I am sitting with my grandmother (mima) on the balcony in Morocco. As always she is doing dikr (remembrance of God) using her misbaha (prayer beads). We do not talk; we just sit in comfortable silence with the green trees and mountains displaying their beauty for all to see ahead of us. I get up to leave but she suddenly becomes anxious as she doesn’t like to be left alone.
She wasn’t always like this. I remember my childhood, every single summer with the exception of one being spent in Morocco. Cousins of similar age running riot in my grandparent’s house and memories of cous cous balls, sweet mint atay (tea) and afternoon siestas fill me with nostalgia. My mima makes up these memories, her bright spirit present at every meal, every wedding, every visit.
She has the most beautiful voice; I still remember the family gathering around from far and wide, her singing about God and the Prophet, heartfelt lyrics learnt from her youth, every one taken aback from her soothing voice and then joining in with the sound of voices, drums and clapping hands.
She was nicknamed ‘Rabat’ amongst her children, a symbolic name pertaining to the capital city where authority lies in the kingdom of Morocco, and subsequently where the authority lies in my maternal family, such was her strength and clout.
Even as a firm and determined woman, she has such a soft side to her, her hugs are so reassuring and comforting. Every sentence she says carries a prayer for you in it and you can almost feel it rise to the heavens.
Now. She still sometimes sings and when she does, everyone still stops and sits, listening to her once again soothing voice and remembering the strong woman, mother, grandparent that we all grew up with. She still has a soft side to her, a hug so reassuring, so comforting and every sentence she says still carries a prayer for you in it and you can still almost feel it rise to the heavens.
But now she also has dementia. She is no longer strong, no longer firm, no longer Rabat.
God tells us (30:54): ‘It is Allah Who created you in a state of weakness, then gave (you) strength after weakness, then, after strength, gave you weakness and a hoary head: He creates as He wills, and it is He Who has all knowledge and power’.
Whenever I read this Surat, I always remember my mima.
She was once born, a beautiful little girl, growing up in Sefrou, playing in the great outdoors, marrying young, bearing her own children. She had hopes, fears, dreams.
Her face now shows her story. Every wrinkle and every line display evidence of her standing by the window filled with worry waiting for her young and mischievous son to come home, evidence of laughter to the point of tears and evidence of taking on life’s challenges and bearing it with strength and patience.
Those facial wrinkles and lines also display something else; age, and its complete effect on a person.
I look at her and I wonder if she regrets not doing more in her youth. Then I ask myself the same question- am I just living each day pointlessly, waiting for the next thing to come round and then what? Am I praying sincerely enough? Working hard enough? Treating people right enough? Am I making this world a better or worse place to live in? Will I regret that I wasn’t doing enough when I am older, that I am not doing enough now.
I am reminded of this beautiful Prophetic saying (Hadith): “Take advantage of five matters before five other matters: your youth before you become old; your health before you fall sick; your richness before you become poor; your free time before you become busy; and your life, before your death.”
Are we taking advantage of five before five? Our youth? Our health? Our wealth? Our free time? Our life?
I realise that the passage of time is certain, no matter what, but what is not certain is how we come to accept this passage of time, how we deal with it.
Before my mima became really ill, my mum went with her on Pilgrimage (Umrah). One day while in Medinah after the Duhr prayer, my mum took a nap in the Prophet’s mosque while my mima sat next to her, with her misbaha as always. After a while, my mum woke up and found the wheelchair next to her empty. A little panicked but calm that my mima would not go too far given her limited ability to walk my mum waited for her. A few minutes later, my mima came towards her running in a way that is possible for an elderly woman. She looked out of breath but with a joy and light on her face that can only come from true internal contentment. She kept apologising to my mum for worrying her (how time changes- when the mum explains to the daughter where she has been) and described how she saw other women running to visit the Prophet and she couldn’t resist, she had to visit him too. She somehow managed to come off her wheelchair, and shuffled towards the grave as fast as her little old feet could carry her.
It is such a touching story because it taught me that you are never too old to know what’s important, what matters most and what gives true contentment of the soul. It reminded me that the natural fitrah (natural disposition) that we are all born with remains with you. However much you grow older, your fitrah and belief in the Oneness of God can remain and never age. My mima, hardly able to walk was carried by her love for God and His Messenger and in essence that is what will always get us through life and its passage: love for God and His Messenger.
Back on our balcony in Morocco, it begins to rain really heavily. My mima is in her usual spot in a covered corner and I am sat next to her. As always, she has her misbaha out and she is doing dikr. But then she takes her hand out to the elements and begins trying to catch the raindrops that fall from the sky all the while praising God.
It is the most normal thing for a human to do; to feel intrigued and admiration towards the beautiful and miraculous rain falling so freely from the sky, but this is different. It is different because there is such innocence in her actions and at this particular moment in time she looks so peaceful- there appears no hatred in her heart, no pain at her condition. Just acceptance at what life is and what God has willed for her, for everyone.
The way her hands are moving is so childlike, the same sort of wonderment on her face similar to that on a child the first time they discover their ability to walk, or how to hold something in their hand. But at the same time her hands expose the look of time gone by, hands that held 11 babies and many more grandchildren, hands that clapped in joy, and hands that tell a story similar to how a face tells a story. She doesn’t notice me watching her which makes the moment that much more honest, that much more special.
Before I felt upset at how her life has now changed and how powerless she seems, but then I realise that this is all a path, a journey, a station before the next life. Why should I be upset at something that we have no control over. At this moment in time my Mima looks most at peace, still living and still remembering God…Is this ability to remember God when you don’t even recognise the faces of those closest around you not actually a blessing in disguise?
‘Verify in the remembrance of God, do hearts find rest.’ Quran (13:28)
When she was younger, my mima looked up at the sky and danced in the rain, tapping her youthful toes in the little water puddles. Now she can only look up at the sky and let her hands do the dancing.