By Shaban Ali Nadvi
I was working in an office till recently. I would spend much of the day there. In the morning, a Muslim woman would come to clean the place. One day I asked someone about her, and I learnt that her husband was a habitual drinker. I felt she was in great pain and sorrow, and so I decided to visit her home, which was in a slum near our office.
The woman had a six-year-old daughter and two sons. I said to her that I’d be happy to teach her children, free of cost. She agreed. The next day, I came back to her house. She hurried about trying to neat up the place. She didn’t know where I should sit to teach her children. She repeatedly said that she was sorry that she didn’t have something to spread out on which I could sit.
I sat down on a mat and looked about. I was struck by the conditions of the house. There was only one bed and a single suitcase. Clothes were hanging from a rope.
At first the woman’s daughter was scared of me. It was for the first time in her life that she had opened an Arabic book. I wrapped a dupatta around her head and helped her pronounce some letters of the Arabic alphabet. She was an intelligent child. That day, my mind travelled back to my childhood, when I was beaten for my improper pronunciation. But this little child did so well!
The woman kindly asked me to have tea. I am not in the habit of drinking tea, but I accepted her offer. I was moved by how this family managed their life with so few material possessions. I had never experienced life in a slum before (except in stories and movies). Those moments in the slum helped me recognize how privileged many of us are compared to so many others. For the first time ever I had first-hand experience of the hardship of living in a slum. At the same time, one of the things that struck me was how happy the woman’s children were. Perhaps they didn’t know and think of the luxuries of the rich.
The woman told me that her family had come to the slum around a year ago. Her husband worked as a mason. Sometimes, he drank and behaved roughly with his family. Even though the family was Muslim, the children didn’t know what the Quran and namaz were. I asked whether she was offering namaz. For one year she had neither offered namaz nor recited a single verse of the Quran. She didn’t have musalla, a prayer-mat, nor even a copy of the Quran. I asked her why she didn’t have a copy of the Quran at home. She replied that it was because other people entered her house. I said to her, ‘So what? It is good to interact with other people and live in peace with them.” The woman responded thus: “If they enter my house and the Quran is inside, our kalima will be removed from our forehead.”
I was stunned at this absurd and erroneous belief. I told the woman that Islam teaches us that we must live peacefully with others and must share God’s message with others, rather than keeping it away from them. I said to her that God’s message is for all human beings.
By Shaban Ali Nadvi