“ And this is the dorm.” Fadhal said opening the door to a sparse room that had military looking lockers and 4 sets of bunks.
I was here to enrol at Madressa and came with my folks for a sort of orientation.
I felt a bit queasy looking around the dormitory. I would be trapped here for four months before the first holiday! No beach! No cellphone! No movies! No sunshine! Ok I exaggerate that bit. Thinking of all that made me feel like the prison walls were closing in on me. I mean Madressa walls.
I can do this. It’s just a year and then I’m the hell outta here.
A while before.
“So our deal is that you spend at least one year in Madressa Nabeel and after that you can carry on if you want or you can got to university. Or you carry on with university and you pay me back your registration amount.”
Nana said with a straight face as if he didn’t know quite well that I didn’t have money of my own to even pay back the tuckshop. Damn this old blackmailer. I thought over it. Ok well I didn’t really have much choice did I?
Anyways how bad could it be? I aced Grade 12 without thaat much effort. I thought modestly, how bad could Madressa be? I’d breeze through it with my eyes closed.
“What the fff…” I exclaimed looking at my Sarf (Arabic morphology) book.
“don’t say it” murmured Ramzi my roommate from Palestine.
“I don’t understand a thing! It’s madness this. Fa’ala,fa’alaa,fa’aloo..” My head spun with memorising it. I still had so much more homework to do And still tackle Urdu which surprisingly I didn’t find That bad but bad. As for the farsi? Sheesh. They were killing me and my brains slowly but surely.
“Easy for you Ramzi, this is your first language. I can’t make head or tail,it’s giving me a freaking migraine! Fa’ala- He one male did? What the heck is that supposed to mean? Doesn’t even make sense! I Hate this! What did the he one male do? ”
“Ta’aal Nabeel. I’ll help you. It seems very hard at first but it won’t always be like this believe me akhi.”
“Don’t akhi me. I’m telling them I want to leave”
“Okay”,soothed Ramzi. “you do that but first finish your mutal’a”(-homework/prep for the next days work)Everything in Arabic is easier because the word depends on whether it is singular or plural,male or female,past or present. You will get it. Don’t get frustrated. That is from shaitan. Salli alar Rasool.”
During my time with Ramzi ,there were many times where I heard those words from him. “Salli alar Rasool” (Send Salaam on RasulAllah SAW) as an antidote to soothe the jagged edges of frustration, anger, sadness or despair. And when my heart stood still to open to such advice. It worked.
The door banged open.
“Chalo,it’s time for Maghrib and Mamoolats” Mustafa called out in his loud accent. Mamoolats was the practise of reading the surahs of the night- Waaqiah and making zikr. On my first day I leaned over and asked Uzair my classmate “What the heck are they saying?” It sounded like the buzzing of demented bees,so fast, you couldn’t hear the words!
“3rd kalima” Uzair said. “and 1st and istighfaar”
These are supposed to be part of our daily practices. But make it like you mean it. Not mechanically.
We were 8 in our room.
Ramzi- from Palestine. Mustafa from India. Ilyaas from South Africa. Qaasimi from Malawi. Then there was Tahir,Ziad and me whose nationality I wont mention and my nemesis, Nu’maan from Syria, his dad was Syrian and his Mum was English.
Nu’maan was in 2nd year and was the type of guy who always seemed to be spoiling for a fight. In class we were always encouraged to have “adab.” (Respect) for our teachers. So one day while we were on our way to our mutaa’la session in the hall, I heard him swear one of the Asaatiza (teachers). I was taken aback “Hey you cant talk like that about the Asaatizah dude!”
He looked at me condescendingly. “why don’t you shut up little creep, you know shit”
I would later come to know he had a major argument with his Ustadh because the importance of taqleed was being discussed.
Nu’maan said, still looking at me as if I was a grasshopper. “Do you know what I am? I’m a Salafi,we do authentic dude,A u t h e n t i c . If I could help it there is no way I’d be here.” I was obviously missing something here.
I looked at him confused. “ Wow is that like a branch of the Arab royal family or something?