Empires Of Faith

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Chapter 18: Distance

16 Ramadan, 1663

The yellow disk of the sun descended in the orange sunset sky, sinking behind the darkening dunes of sand. Muhammad ibn Sulayman sat upon the black hills of sand, his horse standing beside him. He stared out into the distance, his mind full of thoughts about his beloved wife. He knew that there remained only two weeks of Ramadan; soon the month would end and the holiday of Eid-ul-Fitr would arrive. This would be the first Eid in years that he would spend without Munirah. Miles and miles away, he felt like his heart was torn in two.

On the one end, he was happy to be out, striving for a cause he believed in. On the other, he greatly missed his wife. Without her he didn't even feel like himself; he felt as though he were incomplete. Emptiness, he thought to himself. What celebration can there be, What joy could I feel; With what's separating you and me, the distance and the time are still.

He grabbed a handful of sand and let it slowly spill from his fist. The sands blow away, So what of time? Is the alternation of night and day just a delusion of mine? You are too far, And yet again far too distant, If only I had you in my arms this instant. But as the sun hides in sadness, taking away the light, I too in sadness will remain alone tonight...

Resting his chin in his right palm, Muhammad smiled slightly as he began to reminisce about his past with Munirah. Thinking back on all the years of the past, he began to feel himself isolating from the world around him. The smile on his face grew wider as he thought back to the very beginning. He began drifting off into a world of daydreams, memories all filling his mind and soothing his aching heart. He saw it all from the beginning…

It was many years ago, far away in another land. Muhammad was but a young boy, no older than seven years. He had just gotten home from another Quran study session with his teacher in the village. It was dark inside and he was putting his books away to go head outside and play with the other kids. As he walked from his room, he paused. At the entrance to his home there stood a young girl, close in age to him. She was standing there, waiting for something. He froze in his tracks, unable to move another inch. She was amazing, the most beautiful thing he’d ever seen. The tawny-brown complexion glowed with a radiant beauty. Her charming smile was enough to make the young boy feel weak.

For what seemed like an eternity, he sat there, lost in a daze. Then, in the blink of an eye, she was gone. Muhammad could hardly believe it, something like that had never happened to him before. He stood motionlessly, wondering if it had all been his imagination.

It wasn't until days later when he received an answer. This girl was for real. Muhammad sat down nervously in his teacher's small classroom; across the row was the glowing girl, as he'd secretly come to think of her. He opened his scrolls of Arabic lessons and began to scan over it, stealing a glance across the way every so often to peek at the girl.

Just looking at her made him feel warm and happy inside. His heart would race and his stomach was full of butterflies. As strange as it all was, he enjoyed every second of it. He couldn't get enough. In fact, he felt as though he could sit there forever, just taking in her beauty.

Unfortunately, he couldn't. As the days went on, Muhammad advanced in his lessons beyond the expectations of the class. He reached a level of being moved on to join the class of another teacher, much to his dismay. Now he was separated from the girl he'd admired. On the outside, he pretended to be happy, but inside he was frowning and almost cursing his own intellect.

As time went on, Muhammad soon came to know who the girl was. She was Munirah bint Aziz. As it was, her family had known Muhammad's since she was a baby. Muhammad found it odd that he had never met them before, but he ignored that. Now that he knew their families had some sort of tie, he had his hopes up that maybe he'd get to know her somehow and maybe even find out if she liked him the way he liked her.

It was because of that reason that he was crushed when he heard a rumor that she had actually taken an interest in one of his older brothers. He was devastated. His heart broken in two, a confused rage burning inside him. Why would she like his brother? Why didn't she notice him? Sure, his shyness kept him from ever approaching her or saying anything, but he was always so sure she could see the way he looked at her and could just feel his heart pounding in his chest whenever she came near. Alas, it seemed she just didn't care about his heart...

Time went on and years passed. Munirah's family moved away to another village. Now Muhammad truly had lost all chances with her. He went into an age of darkness, heartbroken. Try as he might, he just couldn't forget her. There was something special about her. He tried convincing himself that he liked other girls; that Munirah meant nothing to him anymore. That plan was never a success, especially considering the other girls often took no notice of him whatsoever.

The years went on and Muhammad had finally come terms with his sorrow midway through his teens. He decided that it was his fate to be alone. No one could ever like him; he was much too shy, far too awkward. He was destined for misery. Neither would he live a good life, nor would he be happy. Dreams were pointless, because happiness just wasn't meant for him. Everyone else was at that time meeting potential spouses and having arrangements made to be married years down the line. They were all so happy, and had their futures set and outlined. As Muhammad on the other hand, he had no plans for the future; neither did he know what he'd do for a living nor did he know with whom he would be spending his life.

When Muhammad finally did find some sort of work, his family held a celebration for his achievement. He himself didn't see it as a big deal; it was the lowly work of cleaning up the local market place. He didn't really enjoy the celebration; rather, he chose to spend most of the event wandering around alone. Then again, most of the guests had been his mother's friends and their children. No one around his age or peer group was even there.

Or so he’d thought, until he saw her. "It couldn't be," he had said to himself, his heart racing. He hid behind a tree as he peered across the way. It was! It was Munirah bint Aziz. Muhammad was astonished to say the least. "What is she doing here?" he wondered aloud.

He looked out at her again; she was as beautiful as ever. She had that same dazzling smile. Her eyes were hazel pools of wonder that could cast a spell on his heart. She was wearing a dark green abaya with a black floral design on the lower hem. Covering her hair was a black hijab, pinned with a little black rose pin. Green and black. Incidentally, those happened to be two of Muhammad's favorite colors. Especially on her. She was so...

"What am I doing," Muhammad had said to himself, turning back behind the tree. "Not this again," he said as he slid down the side of the tree until he was sitting on the ground. "Not again." He hadn't forgotten the last time. His heart still ached from the crushing blow delivered through that rumor on that fateful day. Muhammad sighed, getting back to his feet and walking off. He didn't take a second glance back.

He wouldn't see her again until the following Ramadan. His family frequented the local Masjid every night; and every night he would see her sitting away at a tree stump reading Quran by herself or reciting some athkaar. He was amazed. All of the other girls her age were usually off socializing or didn't bother to visit the Masjid at all. She, however, chose to spend her time in worship.

Muhammad was intrigued. For nights, after finishing up all of his prayers, he would sit outside the tiny Masjid, watching her from a distance. Her routine was simple: she would visit the Masjid with her father, pray, and then sit outside beneath the summer sky, reading Quran or glorifying God. Under the summer moon, her beauty was radiant and Muhammad could hardly turn away.

On one of the nights he found himself late to the Masjid. He rushed inside to pray and was inside later than usual. When he came out, Munirah was nowhere in sight. There was however a young boy, four or five in age, in her place. Seeing no adults supervising the little kid, Muhammad walked over to him. "Where is your father?" He asked the child. "It's not safe for you to be wandering around out here by yourself."

The kid stuck his tongue out at Muhammad and very disrespectfully told him to go away. "Hey, I'm trying to help you out before you end up in some sort of trouble out here," Muhammad said to him, trying to remain patient. "Come on now, I'm taking you to the Masjid to find your father." Muhammad reached his hand out to the boy only to have it smacked away. "Listen you little brat-" Muhammad began, before exhaling to calm himself down. "Just come on man, it's late out and your parents are probably worried."

"They most certainly are," Muhammad heard a soft voice from behind say. He turned around only to see Munirah standing close behind him. He could barely contain himself. Inside he was freaking out. On the outside, he tried to act calm

"Where are they?" he asked. "I-I'll take him t-to them."

"His dad is in the Masjid still. His mother is searching around for him; I came out to see if I could find him."

"Okay, well I guess I will take him to his father and if you see his mom you can tell her where her son is."

"I'm not going," the boy protested. "You can't make me."

"Come on now, your parents are worried. Let's go." Muhammad grabbed the kid by the arm and began pulling him. The boy tried pulling himself away and even slapped at Muhammad's hand but his resistance was futile. In desperation, the boy bit Muhammad's hand. "Did you just bite me?" Muhammad questioned, releasing the boy and wiping his hand on his shirt. "You nasty little-" he stopped as he heard a giggling sound. He could see a slight smile on Munirah's face. She had a wondrous smile and a beautiful laugh that he could've enjoyed hearing were it not for the fact that she was laughing at him.

Embarrassed, he swiftly snatched the little boy up and spoke to him in a stern voice. "If you do anything else stupid like that I will throw you through the Masjid wall," he threatened through his teeth. The boy began to feign crying and Munirah only giggled more. Muhammad however was even more embarrassed than before, and so he quickly scurried away, carrying the wailing child with him.

Later that night Muhammad was thinking over the earlier events. 'Such a pretty laugh,' he thought to himself, remembering Munirah's giggle. 'She's so- wait what am I doing? Not again! She's not entering again. I've sealed off my heart this time. Besides, I don't even know enough about her to like her. Just that she likes visiting the Masjid, prays and reads the Quran a lot, and recites a lot of dhikr which I guess means she's religious. And she seemed to be above the childish gossiping and play of the other girls, isolating herself from them to focus on Deen which means she's at least somewhat mature. And well, she still looks amazing, which is making the whole lower your gaze thing difficult. Plus, she seems to be caring and wanting to help. So I guess she's religious, caring, helpful, mature, and to top it all off absolutely, amazingly beautiful. So pretty much everything I'd want in a wife and - no! Stop it heart! Stop it!'

Muhammad sat up on his padded mat, sitting in his small, dark room. 'That's enough,' he thought to himself. 'No more thoughts of this Munirah. I mean she's not that great! Sure her eyes are hypnotic, and her smile is heart melting. And that laugh- oh God! Even her name is wonderful, I mean, Munirah. Munirah! What other name could be fitting for a girl whose beauty shines so brightly? She's so- ugh!'

Muhammad flung himself back onto his mat, arms spread out and eyes wide open. 'Why again?' he said, clutching his heart. 'Why again? This girl. She's. She's snuck right back in.'

Days passed and out of fear Muhammad didn't return to the Masjid. He prayed all of his prayers at home and kept himself busy reading Quran and reciting athkaar. It wasn't until his younger sister pointed out the similarity did he realize that his actions were mirroring Munirah's. 'Great,' he thought to himself. 'Now even in my ibadah* I'm forced to think about this girl!' He closed the Quran he was reading and put it away. He got up and went for a walk to clear his mind.

Strolling through the village, Muhammad did his best to keep his mind off of Munirah. All efforts were futile. He couldn't forget her. From that first time he'd seen her as a kid to the time he’d seen her at his celebration, it was all running through his mind. The one thing he tried to keep out of mind the most was the unbelievable pain of the previous heartbreak. He could feel a sharp aching in his chest just thinking about it. Still, something in his heart wouldn't let the whole Munirah thing go. 'Enough,' he thought to himself. 'I have to end this, one way or another. I have to. This is driving me crazy.' That night he determined to find a resolution to the conflict within his heart and mind. The very next night, he would have to approach her. His shyness would have to be cast aside for the moment so that he could speak with her concerning the matter years ago.

When the time came, he prepared himself. He rehearsed the conversation over and over in his head. After exiting the Masjid following the prayers, he headed to the spot that he knew Munirah would be sitting at to read Quran.. He took a deep breath and walked straight over. As the sound of Muhammad's footsteps grew nearer, Munirah looked up from her Quran. With her gorgeous brown eyes on him, Muhammad suddenly felt weak. His heart went soft as did his wobbling legs, and he turned his path immediately, overcome with shyness yet again. Munirah let out a slight giggle as she watched him wander off, pretending he was headed in a different direction in the first place.

The month ended and things began to change. Muhammad found himself busied with work and could only visit the Masjid every so often. When he did arrive, it was always unfortunately after Munirah had already left. He began to despair of ever running into her again. With time, he assumed, she would probably be a thing forgotten.

However, he could not have been more wrong. Upon visiting the Masjid one day, he heard a group of young men, around his age, laughing and whispering about something. Not wanting to eavesdrop, Muhammad kept walking. That is, until he heard someone mention Munirah's name. At that point, his ears perked up and he was tuned in one hundred percent to their conversation. From what he could understand, they were speaking about some possible engagements within the community and possible marriages to take place in the future. One boy mentioned the name of another, stating that he heard the father of that boy and Munirah's father were considering bringing them to meet and possibly arranging a marriage between them.

Muhammad's heart sank. He felt a pain like he'd never known before. It seemed everything was as he had thought before. Everyone else was meant for happiness, but he would be forever alone. 'No,' he thought to himself. 'Not this time; I have to try something! I have to!'

He immediately stormed out of the Masjid, much to the bewilderment of the other boys. Muhammad left outside, not knowing where he'd go or what he'd do. He didn't have a plan. He just knew that he had to let Munirah know how he felt before she went ahead and met this other boy and made him a legitimized prospective spouse.

By chance, Muhammad found himself sitting in the exact same spot where Munirah would sit and read during Ramadan. He sat and pondered over what he would say to her. In what way could he tell her about the feelings in his heart? How could he tell her about the countless nights he’d dreamed about her? Or the special lightness in his heart he felt whenever she came around? The inexplicable feeling of joy and delight he felt as his stomach fluttered with butterflies just thinking about her?

"There's no way I could say all that," he said to himself, sighing in despair. That moment, a hopeful bit of inspiration came over him. "But I don't have to say it; I could write it!" Immediately he hopped to his feet and ran back to his home. He searched about until he came across a small piece of cloth and an old pen he'd used in his classes. He lay them flat on the ground and began drafting up an explanatory letter to Munirah.

'May Allah bless the beautiful eyes that read this,' he wrote. "No, no, no, too much," he said to himself, blotting it out. He continued scribbling. 'Peace be upon the admired reader of-' he sighed and blotted that out as well. 'Hey!' he wrote, with an accompanying smile on his face. "No, too straightforward. Ugh, this is so tough."

After several more failed attempts at the opening statement for his letter, Muhammad had used up his entire cloth. He discarded the piece and reached for another one. It had been over an hour and he'd yet to get a single word written that he felt okay with leaving. He sighed to himself. He wanted the letter to be perfect, he wanted it to express his feelings without making himself sound desperate but also making it clear that he was very interested in her.

He sat, staring at the cloth and the ink on his pen for what seemed like hours. Time was flying by and it was now night. Drawing a deep breath, he decided to finally just go for it. He put the pen to the cloth and began writing. He wrote and he wrote, telling her of the instance they first met and the feelings he had from then all the way to the point of his initial heartbreak and attempts to get over her. He wrote about his secret admiration of her during Ramadan and how she'd even had a positive influence on him. He wrote everything and left nothing out. Everything in his heart was put into the letter. And lastly, as he closed it, he put several reminders for her to not allow anyone to know of the letter. He made a request that regardless of how she felt about him, she keep the entire ordeal a secret. No one could ever know.

He then set the cloth on his floor near the window to dry while he prepared himself for a trip to the Masjid. He figured that after prayer he could try to sneak his way over to where Munirah would be and hand her the letter before quickly leaving. Once he was dressed and ready to go, Muhammad rolled up the letter and placed it in the pockets of his thobe. He then set out for the Masjid.

Walking along the path, Muhammad noticed a blooming rose bush. They were a unique breed which happened to grow roses whose petals were of a greenish color. His immediate thoughts went to Munirah and the abaya she'd worn at his graduation. He sighed in fond memory of her beauty that day. He couldn't leave without picking one of the roses. Thinking that maybe he would just hand her the rose and that would very clearly explain everything.

'No, even better,' he thought to himself. He quickly took out the letter and rolled up the rose's stem inside of it, careful that the thorns didn't stab through the cloth. He carefully put them back in his pocket and rushed off to the Masjid for prayer.

After prayer, Muhammad rushed over to where he knew Munirah would soon be. He placed the letter and the rose there and began to wait anxiously. His heart was pounding in his chest, he could hardly think straight with all of the adrenaline rushing through his body. He tapped his foot nervously and fiddled with his fingers, waiting for Munirah's arrival.

In all his excitement and nervousness, he hadn't even heard her approaching. The loud beating of his heart prevented him from hearing her footsteps until she was standing just a meter away. He looked up nervously and his eyes met hers for a brief moment before he immediately turned his gaze to the ground. "I uh," he stuttered shyly. "Uh, this is- uh..." He stood up and just turned away, defeated.

Munirah stared at him quizzically as he wandered off, clearly frustrated with something. She arched an eyebrow and had a slight smile on her face as she watched him. She then sat down on the tree stump and pulled out the little leather-bound copy of the Quran that she’d kept with her. She began reading in a slow, calm manner, allowing herself to be immersed in the recitation. It was as if she had been removed from the earth and was resting in the clouds, calm and peaceful.

An hour or so passed by and she decided she had better walk back to Masjid so that she could leave home with her father. As she got up, she noticed something sticking out from the side of the tree stump. The winds had blown a little rose over from some rosebush down the path. She bent over to pick up the rose when she noticed the thorns were clinging to a rolled up white cloth. She picked them both up and unrolled a letter. Her eyes widened with surprise and excitement as she read over every word.

Her heart began to race and tears came to her eyes as she read over the final words. There was even a short poem written in her name at the bottom. She held one hand to her mouth as she lowered the other, holding the rose and letter together. It was all so...

The next night came and Muhammad fearfully made his way to the tree stump. He carefully walked over, checking all around to see if Munirah, or anyone else for that matter, was around to see him. When the coast was clear, he walked over quickly to the stump. He looked around on the ground for any sign of the letter or the rose. Seeing neither the letter, the rose, or Munirah, all sorts of thoughts began racing through his mind.

'What if the wind blew it away,' he thought to himself. 'What if someone else ended up taking it? What if she never got it? Or worse, what if she read it and took it to her parents?! No, no, no! I'm so dead now! I'm such a fool! She's going to tell her parents and they're going to be mad at me and say I'm trying to cause issues and I'm going to get in so much trouble! What have I done! And now Munirah hates me I'm sure of it! Any minute now she's probably going to come over here with her dad and he's going to curse at me and tell me to stay away from his daughter. I've brought so much shame on myself! I-I, I need to go home!'

Muhammad immediately took off running to his home. He threw himself on the floor, not even caring to lie on the mat. Mats were for people that weren't foolish losers. People who didn't make fools of themselves writing love letters to girls they had no chance with. Why would Munirah want to be with him after all? She was smart, pretty, came from a higher class family, and already had some other prospective; why would she need a low class, shop sweeping, lovesick fool who couldn't even get his hands on a decent piece of paper to write her a proper letter? Why would she care about how he felt?

Muhammad dozed off into a miserable sleep, the whole world coming down on his dreadful heart. He was certain that the next morning would be far worse. He just knew that she would have told her parents, who in turn would come and speak to his parents about the advances he'd made at her. He wished he could just disappear, never having to deal with the mess he'd just created for himself.

In his sleep however, he saw a different fate. He dreamed of a future where he and Munirah were married and happily so. He saw himself holding her in his arms, telling her how much he loved her. She nestled herself affectionately in his arms, her eyes closed. For a moment he could swear he'd heard her say it back to him. 'I love you...'

The next morning came and went without incident. No complaints were made. Her parents neither came to visit nor did he hear of anything from them. He made his way to the markets, going to the shop to go clean up before his boss arrived. As the morning was uneventful so too was the rest of the day. As the sun began to set, his boss closed the shop early, allowing Muhammad to head to the Masjid just in time for prayer.

Within the rows of people, Muhammad spotted Munirah's father. Scared senseless, Muhammad quickly darted from the rows and left outside the Masjid. He did not want to even imagine the confrontation if her father had noticed him. He sighed deeply, deciding that he would have to wait until the prayer started and join in the back rows so that he could make a quick exit after the prayer was over.

The iqama was called and the prayer was started. Muhammad crept inside, joining in the prayer as far away from Munirah's father as he could. He began to concentrate on the prayer just fine, until he noticed someone coming up from behind him, water dripping from their face. The man stood right beside Muhammad on the left. Keeping his eyes on his place of prostration, Muhammad tried not to think about who it could possibly be, though his mind had already formed an idea.

On the second rak’ah, Muhammad came up from prostration while the man was still prostrating his face on the ground. Unable to fully concentrate, Muhammad stole a quick glance from the corner of his eye and his face nearly went pale. His suspicions had been confirmed and his deepest fear had come true. He was sitting right next to Munirah's father. He must've left is place earlier to go refresh his wudhu and now rejoined the rows right next to Muhammad.

On the inside, Muhammad was going insane. His fear was quickly overcoming him, he could hardly even function right, let alone concentrate. For the remainder of the prayer all Muhammad could think about how badly he wished he could disappear. That, and how incredibly long the prayer suddenly felt.

After the conclusion of what seemed like an endless prayer, Muhammad went dashing for the exit. He nearly bumped into an elderly man as he burst through the doors. "Slow down," the old man shouted. Muhammad apologized and began to quickly walk away, hoping that walking would be less suspicious and not alert Munirah's father as to who he was. He walked on down the road until he came past the tree stump. Once more he could see neither Munirah, nor the letter sitting there. He hung his head in shame and disappointment. Turning away, he kept on walking until he returned home.

For the next two weeks his routine was pretty much the same. He would go to the Masjid at night, pray, and quickly scurry back home before Munirah's dad could spot him. Every night though he would wander past the tree stump and look around to see if Munirah would come by or if the letter would somehow turn up again. After all, it was possible that it merely blew into a nearby bush and got tangled up for a while. Perhaps she had never even seen the letter in the first place. He could only hope for the best, and so every night he would check the same spot, hoping that something would turn up.

Much to his delightful surprise, something did eventually turn up. Late one night, upon returning from the Masjid, Muhammad stopped by the tree stump as usual. This time, however, something was different. He couldn't quite tell what it was yet, but he knew that something was off. He looked around before approaching the stump. There was no one there, nor any sign that anyone had been there. He walked up to the stump, feeling oddly compelled to survey the area around it.

It was in that way that he stumbled upon a sharp, thorny stem. Reaching down, he noticed a rose of the same species he'd placed there weeks ago, and similarly he'd found letter attached to it. He anxiously brought the paper to his eyes, hiding himself behind the stump to read. Before he even opened up the paper letter, he knew it was from Munirah. It was neatly written upon a fine grade of paper, even scented with her alluring fragrance.

Muhammad opened the letter and his heart nearly skipped a beat. "Dearest Muhammad," he read. "Forgive me for being ever so late to reply. You must understand that I’ve been through much indecision these past few weeks…And then I come to my place of escape, only to find that I have a letter from you. I was stunned for a few days, actually. Even though I’d had a sixth sense that you might have, shall we say, 'admired' my indescribably un-average self, I never really could put it into view right. I didn’t want to be hurt if it wasn’t what I’d supposed it to be."

Muhammad smiled at the thought. Munirah was just as shy and anxious as he himself had been. He carried on reading. "I’m just pouring away all that is in my head, and leaving it to you to try and make sense of it, I hope you don't mind. O, how I’ve wondered about you sometimes, ya Muhammad. Under the façade you give, what are you really like? I’ve wanted to know so badly, because to me, you’ve always seemed to be the one to hide away from the world, as if all inhabitants of it were your solemn enemies. I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone like you, Muhammad. I feel I never would have to worry about getting anything wrong with you. I feel I can be myself. In so many ways we’re the same. But in just the right amount of ways we’re not. So we have the perfect sum of things to learn about each other. And, In Shaa Allah, there’s time to do so."

Muhammad sat the letter down, his excitement overcoming him. His stomach flip-flopped with joy, fluttering with a thousand butterflies. His heart nearly pounded its way out of his chest. Suddenly he felt like a heavy weight had been lifted from him and he was now free like a bird.

Breathing in deeply, he carried on reading. "I want you to know a few things before I end this. First off, I NEVER liked either of your brothers. I don't know who told you that or if you made it up just to see if I did, but honestly I never even noticed them. I'm sure they thought of me as just another little brat in the village. Secondly, there's no need for you to be so shy with me, okay? Really, I'm nothing special for you to be nervous about. Though I adored the way you shyly looked all about whenever we talked. So cute. That aside, I think we should take some time to get to know one another. Not in person, but through these letters. I find it to be the perfect way for us to avoid falling into sin or temptation, whilst still getting to know each other a little more."

Muhammad smiled, understanding completely. He continued. "O Muhammad, I want to know you more; I want to know what you think you know about me. And you don’t even know how much I want to know you now that I know what I know. All in time In Shaa Allah. And worry not about any trouble regarding this. I'm am very good with secrecy and so I will give nothing away to anyone about this. By day, you won’t exist, but by night, you will capacitate my mind. And Muhammad, I will try to talk to you as often as I can; my priority lies with you for now. Consider us now as the beginning of something new, my friend. Something extraordinarily new. This is possibly the beginning of something beneficial for you and I alike. Whatever Allah has planned. In Shaa Allah we'll talk again soon, just leave your letters hidden beneath the roots of this stump, and I will find them. Until next time, yours sincerely, Munirah."

Muhammad rolled up the letter and sighed in a mixture of relief, excitement, joy, love, happiness, and all sorts of mixed emotions running through his mind. He could hardly contain himself. Munirah liked him back, she really did. And she wanted to get to know him! This cleared up the rumors about the prospective and removed the doubts Muhammad held within himself. Munirah had the same feelings for him as he had for her, and she also hoped for a future in which they could be together. She wanted to get to know him better, just as he wanted to know her. And they most certainly would...

For several months the two went back and forth with letters. Writing and reading, hiding them beneath the large roots of the tree stump where no else but them would ever think to look for anything. They spent nights writing long letters to one another, discussing matters ranging from religion to personal likes and dislikes, from family life to future hopes and dreams. Muhammad would often include with his works poems to express his growing love for Munirah. Her heart would flutter at the sight of them every time. Their love was growing stronger and stronger. They were on cloud nine; nothing could stop the absolute bliss of their secret love.

Nothing, except the discovery of their secret. And so it was that one fateful night, upon sneaking out to go and collect her newly written letter from Muhammad, Munirah had accidentally awakened her mother and alerted her suspicion. Munirah snuck along the path, scurrying through the dark night with her black hijab on her head and long black abaya dragging behind her. Unbeknownst to her, her mother, Khadijah, was following closely behind her.

In the chilling night, Munirah arrived at the tree stump to retrieve yet another love letter from Muhammad. The old dirt path she'd come to travel oh so often was long and winding. This night, there was something unnerving about it, she felt an eerie presence as she walked along. Ignoring it, she kept on walking, thinking about what kind of heartfelt letter Muhammad had written this time. She could already feel the butterflies and the endorphins rushing as she drew near. "Oh the things you do to me Muhammad," she said to herself as noticed the letter hidden beneath the roots. "You just don't know what your words do to my mind, my body, my-"

"Your what?" her mother spoke sternly. Munirah nearly jumped out of her skin.

"M-M-Mother," she stuttered. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm asking you the same."

"I-I'm heading to the Masjid," she offered, trying to sound as innocent as possible.

"Don't lie to me, Munirah, I will hurt you. What are you doing and where are you going?"

"I'm not lying Mother; I was heading to the Masjid."

"Without your father to escort you safely?!"

"I-I didn't want to wake him this early. It's not quite Fajr time and I didn't want to disturb his sleep until he actually needed to get up."

"Munirah you're lying to me, I can see it in your eyes. You were slowing down as you reached this area as if you were waiting for something or...someone. What are you out here for? Tell me now!" Munirah's eyes shifted all around. She didn't like lying to her mother, or anyone for that matter. But she did not like the idea of getting herself and Muhammad into big trouble by spilling their big secret. She nervously looked at her mother and then her eyes shifted back to the ground and gave a passing glance at the stump.

That one little slip was all it took. Her mother instantly figured it out. Whatever Munirah was up to, she knew that the answer was somewhere at the stump. Khadijah walked right past Munirah, who was frozen in fear, and came up to the tree stump. She noticed the large roots had been moved and there was some digging under them. He knelt down and moved her hands around until she touched onto the letter left there by Muhammad. Yanking it out, Khadijah turned towards her daughter with anger. Munirah let out a startled gasp, before throwing her hands to her mouth. Her mother opened up the letter and began reading, much to the horror of her daughter.

When she had finished reading as much as she wanted, Khadijah turned to her daughter. "What is this Munirah?"

"I-it's nothing."

"Nothing?! This is a love letter! What do you mean nothing? Who is this Muhammad boy? Tell me everything now!" Though against her will, Munirah was forced to do just as her mother commanded. She was taken home and her mother relayed everything to Aziz. That night was the night everything would change. Munirah was devastated, and feared for what would become of her and Muhammad. If only she knew...

The following night, Muhammad came late into the night as usual, eager to see what his beloved Munirah had written in reply to his previous message. Instead, he found a message from Munirah's angry parents. His heart sank and he felt a lump in his throat. They had been discovered! It was all over. As he read the letter, he could hardly believe it. Everything had been going so perfect; they were just getting to really know each other and fall more in love. And yet, here he was, reading a disapproving message from her parents.

The letter, penned by her mother and dictated by her father, was very clear and straight-forward. Muhammad was not to communicate with Munirah again. He was not to write her any more letters, to speak with her in person, or send her any more roses. They reprimanded him concerning his behavior and told him that they were not only deeply offended and angered, but they were also greatly disappointed by the actions he and their daughter had taken. At the bottom of the letter, they had written an ultimatum for him. "Go back and inform your parents of everything you have done," Muhammad read, stuttering and shaking in fear. "Thereafter, you and they must speak with us concerning the future of this matter. This, we leave to you. Or, in two days' time we will be visiting your home to speak with your parents about this ordeal ourselves. If you cannot be mature enough to right your wrongs and take responsibility for your actions, facing whatever consequences come with them, then you are by no means mature enough to be even thinking about marriage..."

With teary eyes, Muhammad crumpled the letter before finishing it all. Everything was over. All his happiness was crushed and destroyed by the simple words of Munirah's parents. The blissful dream he'd been living in now became a dark and gloomy nightmare. There was but a flicker of hope left.

Only if he brought himself to face his parents and tell them of everything. Only if he brought himself to face Munirah's parents, knowing what he'd done, and asked them for forgiveness. Only if his Lord had Mercy on him and Wrote for him goodness, even after the great wrongs he had committed. Only then could Muhammad reach the happiness he yearned for. Only then could he have a shot at creating a future for Munirah and himself. This was their only chance. As terrifying as it all was, as scared as he was, and as much weight he felt crushing down on him, Muhammad was determined to hold tightly to the one last bit of hope he had with Munirah. He loved her too much to let it all go wrong.

And so he did what everything in him but his heart was telling him not to do. He went to his parents and informed them of everything. Their initial shock and disappoint were no deterrent to Muhammad's determination. He pleaded with them for his sake to look past all the wrongs and help him to win over Munirah's parents. He knew he needed his parents' input to fully convince Aziz and Khadijah that there may yet be something of benefit to come from the whole ordeal.

At the beseeching of their son, Muhammad's parents gave a reluctant approval. They agreed to meet with Munirah's parents and speak with them concerning the whole ordeal. Munirah and Muhammad were forbidden from attending the meeting, lest their mutual affection surmount and cause further issues.

The dreadful meeting lasted hours, and took place over the course of several days. The parents went back and forth, deliberating among their own selves and speaking with their respective children. Just as things began to seem dim for Muhammad and Munirah, an agreement was made. Considering not only the love between the two, but the benefits their love had brought to them, their parents agreed that at some time in the future they should get married. Though they had slipped into sin through their misguided actions, it was clear that Muhammad and Munirah had originally had good intentions and were even a positive influence upon one another, encouraging good deeds and bringing out the best in one another. However, they still had some growing up to do, and so any relationship between them had to be put on hold.

It was agreed that there was to be a waiting period of at least five years before the matter was readdressed. During said time, Muhammad was neither to speak with Munirah, nor approach her in any way. He was made to promise a full dedication to his studies and furthering his knowledge in Islam. Munirah's parents did not want her marrying someone ignorant of the Deen who would only lead her into sin by his own ignorance. Furthermore, Muhammad was made to agree to certain conditions which involved him searching for better work so that he could learn to provide a decent living for Munirah and himself in the future. When he had completed his studies for at least five years, and earned a higher paying job, then he would be allowed to go and ask for Munirah's hand in marriage. In the meantime, Munirah and her family would be moving far away to a distant land out in the deserts of the Nile region. Muhammad would have to seek them out when the time came. These were the terms of the agreement and Muhammad was bound to them, lest he be forbidden from ever marrying Munirah.

And so the deal was made and everything came into place. On the one hand, Muhammad had gotten his wish of some sort of engagement between Munirah and himself. On the other, he now had to endure a great separation of time and distance. It would be long and arduous, but he had no other option. He loved Munirah with all his heart, he was certain of it. And he was determined to prove that to her, to her parents, and to anyone else who may have doubted it.

Muhammad's sudden extreme dedication sparked the suspicion of his friends, Imran and Usama, and they eventually came to guess at the reason behind it all. Though they themselves had yet to arrange any sort of marriage engagements, they often teased and joked with Muhammad about his. In a playful manner, they would call him obsessive for his determination and constantly get on his case about thinking about Munirah all the time. But he couldn't help it; he loved her so much and the separation made it hard not to think about her. Miles and miles apart, it was torture. It was...

"It was the most difficult time of our lives," Munirah said, now sitting in her candlelit bedroom alone. She was propped up against a pillow as she sat on the small fluffy bed which seemed large and empty now that her husband was absent from it. She held her large, pregnant stomach as she narrated to the unborn child the tale of how it came to be. "All those years, so far away," she continued. "I thought for sure he would forget about me. I just knew I would never see those piercing black eyes of his, or that handsomely awkward smile he'd give whenever he felt shy or embarrassed. I would miss all the poetry and love letters he'd send. As badly as I wanted to, I would never hold myself in his strong arms, I would never hear him say to me all the loving words he'd once written. I would never tangle my fingers in that little stubble of beard on his chin, look into his eyes, and tell him just how much I loved him. These thoughts tortured my aching heart for years."

Munirah sighed. "We spent those years constantly moving around, and that only furthered my belief that your father would never find me and we would never be together. My life was a mess, same as it was growing up. Always moving around, never staying put. Things were always changing and I just wanted so badly for something to tie me to the ground, something to help me settle down. But it seemed even my hopes of settling down through marriage were crushed; how could I get married and be happy if I was too busy moving around for Muhammad to ever find me? Those were the loneliest years of my life. Not only did I not have your father there, but I was also unable to form any real friendships. Every time I began to settle into a place and get comfortable with the people, we were taken up and moved around again. It was the worst. I just wanted to be somewhere else, far off with your father. I wanted him there and no one else. I needed to seek comfort in his arms. Kind of- kind of like I do now."

Munirah wiped a sole tear from her left eye. She rubbed her stomach, feeling the baby kicking playfully. She smiled and continued with her story. "The time went by agonizingly slow, but in the end we survived. Eventually Muhammad came for me, now being a full grown man. My parents could hardly recognize him when he came knocking on our door early one morning. He was no longer the young child they'd seen before who held a crush on their daughter. Now he was a taller, stronger, and more educated man. His eyes told a tale of struggle and weariness; but deep inside under all of that I could still see the dark pools of love and boyish hope I so adored about him. He wasn't as shy as before, but, well, things were still awkward between him and your grandfather. Still, he insisted he had accomplished everything they had asked and he was now ready to marry me. My parents were reluctant at first. Truth be told, they were not expecting him to hold up his end of the deal. They figured within one or two more years they would marry me off to someone else and Muhammad would be forgotten. Good thing for you he wasn't right?"

Munirah lovingly placed both her hands where she could feel the baby resting at. "They were stubborn, but my parents eventually allowed us to be wed. At the urging of my mother, I initially set my mahr* as a gold ring like they wore in some of the other countries I visited. But I quickly changed my mind; that wasn't what I wanted at all. Instead, I agreed to marry him on the condition that he live by the knowledge that he had gained. That he swear to treat me justly, with love and compassion, taking care of me in whatever way he could. I made him promise to teach me from the knowledge that he knew and help me along the path to becoming a better Muslimah so that together we could both strive to earn Allah's Pleasure and reach Jannah where we could be together forever, living out our own happily ever after. And so were to be wed. The only issue then was where to get married. It was pretty silly really. He lived miles and miles away and wanted to do the wedding in his homeland so that his family and friends could attend. My father however wanted us to get married back near the Nile where he and his side of the family come from. I kept quiet on the whole matter. I didn't want to please one at the expense of the other. I didn't want to leave my father's home in disappointment and I also didn't want to start my marriage off with a disagreement. But eventually your grandmother managed to convince my dad that we should get married back where we first met since Muhammad's family is there along with some relatives of hers being close by. So in that way, we could both have our families present for the joining of our lives and union of our families."

Munirah sighed with fond memories of her wedding day. "It wasn't a very long journey back, considering all that moving around put us closer to the area than when we left for the Nile. Still, I couldn't wait to get there and just get the whole thing over with already. That is, until we finally got there. I was so nervous when everything happened. But my mother was there assuring me that it would all be fine, and that she had prayed for this day to come ever since the first night she caught me sneaking out. She told me that if I loved him now like I swore I did then, then I should have no issue trusting that our future together was meant to be and that we would be happy together. With that encouragement, I went on to the wedding and you know what, nothing about it was scary. I mean, the only thing that kinda bugged me was that during the walimah Muhammad's friends wouldn't stop making jokes and laughing around. But everything else went over swell. We were wed and finally able to be together. I moved with Muhammad into his home, where we stayed for a year before being forced to move due to low resources and the fitna caused between many of the villagers. We moved out in the desert, away from the villages where people were given to chaos and disorder. We wouldn't have to deal with all the strife and dissidence they loved to stir up. He used his money to buy us some land and move out here and we keep away from the others unless a certain need arises. Other than that, we've been living off the land and the few animals he bought from the nearest village. It's not how we imagined our future, but it's a simple life and we both love it. Everything was perfect. That is, until this Kwaadi devil came about causing trouble. Now your father is off fighting in battle to make sure the world is a safe place for us to live and for all the Muslims in other lands too. But don't worry, he'll come back to us In Shaa Allah. And we'll be a happy family altogether. We'll raise you with love and compassion, giving you the best life we can afford. Everything's going to be perfect again, I promise. You rest up and before you know it, he'll be back."

Munirah blew out the candle that rested at her bedside. She laid her head back on the pillow, trying to get comfortable before pulling a warm blanket over herself. Closing her eyes to the darkness and opening her heart to the light within, she felt exceptionally hopeful and felt a compelling sense of yearning for her beloved husband to be there holding her in his arms as he often had before. She sighed a hopeful sigh. "He'll be back soon In Shaa Allah... In Shaa Allah..."


GLOSSARY/TRANSLATIONS

Ibadah: acts of worship

Mahr: dowry (paid to the bride, not her family or to the groom like in some cultures).


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