Jummah in the masjid
All over the world
The present continuous
Dear Mum Who has a child with Special Needs,
Here we are today, both of us parts of this human jigsaw spread across in the masjid hall, where we sit, stand and prostrate in physical closeness and emotional detachment.
You come into the masjid with a cheerful expression and I know I’ll meet your smile in our momentary interaction. At the same time, I know I glimpse a few seconds of your long journey as a parent in your eyes. Maybe you feel differently inside and have learnt how not to show it. Maybe, like the rest of us there are days of coping well, days of struggle and days of reflection.
We don’t know each other, but I feel I know you because I watch intently as you communicate silently with your child. The way you notice her facial expressions continuously even when you are speaking to another person, the way you respond to the tilt of her face, the flicker of her fingers, these cues that create the unique language between you both. I absorb something I struggle to name; is it a deeper feeling of warmth, a feeling of restored faith in the inherent goodness of human relationships. Your beautiful daughter and you – a profound experience.
Sometimes I try to speak to you but it only amounts to what strangers say: ‘How are you sister? How are the children? I didn’t see you last week.’ I’m ashamed at how inadequate this is, compared to the value of your presence. I lower my eyes to the small space in front of me; my miniature world that your presence is expanding.
Somehow, between her communication and your responses, your Salah flows, from start to completion, in a seamless movement you turn your head to the left whispering the Salaam as though it strokes her arm, reassuring her. She smiles back to you. I guess she’s twelve or thirteen years old. It doesn’t matter that I have no idea of the name of her physical and mental condition, but what I do know is I’ve just witnessed something I would name: ‘the miraculous bond.’ How do I explain this? What I see is a blessed woman, chosen to mother a pure child; a rare star in this ocean of parenting that brings a new scene before us each day. I see you as a chosen one: a queen of souls, a figure head, a leader, a teacher, a magnanimous heart that’s never depleted of love and acceptance; a strong woman. You must be more than all these, but I’m still raw and inexperienced in describing the impact you have on me and I suppose many other women here too.
Just this morning I lost my temper with my son – he wouldn’t do a few minor things including his weekend homework properly. He was lazy, slapdash, wouldn’t cooperate at the exact time I was ready to help him; wouldn’t be mature enough, write neatly enough, wouldn’t hold his pencil properly and I lost it in a moment and let out a jumble of frustration to him. Words flying at him – meaningless words that helped neither of us.
All he wanted to do was play with his cars. He is seven years old. I feel embarrassed of my short-sightedness and impatience. After times like this, when I reflect on yet another badly handled moment, I think of the way you respond to your daughter’s needs and the resilience you have cultivated through the stages of her growth. I imagine exhaustion comes from different things for you and wonder if you have the support at those times.
There are times I wanted to reach out and tell you of the impact of your presence; that’s it’s an honour for the rest of us to be in the same place and learn from you. I lack the courage to extend the hand of friendship further with counter-narratives racing through my mind; would she want to meet? Would she want me to visit her? Is it offensive to chat generally about our children and not mention the physical needs and mental challenges of her daughter? Should I ask her outright? Should I ask her to visit me – or would that offend, as though I don’t realise the juggling she must have to do with appointments, therapies, care givers…? And these questions build up barrier after barrier in my head, leaving me here sitting in the same spot, and you over there…If we could spend time together, I would hope our friendship will bring a welcome dimension to your life as it would to mine. I hope we would share your child’s personality, her likes, her happiness, her challenges, along with my child’s ups and downs too.
When weeks pass and I don’t see you here, I wonder how it feels for you to belong to our community. In theory you are part of it, but in reality, are there genuine opportunities to ‘belong’, where you feel included? It’s easy to identify the masjid – that building at that location, to know about events, to see calendar dates come and go without actually finding a place for your family. How much do we include you in the event plans? Do you make friends easily here? Does anyone visit you, not out of sympathy, but to share the everyday exchanges about life? Are you invited to the many off-shoot social gatherings? If your answer to any of these is in the negative, then we as your neighbourhood have failed you and forgotten the legacy of love and care that Rasulullah SAWS gave those with special needs around him. It means we’ve forgotten how the Prophet of Mercy (SAWS) arranged the marriage of his physically challenged companion Julaybib, how he (SAWS) was concerned about him leading as full a life as possible. Julaybib, known to his local community as having physical challenges, already had the attention of RasullAllah SAWS and that was enough for him. Yet the Prophet (SAWS) ‘did inclusion’, as well as ‘talk’ inclusion, he showed us through the way he treated blind companions, companions with illnesses and conditions that hindered their movement. He SAWS helped them find a role in society to suit their abilities. He made space for them. How does our community fare in comparison?
Today I’m grateful for your presence and what it teaches me. I know I can never understand the dynamics of your parenting, but I hope you can feel a moment of warmth in your heart to know you are an inspiration to me long after we leave this hall. So today I take the step of standing up, walking over to you and reaching out….
Your sister in the prayer hall.
©Suma Din, extract from forthcoming book: ‘Dear Mum Who….’
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