diomandLying on the bed Maryam replayed the scenes that had just gone by, watching her life like a film, and constantly shifting between rewind and play. There was no stop button and such with life, one cannot pause it. She ran her hands through the chestnut brown hair gently framing her troubled face, pondering over the plot of her life. One moment wondering about yesterday, the next worrying over tomorrow, and constantly reminiscing over what could have been – what should have been.

She is the beautiful trapped starlet in this cyclic movie, constantly shifting from one scene to another. Within that space of back and forth motion she found a small comfort in her analysis and critique – how the situation arose, how she could have prevented it.   Unfortunately, that comfort ends for us all when we realise that the script only caters for what happened. It is within these futile reflections that a shadow lingers, hovers over our conscience, tempting us, taunting us over the wisps of a reality which we hope to create.

She turned onto her side, the newly laundered sheets wrinkled but stayed stubbornly flat. Even the bed covers are expressing their disapproval, she thought wryly, as if they had witnessed the scene take place earlier. She had arrived home at 9pm and mum was washing dishes at the kitchen-sink – usually the dishes were done by now. Something was wrong – mum only delayed the house being absolutely spotless when she was worried. Comfort in cleaning – a concept she had never understood and never wished to understand. She walked in the house, knowing full well that she said she had told them she would be back at 8pm.

“Assalamualaikum” she said meekly, “sorry I’m late. Sarah and I just got caught up with the assignment” Already lying and already feeling the guilt rushing through her veins. Yet, it is better to lie pre-emptively and hope to get away with it than wait for the questions to start.

“Wa alaikumassalam” she sternly replied. Her ranting voice began.

“Maryam you said that you would be back at 7.30 – we have been worried sick! You don’t even text or phone us, and you took the bus back home at this hour. Do you know what types of people are out there on a Saturday night?”

She was 17 years old for goodness sake; she knew the Highway Code and all the moral ones that went with it. Yes it was late, but Adil had dropped her home. That answer wasn’t an option though.

“I said sorry ok? It won’t happen again”. Why didn’t she just drop it?

And then the bombshell dropped. Her eyes pierced their way towards her daughter’s – Maryam tried to divert her gaze but failed. She froze, her eyes locked onto her mothers. Her mother had that uncanny ability to understand the complexities of her daughter’s life without ever discussing it with her. She knew. Her mum’s eyes bore into her, sliced away the illusions and entered her heart. She wanted to shrink away, but held the gaze steadily in defiance. Suddenly she noticed the glint of tears in the corners of her mum’s eyes – a misty reservoir of disappointment lay behind that steely gaze.

”Remember what grandma used to say –

‘Allah has given us a world full of treasures. The most precious and rare jewels are those which cannot be seen, nor touched, but they are felt in the heart. Protect these at all costs, or you will become a pauper, even if you wear the clothes of a Queen’ ”.

“Yes mum”, she mumbled, finally breaking the gaze in shame. She walked swiftly towards her room, hoping to not meet her dad and get a double I’m-so-disappointed lecture. Entering the room she closed the door quietly and sunk into her bed. Her heart felt heavy. Something inside her had cracked at the words of her late beloved grandma. She had heard that phrase repeated to her so often, it was her grandma’s most famous motif.

Yet, until that moment she had never understood it, she had never taken heed to the wisdom that belied it. Moral sayings are often paradoxical and sometimes it’s just better not to ask questions lest it turns out to be something really simple and you embarrass yourself by not understanding the first time. Her grandma had only passed away last year, she pictured her face – she could trace every line and wrinkle with her finger. She imagined her caring voice and the way she smiled – some people say that over time you forget, well this wasn’t the case here. She remembered it all.

“The most precious and rare jewels are those which cannot be seen, nor touched, but they are felt in the heart”.

The moral concepts which her grandma’s stories passed finally fit together with this saying, as beautifully as clouds mould around each other creating an abstract jigsaw-puzzle in the sky. The sensation of upholding your honour isn’t tangible; it is not something that can be battered in the market place at a set price. Every individual’s heart prices it according to their value yet the true value of a person is known to no-one except themselves… and Allah. Upholding this honour, whether it is through telling the truth or guarding ones modesty awakens something within your heart. She had felt it but a few times and thought of fasting during Ramadhan where she had sacrificed food and drink for a more spiritual sustenance. A person who constantly sacrifices the material for the ethereal has an aura of awe-inspiration. Her grandma had that; you could see her living only for the sake of Allah, almost floating with such devotion.

What would she say to her if she saw her now? Images of her evening with Adil flashed before her mind – the soft caress of his hand against her face, his warm breath tickling her skin, his lips melting across hers. She felt her heart flutter restlessly at the memory, yearning to return to a few hours ago, yearning to escape these feelings of guilt. The wings of her fluttering heart were dipped in poison, the colourful feathers concealing a much darker exterior. She wanted his comfort yet she repelled his touch, she wanted his touch, yet she repelled his comfort. This paradoxical struggle between her desires – both worldly and spiritual – had as of yet, no conclusion.

She didn’t understand how things had come so far – six months ago they were just colleagues. She was struggling with understanding algebraic fractions and he helped to explain them in the college library. It was legit enough. But then, all of a sudden it wasn’t. Even after she had understood the mathematical concepts, the pretext was often maths - a pretext that was silently, yet mutually decided. Even though her heart felt unsettled meeting him with the textbooks, whose pages hardly turned during their meetings, she waved away the guilt. Slowly formality faded into friendship and the library was exchanged for coffee shops. She began to notice the dimple in his right cheek, the way his eyes smiled before his mouth did, the way she could feel his gaze on her when she had her back turned. At this point she found it hard to suppress the guilt, to stifle the feelings of shame. She could no longer read the Qur’an without feeling deceitful, so the book which she had been brought up upon blended into all the others on her bookshelf. She glanced at the mini-library in her room and could not even recognise its cover.

“Protect these at all costs, or you will become a pauper, even if you wear the clothes of a Queen”.

Her grandma’s voice echoed in her head like a mantra from the grave. Her fate as a pauper had been sealed this evening with her first kiss. For a moment, or maybe two, she was wearing the clothes of a Queen, experiencing sensations of which she had only ever imagined before. Yet sweet poison has a bitter aftertaste. She gasped aloud, realising the true implications of what she had done. Her heart fell into her stomach, a heart void of peace and contentment.

“The most precious and rare jewels are those which cannot be seen, nor touched, but they are felt in the heart”.

Her heart was empty of the secret treasures only known to some – no, empty was too passive, her heart was plundered of these gems, by no one else but herself.

Tears of shame clouded her vision and for once she let the salty rivers meander down her cheeks. She stumbled off her bed and walked towards the bathroom. Turning on the tap she whispered “bismillah (in the name of Allah)” and performed wudhoo’ (ablution). The cold water gave her a surprising satisfaction like when you take a cool shower on a hot summers day. Back in her room her eyes scanned the top shelf in her bookcase – a blue book, no, green – blue-green – snap. Arabic letters curved around its spine as if ascending a stairway to salvation. She sat down on her bed and opened the Holy Quran, containing the original Arabic as well as an English translation.

{Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty, that will make for greater purity for them...Say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty..}[i]

It was as if God had directed her to open that particular page. Lowering the gaze is the first step to prevent further attraction, the first step to safeguard the jewels which Allah has given us.

Memories of a lecture on hayaa’ (modesty) which she had once attended flooded back. Hayaa’ was explained to be one of the branches of faith – it was modesty, bashfulness, shame all rolled into one. A noble attitude which motivated a person to keep away from sin - most definitely one of the jewels grandma had meant. The speaker had taken a jug of water and poured a small amount of concentrated black coffee into it whilst narrating a hadeeth (Prophetic Narration). Muhammad (sallallahu a'lyhi wa sallam) said, "Indeed hayaa’ (modesty) and eemaan (faith) are Companions. When one of them is lifted, the other leaves as well."[ii]

The purity of the water became corrupted – it turned an anemic light brown. Like Lipton ice tea. She realised that as her modesty had slowly began to disappear, so had the eemaan (faith) from her heart. Ever since she could remember she had prayed salaat (the five obligatory prayers), yet the rigid discipline of five daily prayers had become easier to forget, easier to ignore.

More coffee was added to the jug and stirred. Muhammad (sallallahu a'lyhi wa sallam) said “When lewdness is a part of anything, it becomes defective; and when hayaa’ is a part of anything it becomes beautiful”.[iii] The water became murkier – she felt it reflected her soul. Her grandma had worn the plainest clothes yet attained the status of a Queen in her eyes. Why was it that when she met sisters who had this aura of hayaa’ around them, it penetrated into her and in turn she became shy around them? Those veiled women have a beauty incomparable to the conventional beauties of the day. They protect their treasures at all costs. The speaker poured the last deadly shot of coffee into the water, if you could still call it that. No drop in the jug was left untouched. A mass of dark brown liquid sin. He explained that the word haya is derived from the word “al-hayah” which means life, as if the person who has no haya is like a dead person.

But Allah gives life to the earth after it has died, and he can soften our hearts after they have hardened. The speaker placed the jug in the sink under an open tap and allowed the jug to overflow. Slowly the translucent colour of purity re-appeared, as if the coffee was a figment of our imagination. Whatever our past mistakes, repentance, sincerity and action can change our future. The water was in the depths of darkness but regained its beauty. Maryam smiled in the knowledge that it wasn’t too late to change and looked down once again at a book whose wisdom she had nearly let slip out of her hands.



[i] Qur’aan 24:30-31
[ii] Narrated by Abdullah ibn Umar (ra) [Baihaqi]
[iii] Narrated on the authority of Anas bin Malik (ra) [Tirmidhi]