I’ve never been very good at making dua, but on those occasions I have sincerely fallen down on my face in prayer — mostly at my most desperate — my supplications have usually been answered in truly astounding ways.
One such prayer came towards the end of my masters studies in Scotland at the turn of the millennium. I was the guest of Turkish friends, who lived four miles away from me, south of the Ochil Hills. I had been invited for breakfast, enjoying the finest hospitality, witnessing their family life up close.
The experience touched me so deeply that on my return to my own residence later that day, recalling the kindness and generosity of my friend’s wife, I made a dua that went something like this: “O Allah, grant me a companion just like that.”
Of course, I forgot all about that prayer over the months that followed, as I graduated, moved away and busied myself looking for work. For a while I stayed with my grandmother not far from where I live now, as a base from which to attend numerous job interviews across the south east.
Eventually I’d secure a temporary job near Maidenhead — not one that required a degree, let alone a postgrad, but it was all I could get — and I would soon move to west London, to take up lodgings close to the Great Western line for the daily commute.
While living there, I became a fixture at West Ealing Mosque, then a humble masjid set up in a converted warehouse, with a wonderful community spirit, to which I’d wander each evening after work. In time, as they grew used to my presence, the folk I met there began inviting me to their homes for tea.
One of them, closer to my parents’ age than mine, invited me one evening for a light meal, doting on me warmly, attending to my every need, while his daughters questioned me inquisitively at length on every aspect of my life. I suppose I must have been quite a curiosity back then, a stranger growing familiar in their midst.
Some months later, it would be another’s turn. He was a young professional, probably a decade older than me. Until that day, I was convinced he was an English Muslim like me — a misconception he corrected only upon completion of my mildly racist diatribe on a bus through Southall. Oops.
This was the chap who together with his wife would introduce me to my beloved soon afterwards. After quizzing me at length about my education and employment status, he quickly broached the question of marriage. By then, I had decided that I’d have to marry a convert, of a similar cultural background to me.
As for the practicalities of that: I hadn’t given it much thought, for as far as I was concerned, this was just banter. In truth, that was my first proper conversation with a chap who until then I had only exchanged salams with for weeks. If we were friends at all, it was only because we both frequented the same kebab shop on the corner of Boston Manor Road in Hanwell.
Regardless, days later he would be inviting me to dinner at his place. There was a convert sister they wanted me to meet, he said. Who was she? Where was she from? Unknown. All I had to go on was that she was “very religious” and had been Muslim about as long as me. To cut a long story short, we were married four months later.
And that would be when it would hit me: that dua I had made almost exactly a year before we were introduced. My beloved’s name was the same as that of the one who had inspired my prayer! As for the family life, that beautiful hospitality, the delicious cuisine, the fine culture: it was all there. The full package.
My tongue had articulated one thing to a friend — and, yes, he came through, for she had embraced the faith at the same time as me, far from home — but my heart was better known to the One, who had heard my plea before that. It was clear proof of words we have all heard.
And when My servants question you concerning Me: surely I am near. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls upon Me. So let them hear My call and let them trust in Me, in order that they may be led aright.
Actually, there was so much more to it than I have described here. Most of it must remain a secret, kept between us. An introduction that would be hard to believe without faith. That, I guess, is the power of a sincere prayer, no matter how few and far between.
Call upon the One; most certainly, He will answer.