Monday, 14 September 2009

A Word in Passing – Bint AbdelHamid

A Word in Passing – Bint AbdelHamid

I recall them still. They were moments of excitement and transformation during days of innumerable blessings.

Sixteen, my friend and I, and our phone conversations were altered from what they had been just before the start of the month: short now, and to the point, announcing a lecture on television ("it's on, now, don't miss it!"), sharing a hadith, recommending a good deed waiting to be done.

We were school girls, racing with ourselves and each other, not content to run alone. Instead, we met on the path, poised, ready to exchange pieces of wisdom and inspiration that might propel us forward. We ran, we paused, we passed them on – like batons in a race – and knew, wherever the batons went, whatever people they reached or work they inspired, good deeds would come.

It's the first Ramadan I truly remember. And I insist, despite everything good that I recall from that year, that I remember this Ramadan because it's the first Ramadan I truly began to pray qiyaam.

When I say "pray qiyaam," I'm not talking about taraweeh in the masjid behind an imam as a child, reveling at being out so late at night, or sitting down with glee after the first four rak'ahs, or even standing up the whole time for a deed I knew was rewarding, but didn't entirely understand.

I'm talking about qiyaam at home, after the time of taraweeh, alone before Allah, praying despite exhaustion and school the next day, discovering what is meant by the beauty of seclusion and worship and humility before Allah. It was something I could not possibly get enough of, an experience that put life and death and 'ibaadah into perspective: this is what I was created to do.

Qiyaam, too, was a piece of advice snatched at the end of a telephone conversation, something my friend told me, but almost didn't –

"Ok, I have to go now," I said at the end of a call, in a rush to move on.

"Me too —"

"Alright then —"

"Hey, just don't forget to pray qiyaam. You do pray qiyaam, don't you?"

"Umm… not really…I'm not sure I know how," I replied.

In reality, I was already reading Qur'an at a pace I'd never attempted before, spending ten, twenty minutes before sleep engrossed in du'aa, and putting in an effort to make thikr regularly. I wasn't sure I'd have time for anything extra.

"Please, you have to, it's really easy. It's just two rak'ahs. Two short rak'ahs. In the first one, you recite Surat al-A'laa, in the second, Surat al-Kafiroon. Ok? Did you get that?"

"Yeah… I think so…"

"Are you going to do it?"

"Umm… maybe… I'll try..."

"No, listen. You have to do it tonight, it doesn't even take five minutes, it's two short rak'ahs, that's it. But the reward for it is amazing. You have to, please, please, please."

That night, or the next – I didn't know what I was passing up at the time – with the sound of my friend's pleading voice still encouraging me, I realized I had five minutes to spare. And so I stood up and prayed with the surahs she recommended.

But I realized during the first rak'ah that I hadn't made du'aa yet that night, and why not take advantage of sujood, with my forehead on the ground and my heart closer to Allah than it could ever be in any other position? I made du'aa in that salah again and again, rising from sujood only to come back down to it in eagerness, making du'aa past the point where I could think of anything to ask for, repeating my pleas, searching for anything that could keep me in that position longer. Long and low, I held my body, pleading with my Lord, not wanting to rise from the sajdah.

I found my only-five-minutes-two-short-rak'has-salah extended. I found that I had more than five minutes to spare. And I found that I was not sparing them, but desperately in need of using them in prayer.

And the next night when I came to pray, I recalled the sweetness of sujood, the sweetness of du'aa and literally waking up hours later to find my prayers answered, the sweetness of standing before Allah… and I intended this time for a longer salah.

I decided to extend my rukoo' and the other positions of prayer with the thikr of Allah, concentrating on the words instead of just repeating them, emulating the guidance of the Prophet salla Allahu alayhi wassalam in doing this, if only with a portion of the time and sincerity that he spent, salla Allahu alayhi wassalam. I stood up to read the longest surah I knew, a surah memorized for a school contest. On that night, after years of participation in them, I suddenly knew what Qur'an contests and Qur'an memorization were all about – they were about this, reciting by heart in the darkness of the night, competing in terms of prayer and salah, our silah and connection with Allah.

Years have now passed since that Ramadan. Still, I think back to those first few days of qiyaam with longing… except that I know, the way to long is not backwards towards those days, but forwards, downwards to the ground that still extends itself as a place of worship, and upwards towards Allah, the Ever-Living.

So in turn, here they are, my words to you in passing:

Pray qiyaam, it's really easy. It's just two rak'ahs. Two short rak'ahs. You have to do it tonight, it doesn't even take five minutes, it's two short rak'ahs, that's it. But the reward for it is amazing.

Take these words and run with them to the depths of sujood and nearness to Allah. Take these words and pray qiyaam tonight, this night, and every other night of your life. Take them, and don't forget – as a racer towards good in this dunya and the akhira – the baton is now in your hand.

Pass it on.

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