Hijrah Diary: My Yemeni Neighbors – “Jeerani minal Yemen”

When I lived in Medina I had neighbors in the upstairs apartment who were from Yemen but they had been in Medina for 3 generations 

When you are living in any foreign country, even a Muslim country, one of the worst things that can happen to you is the feeling of loneliness. It is a feeling that results from the belief that ‘I do not belong’. It is a feeling that many of us do not anticipate when we make the journey over. We have so many ideas in our mind about having a better life in the land of Abu Bakr and Umar رضي الله عنهما I have witnessed that when people carry this feeling over a long period of time it festers into resentment and disgust with the very people who you said you wanted to live among…the Muslims. I hope to delve into this discussion at a later time because it deserves its own time.

On the other hand, the best thing that can happen to you , in my opinion,  is what happened to me when i lived in Medina. I was ‘adopted’ by an Arab family.  When I say adopted I mean they accepted me as a part of their family and made me feel that I was one of them; that I belonged to them.

It started with my upstairs neighbor Sabah. One day she sent her 8 year old daughter Imaan to knock on my door and invite me to tea. I went So I went. I was really glad she could speak fus-ha (proper Arabic) because I didn’t understand dialects at that time. she had 6 kids and don’t ask me how they all lived in that apt but they did. she asked me all about myself and where I came from and how long I had been Muslim and how did I become a Muslim etc. That was the first week. the second week she invited me again. but this time she said , every Thursday we go to my moms house I have told her all about you and she wants to see you. I thought that was very strange it made me feel a bit uncomfortable at first because I was thinking what did she tell her mother about me? I didn’t get a chance to answer before Sabah said, “khallas! after Asr Thursday we go”. I said, “Tayyib.” 

So Imaan and little Ameen came knocking frantically at the door after  salaah both of them knocking at the same time as Sabah was coming down the stairs, Yallah Yallah yaa Nadiya naruh inda Umminaa! ( Come on! We are going to our Mother!)

Sabah’s mom had 8 daughters 5 of them married 1 engaged , 1 daughter divorced and 1 still in waiting.  All had to be there.

Everyone sat in a circle facing Umm Sabah. she was a strong little Yemeni woman with a very kind and loving face, but she didn’t play when she asked you ‘ Ish akh-baar-ak?‘ (what’s your news?) she wanted to know! There was no such thing as ‘that’s my business’ There was no generic answer like, ” oh everything is fine.” No, everybody had to spill it! Even me! They talked about husbands, money, kids, everything.

Week after week I was there drinking tea, eating laham (meat) and that’s how my Arabic speaking skills really became stronger.  Nobody spoke English at all! Sabah could speak really good fus-ha so fi I didn’t understand something in the dialect she would translate for me. But after a while I didn’t need translation I could understand almost everything and I was a part of the gang. If there was a birth I was there, if someone was sick I was there, if someone was getting engaged, married, or even divorced I was there.  I remember when one of the sisters Samar got married to a Pakistani.  He was from Medina and had lived there all his life just like her. I don’t know how they met but it was a very interesting mix of the 2 cultures. He had a first wife and 2 children so she was marrying as a second wife. When we went to the shabka, ‘ the engagement party’. In Saudi Arabia, that’s when they actually write the marriage contract, but without living together yet they start ‘halal dating’.  The ‘shabka’ is just for the 2 families to meet each other so his mom, and his sisters and the Yemeni sisters and mom were there…and me. I was the only one who didn’t belong nobody treated me that way.  I kept waiting for someone to ask, who are you? what are you doing here?’ but they never did. MashaAllah!  During the party, everyone sat and talked for a while and then the first wife walked in! Everyone is kind of stopped and watching her everyone was watching for her expressions. She was so elegant! She was wearing this kind of cultural dress that sparkled with beautiful colors and she had gold that was unbelievable. IT was the the kind of gold that if I saw it in the window of a gold shop I would think it too much but it looked so good on her. So then the Pakistani mom and the eldest sister they had these empty water bottles and they started beating on them and the other starting singing and before I knew it we were all going round in a circle dancing and giggling and having fun! The wedding was the next month and a couple of weeks after the wedding, it was another Thursday and we were all at Umm Sabah’s house, Samar walked in, now a married woman. And when she took off that ebaya,  she had the same amount of gold that the Pakistani first wife had!  It was different style but it was the same amount. I thought, MashaAllah! These people know really know how to do polygyny!  

This was not the only polygynous marriage that happened in the family, the youngest sister Amberiya who liked to be called ‘Abeer’ also got married as a second wife. They did the contract /shabka, and they started ‘dating’. But while her new husband was preparing her apartment, the first wife gave the man an ultimatum. “Its either her or me!” Since he had 4 children with her, he chose her. So poor Abeer was jilted but she did get to keep the dowry which was 20,000 riyals! (about 5,000 dollars).

I enjoyed my time with my Yemeni family. I learned a lot from them.  I felt blessed to be with them because at that time I was alone in Medina so I felt very happy that I belonged to them.  I think this feeling is very important wherever you are. Where do you belong?  Who do you belong to?

Egypt Stories 2: I didn’t go inside the Pyramids

I’m Adventurous but I didn’t go inside…
I didn’t go inside well after all, the pyramids are….graves. Amazing feats of architecture they are, but nonetheless, graves.
What I did see was the Pharoah/ Fira’on in the museum along with a princess and a few other royals pulled from their graves encased in glass. The only word I can use to describe it is …macabre. Interesting English word that originates in Arabic something frightening, gruesome, sickening, coming from the grave ‘qabr’ . That is the best word to describe literally seeing the bandages ripped back off the MUMMIES like …in the movies. Much of their skin did not decompose and back in my college days I would have been proud to report Yesss! They were carmel-colored like me! and chocolate-colored like my Mom! but as a Muslim knowing what they worshipped, statues of creatures half-men and half hawk. They worshipped snakes, dogs and other animals made of pure gold. They worshipped their kings who they buried at the top of the pyramid with the belief that the King was always looking down on them. I couldn’t feel proud standing over that glass container. It was …macabre.
“هَلْ أَتَاكَ حَدِيثُ مُوسَى إِذ نَادَاهُ رَبُّهُ بِالوَادِي المُقَدَّسِ طُوَى إذهب إلى فِرعَونَ إِنَّهُ طَغَى”
Did you hear the story of Musa, when his Lord called him to the Valley of tuwa and told him, ‘ Go to Pharoah for he is surely astray.’surah aNaziat


The Heat of the Halaqa

بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

والصلاة والسلام على نبينا محمد وعلى آله وصحبه أجمعين

It’s your turn to read. Your heart beats a little faster. You put together the letters, vowels and other symbols in your mind and as quickly as you can and try to make the sounds come out as  correctly and as smoothly as possible. Then a word comes up with both a ghain and a khaa, you can’t control your throat. The next word has a yaa at the end … or is that an alif maqsoorah? While you try to decide you know your classmates are waiting, patiently for their turns. The teacher reads the word for you and you repeat, but you’re thinking: I should have known that.  You feel yourself perspiring under the heat of the halaqa. Maybe you know how it feels. When you are sitting in the halaqa (learning circle) learning to recite the Quran there is this pressure and heat of being ‘on the spot’.

The Halaqa in Medina

When I lived in Medina, I used to sit (unofficially) in a large halaqa with a teacher named Us-tatha Soraya, an Indonesian by birth who grew up in Saudia. She was very tough, would not let you get away with the smallest mistake. All the students sat in a circle and each one would come up and sit in front of the Us-taatha face-to-face to read when it was their turn.  One day an Egyptian sister came up to read for Soraya. She was reading surat ul-Adiyaat. She couldn’t get out one word without Soraya stopping her ‘Laa! Laa!”  Now if you can get a feel for the situation, This halaqa was not inside of a classroom but in the al-Masjid aNabawi (Prophets Mosque) sallallahu alyhi wa sallam in Medina. If you have ever been there you know how huge it is.  So not only are there 15-20 Taalibaat (students) around listening to you be corrected. There are also people passing by, praying, walking around, drinking Zamzam water, etc. You really felt that you were on display. After being cut down harf by harf (letter by letter) in the first 3 ayaat, the Egyptian sister couldn’t take any more.  She stopped reading. The halaqa was silent. Her lips began to shake and the tears started to roll down her cheeks. I really felt it for her. You would think the teacher would take her by the hand and give some words of encouragement. But No! The Us-taatha sat unmoved watching and waiting for her to finish her cry. Then she said, ” Lets’ continue.”

The Online Halaqa

is a virtual place to learn and not quite as pressurized as being in a huge masjid but there can be anxiety and frustration.  a reason some sisters prefer one-on-one classes and that is understandable. Although there are bonuses from with a group

1/ benefiting from the mistakes of your classmates

2/ pushing yourself to catch up with a stronger student

3/ seeing other students struggle with the same challenges that you have

These benefits you will never get from sitting one-on-one.

Whether you are reading one-on-one, with a group, or on your own with YouTube, the focus is to read often enough that reading becomes easier and flows more naturally.

Are you are reading Quran in Arabic, even with difficulty? You can take yourself to the next level as we are starting some 2 and 3-month Live courses for the Winter season. The Beginner’s Quran Recitation     is a basic course in Tajweed to train the parts of the mouth and throat to give each letter its right. We also invite you to Quranic Arabic course using Everyday Arabic to Understand the beautiful speech of Allah.

Have a look using the links above and I hope to see you in class!

Subscribe to our mailing list for free eBook with audios.