My Egypt Stories 3: Finding Friends and Surviving Fajr Centre

Malaysian & Somali Friends

While I was studying in Misr (Egypt) I had very few American or British friends.

I was so interested to explore relationships with other nationalities and cultures. Noriani (نور عيني) meaning “light of my eye”, was from Malaysia. She was a student of Shari’ah at al-Azhar but she like many other Azhar students, came to our school because she wanted to strengthen her Arabic speaking skills. Noriani did not know English and I didn’t know Malay so we were constantly practicing our Arabic on one another. On the weekends, she used to invite me to her apartment for spicy Malay food ( which I wasn’t used to). She lived with 7 other roommates, all students at al- Azhar. They were very soft, yet firm in their deen, and I admired their character. And they walked together like a pack! You never saw one Malaysian girl out on the street alone. If you saw 1, you saw 4 or 5. I liked being around them because  they were a tight, strong group, and I was always alone. They wore very soft colors like sky blue, gray, or beige; some covered their faces and some did not. When I used to visit, a few of them would get nervous because they knew they would have to speak Arabic with me, and some of them weren’t very good at it. One time I was there and it got late so they said, “just spend the night.” They had one mirror that they shared, which was on top of a dresser/bureau. Before sleeping, each girl, one-by-one, would stand in front of the mirror, put on sweet smelling lotion and brush her hair. They were so feminine mashaAllah.

My other close friends were Somali, and to me they were The Quran Specialists.

We had a group that used to gather at Umm Luqman’s house, she was an elder Somali sister whose husband worked in Canada. She was very strong and I learned a lot from her. She was, you could say, our leader. She held duroos (classes) at her house in Aqueeda and Quran. Everyone who came to her house left wearing niqaab and all black. She also arranged marriages between male and female students who were at her house from different countries.  She was a Mother, an Auntie, and a big sister at the same time حفظها الله

What I admired about Umm Luqman was that her children absolutely loved her. Well everyone did but especially her children. If she left the house to go to the market, they would spend a whole 5 minutes just kissing her good bye. She had a maid and after dinner, while the maid cleaned the kitchen she would be sitting on the balcony reading Quran to her children. I said, if I become a mother I want to be just like her.

I stayed in her house for 3 weeks when we were changing apartments.  Wallahi I only saw her hit one of her children one time. And it was because of me! Her oldest son Luqman had turned 9 or 10 and she was teaching him not to walk in on the women without knocking first.  I was were staying in a room that he was used to walking into all the time. He walked in without knocking and as soon as he did it, he looked shocked because he forgot. I told Umm Luqman, it was an accident, she said, no he has to learn and not forget. Well, I felt so, so bad, subhaanAllah and actually his spanking was a Whole Family Event. Everyone gathered around to witness it.  She had a thin stick but she didn’t hit him hard.   I had never seen this before. Everyone stood around in a circle to watch him get hit. They were a very close knit family. They had a spacious apartment, 4 rooms, living room and large kitchen. But when bed time came, they pushed all the beds together in one room and they all slept together, even the maid. I laughed the first time I saw this but then I thought, “MashaAllah how safe they must feel all huddled together!”

I learned from the Somali sisters about having a good relationship with the Quran through memorizing and reciting it. They did not play when it came to Quran!  One time this sister named Natheefah came over, and she was reciting with this African rhythm that made me think of grass huts and women at the river with pots of water on their heads. She had me rocking! I thought her tilawa was so nice! But Wardah was like, “yeah she has a nice voice, but her tajweed is not so good. Those sisters really pushed me in memorizing the  Quran mashaAllah, and once I moved away from them, I felt myself becoming weak subhaanAllah.

This is the importance of having companionship with those who push you to move forward and better yourself.  I hope we can do that for each other online inshaaAlalh.

Do you have a strong desire to speak Arabic and read Quran fluently with understanding?

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Author: Us-tatha Nadiya Johnson

I help put Arabic language on the tongues of Muslim families in the West. I provide learning materials, curriculum and consulting for Homeschoolers, Islamic schools and Weekend Learning Programs.

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