Dear Allah Ta’ala,
It hailed here in Karachi last month, and as surprising and exciting as it was, it left me with a terrible, sinking feeling in my heart. Because of the sudden harsh weather, the girl who helps with the household work at our place could not leave for a good 2 hours after she was done, and so I made her coffee and asked her to rest for a while till the weather outside got better.
I myself snuggled in my blanket with Dan Brown’s latest novel and a mug of hot coffee, feeling at bliss, while she sat across me – staring at me uncomfortably as her mug sat beside her untouched. I ignored her stare for a while, then lost my patience. “Koi masla hai (what’s wrong)?”, I asked her, clearly annoyed. She lowered her gaze in embarrassment, then fumbled with her dupatta as she asked me, in a very low voice, if I could lend her a copy of the Quran for a while. Her timid request surprised me a little, since she is a cheerful soul generally, but I got up nonetheless and brought her my Quran, cleaning the layer of dust that had settled on the cover with a tissue paper, which turned grey as it wiped away proof of my heedlessness.
Asking me to keep the Quran on the table, she went to the bathroom to make wudhu. She came back a few minutes later, her face glistening with water droplets that she hadn’t wiped away, as she tied her dupatta around her and sat down facing the Qibla. I looked at her curiously as she carefully picked up the Quran and kissed it soundlessly, the hardcopy resting on her lips for a few seconds before she put it down. She was illiterate, that I clearly knew. Illiterate enough to not be able to even recognize her own name – not in English, not in Urdu, and not, I was sure, in Arabic.
She opened the Quran, first the wrong way up, and looked at the words for a good minute or two before realizing her mistake and turning the book over so that the words now stood right. I then saw her staring at the top right corner of the page that opened, as if trying to make out which juz she was on. Then she flipped a few more pages and landed on the fourth juz. Slowly, I saw her relax as the index finger of her right hand touched the first word on the page – لن. Her finger traced the curve of the laam as it joined with the noon, pausing for a bit, then going back to the curved neck of the laam. She did it again, and again, and again – then moved on. By now, her eyes were filled with tears, and I wondered what exactly she was trying to do. Unable to wait any longer, I called out to her.
At first, she did not hear me at all. The second time, however, she suddenly looked up in surprise, as if she had completely forgotten that there was someone else in the room too. “Kia karrahi ho? Tumhen parhna ata hai ye (what are you doing? Can you read?” I asked, rather insensitively. She smiled sadly through her tears and shook her head.
And then, in her soft voice, on that cold afternoon, just sitting there armed with nothing but a book and some coffee, she dropped bombs of guilt on me. She told me she has no idea what these words say, or what they would even sound like in her voice. She told me she can’t begin to imagine what treasures are hidden in these words, and how much she longs to be able to understand them. She said she “reads” the Quran every day, for an hour on her busy days and for more when she is free, which essentially includes just staring at its words. She traces each letter, each curve of the laam, the sheen, the kaaf, each dot, and hopes that some miracle would occur, that somehow, through the intensity of her gaze and the severity of her longing, a bridge will be formed – a bridge of love, perhaps – that will bring the treasures encapsulated in those words to her heart, and they will accumulate there, slowly spreading throughout her body with every heartbeat, slowly becoming a part of her very being.
I sat in my place, unmoving, and looked at the 19 year old illiterate, uneducated girl in front me, who had now shifted her attention back to the book in her hand. Looking down myself, I saw my hands holding Dan Brown’s Origin, a book I had been reading for 3 days now. The tissue paper I had wiped the Quran with still lay at one side, still grey with the dust it had wiped – still witness to my heedlessness. I thought of the multiple copies of tafseer, both English and Urdu, that sat in the one cabinet at our place which was designated for religious books – the one least opened. I thought of the other copy of the Quran I own, the one with translations, and of how I have no idea where it currently is. Beside the dusty tissue paper lay my phone, my gateway to the world, holding thousands of lectures by renowned religious scholars, explanations of different Surahs through pictures and text, advertisements of online courses that just require me to login from the comfort of my own room – basically everything that I had been conveniently ignoring because Robert Langdon’s codes were more important for me to decipher than the book I genuinely believe to hold the secret to success in both the worlds.
It was in that moment, Allah Ta’ala, that I realized what being blessed truly means. Within a matter of minutes, the poor, illiterate girl who scrubbed toilet floors for a living had shown me where I stand. And I am sorry, Allah Ta’ala. Sorry because you sent me a love letter 1400 years ago, and it’s still a mystery to me because I just wasn’t interested in finding out what it says. Sorry because I spent 18 years of my life getting an education which guarantees me prestige and good money, and not one year trying to learn something that guarantees me you. Sorry because, whatever excuses I may give for my negligence towards your book, the truth is simple: it has, all my life, been the last item on my priority list.