Tuesday, September 23, 2008


He walked into the restaurant. It was crowded. He found an empty table at the back near the window. He took his seat and looked at his watch. He was glad he had come a bit early to reserve a table before his family came. On weekends the place was always full. He ordered a lemon juice as he waited.

“My back hurts a lot these days…” he heard someone talking behind him.
“I underwent a sonar the other day….” came the reply.

From their voices he could tell they were elderly. He had just caught a glimpse of two men sitting in the table behind him when he had taken his seat. They were both talking in loud voices as most older people do…probably because they couldn’t hear so well.

“Did you hear about the new hospital ? It has an excellent cardiac unit…” the conversation went on.
“Yes, I visited a friend there the other day. His daughter was with him. He’s lucky…if ever I get hospitalized I won’t have anyone with me….” came the answer in a tone of regret.
“Do you know that my daughter calls me only once a week??? They have no time for us anymore!” exclaimed the other
“What I worry most about is dying at home alone and nobody finding out except after many days….”
“I think about that too. But if you’re gone so what!? Why worry about something if you’re dead and gone!!”

Oh a typical conversation between old people he thought to himself as he overheard them talking....and how depressing it was!! Illness…loneliness…death… ungrateful kids…and the list goes on! He’d heard it so many times before. In the future he’d make a point never to sit near elderly people…no point in spoiling an outing with this type of dispiriting talk!
He looked at his watch again…they were late.

“Did I tell you I bought a plot in the new cemetery...”
“No you didn’t…but good for you. When my time comes I’ll have to be taken to the family cemetery in my hometown…it’s a long way. I just hope it won’t be a hot summer day when I go!!!”

There they go again he thought to himself. The conversation was starting to irritate him. If the restaurant hadn’t been so crowded he would have changed tables. He was hoping the family would hurry up and come. He glanced at the doorway…His eyes brightened up…there they were at last.

He waved to his daughter. She came towards him and gave him a big hug.
”Really missed you sweet heart” he said in an emotional voice as he held her tightly, “It’s been ages”.
Then came her husband…his grandson…his wife…and their twin girls. The two little ones jumped into their great-grandfathers' arms. He tried picking them up as he stood but that was too great a feat for his aging back and weak legs. He almost lost his balance and slumped back into his chair.

“It’s not easy being old my sweeties” he said with a chuckle as they both clambered up his lap and kissed him, "It’s not easy being old...”

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Call to Prayer

Allah Akbar…Allah Akbar…The call to dawn prayer came gently to his ears, slowly awakening him. Haya ‘ala el- Sala…Haya ‘ala el-Falah…How he loved Sheikh Fadl’s voice…so pure…so warm…so divine. It made him feel as if the Almighty himself was calmly nudging him to wake up and guiding him gently to pray. Although he lived a few blocks away from the mosque, he could still hear Sheikh Fadl’s beautiful melodic azzan as it floated softly through the early dawn silence. For many years since he was a child he had heard this enchanting voice. Never had Sheikh Fadl, come rain or sunshine, failed to climb the long and winding stairs of the tall minaret five times a day to call the faithful to prayer. And never had he himself failed to answer his call and perform his religious duty …for how could anyone listening to this divine voice that touched both heart and soul fail to obey. He remembered how, as a child, he had once woken up trembling from a bad nightmare. At that same moment he heard Sheikh Fadl’s call to dawn prayer coming from afar. His heavenly voice soothed and calmed him. It brought peace to his heart and made him feel safe in the embrace of God's love. He knew from that day that the Almighty may be far above in the heavens, unseen and untouchable, yet he was near and ever so close with his mercy and compassion.

He continued to listen to the call to prayer as he lay in bed… …but why was it getting louder?...what was happening to Sheikh Fadl’s voice?...why was he shouting like that?...what was going on???

He woke up in bed with a start. He had been dreaming again of Sheikh Fadl and his call to prayer. He gave a long deep sigh as he got out of bed. Sheikh Fadl had died many years ago and nobody climbed minarets any more. There were microphones now…three of them from three different mosques in his street. They were open at full blast, all at the same time, bombarding his ears with what was supposed to be a call to prayer, but what was for him a jumble of shouting, hoarse voices and static. He knew that things changed with the times, but he could never reconcile himself to what others considered a sign of progress and modernity. He felt he was being roughly shaken awake, held by the neck and dragged out of bed by a harsh unfeeling hand. The cold metallic shouting from so many mosques only touched his nerves but never his heart. For him it felt more like a call to perform a mere ritual rather than an act of faith, a call that aroused the fear of hell rather than the love of God.

As he headed to the bathroom, he tried to shut out the ugly sounds that pierced his ears. He reached deep down in his heart and soul in search of the sounds of love, beauty and compassion stored in his memory from a distant past. From somewhere deep within, slowly and gradually emerged that divine and beloved voice…it gently enveloped him in an aura of peace and serenity…and it was all that he heard as he completed his ablutions and spread his prayer rug…the heavenly voice of Sheikh Fadl’s call to prayer.