By Faraz Mansur Ahmad
I would like to apologize to my reader for not describing the weather, the atmosphere of the bazaar, and other intricate details of that day. Was it raining? Was it sunny? Were the people around me happy or sad? Or were they busy in shopping with their families and arguing with the shopkeepers for the overpriced stuff? All of these particulars have left my mind. Or they never entered it in the first place. All the same! Maybe it is because all these details stand in such a contrast to the events in ‘that’ shop that I have unconsciously prioritized only the events of ‘the’ shop, such that I can still feel like standing there and arguing with the old man, asking him difficult and silly questions and getting a smile and a sensible reply in return.
Let me begin this story with a question for my readers: What do you when everything inside you seems to be collapsing? When everything you believe in and hold dear is snatched away and a dark crevice is placed within you? And all you can hear is ‘Jump!’ while the darkness of the crevice consumes you as you stand there, bewildered by your own thoughts? With that question in my mind, I was wandering the city streets one day. My eyes were looking and observing the physical world around me, but my mind was somewhere else. I did know I was looking for something, or hoping for something or someone to find me. In my delirium, my eyes caught an unusual sign: “Buy Hapiness Here”. I stopped walking and stared at the sign and the shop for a minute or two. “Is this the universe’s way of mocking me?”, I thought, “By making me notice this absurd sign, with the stupid word of ‘happiness’ on it, and that too with one ‘p’!”. Only once before I had seen such a bizarre shop name, a toy store called ‘Mama Love’. I used to think that it was pretty demeaning to use something as pure as a mother’s love to market and sell artificial and factitious products which satiate the transient cravings of children. That was why I refused to step into that shop and was quite delightful when it closed. But this time, the sign was not only for children as it was a gift shop. The shop owner was either naïve or derisive, as he was mocking the lives and struggles of humanity, claiming to sell the one thing so many of us craved for while others had simply stopped believing in its existence. Infuriated, I stepped into the shop. An old man was sitting behind the counter on an armchair, reading a book. He looked at me, got up, and said,” Good afternoon sir! How may I help you?”.
“Business is booming nowadays?”, I asked as I ignored his question and looked around. There was no customer in the shop except me.
“Ah! Sometimes”, he said. “Not so much nowadays. But it pays the bills.”
“Hmmm. Is that so? Have you considered, like, changing your shop’s name?”
“Why no. Why would I think of that? My daughter chose this name.”
“That is very sweet. But you are running a business here. And people don’t like to be fooled around”, I said as I placed my hands on the counter and stared straight at the old man. The old man stared back, but his eyes gazed deep into mine, like they were finding their way through a maze. A few moments later, he smiled. I was taken aback. “What’s so funny?”, I exclaimed.
“What is on your mind, son?”, he replied.
“What … What do you mean?”
“You didn’t come here just to complain about my shop’s name, did you?”
“I think I did!”
“Well I don’t think so. Your eyes tell something else. And they say that eyes are the gateway to one’s soul.”
“Oh really? Why don’t you tell me what they’re telling you, old man?”
“What you’re too scared to say.”
“That you’re lost.”
The way he said these words, I knew right away that he was no ordinary shop keeper. He understood me, and not because he knew anything about my suffering and pain, but because he acknowledged that I was in pain. Not many people are willing to do that. They simply assume that no person can suffer more than themselves, and even if they do admit someone else’s suffering, they will reject it at the slightest trace of relief. Hence, I had decided long ago to stop sharing the trivialities of the mind. Because, as soon as you express your curiosity and confusion, people tend to crumple and mold them into something they have already experienced and understood rather than daring to venture into the unknown with you.
“Yes”, I said in a low voice, as though whispering to myself, “but what do you know about being lost?”.
“That it happens to the best of us. And that it does not matter where you are or what you are. If it is destined for you, you will surely feel lost and abandoned, and the task of having patience and bearing it all is like pushing a knife deeper into your wound, no longer knowing whether it is your own hand or someone else’s who is doing it”, he said.
“You talk very strange”.
“Haha! Well son, you came here for something, didn’t you? Give me moment”, the old man said as he went to the back of the shop. He came back with something wrapped in a silk cloth. He dragged a chair for me and gestured me to sit, while he sat again on his armchair.
“Reading the Qur’anic verses has made it possible for me to understand my feelings. And when these feelings and emotions are clothed with words and shown to us, they make us realize that some part of us already knew them, that our eyes, ears, and all of our existence were somehow familiar with them. Hence the smile that follows after such an experience is not only of amazement at the Author’s words, but also a sign of our soul being grateful for straightening out one of its many convoluted mysteries. And how mysterious these mysteries are! For they happen before our very eyes every day, maybe even begging to be seen and recognized, chasing us with tearful eyes and crippling motions to reach out to our souls and bring the truth to light. But lies…those damned lies which we hold so dear and which stand between the universe and our innermost purpose like tall concrete walls, making us suffer every moment while laughing at our helplessness. Yes, our helplessness at letting go of our pride and our pleasure for ephemeral trivialities prevent us from ourselves to the light instead. But every wall has cracks. A weak point. And if one does not look for these cracks and shower them with the eternal light of hope, then one can be forever lost!
So son, always remember this: the very fact that you know the feeling of being lost and confused must be hope for you that you will feel belonged too. Remember, the Prophet (PBUH) was given the severest of tasks among all the prophets, among all humankind! He was abandoned by his own people, the ones he preached would often refuse to listen to him, and even caused him and his companions pain and suffering! But all of them held onto one thing when the scorching heat of violence and injustice scarred their bodies: That Allah hadn’t abandoned them. And because of that, their hearts trembled before the Most Supreme only, who then guided them in the most unfathomable of ways. But it is only mysterious for us, son. For Allah, everything is possible with the mere utterance of a word: Kun! If Allah could bring comfort to the Prophet (PBUH) and his companions, why would he leave us wandering? Us, who have not seen the Prophet nor seen the Qur’an being revealed but still believe in it with every fiber of our beings? Allah would never leave such people of faith to the mercy of this cruel world”.
“But…I am weak in faith”, I said.
Upon hearing this, he handed me something. I unwrapped it. It contained a framed work of calligraphy in Arabic with its translation. It seemed to be done by a novice, but somehow that made it more beautiful. It was Surah Duha from the Holy Qur’an, and the translation was as follows:
“CONSIDER the bright morning hours,
and the night when it grows still and dark.
Thy Sustainer has not forsaken thee, nor does He scorn thee:
for, indeed, the life to come will be better for thee than this earlier part [of thy life]!
And, indeed, in time will thy Sustainer grant thee [what thy heart desires], and thou shalt be well-pleased.
Has He not found thee an orphan, and given thee shelter?
And found thee lost on thy way, and guided thee?
And found thee in want, and given thee sufficiency?
Therefore, the orphan shalt thou never wrong,
and him that seeks [thy] help shalt thou never chide,
and of thy Sustainer’s blessings shalt thou [ever] speak.”
As I sat there and read it, I had the strangest feelings of remorse and shame. How was I so blind to everything that Allah had bestowed me with? Though the pain I felt now was probably the greatest, but why did I lose hope in the Mightiest? In Sufism, it is said that one cannot comprehend the holy verses unless they are revealed unto him like they were revealed for the first time to the Prophet (PBUH). Maybe that was what I felt: relieved that the truth about my suffering was revealed.
I tried to give the artwork back to the old man, but he refused saying that his daughter made it, and that she would be happy if someone like me who needed it kept it.
“Thank you. I’ll be leaving now. I do pray for happiness for you and your daughter but is there any of that in this life?”, I asked.
“I cannot say much about that. But where my daughter is now, there is nothing but happiness”, the old man replied. It took a moment for me to realize. I could not believe that someone as hopeful as him could be holding such a tragedy in his heart. I wanted to hug him, but I could not find the courage to do so.
“I’ll be visiting again soon. May Allah be with you”, I said as I left the shop. I could not find a word for what I felt at that moment. A lot had to be done to make matters better for myself and the responsibility of doing so was burdensome. But at the same time, I felt grateful that at least I had my faith in Allah restored. “I will call this feeling… ‘hapiness’”, I thought as I started walking towards my home.
 Muhammad Asad’s translation. https://www.alim.org/quran/translation/asad/surah/93/