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At The Masjid

“It’s my turn,” says Amna, dropping herself into my lap, then adding, “bhai jaan, move.”

“It’s still my turn,” counters Ibrahim, who is sitting cross-legged in front of me, on the light brown carpet.

“Amna, how about we share the time? Let bhai jaan finish up his work and then you can start, ok?” I ask her gently, not wanting to lose the momentum with Ibrahim, who is working on Yā Sīn and longer surahs from Juz Amma this afternoon.

What follows is an excerpt from the 9th 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.

“I’m first,” says Amna, pointing at herself for emphasis, and starting to raise her voice. Her pink hijab rests loosely around her head, albeit upside down so the seam is on the top rather than at the nape of the neck. She insisted on fitting it herself. Meanwhile her coloring books are strewn around us together with countless crayons—a diversion which did not last long.

“No, I’m first,” responds Ibrahim, “and I’m also older and stronger, and I could…”

Before he says or does anything more, I say, “freeze, everyone.” There is an older woman who is sitting in the far right corner of the mosque reciting quietly who looks up. She appears to be wearing a long blue abaya and blue and white patterned scarf. It is not clear that she understands my discipline technique, but she seems relatively unfazed and carries on with her recitation.

“Amna is not being fair,” says Ibrahim, gritting his teeth, but trying to whisper.

“Bhai jaan is not being fairer,” is Amna’s rebuttal.

“I said ‘freeze’,” I repeat, quietly. “Now Amna, please let your brother continue. Look here, you still need to color the giraffe’s neck,” I add picking up one coloring book. “Otherwise he is going to be very sad, and you don’t want a sad, half-green giraffe do you?”

“Yes,” responds Amna. “My turn,” she repeats.

“Fine,” says Ibrahim, turning abruptly, and pulling away from us. “I won’t review then, and it’s all your fault.” He is speaking to his sister, but I also feel as though he’s directing his comment to me since I am not able to divert her.

Baita, give me a minute to settle her and then we’ll continue, ok?” I say looking tenderly at Ibrahim, who now looks like he is pouting. Meanwhile, he has placed his Qur’aan back on the small wooden stand that he took down earlier from the mosque’s bookshelf and has started twiddling his thumbs.

“My turn,” says Amna, triumphantly.

“Briefly,” I say. “Ok, where’s your qaida?”

Amna looks around. Other than the coloring books, I have placed all the other books we brought on a second Qur’aan stand, at my side.

“Here,” she says, picking up the blue covered book, which, while somewhat tattered, has lasted us over two years.[1]

“That is actually mine,” says Ibrahim, somewhat at a distance, still sulking. “Sabir gave it to me.”

“No it’s mine,” responds Amna.

“Ok, please open the book,” I say, trying to move beyond what feels like a constant struggle between the children.

Amna follows my instruction and has soon flipped to the page with the entire Arabic alphabet.

Aliph,” I say.

Aliph,” she repeats.

Aliph,” I say again, pointing to the first letter. We have been doing this exercise for several weeks now, since her third birthday, and have progressed through the first four letters.

“You know I could do that,” says Ibrahim, who continues to sit at a distance.

Baita, of course you could; you learned this two years ago,” I respond.

“No, I mean, I could teach Amna that,” he clarifies.

“I thought you were at war,” I say, somewhat off the cuff.

“No, we’re friends, she just doesn’t understand boundaries,” offers an adult Ibrahim. “Really, I could do that,” he says emphatically, now approaching us.

“It’s mine,” says Amna.

“Yes, baita, it’s yours for now,” I say to Amna.

“Ammi, watch this,” says Ibrahim. “Amna, say ‘Baa’.” Ibrahim opens his mouth slowly, pronouncing the second letter in the alphabet.

Baa,” repeats Amna.

“Now, say it again,” says Ibrahim.

Baa,” repeats Amna.

“Ok, now say, ‘Aliph, Baa’,” says Ibrahim.

Alipha, Baa, Taa,” says Amna, anticipating the next letter.

MashaAllah,” I say, not knowing how long this will work but appreciating the cease fire and collaboration.

“See Ammi. I’m really good at this job,” says Ibrahim, confidently. Then continuing, “maybe some of this could count for my review of Yā Sīn and Juz Amma, like…I could trade one Amna lesson for two long surahs.”

“Ibrahim, we need to review Surah Al Mutaffifīn. Do you realize that it’s been almost a week since we worked on this one? And we’re slipping on Yā Sīn. We still haven’t finished ayah 12 for today.”[2] [3]

“Ammi, remember what you said, ‘one ayah at a time’ and ‘no due date’,” says Ibrahim, looking at me right in the eyes as though I’ve gone back on a promise. “We were going to take it slow, Yā Sīn is just too long.”

Yā Sīn too long,” mimics Amna.

“No, not ‘Yā Sīn too long, ‘Yā Sīn is too long,” corrects Ibrahim. “So Ammi, can I trade?” persists Ibrahim.

Baita, you’re doing a great job with Amna, now, and you’re right, Yā Sīn is long, but you’ve been making remarkable progress. I just thought that we might be able to finish it before Eid, but maybe that’s asking too much.  We can put the pause button on Yā Sīn for a little while, however, I’m not going to relent on review.  Allah Subhanahu wa-ta‘ala has entrusted us with these surahs, and we need to take care of them, just as we would take care of, and protect a valuable jewel. And remember Hafidha Rabia is also going to want to hear how well you have taken care of all of them, after Ramadaninshaa Allah.”

“I don’t want to,” says Ibrahim, defiantly, adopting more of Amna’s tone.

I was not expecting this, not here, not now. I anticipated a swift lesson, due to the change of scenery, in the mosque, and some distraction from Amna, but not Ibrahim’s resistance. I look around, again, spotting the older woman. For a minute, I wish a young boy would walk in and start reciting so that I could point to him, as a potential role model.

“Do you want to listen to Mutaffifīn?” I ask, trying to come at it, at a slightly different angle.

“No, I want to teach Amna, up to the letter geem,” he responds.

MashaAllah baita, that’s wonderful, but I also want to teach you to complete your cycle of review,” I say.

“I’ll use it at magreb,” suggests Ibrahim finally giving in a little.

“Out loud?” I say, referencing a technique that we use to help review our surahs.

“Well, what if Papa leads us in prayers…” says Ibrahim.

“Then you may not be able to recite Surah Al Mutaffifīn at all,” I respond, wondering how we are going to close the loop.

“I’ll do it,” says Amna, unexpectedly.

“Do what?” asks Ibrahim.

“The surah,” she says.

“You can’t do Surah Al Mutaffifīn, you’re a baby,” counters Ibrahim, who’s now acting as though he doesn’t want to be upstaged by his three-year-old sister.

“I can, and I’m not baby,” responds Amna, adamantly.

“I think I am simply going to do Surah Al Mutaffifīn and anyone who wants to join me is welcome to,” I say, giving in. Although the mosque is air conditioned, at this time every afternoon, during Ramadan, my energy level tends to dip, reminding me that I am definitely still a mother-in-training.

“I’m doing it,” insists Amna.

“No, it’s my turn,” says Ibrahim, then continuing he adds, “Waylul-lil- mutaffifīn, allatheena ithak talou alan-nasi yastawfoun….”[4]

Amna contributes her variation of the third verse, which is sufficiently recognizable for Ibrahim to carry on with the fourth. Hearing the children recite, the older woman picks up her head again and looks over at us, witnessing the surah. She smiles, deeply, and I smile back, finally grateful for her presence.

[1] Part one, of the two part Qur’aanic primer series, Towards Reading the Qur’an, has a blue cover. Generally students of Qur’aan may take between six months and one year to understand the Arabic alphabet and basic tajweed rules before starting on the Qur’aan, however, it depends largely on the age, aptitude and interest of the student. See footnote 3, Chapter 7, ‘Qur’aan Contract,’ (p.25) and footnote 3, Chapter 17, ‘Surah Work, Leaf Blowing and Amna’s Ikhlas,’ (p.60) in A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma.

[2] Ibrahim first tackled Surah Al Mutaffifīn in Chapter 35, ‘Water, Again’, of A Qur’aanic Odyssey, Towards Juz Amma (pp.134-138). Prior to that, in Chapter 27, ‘Reunions and Understanding,’ Khadija was working on her hifdh of thissurah (pp.96-99). In both instances the characters expressed that this was a particularly challenging surah, which has one refrain that repeats as well as several similar ayaat. The hifdh note on page 138 of A Qur’aanic Odysseyattempts to provide some techniques for how to overcome these challenges.

[3] Ayah 12 of Surah Yā Sīn is translated as follows, “Verily We shall give life to the dead, and We record that which they sent before and that which they leave behind, and of all thing have We taken account in a clear Book (of evidence),” (Abdullah Yusuf Ali 1989, p. 1119). The commentary explains that the initial reference is to the ‘hereafter’, i.e. give life to the dead (ibid). Thereafter he explains, “Our deeds, good and bad, go to Allah’s Judgement Seat before us. They will of course be brought to our account; but our account will also be swelled by the example we left behind us and the consequences of our deeds, that will come into play or continue to operate after our earthly life had ceased. Our moral and spiritual responsibility is therefore much wider than as affects our own person,” (ibid).

[4] Ayaat one and two of Surah Al Mutaffifin are translated as, “Woe to those that deal in fraud-, Those who, when they have to receive by measure from men, exact full measure,” (Abdullah Yusuf Ali 1989, p.1616). The third and fourthayaat, subsequently referenced, are translated as, “But when they have to give by measure or weight to men give less than due, Do they not think that they will be called to account,” (ibid).