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Welcome

“Khadija, what are you doing, exactly?” says Abdurrahman, coming downstairs, after settling the children in bed.

“Just rearranging, a bit,” I respond, stooping over the door mat, which has been residing just inside our front door. I still have my abaya on from the mosque and am trying to do this activity without getting too dirty.

“What’s wrong with the mat?” Abdurrahman continues.

“Nothing at all,” I respond, opening the door, shaking out the mat, outside, and then pausing before turning it around, inside, several times.

“It’s in English,” says Abdurrahman, switching on the hall light so he may see better.

“Janu, I know that. And it’s perfectly clear, no fancy calligraphy here,” I respond, smiling.

“So, why so much fidgeting with it?”

“I think that we should turn it around,” I assert, angling the mat into a new position.

“So the ‘Welcome’ side is upside down? That seems a little counterproductive,” says Abdurrahman, looking at me quizzically.

“No, so the ‘Welcome’ side is facing our guests,” I respond. “I want to make sure they feel welcome.”

“Don’t you think they do?” Abdurrahman says somewhat defensively. “And don’t you think…it requires more than the position of a doormat to ensure that?”

“Of course, the sign is just a symbol. But I want the symbol to be effective. I think rotating the symbol every so often is important. The thought came to me this evening as we were driving home.”

“So, before was the ‘Welcome’ side facing inwards and not outwards?” says Abdurrahman, seeking clarification.

“Yes, it faced us, which is important. All who live here should feel welcome, especially our mothers, but there’s something more for me, for all of us, actually.”

“And what Dr Khadija may that be?” says Abdurrahman warmly, as though he is preparing for one of my mini lectures.

“Well, I want those who come to stay with us to feel welcome. I want us to welcome them and I want the children to welcome them. I want our home to exude hospitality.”

“That’s a pretty tall order for a house, especially considering we’ve just moved in.”

“It’s a home, Abdurrahman, and I really think it’s feasible. Prophet Muhemmed, Salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam, had a home like that. It’s sunnah.”[1]

“Easier said than done, don’t you think,” says Abdurrahman somewhat rhetorically.

“Janu, you had a home teeming with family and friends growing up,” I respond. “I remember all those stories you’ve told me about Geo and you and your friends always stopping by.”

“Khadija, they were all Italian,” replies Abdurrahman, reacting.

What’s that supposed to mean,” I say slowly, not fully grasping the weight of his words.

“Our parents spoke the same language. We celebrated the same holidays. There was a sense of culture. It was comfortable.”

“And so?”

“I’m not always comfortable, here,” says Abdurrahman looking around at the walls, which in our hallway are still mostly blank, and then staring down at the ‘Welcome’ mat.

“What is that supposed to mean? This is your home.” I say, really not understanding. It is rare for him to be negative, especially about our home. I wonder whether he might simply be tired after a long day at the office and Taraweeh.

“They all spoke Urdu tonight, and it was all desi food,” says Abdurrahman. “It wasn’t home.”

“Janu, that’s not entirely correct. I saw you speaking to Abdullah, in English. And you’ve almost always maintained that you like our food, not to mention the fact that we had lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, which I think are pretty universal. And then we went to the mosque, for taraweeh, and we all prayed in a common language. They were Najma’s friends for goodness sake. It was important for us to host them, especially during Ramadan.”

“It was never this way in Cape Town,” says Abdurrahman.

“Janu,“I start to respond, but then hear my mother, who has come to stay for the week, on the stairwell. “Ammi, we’re just going out for a quick walk around the block,” I call out.

“Ok baita, be safe,” she responds, then goes into the kitchen to help herself to a glass of water.

I take Abdurrahman’s hand and gesture for us to head out the door.

After a couple of minutes of walking, he then continues, “we had our own culture over there.”

“Abdurrahman, there’s really not that much distance between our two cultures. You’ve reminded me of this so many times before. In fact, it’s you who have taught me this. And there’s no difference when it comes to our deen. We just need to focus on that, and not let the biryani and the pilao come between us. These are really minor details,” I say trying to reassure him. Then continuing, “You know the children finished reviewing their third ayah of Ya Sin today.”

“I know, Ibrahim recited to me, before iftar,” responds Abdurrahman. “And then he snuck in ayah four, too.”

“Really? How does he know that?” I ask.

“I think you can answer that question, Khadija. You’ve only been listening to it for as long as he can remember and…”

“Nani?” I say.

“Yes, your mother helps,” he responds.

“Ala sirat al mustaqeem” I say slowly.[2]

“Yes, ala sirat al mustaqeem,” he repeats.

“Let’s keep coming back to it,” I respond.

“Before, and after the pilao,” says Abdurrahman, starting to smile. “And I like your idea about the ‘Welcome’ mat, even if it is just a symbol.”

“Next week, we turn it around again, ok?” I say, looking at Abdurrahman and squeezing his palm a bit.

“Inshaa Allah,” he responds, nodding. “And, I think it’s time for me to start working on my Urdu again.”

“And my Italian,” I say, in a gesture of peace, and hopefully, understanding.

[1] Hospitality is valued across religions, with the notion of ‘welcoming the guest’ or ‘hachnasat orchim’ clearly spelled out in Judaism, and exemplified by Prophet Abraham in the Book of Genesis (See Remarks by Rabbi Larry Back from the Institute for Interfaith Dialog’s Iftar Dinner on October 8, 2007). Similar examples may be cited in Christian tradition and scripture. In Islam, the following oft-recited hadith reminds Muslims that there is a parallel between how AllahSWT treats HisSWT creation and how the host should treat his/her guests: “Indeed whoever believes that Allah is All-Generous, Who provides for His creation and rewards those who are hospitable towards their guests, should look after his guest.”

[2] Ayah 4 of Surah Al Ya Sin is translated as “On a Straight Way,” (Abdullah Yousuf Ali 1989, p.1117).

The above is an excerpt from the third chapter in the sequel to ‘A Qur’aanic Odyssey: Towards Juz Amma’, published by Greenbird Books in April 2012. The sequel, 'Ya-Sin' narrates the family’s ongoing journey through the Qur’aan with a focus on Surah Ya Sin, the surah they set out to learn following completion of Juz Amma. Although each of the chapters are connected, each one may be read as a stand-alone text.