The Opening 2 September 2008Posted by Ayesha Mattu in BARAKA, Spirituality.
Al-Fatiha (The Opening)
In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate
All praise is for God alone, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds,
The Merciful, the Compassionate,
Master of the Day of Judgement.
You alone do we worship, and You alone do we turn to for help.
Show us the straight way
The way of those whom You have blessed- not of those who have been condemned or who have gone astray.
– Qur’an, 1:1-7
Al-Fatiha is the most recited verse of the Qur’an. A practicing Muslim says it during every prayer, at a minimum of 17 times daily. Not only is it the opening chapter of the Qur’an but by saying it to ourselves repeatedly we seek to open our hearts to God and to be aware of the many openings and opportunities to come closer to Him that He provides us with every day.
The openings are also present in the places and people around us – if we take the time to become conscious of them.
It takes time to see through the fog of unfamiliarity in places where I expect the soothing touches of home, but eventually I start to remember all the things that I love about Pakistan instead of focusing only on how it has changed since I visited two years ago.
Being here again brings a flood of almost-forgotten memories, beautiful and awful, as if they are somehow connected to the soil, carried in the air and water here. All the years that I lived here, all the people that I’ve been, come streaming back to me.
Openings to the Divine come in so many unexpected, unlooked for forms and provide an opportunity for us to look closer, and to look again. A storm late last night was the opening which paved the way for me to love Pakistan again.
It came in the way that storms often do here: sudden, thunder and howling wind-filled, lighting up the sky dramatically and threatening to take the windows off their hinges, while simultaneously blowing deliciously cool winds and rain to scatter the 90-degree heat.
Pakistan is one of those places where summer rains are cause for celebration – people walk the streets in ankle-deep muddy water with smiles on their faces instead of running inside to stay dry. I never understood why my parents liked the smell of rain hitting the dry earth until we moved to Pakistan and I experienced one of the intensely hot summers for myself.
Now, when they say mitti ki khushboo (the earth’s perfume) I know exactly what they mean. When those first few drops of rain fall upon the dust they release one of the most ecstatic fragrances that I know, and bring cool relief from oppressive heat.
At suhoor (the pre-dawn Ramadan meal) shortly after the storm in a newly cool house I looked around at the faces of my family gathered at the table and thought to myself that this is really what it is about after all.
Whatever bad times we’ve had, whatever difficult dynamics we still deal with as a family – all of which seem to arise to confront me whenever I visit – at the end of the day, they’re my blood. And that counts for something deep, and makes up for a lot.
As we sat at the table Amiji told us about her childhood suhoors in her ancestral village. A group of dhol-walas (people with large, loud drums) would begin a circuit through the village at 2 am playing their drums and singing naats (poems in praise of the Prophet) in order to wake people for suhoor. By the time they had finished wandering through the village drumming and signing, it would still be two hours before the start time of the pre-dawn meal.
Then, my sister told us how when she was studying in a Lahore college the local mosques would start broadcasting into their microphones: (cough – clear throat – cough) “Hazraat! Sehri khatam honay mein do ghantey hein!”, warning people of the impending end of suhoor, also a good two hours beforehand.
In both cases, it’s a wonder that anyone got any sleep at all. But Ramadan is not about sleeping – it is about becoming awake and alive to the blessings pouring down upon us every minute of our lives, like a raincloud that has sheltered and nourished us all along but which we suddenly become acutely aware of and grateful for.
As we listened to and laughed at everyone’s Ramadan tales with the fresh, rain-cooled wind blowing in through the windows I looked around the table again, lingering on each dear face. My five-year old niece was also there, sleepy but excited to be present with the adults and their rituals.
We’re forming her memories of Ramadan and family life here and now, and I hope that they are as sweet as many of mine are. It is a such a gift to be able to be a part of forming who she is and will become, especially because I am so often a far-away Khala (maternal aunt) in San Francisco.
This particular opening, stormy though it began, allowed me to appreciate again the infinite blessings of family and home, for all of which I am truly grateful.
With a storm raging over Louisiana, this Ramadan 2006 re-post seemed fitting. May God bless and protect the millions of people affected by the evacuation and the impact of Hurricane Gustav.