Credit where it’s due

The old Pakistani uncle at the mosque is due his seventy excuses too.1 People like me are often found muttering taciturn complaints about the unfriendliness we perceive in our fellow travellers when we come together for prayer. In weeks and weeks it could be as if we are not even there, as if ghosts standing in line.

But to give your brother seventy excuses was the lesson I learned when I returned to the mosque after some months’ absence. There was a time—when I was doing better—that saw me hurry there for every prayer, until laziness got the better of me. My Lord would note my disappearance, I told myself, but no one else would miss me.

I was wrong. As I wandered into the mosque that afternoon, an old, white-haired man with weak English got up from his place and headed straight for me. ‘Where on earth have you been?’ he asked me, ‘We thought you’d fallen dead.’

A minute later another approached to ask after me. Had I been away? Had I been ill? Um, no, I muttered, I’ve just… ‘Well as long as you’re alive and well,’ he interjected, sensing my inability to account for the months that had passed.

It is difficult to prise many words from these old folk. Salam alaikum is usually all they will spare, or the occasional, ‘How are you brother?’ We don’t have conversations, but that afternoon encounter taught me much. Perhaps they’re shy. Perhaps English isn’t their strong point. Perhaps they’re waiting for me to strike up the discussion. Perhaps their mind is on the prayer. Perhaps they have problems at home on their mind. And for the literalist, this is only seven percent of the excuses due to them.

Nowadays I attend the midday prayer each working day in another town. The folk there don’t seem all that friendly either, but here I have learnt to give them their seventy excuses too. We may not sit and chat when we come together for prayer, but still we are brothers to one another, witnessed in random acts of kindness.

My office lies a fifteen minute walk from the mosque—a hurried march there beside main roads set apart from my leisurely saunter back along the cobbled streets of the old town. It is in this daily journey that I learned my lesson, for I have lost count of the number of times someone has stopped to give me a lift. Often I don’t even recognise them as they come to a halt beside me, tooting their horn, but it doesn’t seem to matter. ‘Salam alaikum,’ they say as I peer in at them, ‘Do you want a lift?’ Or, ‘You’re going to miss the jamat. Jump in.’

Most of the time we don’t strike up conversation. We exchange salams and I reiterate my gratitude, but that’s it. But it does not matter. These random acts of kindness serve to remind me that things are not always as they seem. When someone is silent it doesn’t necessarily mean that they don’t like you; they may just have nothing to say.

Sometimes I am too hard on people, jumping to conclusions and making assumptions about them. And sometimes I fail to give credit where it’s due. Bumping into a couple of friends from Arab lands after Friday prayer one week, conversation soon turned on our favourite bugbear: the incomprehensible Urdu speech followed by the hastily sung generic Arabic sermon. It’s a problem, I had to agree, but then another thought occurred to me. ‘Of course,’ I said, ‘were it not for these people, we wouldn’t have a place to pray at all.’

Beside me, my friend stopped and smiled. ‘That’s very true,’ he said, and soon we were considering our own shortcomings. And there were many.

  1. “If a friend among your friends errs, make seventy excuses for them. If your hearts are unable to do this, then know that the shortcoming is in your own selves.” — Hamdun al-Qassar, narrated by Imam Bayhaqi in his Shu`ab al-Iman 7.522.

10 thoughts on “Credit where it’s due”

  1. as-salamu ‘alaykum,

    It was nice to finally give you salams a couple of jumahs ago.

    Unfortunately, I have exhausted my 70 excuses and then some for those who have been running our mosque over the years, don’t want to go into details but ignorance and general lack of understanding of the needs of our community are to blame.

    wa’as-salam

    Masud

  2. Yet even when they get things wrong, there can be unexpected blessings in store for us. As on Thursday when they shut off the wash-rooms completely and the water supply too for the building work, without providing us with an alternative. You should have witnessed the fraternity that day, between all of us who’d forgotten to make wudu before we came!

  3. For this, “On Adoption” and other things may Allah reward you abundantly.

    “And weigh with an even balance and do not deprive people of their due and do not commit abuse on earth spreading corruption” Qur’an 26:182-183

  4. assalamualaykum

    This is something I experienced in a big way when I moved to a new city. I was absolutely SHOCKED. and these were meant to be Muslims.

    Even today it still never ceases to disgust me at the way Muslims behave towards each other at the Mosque. Look at the eid prayers for example. Never mind looking after the stranger its more often the case you’re absolutely invisible.

    And its the people with this very same mentality that usually harp on about Islam being this and Islam being that while forgetting the most basic duties of looking after their neighbours. Many times I have extended salaams first only to be greeted with a begrudging reply.

    I feel sorry for convert Muslims who have to deal with this knowing that it should not be like this. And yet we still somehow expect that Allah subhana wa ta’ala is going to give us tawfiq!

    Forgive me if I come across a little harsh, but sometimes it really gets me down.

    M’asalaam

    p.s.

    May Allah subhana wa ta’ala give you success with your efforts to adopt

  5. To add to Ali’s assessment, my father (an agnostic who is now moving to true Islam) always had a problem with the superstitions, hypocrisy and treatment of women in local Muslim communities. For example, he knew someone who veiled his wife and would not let her meets others; this same man indulged in dirty dealings. But if you looked at him and listened to him with his Subhan’Allah and Masha’Allah you wouldn’t know that. Now my father has begun to realise that these things do not have anything to do with Islam.

    When the Australian Muslim writer Haneefa Deen visited Bangladesh she found that some clerics had changed the Prophet’s, peace be upon him, saying “Heaven lies at the feat of thy mother” to “Heaven lies at the feet of thy husband”.

    This is a predicament for converts to Islam because they are likely to trust any Muslim who emits tradition rather than piety and good behaviour which bear the sum of faith.

  6. assalamualaykum

    I do take your point Sidi Tim. I was once given eid greetings by a total stranger. I just wish it would happen more often.

    Peace

  7. Assalamu alaikum,

    Very pertinent post, and a great reminder. Jazaka Allahu khairan.

    I do want to apologize, because I meant to rate the article, but I mistakenly rated it as I was clicking to access the rating. I apologize for the two star rating, it was unintended. Confused clicking prevented me from giving this piece the five stars I meant to give it.

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