IMAM HUSAIN ISLAMIC CENTRE “Light of Guidance and Ark of Salvation”
January, 18 2018 - 12:35 PM 29 Rabi'u Thani 1439

Sr Shifa Mustapha

In the Name of God; the Most Compassionate, the Most Merciful

[No part of this article may be used or reproduced in anyway. This article represents the originator`s personal views and opinions, which do not necessarily reflect those of IHIC.]

“Shall I seek for (my) Cherisher other than Allah, when He is the Cherisher of all things?..”

When contemplating Allah`s great gift of the opening of my eyes and heart to Islam, what resonates most is Allah`s Mercy and Caring, for one so undeserving. My "conversion" to Islam may best be seen, by those who already know my story, as confrontation and capitulation. It appeared to me that the knowledge and sacredness of Islam overcame me when Allah brought me face to face with it, and at this time I was not young. However, on reflection, I realise that there had been a signal of what was to come very early in my life, although sadly I had completely forgotten about it by the time I reached adulthood. This sign had also come in the form of a gift, and it is about this that I now write.

My birth, in Australia , a country far removed from the knowledge of Islam and the history of the Prophet of Islam (pbuh&hp), was unremarkable. I was the first child of my parents born during the second world war before my father`s deployment overseas. There is no doubt that the era of war imprinted itself upon many facets of life, emotional as well as physical, and while there was rationing of foodstuffs and other goods, probably the major factor in our lives was that of husbands, fathers, brothers being absent. Wives and mothers then, constantly lived with the knowledge that perhaps their menfolk would not return, and of course many did not. However, war did not encroach upon our homeland and unlike many arenas of war today there was no nuclear threat as such, although of course this emerged in the closing scenes of the war with the US bombing of Japan . Also, as it turned out, war did not remain a permanent state of affairs for us, nevertheless the impact was felt for a number of years afterward. A challenging thought when one sees our people in so many regions suffering war and the pain and upheaval of war for tens of years without their suffering being acknowledged at all!  

Strangely, considering the global upheaval of those days, religion did not appear to be important to my parents in the scheme of things and I have wondered about that. This last week, however, I was stung into remembrance of this factor when upon the rescue of the Australian miners in Beaconsfield, Tasmania, the townspeople by and large all went to celebrate in the local pub, leaving only a few stalwarts heading for church to praise God. "Is this the real culture of Australia ?" I wondered. Nevertheless, while it is true that my Grandparents were not noted for churchgoing during this time, they were noted for having a strict code of ethics, as also was my father, and none ever "went to the pub,"for my father and his father drank no alcohol at all. On the other hand my mother`s family was less puritanical enjoying modernity with all its entertainments, although her mother, from a religious family it was said, had died deeply religious at a young age ten years before my birth. Amazingly, although neither family had known of the other until my parents were young adults, their histories were practically identical, with both families being from Scandinavia and England , both having Jewish ties, although largely having converted to Christianity. So while one may look back and marvel, I am reminded that no person is on this earth by chance, that the Divine pattern is woven and relationships are ordained: It is He Who has created man from water, then has He established relationships of lineage and marriage; for thy Lord has power (over all things)" Surah Al Furqan (25) : 54.  

The saga of the gift really came into play when my mother and I returned to my parents home town at the time my father was sent overseas. Soon afterwards my mother decided to open a trunk which had been stored for her return. Although I was only two years of age, it must have made a big impact on me for I can still remember looking with interest as the huge lid came up and all sorts of treasures were lovingly unwrapped. There were two items, both having belonged to my maternal Grandmother, which gripped my imagination at that time. The first was a small white statue of Mary the mother of Jesus (pbuh). I remember it with interest, and also that as I put it into my mouth (where most things were tested at that stage of my life), it had a decidedly salty taste. Hmm! Not bad! The next was a small plaque which was absolutely beautiful in my eyes. It was of a desert scene. The evening sky had a pearlescent quality with the merest tinge of shaded pink on the horizon; the evening star glowed; camels and palm trees were in the background, while the focus was on Muslim Arab men praying. A verse, which a young Aunt taught me, was inscribed under it: I pray the prayer that the Easterns do, may the Love of Allah abide with you. Wherever you go, whatever you do, may the peace of Allah abide with you.  

It is said that my Grandfather had bought it for my Grandmother, though how and why? I have since questioned this aspect. He had never even accepted Christianity, and she was a strong Catholic. Why would a Jewish man buy his much-loved wife a token of Islam is one question surely, and where would he have found it in a country such as this, during that early era unless Allah had ordained it to be so?  

Anyway, I trundled around the house with the statue of Mary, which I surreptitiously licked occasionally, as well as the plaque upon which my eyes feasted, until my mother unceremoniously grabbed the statue, after noticing me making a meal of it..... "Good Grief!" she had said in a tone which clearly registered shock. Her shock, I later discovered, was not because of my sacrilege, but because my Grandmother had died of tuberculosis and a deep fear of such remained part of the family`s psyche.  

The plaque remained with me, and I remember how it made me feel safe and warm. So it is no surprise that I insisted on taking it to bed with me as I was not prepared to give it up... after all, the statue of Mary had vanished completely from my view - besides which, I had never licked it, just gazed lovingly upon it! I am not sure just how long this state of affairs lasted, but it must have been for some time. Remembering back, I note that never once did I question either what the men were doing, or what the word Allah meant. Somehow it seemed to be a natural order of things which did not need explanation.  

We eventually shifted in with my father`s parents and family within a year after our return, and still the plaque remained my constant companion. Soon after that, however, I was to be introduced to the concept of "God".  

It so happened that my mother and her sister, the same Aunt who had taught me the verse on the plaque, were sitting talking. I was finding it extremely boring as I was expected to either sit silently or perhaps go to sleep. However, it became increasingly difficult to remain in this suspended state, so I started to devise ways of entertaining myself. After a time I discovered that my nose had a hole into which my index finger fitted perfectly.... amazing! Looking back I realise that I must have been quite slow, even backward, in learning some things. I sat there with my finger nestled in my nostril, and then incredibly I discovered that there was a second nostril, and yes, I had a matching finger on the other hand! I was quite fascinated by this discovery and now sat with each nostril accommodating the index finger of each hand. It was about this time that my research led me to make another discovery - viz those nostrils were needed for the intake of air. It was at this point, not knowing that I could breathe through my mouth, when I was making the most dreadful of snuffling sounds due to lack of oxygen that my Mother and Aunt looked around to see this sight of me, which horrified them.  

Suddenly the conversation turned to me: "Shame on you!" said my Aunt. "Go immediately and wash those hands," said my Mother. "Your Grandmother in heaven will be very upset to see you doing such a thing!" emphasised my Aunt. At this point my attention was fully on what was being said, "Heaven!" I said, "what is heaven?" I was aware that my Grandmother had died, but I had never heard of "heaven" before. "Heaven is where God lives." my Aunt had answered. "God!" I said, "Who is God?" What a funny little word that was to me at that time, "God". It sounded so very foreign and I repeated it several times. "God is ; He always was and He always will be !" my Aunt had informed me. My Mother said nothing, she did not want to be dragged into something which she knew may go on for days. However it did not go on for days, but for a long time in little girl terms. I sat and pondered the word "God" and how was it possible for anyone to live always and always. "Who is God`s father?" I had asked. "He has no father and no mother" I was told. No father and no mother - how could it be possible, I thought? I was quiet for such a long time, and eventually asked, "So, what does God want?" Surely there was nothing mere people could give to a Being Who had lived forever without parents and , I discovered, owned everything and had need of nothing. "He just asks for you to pray to Him" my Aunt said. It was at this point in time that I began to say a bedtime prayer which most children of that era were taught: Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray thee Lord, my soul to keep, and if I should die before I wake, I pray Thee Lord my soul to take." Strangely I knew nothing whatsoever about Jesus (pbuh) until I went to school, but do remember having quite long conversations with "God" at times, particularly those of great happiness or distress, and this persisted throughout my days.  

Looking back I cannot help but think how very different my reaction to the word "God" was in comparison to the word "Allah" which had come into my consciousness and had rolled from my tongue gently, like the wings of a butterfly or the breath of a tiny breeze. "God" had sounded so harsh, so incomplete. Somehow, now however, I cannot remember just when the lines were blurred, or exactly when my Grandmother`s Gift and I became separated. I know that it was still precious to me at war`s end, but in the shifting which took place it was again packed away.

With the passing of days came the passing of early childhood. It was at school that I remember hearing about Jesus (pbuh) for the first time, and some time after that that I was "christened". By the time that I had passed through schooling and attended college, the plaque was no longer a part of either my life or my understanding. Depressingly I now note that the word "Allah" held nothing for me; that my Christian studies left no room for, nor yet, indeed, any light which would bring other than bias. Lack of knowledge abounded, as indeed it does today. However, the Mercy of Allah and His Generosity to me were to eventually bring me, though many happenings - trials, tribulations, joys and sorrows - to face the truth of Islam.... but that is another story.

To Allah, The Great, The Compassionate, I turn in my gratitude and sometimes I wonder, did my Grandmother turn to Allah? Did my Grandfather have any knowledge of Him as the Great Creator? Subhan Allah! The gift, was truly that - a wondrous gift!