by Fatima Asmal
Rehana looked up from her cup of tea, and shook her head disapprovingly.
“How do I look, Azhar?” Tasneem, her 20-year-old daughter was asking her brother, as she made her way to the breakfast table.
“Fat,” giggled 14-year-old Azhar, returning to his plate of sausages and eggs.
“Fat is exactly what you are going to be, if you keep stuffing your face like that,” Tasneem retorted, admiring herself in the Defy oven.
Clad in her tightest pair of fitted blue jeans, beige clogs, and a transparent white cropped top, which barely covered her chest, let alone her tummy, Rehana thought her daughter looked…
“Disgusting.” She bit back her anger and tried to sound calm.
Tasneem shot her mother a furious look. “Who asked YOU? Why can’t you just leave me alone?”
“Tasneem, you make it seem as if I’m picking on you. But I’m not. At the end of the day my advice is only for your own -”
“Yes, yes, for my own good – save the speech for someone else Mummy. As you might have noticed, it was lost on me yesterday and the day before and the day before, so just put a lid on it now will you?”
Rehana shook her head again, at a loss for words. She looked in her husband’s direction, pleadingly. But he sat at the table, cup of coffee in one hand, newspaper in the other, engrossed in the sports pages. Perhaps he’s pretending, she thought. Like me he’s probably fed up with the endless arguments.
“I’ll be late, have evening lectures, so don’t ring me twenty thousand times, nagging me.”
Her daughter’s angry voice interrupted her thoughts. “Oh, so you aren’t going to eat now?”
Rehana suddenly noticed that Tasneem was slinging her campus bag over her shoulder, and making her way to the door. She motioned at her to sit down.
“No thanks – I’ve lost my appetite.”
“Gooood Fatty’s lost her appetite, she’ll get thinner now, and there’ll be more food for me…” Azhar sang, as he grabbed Tasneem’s plate.
“Shut up you little brat.”
“Tasneem.” Thankfully, this time, Iqbal did intervene. “Don’t be rude to your brother, he’s just joking. And listen to your mother and sit down. Unless of course you want your car to be taken away from you for a while.”
“Okay, okay, I hear you.” Tasneem grudgingly put her bag down, and pulled a chair opposite her mother.
Rehana smiled at her daughter. “I don’t mean to push you into doing anything you don’t want to do Tasneem. I’m not asking you to cover your face or anything like that. In fact, lately I haven’t even asked you to cover your hair. With the way you’ve been dressing lately, I’d be happy if you just wore longer tops and looser trousers.”
Tasneem sighed. “Look Mummy, we only live once. You had your fun – I’m not stupid. The whole family knows you and Daddy met at campus – and don’t tell me you were covering your hair then. So after having your fun, it’s very easy for you to sit back and preach to me.”
Tasneem, you are right, I only started covering my hair after you were born. And yes, I wasn’t a perfect Muslimah at campus – but don’t you see? I regret every minute of it, and that’s why I tried to encourage you to fear Allah from a tender age.”
“Fear of Allah is in the heart Mum. And you can’t judge what’s in my heart.”
Rehana nodded. “But at the same time, we have to project our fear of Allah on the outside too, Tasneem. And there’s a good reason we are instructed to dress modestly. Believe me Tasneem, you do want a boy to marry you for your inner beauty not for your body.”
Tasneem laughed heartily. “Mummmm, relax. I don’t have a boyfriend, and the last thing I’m thinking of right now is marriage. I just want to have fun, okay? Love you…See you later.” And with a frivolous peck on Rehana’s cheek, she was gone. Rehana put her cup of tea down. Once again her daughter had totally missed the point.
Iqbal smiled at her encouragingly. “At least you tried, Ray.” He shook his head sadly. “I gave up ages ago.”
“Oh, I won’t give up. We shouldn’t ever give up.”
“Tazzzzz – wow girlfriend, you look fantastic…” Aaliyah greeted Tasneem at the top of her voice, as they made their way to the campus cafeteria.
Tasneem giggled with delight. “Awww thanks. You look pretty cool yourself,” she said examining her friend’s new hairdo.
“Yeah, you two look great. I stayed up all night, studying for the Ecos test, no time to dress up this morning. I feel quite left out,” moaned Ayesha, rummaging through her bag, frantically searching for her mobile phone, which was bleeping away, signalling the arrival of a host of SMS-es.
“Ooooo Tazzz, look there’s Osama, checking you out again,” Aaliyah shrieked as they seated themselves at a table.
“Aaliyah don’t!” Tasneem rolled her eyes up in disgust.
“Hello? Am I missing something here? What are you two on about?” Ayesha tugged at Tasneem’s top.
Tasneem motioned in the direction of the table alongside theirs’. A heavily-bearded student, clad in a crisp white kurtaa, sat there, his face buried in a book.
“Is his name really Osama?” Ayesha asked.
“No silly…Aaliyah just calls him that, cos he’s always dressed in that garb and doing the Jumu’ah khutbahs.”
“Really?” Ayesha asked, interested. “So what does he talk about?”
“Oooo looks like you have competition Taz. Hands off Ayesh. He wants Taz.”
“Come on guys, I’m serious. What does he talk about?”
Aaliyah cleared her throat and waved her hand up in the air dramatically. “The temporary nature of this life…the frivolity and deception of youth…blah blah blah.”
“Okay, I’m definitely not interested.
Hey Tasneem, is he really into you? Did he like ask you out or something?”
“No way. Look at him, does he look the type?”
“Lower your voices,” Ayesha said. “I’m sure he can hear us.”
“Who cares if he does? Serves him right if he does -giving us Muslims a bad name, dressing like that, and always looking at the ground when he’s walking, as if his head is paralysed or something,” Tasneem replied, deliberately craning her neck and raising her voice.
For a fleeting moment, ‘Osama’ did look up, but he quickly returned to his book.
Aaliyah sniggered. “Well said Taz…Maybe you should be giving the Jumu’ah khutbahs.”
“Hey there’s someone who would look right at home, giving a Jumu’ah khutbah,” laughed Tasneem, revelling in their daily early morning session of juicy gossip. She pointed in the direction of the entrance, where a pretty girl, clad in a long-sleeved dress, and a neatly-tied scarf, was standing.
“Who is that Daadi-ma?” laughed Aaliyah.
“Come on girls, you’re just jealous, she’s actually very pretty,” said Ayesha.
This time ‘Osama’ definitely heard them. He looked up at the entrance and waved, a smile lighting up his serious expression. “Apaa, over here,” he called.
“What a strange name – ‘Apaa’.”
“Tazz. It’s not her name. It’s Urdu for ‘Big sister,’” Ayesha explained.
“Oh.” Tasneem’s voice reflected her disappointment. “His sister? And here I was thinking that maybe he wasn’t such a goody-goody after all.” She looked at her watch, and hurriedly stood up, detangling her bag from the back of the chair. She grabbed Aaliyah’s arm. “Come on., .we’d better make it for the English lecture now, if we want to catch an afternoon movie.”
“Yeah, okay.” Aaliyah followed her out of the cafeteria.
“What did you tell your Mum anyway?” Tasneem grinned.
“What else? The usual – evening lectures.”
Tasneem looked up at the sky, as she reversed out of the parking bay, It was a typically beautiful Durban day – ideal for the beach. Perhaps she should ring Aaliyah and Ayesha and tell them to meet her at Addington instead she thought, as she made her way out of the campus parking lot. “Nah, I don’t have my costume any way…” she said to herself. “Besides we’ve all been dying to watch this movie since it came out.” She turned on the radio, and smiled in delight as she recognised the familiar tune of Britney Spear’s latest hit, ‘Toxic’ She didn’t see him coming. There was a wave of white in front of her and a female screaming in the background as she slammed her foot on the breaks. It was too late.
“God, no,” Tasneem gasped, barely remembering to turn off the radio as she dragged herself out of the car. “Osama!” She was hysterical now, screaming incoherently and crying as she noticed the blood fast forming a puddle under him. “What have I done? No, no, no.” His sister was on the phone, trying to get medical assistance, her hand clutching her brother’s. “It’s my brother Sohail. We are on the main road outside Block B.”
Tasneem had seen someone die before. But looking at Sohail’s face, she realized that the death of that man, writhing and foaming after a drug overdose outside the night-club was very different to what she was witnessing now, Sohail’s face was serene, and he was smiling up at the sky.
“Sohail, I’m so s-orry,” she stammered. The smile didn’t leave his face.
“Love Allah Sister,” he said, in that same gentle tone which marked his khutbahs. And then without their assistance, he recited the Kalimah three times, and closed his eyes.
Tasneem looked up at his sister, afraid. “I’m so sorry,” she said.
“It wasn’t your fault, sister.” The tears finally came. “Sohail was in a rush to get to the mosque for ‘Asr, and he really wasn’t looking where he was going. I tried to pull him back, but-” She was sobbing now.
“It’s the Will of Allah Subhanuhu wa Ta’ala you know sister, but he was my little brother, and we were close.”
Tasneem shuddered as she thought of podgy little Azhar, and what she would do if someone knocked him down. One thing was for sure – the last thing she would be saying was that it was ‘the Will of Allah Subhanuhu wa Ta’ala.’ With a sick feeling in her stomach she recalled her nasty words of that very morning – to her mother, to Azhar…and worst of all – in the cafeteria: “…giving us Muslims a bad name, dressing like that, and always looking at the ground when he’s walking, as if his head is paralysed or something…”
“I’m so sorry Sohail,” she whispered again. Suddenly she felt naked. She made an attempt at pulling her flimsy top down towards her stomach, but failed miserably. Sohail’s sister, still crying, reached into her bag, and handed her a long black cardigan. The sounds of sirens approaching, Tasneem wore it hurriedly, her fingers quivering as she did the buttons.
She felt empty inside – I am giving them a bad name, she thought – Mummy and Daddy and Azhar, and Sohail and his sister…and Islam.. .I am giving them a bad name…
Rehana stroked her daughter’s hair, in an attempt to soothe her. It was well past midnight, but Tasneem lay on her bed, her eyes wide open, still visibly shaken from the events of the day. Iqbal came into the room, with a mug of hot chocolate. He kissed Tasneem on the forehead as he handed the mug to Rehana.
“I think you should sleep with her tonight,” he said. “Is she okay?”
Rehana nodded. “She’s going to be just fine.” As she put her daughter off to sleep, Rehana thought of the many events which had shaped her own character, and she remembered with certainty that not all of them were pleasant and happy events. Yet it was these very events which had brought her to where she was today: to wearing the hijab, to enrolling for the Islamic studies course, to Allah.. .to Allah…
May Allah Bless that little boy, she thought. In a day, in one sentence, he had managed, effortlessly, to succeed where she and Iqbal had not.
That evening, when Tasneem had appeared at the door, clutching the arm of a policewoman, her body wrapped in a cardigan, a scarf tied tightly around her neck, she had uttered the words which made Rehana realize the mistake she and Iqbal had been making, which made her remember how she had hated learning Qur’an as a little girl, because her madrasah teacher would hit her if she didn’t know her sabaq
“Mummy, mummy, I’m so sorry,” Tasneem had been hysterical. Holding on to Rehana, she had sobbed into her shoulder.
“Mummy, I killed a Muslim boy. But it was beautiful. I was scared. But he told me something before he died Mummy, something nobody had ever said to me before.
He said – he said, “Love Allah Sister.”