Ar-Rihla

Live in this World Like a Wayfarer, Only Passing By...

 

 

 

The Return

Israh Thraya

I feel as though the world has ended
Perhaps it has or perhaps just mine
My time is up, the return has come
The grave awaits and so do the gates
To Heaven or Hell, I'm unable to determine
In time I will but for now I'm uncertain

I'm watching them
Watching the tears
That trickle down their cheeks
Heavy raindrops on a stormy day
I want to cry, tell them everything will be alright
But do I even know that myself?

They wash me, my hair, hands, feet, and body
I can see but I can't feel
They read the Surahs I learned when I was young
قل هو الله احد and الفاتحة
The Surahs that I know but never memorized

Lying here covered in white
My mother's cries fill the air
Thick and heavy, a slap to the face
She prays to God to bring me peace
Because she knows my biggest secret

THAT I NEVER PRAYED!!!

Pray

Yusra Malik

"Woohoo!" Aalia squealed, pumping a fist in the air while the other was grasping the steering wheel. She excitedly wiggled in her seat. Sabrina shook her head and turned to her best friend.

"Al, keep your eyes on the road," she instructed.

Rolling her eyes, Aalia obeyed, slowing down and making a sharp right turn. Houses whizzed by until finally, a great wheat field stretched out before them, along with the long road ahead. Aalia opened her window, which caused a giant rush of air to send her hair flying all over her face.

"This is going to be the best road trip ever! Like, I can't even believe your family let you come!"

It was true. Sabrina's parents were quite strict, a practicing Muslim family, complete with a five time daily routine and a no-nonsense policy. They hardly let their daughter go anywhere around the neighbourhood, let alone out of city- but this time Sabrina begged them and they reluctantly agreed. It wasn't that they didn't trust her; they were simply overprotective and loved their daughter dearly. Sabrina understood and respected them by agreeing to their rules and promising to call them when they reached their destination: a large lake where they were meeting their friends and camping overnight.

"Yeah, well they aren't as strict as you think y'know. They just aren't used to me going places without them." Sabrina explained.

She seemed to do a lot of explaining, since Aalia hardly, if ever, obeyed her parents’ wishes, preferring her own over theirs. This meant that she didn't understand Sabrina's situation sometimes.

"Well, if you say so," Aalia shrugged. "I spoke with Mona and the girls before I picked you up and they said that they even brought their own..." Aalia went on talking while Sabrina listened.

She studied her best friend as she babbled on about bonfires and smores and sleeping under the stars. Sabrina observed her clothes and the slight blond highlights in her dark brown hair. She noticed her eye make-up which looked fit for an Avril Lavigne concert rather than camping and she couldn't help but catch a glance of a box of cigarettes peeking out from Aalia's purse. Although Sabrina tried to deny it, her best friend whom she had played with since they were toddlers, was changing drastically.

In high school, Aalia strode into her first party. In college, she snuck out of her house, went on a joyride with her friends and came back at six in the morning, half drunk and sending her mother into a state of frenzy. Ever since then, Aalia's been rebellious and in denial of her Islamic roots. Sabrina tried to deny it, but the girl she once knew was gone. She just wanted her best friend back. The good Muslim girl who attended Quran classes with her and fought against the evil, cooty carrying male species in elementary.

Sabrina knew they were polar opposites now. Aalia preferred rap while Sabrina enjoyed a nice nasheed. Aalia was a party-goer. Sabrina was a mosque-goer. They even dressed differently. Aalia's shorts and crop tees made up nearly her entire wardrobe. Sabrina preferred flowing skirts and long cardigans. She didn't even own a pair of jeans.

"Hey, Bri, did you hear me?"

Sabrina snapped out of her thoughts and turned to Aalia, who was gazing at her, expectantly. Sabrina shook her head and apologized.

"Sorry, I got lost in thought." She explained.

"Oh well, I was just saying that Elena is throwing a party next week at her place and she was asking if you might want to come."

Sabrina silently adjusted her hijab which was becoming quite loose. She glanced at her phone and noticed that they had been driving for nearly half an hour. She took a breath and addressed the question at hand.

"You know what my answer will be, Al." She said, quietly.

Aalia's greenish brown eyes were fixed on the road. Her mouth was set in a firm line, her eyebrows taut with annoyance. She sighed.

"You never have any fun!" She blurted, "I thought that maybe this time you should just try it and come to this party so you can-"

"So I can what?" Sabrina interrupted, "Drink? Party with guys all night under the moon and get high? What's the point, Al? That may be fun for you but I don't think it would be for me."

Aalia turned to Sabrina, her eyes flashing. They glowed like embers, catching the rays of the sun.

"Well, you won't know until you try." She replied, exasperated.

"Its not that I know I won't have any fun. Its that my Lord has commanded me to not have that type of fun, and that's how I know I won't like it. How can I enjoy something that Allah has prohibited?"

Aalia returned her gaze upon the road and her face became an unreadable mask. Sabrina looked down at her hands, a hint of shame sprouting in her chest. Regret slowly encompassed her heart as she thought of what she had said. She had indirectly told Aalia that she was not a good Muslim even though she didn't mean to say it that way. She peeked a glance at Aalia from the corner of her eye. Her best friend stared at the road in front of them, her beautiful eyes concealing her thoughts.

Suddenly, Sabrina's phone beeped, producing an image of a dome shaped structure with rising minarets.

It was prayer time.

Sabrina thought quickly as she silenced her phone. Astotin Lake was still a four hour drive away and by that time evening will have fallen, along with it: evening prayer. This meant that she either had to pray right now or not at all.

The latter was inexcusable.

She did a quick review of what she had done before Aalia had picked her up and confirmed that she still had her wudu. She had prayed Zuhr, an hour or so before Aalia had arrived and hadn't broken it since.

"Stop the car." She said.

Aalia turned to her in confusion.

"Why? What's wrong?"

"Nothing. Its prayer time."

Aalia's eyes widened.

"What? You're gonna pray right now. Here!" She exclaimed, as if praying on the highway was among the most uncivilized and humiliating things a person could dream of.

"Well, yeah. By the time we get to the lake it will be Maghreb time." Sabrina stated patiently. She had expected this.

"So?" Aalia asked.

"So, I'll miss Asr." Sabrina answered with a hint of irritation. She had thought Aalia would at least respect prayer of all things.

"Just pray when we get there,”Aalia waved her hand in dismissal.

Sabrina fell silent. Finally she spoke.

"Aalia, do I look unconscious to you?"

"Umm..no." she said slowly while glancing at Sabrina with a raised brow. She clearly didn't get where Sabrina was getting at.

"Well, since unconsciousness is the only exception in putting off the prayer when you are able to perform it...I would really appreciate it, if you could pull over for like three minutes," Sabrina explained slowly, her voice firm.

Aalia sighed and steered the car to the side of the road, with an annoyed pout on her face. Sabrina beamed happily at her best friend who couldn't help but smile back at her expression. Aalia watched as Sabrina jumped out of the car and after checking an app on her phone which stated the direction of the Qiblah, pulled out a small prayer mat from her bag and set it onto the ground.

As Sabrina performed the prayer, Aalia sank in her seat so no one could see her. She was sure people were throwing dirty looks her way for having a friend who though praying in the middle of nowhere was normal, for God's sake. But then guilt crept into her heart.

Suddenly, she felt ashamed. What kind of a Muslim felt ashamed for praying? What kind of a Muslim had she become? Guilt overwhelmingly surged through her heart.

The car door opened, snapping her out of her thoughts. Sabrina settled down besides her, her whole being glowing as if she had just been engaged in a conversation with God.

Aalia flicked the gear on drive and they resumed their journey. A yellow field stretched out on their right, the bright flowers swaying in the soft breeze. Above them, a majestic eagle glided against the sky. Sabrina admired the scene outside the window, longing to run into the vast field of yellow flowers. After a while, she found her mind pondering over things she tried to avoid thinking about. She hesitantly turned to Aalia, who felt her gaze slide her way.

"Al, why don't you ever pray?" Sabrina asked her voice steady and careful. It carried in it, love and care that only Aalia could decipher. They were after all, the closest of friends. But even though they were so close, they never discussed Aalia's religious life. Sabrina had noticed that she had gradually stopped praying but never had enough courage to bring the topic up. Better late than never, she thought.

Aalia was quiet for a moment, unsure of how to answer. She knew religion was dear to Sabrina, and wondered if this trip was ever going to stop getting awkward. She decided to dub it the 'not-so-greatest-road-trip-ever.' She turned to Sabrina and noticed the her brown eyes looked a fiery orange in the evening light.

"I don't know...I guess I'm not really a good Muslim anyway so why bother, right? I mean if Allah really wanted to guide me, He would have done so by now. Guess I'm just not meant to be guided." She explained with a shrug, rather unsure. She felt as if she was just blabbering and making excuses.

Sabrina considered this for a moment, trying to search the right words to address this dilemma.

"Yeah, but you don't really have to be a good Muslim to pray. Once you establish the prayer, the rest become easy. And, come on, you know that’s not true. Allah made us human, so we could distinguish between right and wrong. We have the choice whether to disobey him or not. He didn't make us so he could pick which one of us He wanted to guide. What if I slapped you right now? You would say 'Hey what was that for?' and what if I said 'Don't blame me; Allah made me do it!'"

"Well yeah...but there's a difference between why I don't pray and if you just decided to slap me...it’s just a whole different scenario." Aalia said in her defense.

"Well what's the difference?" Sabrina asked.

"Well...slapping me doesn't have anything to do with religion and besides if you did slap me out of nowhere...you would have done it on purpose and I don't..." Aalia fell silent, catching herself, as Sabrina shot her a look.

Of course what Sabrina said was undoubtedly true and what she was about to say would make no sense at all. It wasn't as if she accidentally disobeyed her parents. She didn't accidentally sneak out of her house or accidentally drink and swear. She did it on purpose because she had a choice and she chose to do it.

"Listen Aalia," Sabrina said softly. "Please don't think I'm forcing you to do anything you don't want to. I love you for the sake of Allah and I just want you to be happy."

Aalia turned to Sabrina her eyes hard. A fierce sense of resistance rushed over her. She didn't want Sabrina to change her, nor did she want to change herself.

"Well, good. Because I like this lifestyle and I want to stay this way. I am happy." She declared, determined.

Sabrina sunk into her seat holding in a sigh. She was afraid of this, always had been. She was afraid that her friend had gone too far, to the point where she would rather stay that way. And not return.

"Okay," Sabrina whispered. "Okay. But always remember: Allah is the most Merciful. He loves to forgive."

For some reason, this statement caused tears to prick at Aalia's eyes. The road she was staring at blurred before her, and she blinked hard to prevent tears from falling. She didn't say anything; how could she, when she had just admitted that she would rather stay disobedient and rebellious than what a true Muslim should be.

***

Sabrina woke up to the sound of screaming.

The sky above her shone intensely, the sun a scorching ball of harsh light. It was as if someone had amplified the colors of the world to the point where they were harsh and much too unpleasant. She squinted, getting up and noticing that she was standing in an open field with tall grass. In the distance she could see hills and a small forest that decorated the bumps that they made in the earth. She turned and caught sight of the highway, which was quite far away, a long grey strip with tiny cars that disappeared into the distance.

She looked around, discovering that the screaming sound that she had woken up to, was coming from Aalia. Her screams had been reduced to small sniffling sounds. Sabrina ran over to her friend who sat crouched on the ground, trembling in pain and gasping for air.

"What happened? Al, are you okay?" Sabrina gasped, her heart hammering in alarm.

As Sabrina helped Aalia up into a sitting position, Aalia hugged herself tightly and tried to choke back tears that were lodged in her throat.

"I don't know," she sobbed, "I feel like someone clawed my insides out."

Sabrina stared at her, startled, her mind trying to understand what was happening.

"But...how did we get here?" She asked, softly, as if she were talking to herself.

Aalia and Sabrina looked around, and then they both turned to the highway.

"I remember driving somewhere and talking about...something...I just can't remember..." Aalia whispered. She felt like she was trying to see through a haze, as if she was recollecting a memory that had occurred an eternity ago.

"Yes...and then there was darkness." Sabrina continued. "Do you remember it? The darkness? It was as if everything had flashed out of existence. One minute we're driving in the car and the next we're here..." She finished with a small voice.

They stared at each other, thinking hard. Aalia remembered the darkness. She couldn't explain it though, it was fast, like a scene that had been abruptly closed. And the pain that had followed, the excruciating pain that felt as if every limb in her body, every fibre of her being, was being pulled out. She shuddered just as Sabrina remembered something else. She remembered something after the darkness. Figures of pure light, mystical and beautiful. She didn't recall them out loud, afraid that they were just figments of her imagination. But they came with feeling; a sensation of soft comfort, as if they held promises of a bright future.

Both girls turned their heads up towards the sky, which was bright and yet, dark. The contradiction puzzled Aalia and Sabrina, for it couldn't be but it still was. The sun shone fiercely in a sky that was as dark as night. Soft clouds were streaked across it like giant fingers.

Aalia whimpered and squeezed her eyes shut against a pain the she no longer felt, but still stung as if it was alive inside her. She hugged herself harder, while Sabrina scanned the field once more, caught between helping her friend and watching her suffer. She didn't know if she could help her. She didn't know what to do. She let out a quiet gasp when her eyes landed on a far way figure.

"Look." She whispered, her voice a soft breath.

Aalia looked up and turned towards the direction that Sabrina was staring in.

A tall woman in a flowing gown that flew around her, stood quite a distance away. She faced them, her hands folded behind her back. She seemed to be waiting, looking out onto them with the road stretched behind her like long grey wings. The reflection of the sky shimmered on it behind her.

Sabrina stood and shared a silent glance with Aalia. Aalia knew her friend well enough by now, to know that she wanted to go over and talk to this woman. Since Aalia didn't have any more suggestions on what they should do, she decided to agree with Sabrina.

"Maybe she'll know what happened." Aalia offered as she painfully began to make her way towards the woman. Sabrina followed her, feeling light headed but totally aware at the same time. It was an oddly blissful sensation.

As the two girls drew closer to the woman, they noticed that she had on a beautiful blue hijab, the color of a summer sky on a peaceful day. The woman was young and beautiful, with soft features and a delicate frame. Her eyes were a heavenly shade of blue and brought peace and tranquility to one's soul with a mere look. The woman smiled as they stopped in front of her, a smile that lit up her face. Everything about this woman was pure and elegant. Aalia and Sabrina stood before her for some time before they finally found their voices.

"Please, we want to know how we got here and what has happened to us? And...Who are you?" Aalia asked.

The woman smiled again, a warm comforting smile which made Aalia's pain melt.

"Do not worry." She said, though she seemed to be talking to Sabrina. Her voice vibrated with warmth. "Your time has come but it will be a successful end."

Aalia's brow wrinkled, in confusion and she turns to Sabrina, who stood frozen, her eyes wide. Tears brimmed her eyes. Anxiety stabbed Aalia like a knife, for she could not bear the confusion of this matter any longer. Her mind was a jumbled up mess and her best friend was realizing something that she didn't think she wanted to know.

"Please," Aalia begged, her voice cracking, "who are you? And what do you mean 'your time has come.'"

The woman stared at her furiously, as if she did not like what she saw. Her face softened as she turned to Sabrina, once again - completely ignoring Aalia.

"I am your Prayer. I am here as a witness and to testify your actions on the Day of Reckoning."

Sabrina sank to her knees, her face wet with tears. She was not crying because she no longer existed in the world she once knew. She was not crying out of joy either; that she had her Prayer on her side. She cried because her dear best friend, who stood staring at her with a lost expression on her face, was unprepared for what lay ahead of her.

"I don't understand, Bri. What does she mean?" Aalia asked, her voice high and desperate. The prickly pain erupted inside her once again, seeming to gnaw at her flesh. She burst into tears when Sabrina did not reply.

"What does she mean?" Aalia screamed, her voice echoing through the deep silence, rippling fiercely through the blades of grass. Sabrina looked up into her eyes, her own wet and filled with tears.

"She means that we're dead, Aalia." Sabrina explained with dread. "We've died."

"But...how?" Aalia cried.

Sabrina was silent, for she did not know herself.

The woman-Sabrina's Prayer- spoke up.

"You've died in a car accident. Your bodies are at the scene of the crime. Once you have been buried, the questioning of the grave will begin." She explained all this as if she did it every day.

"Questioning?" Aalia asked confusion in her eyes.

However, realization slowly spread upon her as she remembered - a memory etched deep inside the recesses of her mind: Quran School. She was sitting with a bunch of other girls. Sabrina sat beside her, engrossed, as they listened to the teacher saying, "...and Uthman (R.A) was crying so much so, that his beard was soaked with tears. A man came up to him and asked him as to why he was crying. Uthman (R.A) replied, "For the questioning of the grave is the hardest test, among many. And the first. Whoever passes this one will have ease and comfort for the span of the rest of the tests. But whoever is not able to answer the questions...alas, for him, the remaining tests will be chaotic, with nothing but grief.'"

For the first time in many years, Aalia was hit with an enormous load of fear, guilt, doom and hopelessness. It came as a slap-unexpected. She looked at Sabrina in a state of helplessness pleading for intercession.

Sabrina looked back at her, watching Aalia's face transform into realization and fear. Sabrina knew that Aalia finally understood; finally acknowledged that she had wasted her life-practically threw it away. Sabrina could see the lines on Aalia's forehead, the deep pain in her eyes and her tortured expression full of regret.

It broke her heart to see her best friend in this state.

Aalia finally understood the pain. The sensation of her innards being shred into pieces finally made sense. This is what happened to those who don't obey. This is what happens to people like me, she thought. She resisted the urge to scream or scratch herself raw. How could she have been so ignorant?

Sabrina looked away, unable to watch the horrible truth sink into Aalia. She wished she could say something to comfort her best friend or make it so that she didn't have to feel what she was feeling now. But she couldn't, because she was afraid of making her feel worse so she stayed quiet and instead turned to the woman-her Prayer.

"Where did we..." she began, but couldn't bring herself to finish the question. She feared she would burst into tears.

Her Prayer, who had been standing before them silently all this time, understood her question and simply said: "Follow me."

She turned and began to make her way towards the highway. Sabrina stumbled over to Aalia who hadn't blinked since she last spoke.

"Al," Sabrina whispered as gently as she could, "please get up. We're going."

Aalia's face slowly lifted up and her eyes met Sabrina's. They were far away and cold, as if all of the happiness that she had ever felt had been forgotten.

***

As the three women walked at the side of the road, silence stretched out between them. Aalia finally spoke, breaking the awkward tension with a husky voice.

"Where?" She asked, simply. It seemed as though she had given up to the point where she no longer bothered to complete her sentences. Even her voice was tired and hopeless.

Nevertheless, Sabrina understood exactly what her best friend meant.

"We're going to our bodies. To the scene of our death." She replied, solemnly.

She sneaked a peek at Aalia, who was staring at the road, her face blank. The same could be said about her mind, which was in complete shutdown. She couldn't bear her thoughts any longer. Sabrina turned back to the road, squinting in the distance. She could make out flashing lights ahead. Police cars and emergency vehicles seemed to be crammed in the middle of the road, causing a stream of traffic build up.

Aalia didn't seem to notice, not even batting an eye over the scene. Her mind was as empty as the vast chambers of space. She had decided not to think, lest it be the end of her.

Finally they stood before a blood curling car accident that made their insides quiver. Aalia's car was crushed like a cube, violently totalled. The hood was curled like an accordion. The car that they had hit was on its side. Another car was also involved in the accident but had survived with minor dents and scratches. They didn't see the drivers of any one of the cars.

It occurred to Sabrina that no one could see them, which made sense, since they didn't have their physical bodies. This didn't stop her from shuddering as a cop nearly ran right through her. Aalia could have cared less, for her attention was fixed on two bodies that were stretched out on the ground, a few feet away.

As they drew near, Sabrina felt a shiver run down her spine. Aalia looked away, unable to face the scene. Before them lay Sabrina's body. It was limp, her arms stretched out around her. Her head was twisted at an odd angle and her leg was crushed beyond recognition. Aalia's body lay beside her, her face covered in blood. Bits of broken glass clung to her hair. Paramedics worked furiously, trying to bring them back to consciousness.

Aalia and Sabrina watched helplessly. They shared a look and Aalia's eyes watered, as she watched what she had caused. She should have been more careful, she thought. She was the one driving and now they were both dead. She opened her mouth, but no words came out.

I'm sorry, she mouthed.

A tear streaked down Sabrina's face and she shook her head. Of course it wasn't your fault, she said to her dear friend with a soft smile. Before she could comfort Aalia, a voice cried out in a deafening scream.

"Aalia!"

Aalia and Sabrina turned and their eyes fell upon a figure that pushed past police officers and dodged the emergency crew. It made its way in their direction, darting towards their bodies. The person stopped before Aalia's body and fell, sinking to her knees with a heartbroken cry. She turned towards the sky and opened her hands, her mouth moving in a silent prayer. Aalia watched, realizing that this person was her mother.

The image of her mother, kneeling in front of her dead body struck her. Her mother, who had cried countless hours over her well-being. Her mother who loved her dearly. Her mother who went out of her way to teach her right from wrong. Her mother, who she had rejected heartlessly. Tears spilled out of Aalia's eyes.

Her mother reached out a loving hand and caressed her daughter's cheek, gazing into her blank eyes and bursting into tears. She looked up into the sky above her, her face broken with grief.

"Oh Allah." She cried out. "Oh Allah, have I not loved and cherished the daughter you gave me? Have I not done everything I could for her? Have I not spent my time trying to guide her towards the right path? Have I not spent the night praying for her? Have I not fed her and clothed her? Have I done something wrong for you to take away my beloved Aalia away from me?" She sobbed, her voice rising and falling the way it does when one is overcome with sorrow.

"Please, my Lord. Please give me my daughter back? Please give me one more chance to love her and teach her and guide her."  She begged, while a group of people tried to revive Aalia's body.

Aalia realized that her face was wet with tears. She realized that she had spent her life disobeying her mother and her mother spent her life praying for her guidance. She wanted to run to her mother and beg her forgiveness, for she was the one at fault.  If only she had prayed whenever her mother had instructed her to do so. If only she had listened to her mother while she was still alive and breathing. If only, Aalia cried into her hands, finally breaking down while memory after memory erupted in her mind.

The times that she had snuck out of the house, compressing her guilt until one day the guilt itself vanished, played inside her head. The times she had fought with her mother over school or Islam or parties. The times she had passed her mother in prayer, tears running down her face as she prayed for her beloved daughter. She knew her mother’s tears were because of the worries she had caused her, yet she did not do anything to stop the tears from flowing. She ignored her mother's grief as if it was of no importance.

She was forced to look upon the same grief now, magnified and pulsing with sorrow.

Aalia gulped, defeated for she didn't know what to do or if there was anything that could be done. The time of relevance was gone.

Oh, she thought, bitterly. If only I had prayed, remembering Sabrina's words: 'When you establish the prayer, everything else becomes easy.'

If only I had prayed.

Her stomach felt as if a cord had been tied around it and someone was pulling on the other end. All of a sudden, time seemed to slow down and everything around her was beginning to fade. Sabrina turned to her in slow motion, her face transforming into bewilderment. She opened her mouth but Aalia didn't hear what she said. The last thing she saw before the world went blank was realization dawning on Sabrina's face.

***

Aalia opened her eyes and squinted against the light. Several faces looked down at her and broke into smiles as they saw her regain consciousness. They moved away and then the beaming smile of her mother filled her vision. Her mother collapsed into her, hugging her hard. Aalia's face throbbed against her mother's hair.

"Oh, Aalia." Her mother cooed. "My beautiful Aalia."

Aalia choked back tears and hugged her mother back while she wondered how a mother could have so much love for her child while that child had spent her life rejecting that love. Her mother pulled back and kissed Aalia on the forehead, muttering a thankful prayer to Allah.

She then glanced at Sabrina whose eyes were fixed on the sky. Aalia stopped breathing for a moment as she the sight of the limp body of her best friend sunk into her. Sabrina's soft lips were parted, cold and dead.

"They couldn't save her." Her mother whispered.

Aalia stared at Sabrina's body a little longer, her mind filled with her beautiful smile and the memories they had shared over the years of their friendship. She pulled her mother into another hug.

"She'll be alright, mom," Aalia told her mother, her heart breaking with each word, "she has her prayers on her side."

And then Aalia smiled because her best friend was going to be alright. And because Allah had given her another chance.

And this time she was going to pray.