Not a Picnic…But an Oasis

Habibah Shaaban in the hospital after a frenzied knife attack.
Habibah Shaaban in the hospital after a frenzied knife attack.

A Life of Struggle

And so the magicians of the Pharoah prostrated, exclaiming, “We believe in the Lord of all Creation. The Lord of Musa and Harun.”

The Pharaoh answered, “Do you believe in him before I have given you permission to? This is certainly some plan that you have put together and he is your chief magician. You have done this in order to uproot the people from their land. I will soon cause you to know this matter! I will cut off your hands and feet from opposite sides and crucify you all.”

The magicians said, “Soon shall we return to our Lord. Shall we be killed by you for nothing else except believing in the Signs of our Lord when they came to us. Our Lord, give us patience at this time and let us die as Muslims.” [1]

These ayat, from my favourite surah in the Qur’an, sent a shiver through my spine when I first read it and still to this day. There is no half stepping being a Muslim. Islam is a great religion. Yes it is good to be a Muslim.

You will meet good people as a Muslim, believers from all walks of life and they will be full of the zest of life. There will be Muslims who will show you love and pray next to you as if you are their own kith and kin.

Ramadan will be filled with joy for many and the Tarawih prayer in the masjid will be spectacular for many more along with the Iftar and Suhur meals consumed by families all across the Muslim world.

There will be Muslims who marry chaste spouses and have good children and these children go on to make their parents, community, nation and Ummah proud. This same group of children from that same group of parents from among some of the Muslims will be good examples for the religion.

But these good times, periods of ease and exuberance are merely oasis in the desolate desert of life; a life that will be filled with struggle…if you choose to be Muslim. Such a case can be seen in Azza William.

Coming from South Egypt’s Asyut (not far from my family home of Aswan), she was from a family of Coptic Christians that were devout and affirmed the creed given to them by their patriarchs all the way back to Marquis.

After reading the creeds, she studied the liturgy, learned the mass, affirmed the wonders and perseverance of the saints. At some point in her adult life, she was married in the Coptic Church to a man of the same faith under the auspices of a leader in the church.

Her case would be no different than that of the Ethiopians who are also Coptic and have an elaborate and long historical liturgy (I knew many Egyptian Christians and could often hear them singing hymns in Arabic when I walked by their churches).

They had children and then a period of estrangement set in for the couple. After this estrangement was some point in time where the woman left and came back in Rabi` ul-Akhir of 1434 with members of Gama`a al-Islamiyyah and declared her conversion to Islam at the Asyut registry office, renaming herself Habibah Shaaban in the process.

Her husband, Romani Farhan Amir, was a Coptic day labourer and unhappy with the conversion. He sought full custody of their four children children and to keep her away from them. When she showed up four months later to see one of their children, the son, at school he feared she might try to kidnap the boy.

The response of Amir was to make an appearance and stab the newly named Miss Shaaban in the chest, thighs and arms numerous times in the principal’s office of the boy’s school. Mr Amir was taken into custody for questioning but while detained and awaiting interview, he jumped from the buildings fourth story window, committing suicide.

The two had duelled back and forth before this incident, Ms Shaaban taking out a restraining order against him when she returned as a Muslim those four months ago. Speaking in her hospital room, recovering from stab wounds to the chest, arms and thighs, she told AP her husband first found her praying as a Muslim a year ago. He beat her, then got her a job as a cleaner at a church nursery, hoping that would dissuade her from becoming a Muslim.

“It didn’t,” she said, with Ali standing near her during the brief interview.

When her husband attacked her May 11, “I did not duck to avoid his stabs, I stood still in front of him when all the other women at the room were screaming,” she said, with drips connected to both arms and her entire body — except her eyes — cloaked in a dark brown veil and robes.

Now, with Amir’s death, she now gets custody of her four children. “May God show them the way to Islam while they are with me,” she said.

A Real Thought

Staring this matter in the face, now go back to the portions I quoted from the Qur’an just moments ago. Habibah is happy with her choice and what has happened in her life and has shown remarkable courage.

However, she has paid a large price for such a choice and the beliefs she holds so dear. This price or penalty is similar to that suffered by the magicians of the Pharaoh when they converted to Islam on the spot in front of a crowd on Egypt’s largest festival day that afternoon some 3,300 years ago.

She falls in line with others that were boiled in oil, crucified, gang raped, stabbed by their husbands, parents or siblings. Perhaps the greatest single difference is that she belongs to that elite crowd that lived to tell the tale.

Islam is not a ride in the park, a walk down Rodeo Drive or the pizza from Dominoes. Islam is about struggle. This fearlessness I have almost never seen in the converts of the United States, Canada and the UK.

This is not a discussion on quantity of converts but rather quality. The basis and reason of why Habibah came into Islam is what gave her the courage, daring and testimony of boldness to withstand…no, stand there and endure a frenzied knife attack from her husband.

She is a believer that has come after the 9/11 New York, 7/7 London, 3/11 Madrid, Bali Bombings and the more recent bizarre outrage in Woolwich in London and was undeterred. I have seen and witnessed Slaves of Allah – born into Muslim families or converts – punk down (I apologise but I know no other English word for this West Coast neologism) after outrages where they thought their lives were in danger.

The beard took a nice round shape where it was no longer as luxurious, the hijab moved down or was removed by “scared” sisters and Muslim brothers donned haircuts or styles of expression and clothing in the hope that they would be mistaken for another race, religion or anything that could not be accidentally identified with Islam.

(Keep in mind an Iranian man that I know that was Sunni but preferred to be called Michael. We would pray in the coat room and I had finished my prayer. When he began and an unbeliever walked in while he was praying, he broke prayer and pretended to be doing pushups)

Perhaps it is the quality of what led these people to “start practicing” or the other Slaves of Allah to “revert.” If a Slave of Allah had viewed the film, Malcolm X, read “the Bible, Qur’an and Science,” watched video debates of Muslim spokesmen in the West, attended “mehfils,” went and “checked out some talks and speeches,” felt convinced that Islam was more logical than Christianity because they just “could not understand the trinity” or any myriad of reasons and used this as the basis for a life changing decision,

This would be a reason why there would be a qualitative difference between those Slaves mentioned above and the people who came into Islam due to the basis of Salvation. Such people as these are undeterred by the murderer’s gun, axe or firing squad. Just look at the great scholars, Muhammad ibn `Abdullah ibn Gharib and Sulaiman ibn `Abdul Wahhab, the former being decapitated as per execution and the latter being tortured to death while being in captivity.

They were not convinced of Islam due to the “big bang being mentioned clearly therein,” the “obvious” texts on embryology in the Qur’an, the “intrinsic and extrinsic proofs (do many of the people using this pious language know what it even means?),” the argument of infinite regression or that capitalism is bad.

No…rather than all of that, these people came to the faith for the same reasons as the magicians in the Pharaoh’s court. They saw the signs of Allah, affirmed their Salvation and sought refuge from eternal judgement.

The truth of the faith is simple and the joy grand; but what you will endure and have to withstand is greater than what you know. If you are patient, you will be successful. Hang your bravery and boldness on that which is revealed, not your suppositions and what “feels right” or just seems “more logical.”

We do hope that there will be other Slaves of Allah that are just as fearless and confident when tried with trials such as these above and others.

[1] Surat ul-A`raf (7), ayat 120-126