By: Swaleh Arif
Omar lay awake in the middle of the night, unsure of what to think. Father Time took a break from his rounds and sat down, listening to the young man’s grieving heart as he recounted the day’s events. It involved a marriage proposal, a surprising rejection and unanswered questions.
Shamsa was the name he whispered as he gently brought his fist against the wall. He kept replaying in his mind the one moment that mattered the most to him; his lover’s reaction. It was a mixture of shame, sorrow and…fear? His paranoid brain was starting to think all sorts of things he did wrong that could have possibly resulted in him being dumped like a sack of potatoes.
Of course! It’s because I didn’t get out of my house with my left foot first. Ah, damn it. Not to mention the fact that I read ten pages of the Qur’an today instead of my usual twenty. That’s it, Allah is punishing me for slacking off. I suppose I deserve it, Shamsa is too pure to get married to a man who is inconsistent in his deen.
After a while of pondering and exercising his right to anxiety, Omar finally calmed down and concluded that the previous day’s events had zero relation to the fact that he may have forgotten to say bismillah before eating lunch, and had more to do with the fact that it had been written way before either of them had been created.
The first adhaan of the fajr prayer echoed through the early morning sky and jolted Omar back to reality. He was a bit astonished by how quickly time had passed while he was busy swimming in the ocean of hows and whys. Well, there’s no point in falling asleep now, seeing that it was almost time to pray, he thought as he made his way to the bathroom
“Ah! My beautiful Shamsa. How aptly your name has described the status you hold in my heart! You are the sun that shines during my darkest hours, dispelling any demonic thoughts that agonise me during your absence. Without you, the flowers that have taken root in my heart would not bloom, leaving this poor soul stuck in an endless winter! Without you, all life that resides within my being ceases to exist, deprived of the nourishment that your love gives me. Without you, hope will be nothing but a mere phantasm, leading me to raving lunacy, the way Majnoon was when deprived of his beloved Layla!” Omar finished with a dramatic flourish of his hand. A short pause followed as he gave Shamsa a quizzical look, expecting a reaction, then “So? What do you think? Is it nice?”
“I still can’t believe you don’t have a proper beard,” Shamsa murmured as she scanned her lover’s hairless cheeks. Omar was struggling to put sabrun jameel into practice as he slowly rubbed the bridge of his nose while letting out a long sigh.
“This is probably my best work yet and you’re more concerned with my facial hair development?” Omar rolled his eyes.
“Or lack thereof. Beard equals man, no beard equals boy. So you better activate those genes mister, or I’ll leave you for my next door neighbour Abdallah.”
“Ah, mi amore,” Omar feigned a tortured expression, “Such a statement has rendered my cardiac activities under arrest! Almost. Anyway, I must leave now, in case your father comes looking. I love you. I’ll see you tomorrow inshaallah.”
As Omar turned to leave, Shamsa threw herself on him and hugged him from behind. “Thank you for that, it was really amazing. I love you, and I’ll always love you, beardless or otherwise.”
“Asalaam aleikum warahmatullah, asalaam aleikum warahmatullah,” the imam’s voice blared through the speakers all around the mosque. It was then that Omar realised he had switched to autopilot the moment he began praying. He chided himself for being incompetent. Ah well, I’ll compensate it with ad-duha. Allah is Most Merciful indeed.
After finishing his morning adhkaar, Omar went to get breakfast at a nearby hotel. The sun had already risen and painted the sky pink and gold. Most shops in the neighbourhood had already opened and turned on their tapes, playing recordings of Qur’an recitations. Upon reaching the hotel, Omar saw Sheikh al-nur, or the Sheikh of light, which wasn’t his real name, it was a title he earned because he was a skilled electrician. Sheikh al-nur was a tall, skinny, middle-aged man who was white from head to toe. His clothes were white, his hair was white, the stone on his ring was white, his skin complexion was fair as well, and he had the whitest teeth Omar had ever seen a man possess. I suppose that’s another reason to call him that, he mused.
Omar slid on a bench opposite to where Sheikh was seated. He narrowed his eyes when he saw Omar’s miserable condition and began stroking his beard. “You look like you were plagued by a nightmare. Did you finally see your grandmother scolding you from her castle in heaven?”
“Hey, my grandmother was one of the most gentle people to have ever graced my existence,” Omar retorted, “Allah yarhamha” he then added.
“Allah yarhamha”, Sheikh echoed, “Maybe she was gentle to you, but to the rest of us she was a fiery woman who did not hesitate to hit a person with her sandal regardless of age or gender. Nonetheless, she was a good soul. Anyway, enough of that, what’s bothering you my son? You are not your usual cheerful self.”
Omar gently put sugar in his tea that was brought to him a few moments ago. After some time of stirring and silence, he began, “It’s Shamsa, something’s wrong. I went to propose to her but Sayyid Akbar refused without an explanation. I’ve spent the entire night thinking what I could have possibly done to offend him, but nothing comes to mind.”
Sheikh stiffened a little bit on hearing this, but then he replied with “Of course.”
Omar was nonplussed, “What do you mean ‘Of course’?”
“Well…considering what happened all those years ago, I suppose your proposal being rejected was the natural outcome,” Sheikh smiled mysteriously then chuckled at Omar’s apparent confusion, but then he fell silent and his smile faded. He grew serious and continued, “Listen, Omar, I’m about to tell you something that I’m not supposed to. However, I feel that you have the right to know. Are you ready?” Omar nodded, “Good. Now pay close attention to what I’m about to tell you…”
Omar stepped out of the hotel, ashen faced as if he came face to face with his worst nightmare. He allowed his legs to move of their own accord as his mind stayed blank. The next thing he registered was his body lying on his bed. He hadn’t even bothered to take off his kanzu or lock the door. Nothing mattered at this point, for he was simply thinking of the shocking revelation he just received from Sheikh al-nur…
“So what you’re saying is that…Shamsa is a bastard?” Omar asked, disbelief etched on his face.
“Yes, that is correct,” Sheikh al-nur replied with a watchful gaze.
“A bonafide bast- okay I won’t use that term. She’s an illegitimate child?” he asked once more, just to make sure that he wasn’t hallucinating.
“Yes, Shamsa is the illegitimate child of the late Feroz and an unknown man. I know this is hard to believe but you must under-” Sheikh al-nur was interrupted by Omar’s raised hand, gesturing to him that he wanted to hear no more.
A long silence ensued where Omar stared morosely at his untouched tea, stunned by the news. Sheikh picked up his rosary from the table and began doing tasbih, patiently waiting for Omar to make a response.
After over ten minutes of brooding, Omar finally broke the silence and said, “I have no idea what to do.”
Sheikh thoughtfully stroked his beard and asked, “Omar, do you love this girl?”
“Of course I do. I’d die for her,” he replied in a heart beat.
“So why don’t you go talk to her and her father?”
“But…her father rejected me. Shamsa rejected me. I’m not sure if I’m wanted.”
“Have you ever considered the fact that they rejected you because they had your best interests in their hearts? Just put yourself in their shoes for a moment and understand that this has been hard for them, more than it has been hard for you. So my advice is that you should go visit Sayyid Akbar and his daughter and talk it over like the rational adults that you are. However, do not go immediately, give it three days. Right now, emotions are running high and none of you can see clearly. So give yourselves some space until the dust settles,” Sheikh enumerated all of this to Omar carefully the way a father would to his son.
“For now, go get some rest, gather your thoughts, think very carefully of what you’re going to say and most important of all, be patient. Allah is most Merciful and He will only provide what’s best for you. Do you understand?” He snapped his fingers twice in front of Omar’s face, who had zoned out. He blinked himself back awake and grunted in agreement. “Yallah, salaam aleikum.” Sheikh al-nur finished.