Principessa 15 May 2008Posted by ANNA in ANNA, Culture.
The princess guards the prayer from her alcove. I beckon her with my hand. Through knees, a pink t-shirt rocket comes skipping. We meet and link arms, as to dance.
“Do you want to pray with me, mama?” I ask. Brown eyes blink almost gold. “I am going to pray in front of my dad!” Abeer says. She indicates the mihrab with one hand. Questions rush through my heart. What exactly is there, in the nook before the imam? I never venture into the brothers section, and from across the hall, I cannot see. What of the imam? I think of Biskit, settling herself onto my sujud spot at the most inopportune of times.
The muezzin rises for the iqama. We press cheeks, and she is gone in a cloud which smells like grapes. Next to me, Abeer’s big sister, Aafreen, aligns our toe bones. She is midway between Abeer’s size and mine, beautiful and slight. Her scarf is a folded triangle, twisted carefully and pinned with a thin golden chain.
Afterward, the crowd is slow to settle. Aafreen and I make dhikr, kneeling side by side. My heart pangs remembering last week, when I lost my temper. Starving and wretchedly tired, I tried to rouse the teen from the awards ceremony before she wanted to leave. She refused to come, and I threw up my arms. Khalas. Who died and left me the chauffeur?
I regretted my snappiness the next morning, when her mother came in to forgive me. “Aafreen was worried about you yesterday, Sister Anna,” she said, cradling my hand. “‘Sister Anna was so tired, Mama. And she didn’t get enough sleep the night before.'” Saadia paused. “She loves you.”
I glance sidelong at the girl, and find her smiling at me. Together, our shoulders are warm. We are like parents after a fight, bashful with each other, wanting to be close. Alhamdulillah, thirty-three times.
The brothers make their goodbyes, while the sisters reposition our wall. It is a new blue thing which glides on small black wheels across the carpet, our sliding fortress.
When we have finished making dua, we settle against the wall. I do not join the sisters in the fortress’ shade. The point, for me, of coming upstairs for the lecture is to be able to see. I choose a spot by the wall from which I can watch head on. The lecture begins with Qur’an, with Surat al Muddaththir.
“Qum fa’andhir.” The imam’s voice stretches across the crowd. Arise and warn. No one speaks, save the children. Even here, on the second floor, toddlers walk, unrestrained. A tiny boy, perhaps two, wanders in green overalls to the imam’s feet. He stands at the edge of the man’s white table, tracing the microphone cord with his eyes.
“These are the second verses revealed to Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam,” the imam says. “He is told to stand up, to shake off his sleep. This is not the time to rest. This is not the time to hide. This,” he turns his palms to the ceiling, “is the time to act.”
I struggle not to let my thoughts turn too far in. What about me? Shall I stand too? My pulse beats sixteenth notes into my sternum. Listen, listen, I tell myself. If you listen, you will remember later. “This is the beginning of the call to da’wah. No one else was Muslim yet,” the shaykh reminds us. “Except for Khadija, radi Allahu anha.”
I imagine being one of only two Muslims in the world. “Sometimes, when we present Islam today, people question the role of women in Islam, and we do not know what to say. ” His voice grows heavy. “If we examine the history of the first converts, we will find the answer.”
“First, the Prophet Muhammad, sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam, invited his wife to Islam. Before anyone else accepted Islam, the two of them prayed together. In this, they were alone.” He survey the brothers with his eyes. “This is a good reminder for you,” he tells them, “to make your wife your partner. She is your helper. It is she who will be by your side.”
“Then who came next?” He asks the air. “We will see that the next one to accept Islam was a child. We will talk of Ali ibn Abi Talib, radi Allahu anhu.” From the doorway, I see a flash of gold and pink. Little Miss Laughter, the princess herself, carries a white glass in her hand. Next to me, Aafreen sighs.
She walks without lifting her feet. None of the water spills, and when she reaches me, it is still cool. “Sister Anna…?” she asks. She hands me the cup before I can answer. It is full in my hand.
“Jazaki Allahu khayran, sweetheart.” She pushes away curls. Aafreen moves over so that her sister may settle down between us. She looks pointedly at my purse. “My mama gave you that!” She holds onto a tassel and looks up at me. “Because you are poor!”
I decide that it is time to communicate silently. I unzip the handbag as quietly as I can. From it, we need my pen, round with gold ink, and a First Grade tablet, printed with blue and white designs. On it, in careful letters, I write her name. Next to it, I draw a star. I hand the tablet to her.
Abeer’s eyes are shiny as she makes out her name. She holds the pen carefully in her right hand. Carefully, she misspells my name. Sister Aana, she writes. She draws a star. She shows me the tablet, but does not return it. To my slight chagrin, she flops down on her belly. Then she pulls the tablet close to her chest, and props herself up on her elbows. Chewing her lip, she writes.
“Abu Talib did not have much money, and so Prophet Muhammad offered to take Ali into his household,” the imam is saying. “He was just ten years old.” Next to me, Abeer traces over her comma. She feels me watching her, and hands the notebook back. There, beneath my name, is a new message. “I love you, Sister Aana.”
From his table, her father holds the attention of the room. “Youth,” he pauses. “After his wife, Prophet Muhammad spread his message to his children.” He does not say “This is what you should do too,” but the brothers nod as if this is what they have heard.
I shake the pen quickly, in the hope that ink will spill down into its tip. “I love you too, kitten,” I write. She reads my message and touches her chest. “Me?” she asks. I nod. You.