DaysOfTaqwa:Rebirth Chapter XII

Chapter 12: The Value of Empathy

After ‘Asr Naasir waited at their neighbourhood mosque for Muneer.
He took the opportunity to continue practising his recitation until Muneer arrived. Most of the letters were easy to pronounce, however, he still found a few — ع , ح ,ض— a bit challenging and if there ever was anything Naasir thrived at, it was a challenge.
All in all, he hoped to make significant improvements so he could recite the Qur’an in a proper manner. Muneer had explained to him the significance and reward attached to doing that.
Muneer arrived on time and they began.
Thirty minutes and several corrections later, Muneer pronounced:
“Maa shaa Allah! You’ve been practising well.”
A feeling of accomplishment twirled inside Naasir. Muneer was proud of him; the grin on his face said as much.
Alhamdulillah, at least I am doing something right.
“Baarakallahu feek. Don’t relent okay?”
Naasir nodded. “Aamen. Thank you for being patient with me as well.”
“Alhamdulillah. So what question do you have for me today?”
After the first time, when he’d asked for Muneer’s help, it had become an unspoken rule that they end the class with questions from Nassir. Muneer tried his best to answer them and on occasions when he was unsure, he would consult relevant texts and provide answers the next day.
“Hmm, I have a question that isn’t in any way related to the Deen.” Naasir hesitated.
“Sure, go ahead, Naasir.” Muneer encouraged him with a smile.
“Okay. I was wondering how you know my dad?”
Muneer laughed. “I work for him.”
“You are one of his employees?”
“I am.”
“But you’re in school! You told me you are in 200 level right?”
Muneer shrugged, the ghost of a smile still on his lips. “The school fees won’t pay itself.”
Naasir did not understand. How could a student attend school and work at the same time?
“I see you’re confused so I’ll explain. I work, part-time, Your dad and I have worked out a timetable that doesn’t clash with my school work so everything is cool.”
“What exactly do you do for him?”
“I help in the IT department– writing code and doing other stuff.”
“You write code?! I love coding and am already learning how to.”
“That’s great.” Muneer began to tell him about sites online where he could find great resources. “If you’re serious you can even get a job freelancing online. That’s how I started and I still make good money from it.”
“You do freelancing?” Apparently, today was a day for Naasir’s mind to be blown. “How do you juggle everything? School, work, volunteering etc.”
“I have to work to support myself and my sister.”
“I see.” Naasir was dying to ask but he disliked coming across as nosy. Muneer put him out of his misery though.
“I know you want to ask so I’ll tell you. My parents are no more. 8 years ago to the day.”
“Subhanallah! I didn’t know. I’m so sorry.”
“It’s fine.” Muneer’s phone rang then and he excused himself to take the call.
Naasir sighed deeply, pangs of guilt gnawing at his insides. He couldn’t help but note the stark contrast between his life and that of Muneer’s. He’d had everything handed to him on a platter of gold. Never had to worry about where his next meal would come from or whether he would have a roof over his head. He knew not everyone was as fortunate as he was– Lend A Hand proved that much. But not once had he ever thought Muneer was somehow less fortunate.
The whole situation was unfair, yet who could question Allah?
As Naasir waited for Muneer to return, he pondered how his privileged upbringing had provided him with opportunities others could only dream of. Opportunities he had taken for granted for so long. During the short time he had known Muneer, he had never complained or shown any signs that he had little to no support systems. He always had a smile and a kind word for everyone.
You, on the other hand, have been ungrateful Naasir. To Allah, to your dad and almost everyone around you.
The newfound sense of purpose that had been fuelling him flared higher. He vowed to make amends with his dad and appreciate him more. Change his ways and channel Allah’s blessings on him for good.
“Sorry. I had to take that. A client I worked for before.” Muneer said when he returned.
“No problem.”
Naasir remained curious still. Didn’t Muneer and his sister have any extended family that could help? He imagined that if something happened to his dad today, there were legions of aunts and uncles from both parents’ sides who would step up and assist. He was sure of it.
“You have more questions,” Muneer said knowingly.
Naasir nodded, a bit mortified. “Don’t you have any extended family that could help out?”
A shadow crossed Muneer’s face and Naasir regretted his question instantly.
“No. It’s just me and my sister.” Muneer answered curtly. “If that’s all, we can leave now.”
Naasir berated himself silently. The companionable silence /easy tete-a-tete that sometimes accompanied their walk out of the masjid had been replaced by an awkward silence. And it was all his fault. He had ruined the mood with his big mouth and nosy questions.
Desperate to make things right, Naasir apologised.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have asked so many questions seeing as it’s none of my business…”
Muneer sighed. “It’s alright. Accept my apology too. I was short with you when you were only being curious.”
Muneer patted him on the back. “Let’s forget about it and talk about something else, okay?”
Naasir nodded, relieved they were good now. “Okay.”
“Try and recite everyday o. Practise the tajweed rules not only by reciting the parts you’re memorising but also with the aim of finishing the Qu’ran this month.”
“Yes, you mentioned the benefits of reciting a lot this month. I will start doing that inshaa Allah.”
Suddenly an idea occurred to Naasir. “Where are you currently reciting?”
“This morning, I stopped at the second page of Surah Tawbah.”
“I will reach and overtake you in a few days in shaa Allah and even finish before you,” Naasir said, grinning cheekily.
Muneer raised his eyebrows. “Is that a challenge?”
“Yep. Do you have what it takes, Ustadh Muneer?”
Muneer stopped walking and extended his arm for a handshake. “Bring it on!”
Naasir had ample time to think about his next move on his way home. He decided to speak with his step mum and apologise once and for all. Dad’s would follow during the weekend. He was nervous yet optimistic, the earlier success with Bushrah egging him on.
Allah, please guide my tongue.
By the time Naasir reached home, the preparations for the community Iftaar were already in full swing. Every year, his dad hosted Iftaar gatherings on the 5th, 10th, 15th, 20th and 25th days of Ramadan.
Stifling a yawn, he greeted the hired hands setting up canopies as he passed by them. He was tired– in a fulfilled way. He found himself looking forward to his schedule tomorrow.
Nusrah and his step mum were already directing the caterers. Naasir went to join them.
“Asssalamu alaykum.”
Nusrah answered the teslim and his fist bump. His step mum was facing away from him, speaking with one of the caterers but she acknowledged him by reaching out and touching him lightly. The old Naasir would have recoiled. This Naasir however stayed put. Nusrah noticed the interaction and smiled.
“Anything I can do to help?” He asked.
“Hmm, no I think we’ve got it covered.” Nusrah looked to their step mum and tapped her gently. “Abi, Ummu Sulaym?”
His step mum turned her attention to them then. “Naasir ma binu, Waalaykum salam.” She looked around the compound. “ I don’t think there’s anything left to do. We’ve got it covered.”
“I should have been here to help.” Naasir’s voice was laced with regret.
“Nonsense. You were at your Qur’an class.” It was then that she noticed the cut on his lip. He had taken off Nusrah’s plaster earlier as he felt it unnecessary. “What happened to you?” She touched the small cut carefully.
“Oh, this. It was nothing.” He had to improvise. It wasn’t a good idea to tell her that he’d gotten into a fight.
Allah was on his side because a call came in for his stepmother. She went into the house to take it. Naasir leaned back against the wall next to Nusrah, aiming to wait a few minutes before going in to tender his apology.
“Dad travelled o. Impromptu business trip.”
Ehen, how did you know?”
“Umm Sulaym said so. He’ll be back in a few days.” At his crestfallen look, Nusrah added. “I’ll call him so we can both talk to him tonight.”
“Ok, no wahala. I’m going inside.”
Naasir hoped his dad would return before the weekend so they could talk. In the meantime, he went in search of his stepmum.
He found her in the living room, sitting on a couch, eyes closed, head lolled back.
He approached her with cold feet– literally. His hands were clammy as well and his heart raced.
“Ummu Sulaym.” He spoke softly. The two words felt strange on his tongue. He had never called her by that name, just to spite her. He only ever referred to her as ‘Ma’ or stepmother.
“Ummu Sulaym.” He called again, this time louder.
Her eyes flew open, disoriented at first until they landed on him. Shock filled them then, obviously never expecting to ever hear him say her kunya.
“I’m sorry.” Naasir’s voice was barely above a whisper now.
Her expression softened further. “What are you sorry for, Naasir?”
“I’m sorry for not accepting you as my step mum. For always being rude to you and never acknowledging you.” Naasir said, his words tumbling out in a rush.
His stepmum’s lips were trembling now and tears threatened to fall from her eyes.
Naasir lowered his gaze and continued. “I know I’ve made things difficult for you, and I haven’t been fair. Yet, in spite of my behaviour, you continue to show me care and love.” Naasir took a deep breath and raised his head. Her tears had tumbled down her face now, and she had her hand over her lips.
“I want to make it right. I want to be a better son to you, Ummu Sulaym. I want to try and make up for all the times I’ve been rude or dismissive. I want to start over.”
For a few seconds, the only sounds in the room were her sniffles. Naasir wiped away a few errant tears from his cheeks as well. He had never intended to make her cry however he hoped this was a sign that she would accept him.
“You don’t know how long I’ve waited to hear you say those words. Thank you, Naasir,” His step mum said, her voice shaking with emotion. “I appreciate your apology, and I’m willing to start over too. We can work on building a relationship together, one step at a time.”
Naasir nodded, a small smile breaking through his tears. It wasn’t going to be easy, but he was determined to make things right with her, to include her as an important part of his life.
“Come here.” She opened her arms wide.
Naasir closed the distance between them and stepped into the future.
© Hafsah bint Nurein

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