What Maulana Sahib taught me and what I learnt from him…
“Hello, dear. How was your day?”
“Good, Mom,” replied Hina Khaleej as she walked into the house.
Her mother was washing dishes in the kitchen. She asked, “How is Jenny? Are you still mad at her?”
Opening the refrigerator, Hina poked her head inside looking for something to eat and replied,
“No, we’ve worked things out. Mom, I can’t wait for the picnic tomorrow. It will be so much fun! And I would’ve been so bored if Jenny and I hadn’t patched up.”
Hina and Jenny had been best friends since kindergarten and although they fought quite often, their bond was unbreakable. They were both excited about the picnic the next day that had been arranged by their school at the beach for all the students.
She turned towards her mother and asked, “What did Shanti Aunty cook today?”
Her mother smiled and replied with a gleam in her eyes, “Biryani.”
Eyes sparkling, Hina took out a plate from the main cabinet in the kitchen and said jubilantly,
“I love her biryani!”
Shanti was an old and loyal servant of the Khaleej family.They had a huge mansion in their native village and Shanti had been hired by the senior Mr Khaleej (Hina’s grandfather) over 40 years ago. Therefore, she had raised not only Hina but her father as well.
Hina’s father, Jamal Khaleej, was a lawyer by profession. After his father passed away, he secured a good job offer at a reputable law firm in Karachi and when the family moved to the big city, Shanti came with them.They now lived in a bungalow in Defence, one of the most posh areas of Karachi. And Hina was studying in one of the best schools of the city.
Hina had no memory of their old mansion in their native village. However, she had heard a lot about it from Shanti. In a nostalgic tone, Shanti would reminisce,
“It was heavenly, child. Oh, I miss my village so much. How I wish to die and be buried there! But I cannot think of leaving you either. Only God knows what is in store for all of us.”
After lunch, Hina took a shower and donned a traditional shalwar kameez with a dupatta. She had never worn a shalwar kameez with a dupatta on a daily basis before her parents hired Maulana Sahib to teach her the Quran. A carefree girl of eight, she mostly wore skirts, jeans or shorts. After all, shalwar kameez with dupattas was something that only teenage girls or older women wore, she thought.
Hina had attended her first class with Maulana Sahib around three months ago. She had been wearing a blouse with a skirt. She had borrowed one of her mother’s dupattas to cover her head. To her surprise, Maulana Sahib had been cold and aloof during the lesson. And he remained like this for the first few days.
Finally, Hina realised that he had a problem with her shorts and skirts. She then started wearing only jeans and shirts during the lessons. But in spite of this, there was no change in his behaviour. This made Hina so uncomfortable that finally she asked her mother to have a few shalwar kameezes with dupattas tailored for her.
After all, he was a Maulana – a man of God. How could he be wrong?
Hina was sitting with Maulana Sahib on the drawing room sofa. He was teaching her Arabic alphabets from the Noorani Qaida – a learner’s guidebook. He asked,
“Could you please ask your mother or maidservant to make some tea for me?”
Hina replied, “Mom has gone out to our neighbour’s house for some work. I will ask Shanti Aunty.”
With an alarmed expression, Maulana Sahib asked,
“Shanti? Who is Shanti?”
Unable to understand his alarm, Hina replied innocently,
“She is our housekeeper.”
“Astaghfarullah! (May God forgive us!) You have a Hindu living in your house?” cried the Maulana.
Scared to see the rage in his eyes, Hina meekly questioned,
“Yes, so what?”
Looking increasingly upset, the Maulana said,
“It is good to give shelter to a homeless person but you just said that you were going to ask her to make tea. Does that mean your family eats and drinks anything she makes?”
Not understanding his implication, Hina replied very matter-of-factly,
“Depends on the taste.”
She was getting increasingly upset with his statements but was too fearful to tell him to mind his own business. Then the Maulana Sahib said to her in a soft voice, “My dear Hina, I want you to tell your parents that it is a big sin to eat and drink anything that is made by a non-Muslim. It would be better if your parents discharge her of her services at once. You can help needy people, even non-Muslims. Allah loves kindness. But there is no need to mingle too much with a disbeliever. It is not only undesirable; it is sinful!”
That night, Hina lay restless in her bed. Maulana Sahib’s words kept haunting her young mind and all she could think of was that two of the most important people in her life were non-Muslims – Shanti, a Hindu and Jenny, a Christian.
Could these two beautiful relations really be so sinful?
Then, she remembered the words of one of her classmates, a particularly conservative girl,
“If you doubt an Aalim, you will not only be doomed in this world but also in the Hereafter.”
Although she tried her best to push these thoughts away, she couldn’t and stayed awake the whole night.
At the Karachi beach, the sun shone at its brightest and the heat was intense. But the waves and cool breeze were refreshing.The children had come to the beach in the school bus but Hina had asked her father to drop her there directly.
She wanted to avoid Jenny’s company.
She was sitting on the sand enjoying the cool breeze when someone called out from behind her,
Hina had always loved the way Jenny greeted her enthusiastically every morning. But that morning, a chill went down her spine as she heard the same old amiability in her friend’s voice. Jenny sat down next to her and Hina replied softly, “Morning.”
Noticing her dull tone, Jenny looked at her and asked, “What is it? Why so serious?”
Standing up hurriedly, Hina mumbled,
“I need to have a word with Reema.”
And she walked off leaving Jenny sitting puzzled behind her.
“Why aren’t you having your lunch?” inquired Mrs Khaleej.
Hina raised her head to look at her mother. They were sitting on the dining table for lunch. Hina was feeling very guilty. She had ignored Jenny the whole day. Looking at the food on her plate, she wondered how she could eat the food when it had been cooked by Shanti, a non-Muslim. Out loud she said,
“Mom, I am not really hungry. I ate too many snacks at the picnic.”
She got up and went to get ready for her class with Maulana Sahib.
The first question Maulana Sahib asked her was,
“Did you talk to your parents?”
Bursting into tears, Hina replied,
“Maulana Sahib! I don’t know what to do. Two of the people I love the most are non-Muslims. I am trying my best to ignore them. But I know it would hurt them and it is tearing me apart.”
Maulana Sahib kept staring at her as she cried and told him how she felt. When she stopped, he smiled and reached out to hold her hands.Hina had not been expecting this and she shivered. After all, Maulana Sahib had seemed to be a very conservative man who shunned interaction with females, whether it was a child or an adult.
There was something odd about his touch. It felt eerie and he was looking at her in a strange way. She wanted to draw her hand away but didn’t have the courage to do so. Maulana Sahib said,
“Don’t worry, take your time. Remember, it is important that you break your ties with these two people and eventually convince your parents to avoid non-Muslim company as well.”
Hina nodded in fear. He smiled and stroked her cheeks saying,
“Good girl. Let’s start our lesson now.”
“Is everything okay?”
Hina looked at her mother in confusion. She was doing her homework on the dining table and her mother was sitting next to her to help her. Mrs Khaleej continued,
“It has been quite a while since you last mentioned Jenny. You skip your lunch on the pretext that you ate too much during the school snack break and then at night you just have a slice of bread and butter. Are you dieting? I will not tolerate this, young lady. You are a child and avoiding meals would hamper your growth! Shanti Aunty is also very worried about you. She even said that you have not asked her to cook one of your favourite dishes for about two weeks now.”
Hina remained quiet and continued to do her homework.
There was a knock on Hina’s bedroom door and a voice called out, “Hina beta.”
Hina shuddered, recognising Shanti’s voice. She looked at the alarm clock. It was 9:30am on Sunday. The door opened and Shanti came in and sat next to Hina on her bed. Looking at the child with concern, she asked,
“My dear, what is the matter? You hardly talk to me anymore, let alone ask me to make your favourite dishes.”
Hina looked at her and with tears brimming in her eyes, said,
“Shanti Aunty, I need a favour from you. Will you promise not to tell Mom or Dad about this?”
Looking extremely worried, Shanti asked,
“No, dear. Tell me. What is it?”
“Maulana Sahib has told me that your presence is sinful for my family. Not only that, the food we consume is sinful too as it is prepared by you, a non-Muslim. If it continues this way, God will punish us in the Hereafter. I do not want my family to burn in Hell. Please go away.”
There was silence. Shanti got up and left the room without saying anything.
Hina wanted to scream at the top of her lungs. But all she could do was lie in her bed and weep silently.
Hina’s mother walked into the room with a paper in her hand and a worried look in her eyes,
“Jamal, Shanti is not in her room. She left this letter.”
Hina was sitting next to her father on his bed, enjoying the light discussions she had with him every Sunday evening.
Mr Khaleej took the paper from his wife. Next to him, Hina could read the words clearly. The letter said,
Dear Mr and Mrs Khaleej,
It was a pleasure working for your family for all these years but I miss my village too much. I don’t want to die and be buried here. I know you wouldn’t let me go. Therefore, I am leaving without telling you.
Take care of yourselves and my dear Hina.
Khuda Hafiz (Good Bye)
It was Hina’s first lesson with Maulana Sahib since Shanti had left. She said,
“Maulana Sahib, our Hindu cook has gone. I told her to leave and she did.”
Beaming, he stroked his long beard and said, “Mashallah!”
“I told her that her presence in a Muslim household was sinful in the eyes of God. And if she did not leave, my parents would be punished. She seemed so hurt.”
Hina realised that she was crying and wiped the tears off her face.
Maulana Sahib embraced her and said,
“Beta (daughter), you do not realise that you have saved your family from God’s displeasure. Don’t cry.”
Hina was dumbfounded. He tightened his grip around her body and she pushed him away crying out, “Maulana Sahib!”
He was staring at her in a strange way. Hina rose to her feet and dashed out of the room.
It had been a week since the terrible episode. Mr and Mrs Khaleej were infuriated with what Hina had just told them and Mrs Khaleej said,
“You should have told us about this at the very beginning.”
The first thing Mr Khaleej did was register a complaint of child molestation against the Maulana at the nearest police station. The Maulana was arrested and the case was in court.
Hina did not go to school the entire week. Her parents tried their best to comfort her and help her regain her confidence. At the end of the week, she sat with her parents in their room since they wanted to talk about the incident and they believed that she was strong enough by then. Sobbing, Hina said,
“Mom, I felt that Maulana Sahib had to be right. After all, he was a man of God. I thought you people…..”
She left the sentence hanging. But her father finished it for her saying,
“That we were not good Muslims and he was one because he had a long beard and wore a skull cap. Your father does not claim to be a man of God and your mother does not wear a burqa. So their views must be wrong if a maulvi says so.
He told you that being friendly with a non-Muslim was sinful. Haven’t we taught you to respect all human beings, irrespective of religion, colour, caste or creed? How could God hate another group of His creation just because they hold different views from Muslims? Allah is the Most Gracious and Most Merciful. How could His Grace and Mercy be limited to one group of people? Nothing hurts God more than hurting a member of His Creation.”
Listening to her father’s words, Hina cried even more and said,
“Daddy! I have hurt Shanti Aunty and Jenny so much. I want to say sorry. Will they forgive me? Please bring Shanti Aunty back.”
There was a lull as her parents looked at each other. And then her mother said,
“Shanti Aunty passed away five days ago, dear. We received a letter from her relatives a couple of days ago. We didn’t tell you since you were in no condition to hear such news.”
Hina couldn’t say a word. Her mother hugged her and wiped away her tears.
“Jenny!” Hina called out to her friend.
All the students were gathered in the assembly hall at school.Hina had come to school after two whole weeks. Jenny had been staring at her but she looked away when she noticed that Hina had caught her gaze. Running to her, Hina called out her name again.
In a low voice, Jenny replied, “Hi.”
“How are you?” Hina asked.
“I am fine but what happened to you? You were away for so long.”
Hina laughed and said,
“You don’t know? Everyone in town does.”
Jenny looked at her and said, “I would never believe a word about you unless you told me first.”
Touched and feeling guilty at the same time, Hina felt ashamed at having hurt such a true friend. She said,
“I want to apologise for the way I behaved with you. I will explain everything.”
“Ha!” cried Jenny. “I have been waiting for this.”
“What?” Hina did not understand. Jenny replied, “An apology and an explanation. I was so mad at you!”
“And rightly so.”
The two friends smiled at each other just as the bell rang. Jenny ran off saying,
“Assembly time. Have to go!”
This time it was Jenny who left Hina behind. Hina knew she was playing with her and ran to catch up with her old friend.
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