Hanan, a very sweet, sincere and hardworking lady from Morocco. In her mid twenties, happily married to a deaf man by her own choice and had three kids, a son and two daughters. She got many proposals but she preferred him to be her life partner for the reason that he sent her a message that he loves her and he promised that he will be sincere and loyal to her for the rest of her life. She had a beautiful strong voice resembling the Egyptian eloquence but she never sung in public because her husband didn’t want her to. Before marriage, she used to sing in their weddings and parties. When he found this out he restricted her to sing in female gatherings only where no other men can get attracted to her voice. The good thing is that instead of making it a matter of personal ego, she took it a sign of his extreme love. This is how they loved, respected and trusted each other. Not only she was extraordinary patient but very straight forward and honest in her dealings. I learned many good techniques from her about teaching Arabic, especially the “Arabic Spelling Bee Contest” and the diligent way she prepared her students for that. Many of our family children including my own daughter picked her accent and the language for continuous use of Arabic vocabulary with action and expression. Following her, I had an idea of “Urdu Spelling Bee” but no Pakistanis seemed interested. To promote their language, one needs to build a passion like Hanan. I asked her to make “cous cous”, the famous Morrocan dish, when she invited us to her house. Her sister-in-law baked cheese rolls, buns and muffins to eat with roasted almond-chicken. May Allah (SWT) be pleased with her and have mercy on her entire family for the rest of their lives and make their life easy for them. Ameen!
Hanan’s sister-in-law (bhabi in Urdu), a house wife, was also very inspiring. She had a God-gifted child Imran, a Second-Grader, genius in Science and Math. Once he shared the easy way (a Moroccan technique) taught to him by his mother, to add a small number to a large number. This is how he said in his peculiar Moroccan accent, “forrr eczuample (for example), you havve (have) to add 2 to 93…..(he raised two fingers and said) theze aurrre (these are) the next two numbers to 93….94, 95….so what is 93 plus 2? equalll (equals) 95.”
I found that whole Moroccan community was so conscious about their childrens’ learning. Another quality that I was inspired with was their community bonding. Najah was an African American convert to Islam and was married to a Moroccan guy. I was surprised to see their tradition, most of the guests brought food with them and placed it on a big table (without any boasting or being curious what else is there on the table). Someone made rice, one brought muffins, others cooked kind of vegetable curry, samosas, etc. Everything went on so peacefully. Najah had two daughters. The first time she visited Morocco, she fell in love with their hospitality and decided to raise her daughters there in Morocco so they can live in a family environment.
Ameera was a practical Muslimah from Egypt, she had four children. Since the Egyptians are considered hypocrites of Islam living a moderate life same as Pakistanis, she preferred to live in America for the reason that her children will be raised up straight forward. She was also very dedicated to her children and her students. Suffering due to on and off employment of her husband, she budgeted herself to the lowest. Many of those family from different Arab countries were leading a simple life for the same reason. I saw their children eating Italian bread or rolls with green tea for lunch. In Astoria, after Friday prayer, a baker used to put a dozen trays full of different bakery items for the needy ones. The Arab mothers would pick according to their needs considering the right of others.
Salah was an accountant from Egypt. A tall and broad, all pink, jolly man, very generous too. He married a white-American convert to Islam and had three beautiful daughters. A very loving and caring father and husband, loyal to his community and very friendly to everyone in general. I met him a couple of times in my uncle’s office. Once, following a news in the newspaper, he wondered (in his typical Arabic accent), “even a big disaster in America, only one or two are killed and in our countries, twenty die in a bus accident” and I agreed with him saying, “same thing happens in Pakistan”. Then he invited me to visit Cairo as I was very interested in visiting the old city of Cairo and pyramids. That was our last conversation. A week later, he was shot dead by some robbers at his brother’s grocery store in Astoria. His wife and daughters were there in his office at closing time, he asked them to wait for he needed some tax information from his brother who was running a grocery store next door. As Salah reached there, he saw three black robbers pointing gun at his brother. As he called them put their guns down and leave they opened fire at him and ran away. He lost his life right at the spot saving his brother from the robber. Since we Muslims have no system of welfare, his widow had to go back to her brothers who were still Christians.
Sister Nargis was a Pre-K teacher at Al-Iman School in Jamaica, Shia by sect, the most amazing personality I must say. I have never seen a lady so disciplined and organized plus very firm. The age group of her students was 4. She was running the class on her own without any interference, sincerely and honestly. She must be a role-model for our Montessori owners and teachers. A couple of times, I was asked to help her when her assistant was absent. She made herself responsible for sending forward her students as the best group equipped with all the necessary preschool skills including discipline and ready to fit in to the next level. The first few weeks, she spent in giving them a sense of timings, standing in line, follow the size order while walking, waiting in line, putting things back where they belong, sense following orders and of sharing and caring. After having their breakfast and using the bathroom, the first thing she asked them was “do you have money for sadiqa, if you do, put it in the donation box” and the students took out their money and one by one dropped the quarters in the box. She made them realize that they cannot use the thirst or nature call as an excuse to get away from the work, it is after their snack, lunch and playing time. At the bathroom, they all stood in line and made her assistant to check them personally if they finished properly and washed their hands. She never dumped their minds with heavy syllabus, her lesson planning consisted of Montessori skills; to identify and sort out objects by their size, color and shape, to feel the changes in the weather and in the surrounding, story time to instill listening skills etc. I never heard of that lady complaining about no free time or too much work or responsibility or salary and she wasn’t rude though, I never found her chatting with other teachers for no reason. She was the real attraction for the parents with little kids.
Br. Khursheed Khan – a decent personality form ICNA, soft, polite, kind, gentle, generous, patient and tolerant, very much concerned about community work. I know him as the best human being on earth. I knew him for a long time but had the chance to work under him for last two years before coming back home. Beside giving me a free hand for running my class my way (and ignoring my strict schedule), the best thing that I was inspired of his was his way of communicating with children. In his late sixtees, he talked to them like he was their age. He knew how to get a group of children focused on him. He was the second Principal (the first one was Br. Nasir of Al-Iman but he was very strict) that I have seen personally taking interest and participating in students’ learning. Everyday, half-hour assembly time in the morning, when all the classes were present, he used to ask children for a surprise presentation, no preparation needed. He used to correct them at the moment. To make assembly time a fun time, he used to call student from different linguistic backgrounds and say counting one to ten or words like thank you, sorry, please etc. in their mother tongue…so all the other children could learn them too. That was a great idea of him to reduce language barriers in order to create a community bonding. Sometimes, he would teach them most common words in Chinese, Japanese or other language and asked them the next day if they remember. Sometimes, he even told jokes and riddles and asked children to share of their own. Children really had fun with him. As a Principal, he was totally opposite of the kinds of principals found in Pakistan.
Alicia, a true Muslim and an excellent lady possessing all the good qualities of a great human being. She helped me a lot in phonics and my dauter in learning about American history through her video collection. She had been going through a very tough time but I still admire her passion for her daughter’s training and education and at the same helping others. There was a little girl Jasmine, same as her daughter’s age, totally neglected by her mother who was born to a Spanish mother and Pakistani father. She had no idea of Pakistani culture and values. Jasmine’s grandfather (the Pakistani man) was unable to pay attention and someone to take care of her for some hours so she could learn about Islam and Pakistani values. Alicia observed all this for few days and then asked Jasmine’s mother to leave Jasmine at her house for few hours. I saw her combing Jasmine’s hair, changing her clothes, washing her face and hands, feeding her like she did to her own daughter and helped her in reading.
Dr. Farhat Hashmi, I met her in Islamabad at her residence and was very impressed with her politeness and sober and balanced personality. Always talked to the point and with reference if necessary. The reason I adore her is for being extra ordinary disciplined and organized and presenting Islam with quality work. I have been to almost all of the branches of her institute and found them neat and clean, organized and equipped with modern means to provide Islamic knowledge. I became envious of her after hearing that hadith, “envy is not allowed but with two kind of people; one whom Allah (SWT) has bestowed with wealth and he spends it for the cause of Allah and the other one who is granted with the true knowledge and he shares it with others for Allah.” I felt more jealous because she is gifted with both, knowledge and wealth, and has dedicated her life to use them to please the God. May Allah (SWT) save her and her family from all the trials of this life and of the Hereafter, Ameen!
Tokray Wala: I don’t know his name. He was a very old man, had a job to carry shopper’s load in his tokra (wide, round basket) in Sunday bazar in Islamabad. He only spoke Punjabi, classic Punjabi which I couldn’t understand. He was very old and weak, like almost between 65 and 70, my daughter had developed a soft corner for him and always reminded me to get him as we entered the bazar. Instead of following me with tokra on his head, I always asked him to sit in a corner and I brought my grocery and shopping to him. My daughter used to laugh at him because mostly he was found asleep with the tokra beside him. I remember the day it was very hot, my daughter spotted him and asked me to help him. Since we didn’t buy enough, I tried to give him some money out of my generosity, which he refused to take and pointed at the little bag in my hand to put in his tokra. I felt embarrassed that why did I offer him money for free. I was impressed with his ‘ego’ or ‘khudi’ if I translate it right in Urdu, at that old age, he knew that he wasn’t a beggar and he is there to find some work. How we have misused, abused and ignored our common people from previous generation who could have become a role-model for us! A national tragedy.
Dr. Israr Ahmed and Aapa: Don’t want to say much about him as he is already a strong, prominent figure of Islam and Pakistan. I became his great fan when I personally witnessed the simplicity and purity of this sacred couple. His life time struggles for the cause of truth are known to everyone, Having nine children, raising them to become good beings, reducing his professional life to minimum, learning Arabic in the night with a passion like a young boy (this was really a great experience for him for him as he described in a his particular calm and funny way), pondering over Qur’anic verses, studying Iqbal and the ideology of Pakistan etc. The parts that inspired me a lot were his founding and leading his own way of life and all on personal basis, especially looking for various sources to learn Arabic and that was about 35 to 40 years ago when there were no learning facilities at all. May he be rewarded for living a remarkable life. Ameen!