief hour there, one thing had hit her hard as a bullet. It was the way the speaker had mentioned having relationships, as if it was one of the worst things to do. “Whenever a man is alone with a woman, Shaytan is the third one with them.” The words kept ringing in the back of her head. She remembered the numerous times she had hung out with Fahim, laughed like a fanatic at his lame jokes and chattered on about stupid little things over the sound of over-enthusiastic diners in fast food joints. All of these seemed to be purely happy moments; surely, Shaytan hadn’t been with them all those times…she shook her head in denial.
She’d heard her friend say many times that being in a relationship before marriage was Haram, but she had never quite let that sink in. She had never considered that this Haram was the same Haram that described drinking, gambling and even murder.
“But everyone does it,” Farah mumbled to herself as she sunk into the depths of sleep.
Farah folded up her newly bought cotton crepe scarf and put it in the wardrobe, shutting the door with all the energy she could muster. The bang of the wardrobe door wasn’t loud enough to drown out the cries of frustration inside her head. She wasn’t sure what was agitating her more – her mother’s words of dissuasion at her decision to wear the hijab, or her recent argument with Fahim about discontinuing their relationship.
She picked up her phone with rekindled determination and began to dial his number. She stopped right before pressing call and made a quick du’a: “Allah, please don’t let his words make me weak. I can’t do this without Your help. I don’t want to compromise this time, Allah. Please help me through this!”
As the line rang, each ring coming in sharp as a blade to her anxious eardrums, she kept murmuring du’as, begging Allah to keep her strong.
“Hello, Miss I-have-changed-now. How may I help you?” Fahim’s sarcastic tone made her want to hang up immediately. She took a deep breath. And another.
“We need to talk,” Farah muttered out as she cringed at the shakiness of her own voice.
“Isn’t that what we’ve been doing for the last three years, Farah? Look, this better not be about your what-we’re-doing-is-wrong theory again. I’ve had enough of that.”
“I’ve told you I can’t do this anymore. You know quite well that there is only one option left for us, but you never even let me bring it up!”
“Break up and live in distress? Let’s see how long you survive.”
“No, get married.”
There was silence on the other side.
“I’m only twenty-three. Stop making impossible suggestions, Farah. I don’t even get why you’re taking this so seriously. I didn’t say anything when you started wearing hijab. I let you give me uncomfortable lectures on why I should pray five times every day. Damn, I even woke up for fajr last week because you told me to. Why do you have to turn it from hard to impossible? Don’t you see how much I’ve done or you?” His voice was getting edgy from anger.
“It’s not about me! Don’t you have the slightest aspiration to please Allah, to go to Jannah? If you can do so many things for just a girl, why can’t you do them for your Lord? It’s much more important to please Allah, why don’t you get that Fahim?” Her eyes were already burning.
“Calm down, Farah. You’re taking your religion too seriously. Ask anyone around you, they’ll agree. I’m a Muslim too, you don’t see me getting so hyped up over it.”
“Exactly, Fahim. You’re a Muslim too! You’re supposed to take it more seriously than anything else!”
The burning sensation was crawling down her cheek now. He muttered out an incomprehensible reply and hung up.
The next week Farah tried again. And then again. Getting married right then was something Fahim would do anything to avoid. She realized that in just four months, they had become occupants of two completely different worlds. His was a world where one followed only what pleases oneself, not bothering about consequences. Hers was one where nothing was more important than the commands of Allah SWT; where the definition of happiness was not confined to making oneself happy in this life; where life had a much bigger purpose. As soon as she realized how thick the border between the two worlds was, she chose to let go.
It’s been two months since Farah left the haram relationship that had once been the chief source of happiness for her. It was one of the most difficult times in her life – with every other phone call reminding her of all the long hours she had wasted in carefree conversations; and every other chat notification acting as a pingback to all the unrestrained chats she had partaken in. The guilt and remorse merged in with the sudden emptiness was making every day seem more excruciating than the one before. She began to skip the halaqas, and found it increasingly hard to focus in Salah. Her instance of withdrawal extended to her studies and interactions as well, much to her dismay. She felt caught up in a constant loop of frustration and indolence. Beneath the depths of lethargy and depression, she could almost feel the spiritual void get larger every day. Until, on one fortuitous day, her friend casually told her to read Surah Qaf.
Farah decided to implement that little bit of advice right away, not yet knowing how big an impact it would leave in her life. As she settled in a window seat in the local bus on her way home that day, she opened the Quran app on her phone and began to read the translation of the 50th Surah of the Quran. It had been days since she had read the Quran mindfully. As she read, she felt the world around her fade away into oblivion as the words hit her like a parade of nails.
[50:16] And indeed We have created man, and We know what his ownself whispers to him. And We are nearer to him than his jugular vein.
[50:17] (Remember!) that the two receivers (recording angels) receive, one sitting on the right and one on the left.
She read on, past the spine-chilling ayahs about the reality of Hellfire and through the heart-warming ayahs of Paradise, coming to a halt at the 34th ayah.
[50:34] Enter it in peace. This is the Day of Eternity.
She whispered it out to herself, then repeated it again and again, letting it sink in, letting it absorb all the haunting memories, letting it evacuate the darkness she held too dear. Enter it in peace. This is the day of Eternity.
By the time she got home and stood for the next Salah, she had memorized the ayah, along with a few more ayahs before and after it. It was the first time she recited Ayahs from a Surah outside the last Juz or surah Fatiha in Salah. It was also the first time in months that she made through an entire Salah without being distracted by a disturbing memory or trivial noise. She found herself making du’a to Allah in every sajdah to make it easy for her to memorize the Quran.
In the next few weeks, she memorized Surah Qaf in its entirety. The joy of the feat made her more ecstatic than an addict high on drugs. It became almost like an addiction for her to repeat a few ayahs, glance over their translation and then recite them in each subsequent Salah. When she told her friend about her new practice and the rush of excitement and satisfaction it was giving her, her friend advised her to check out the Tafsir of what she was reading once in a while. That was another life-changing advice for Farah. The in-depth analyses of surahs that she read in Tafsir Ibn Katheer or heard in online podcasts left her mesmerized for hours, sometimes even days. She felt more connected to Allah than she had ever imagined feeling.
She found herself involuntarily getting closer to her friend, discussing anything and everything from an Islamic viewpoint whenever they got time. It was as if the Quran had created a resilient chain-link between their souls. As she subconsciously rose from the depths of depression, she kept learning new things and making new friends for the sake of Allah in the Halaqas and sisters’ groups on social networks.
Farah passed each day amidst memorization of the Quran, reading Tafsir, listening to lectures, discussing what she read and how she felt with her sisters in faith, taking online short courses and attempting to become a better person. Amidst all of these, she nearly forgot about her past, relinquished all remaining agony and to her own amazement, became a more contented person than she had ever been in life. Before long, every little frustration she once had became mere jokes between her and her friends. It felt like magic; she felt like Rapunzel let free from her apparently grand castle that had locked her in for years; once she had escaped, the castle seemed infinitely insignificant compared to the open sky. She felt freer than ever before for not having to depend on a man for her happiness, or on someone’s approval for her contentment. Once she centered her life around pleasing Allah SWT, she felt every other fetter breaking away. Once she contently submitted to Allah, all her desires and whims became irrelevant.
The apparently grand castle of abandoned pleasures was nothing compared to the infinite open skies of Allah’s blessings, and the hope of a perfect happily-ever-after. She finally knew what it felt like to be free.