TO ALLAH WE BELONG: MY JOURNEY, MY FAITH

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TO HIM WE BELONG: MY JOURNEY, MY FAITH.

In the Name of Allah, The Most Beneficent, The Most Merciful

To Him We Belong: My Journey, My Faith

By Ruqayyah Dawood

I will never forget that day. I sat in Birmingham Children’s Hospital, hands wrapped around my tummy, forcing fake tears, waiting for the doctor to return.

I was seventeen years old, twenty-one weeks pregnant, and I had just been advised to abort my baby.

What you have to understand is that whilst this day I had my reasons to put my acting talents to use, ordinarily I’m known for shedding real tears easily, involuntarily and at most things. It’s a running joke in my family because my mum likes to recall me being put into an incubator for days when I was born, as I would not cry no matter how hard they slapped me! Then, she says, once I did cry, I never stopped!

So the heart specialist, (who so much resembled Gerry Adams it was spooky) re-entered the private ‘grieving’ Suite and sat down beside my husband and I, in a sombre mood. I continued looking dismayed whilst he reminded us the outlook was grim. There was almost nohope, he repeated- my baby’s heart was extremely deformed, so much so it barely resembled a heart at all. The four chambers were just one big mess; the heart was back to front, extremely large, and all the ‘wiring’ was in the wrong places. My son may not survive the womb, he said, and if, he repeated, if he did he would almost certainly die immediately after delivery.

I told this esteemed Heart Specialist and Award-Winning Surgeon that whilst I fully understood what he was saying, I didn’t wish to abort my child. You see, I had to feign the tears so not to look heartless, because in reality I had put my trust in Allah and didn’t believe a word this guy said.

The week previous and days up to the Birmingham Hospital visit I had genuinely been an utter wreck. I had had my first detailed scan and will never forget the look on the sonographer’s pale face when she scanned my baby and then delivered the terrible news; my child’s heart was deformed. I had stood in the maternity unit corridor afterwards, promising Allah if my child survives I would name him “Sayfullah,” meaning ‘Sword of Allah.’ So, I pleaded, “Ya Allah, with this strong name, make him strong!”

Then came after the panic and terror. I would wake every night crying and retching with shock and anxiety. I had been Muslim less than a year and this was my first big test. I was advised by un-educated but nevertheless genuinely concerned Muslims, that maybe aborting under the circumstances would be best- and as you do when you are seventeen, I ran out into the street, down to the end of the road and sat on the kerb, face in hands balling my eyes out. My mum thought it best I pack away all the little cardigans and mitts I had gathered in preparation for my first born. “It will just make it harder to cope in the long run,” she advised.

I prayed frequently for guidance and a miracle, and my amazing sister-in-law, may Allah preserve and accept her, advised me to not lose hope in the Power of Allah- that ultimately He knew what was to happen in the future, others can only predict. Abortion in Islam was forbidden, except under very unique circumstances and so  put my faith in Allah, she said- Allah was The Almighty and The One Who created our hearts, so of course new best my son’s fate and if He made him couldn’t He easily then save him? It was my first lesson in “tawakkul” [1] and would be just the beginning of a journey that would significantly shape my character and faith.

So the day of Sayfullah’s birth arrived unexpectedly. My child had made it that far. My bags were ready but I was not. I had just prepared a huge feast for my father, husband and brother- in-laws when the excruciating pains in my abdomen began. This wasn’t how I had read it should be and sure enough I was informed that I was losing my baby. Rushed into theatre I was put to sleep by panicking doctors, who unconvincingly assured me I would be just fine, but no promises for the baby.

Oh Sayfullah! When I first saw him my heart skipped a beat. Surrounded by wires and tubes, and a whole array of lights and beeping machines- my baby was fighting for life.

Even though my son survived the caesarean I was told things were worse than they imagined. There wasn’t enough oxygen being pumped to his vital organs and he was unable to breathe unaided. We were waiting for him to die, they said. Yet I returned to see him every day with fresh clothes and nappies. I would sing to him about Allah and pray for a better day. My dad died a month after his birth and those following days were a haze. I barely noticed the nurses remove Sayfullah’s ventilator or the Intensive Care staff move him into the less critical Special Care, or what this signified. There was no fanfare or congratulations. Apart from the fact I was known as the ‘poor child’ (due to me looking five years younger than I was); whose father had passed away- no one dare raise my hopes in case they were soon to be crashed down.

I found myself once again out of town and back at Birmingham Children’s Hospital, but this time ‘Gerry Adams’ was assigned to save my son’s life. Over the next year he would prod, poke, cut, fix and stitch, in the hope of improving the quality of Sayfullah’s life and prolonging it. His heart was never going to be as it should be, and quite frankly it was a miracle it kept him alive at all. I owe a big thank you to this heart surgeon’s commitment and time. He was dedicated to his job as Head Heart Surgeon. Despite his own negative outlook and deliberations and not making us any promises, he gave every operation and procedure his best shot all the same.

Aged one we took our Sayfullah home. When i would experience stares and puzzled looks from those witnessing myself and my husband passing a tube down our son’s nose to his stomach in public, pumping into it milk. Sleepless nights and busy days followed feeding Sayfullah two hourly, only for him to vomit it out for us to start all over again. We took our child to the park, the zoo and any other place normal parents entertained their children. Another year passed and Sayfullah had moved onto mash potato. Fast forward a year, he was now eating fish fingers and chips. Aged four he was trying to convince us he was old enough to eat chewing gum and go to school! He however would not, he repeated would not do the shopping ever, saying as a husband he would remain in the car just like daddy does!

We would go back and forth to Birmingham for appointments, procedures and surgery. Sayfullah was on all kinds of wild and wonderful potions to reduce water around his heart, lower his blood pressure, provide nutrition and help him to breathe more easily. Admissions to our local hospital were frequent too because any cough, cold or infection would knock him for six. At five years old one particular surgery didn’t go as planned and after some deliberation he was given a pacemaker. The following morning after the pacemaker was implanted and after me crying and praying to Allah to, “pleasespeeds up my son’s heart. Please make him well again,” I walked into his hospital bay to see him sat up and smiling in spite of bandages and cannulas on and inserted into every limb, and a massive blood stained dressing on his chest. At every outpatient appointment nurses would be amazed at Sayfullah’s spirit, and ‘Gerry Adams’ would smile under his furrowed brow. “I don’t know how we got this far” he would say.

So Sayfullah did indeed start school and his classmates would ask why his lips were blue and why he couldn’t help dribbling. He was kind and funny and everyone loved him all the same. Sayfullah never complained about his condition and would get on with things like any other child. For example, I would tell his little sister to close her mouth when she ate and he would try to do the same despite my assurance it was too difficult for him. He would come down the stairs on his front, to my horror, just to be like her!

Sayfullah also had an amazing sense of faith and trust in Allah that put me to shame. He would comfort me when I would show any sign of worry, at the sight of his fresh wounds from surgery. He’d try to assure me he was ok to still play football or hang from the bunk beds. Although he never got used to the injections and even despised the blood pressure and saturation monitors, when I left the wards to get lunch he would sit by the door with a brave smile, waiting for me to return.

One incident I will never forget, perfectly encapsulates my son’s strength and faith. It was autumn time and he was five. We had collected conkers at the park that had fallen from a horse chestnut tree. He had grabbed himself a nice big shiny one and insisted I took him to show his uncle and aunt. On the walk back home from their house we realised to his dismay that we had left his conker there and it was too late to return to retrieve it. Entering through the front door to our dark empty home, he stated matter of fact,

“Mummy I will just ask Allah to get it.”

With that Sayfullah laid out a prayer mat and whilst I worried about him being let down, he raised his palms in front of his face, asking Allah to bring back his conker. When Sayfullah said “ameen,” and turned to smile at me, I silently prayed,

“Ya Allah safeguard his faith and keep his conker safe.”

We stepped into the kitchen for our nightly shared glass of milk, and what did we see on the worktop, none other than his big shiny conker!

Allahu Akbar [2]

Then arrived the biggest test of my life so far. It was around 3pm on a weekday and I was returning from the local grocery store. Sayfullah’s ride home from school had spotted me and sent him over to walk the short distance home with myself. Sayfullah had unfortunately tripped just moments before,but his aunty had cheered him up by making him laugh. He had a graze on his hand, but other than that was looking forward to a big cuddle when I could relieve myself of the heavy shopping bags I was carrying. Outside our house the builder who was working in our garden needed a quick word. I opened the front door to throw inside my bags first, and in the three seconds I had my back turned to my son he had fallen to the ground. Upon witnessing his fit-like state all that ran through my head despite there being no prior warning or sign, was, “tell him you love him. He’s dying.”

“Sayfullah I love you, I love you, I love you, “I screamed as I kissed his cheeks that were soon thoroughly soaked with my tears. I ran over to his uncles’ house just opposite and his dear wife tried to revive him while I begged the emergency services operator to, “send the ambulance quickly!” I blurted out as much medical history I could, while the operator tried to comfort me and have me remain calm. Five minutes later I was sat with my precious first born in the ambulance, going over in my head what I would possibly do if I lost him. How will I cope? Will my imaan ever be the same again? “Ya Allah save him. Ya Allah save him!”

The amazing doctors in Accident and Emergency tried their upmost to save him. Sayfullah was a familiar face in our local hospital so they probably tried longer than they usually would. But his time on this earth was no more and Sayfullah left this world aged six.

To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.

To everyone’s wonderment, including my own, I took a deep breath and whilst thanking the doctors and nurses for trying their best for him, I assured them it was ok to go and save other lives. Sayfullah’s father and I made prints of his hands and feet for keepsake and spent time with his body praying for him, and whilst I spoke words of encouragement to Sayfullah’s devastated father, distraught grandfather and weeping cousins, I wondered where the strength had come from.

In the immediate days that followed, I would be numb and refuse food, whilst at night my husband would beg me to, “please stop crying.” We would remind one another that Allah knew best and that not only was Sayfullah in a better place, but also he had been saved from the trials and tests of adulthood. The funeral day arrived quickly, and whereas the day prior I had been consumed with thoughts of how I could convince everyone to let me keep him in my house a few more days, I had had a dream that night, which would provide me with comfort and peace.

In my dream I had seen Sayfullah with a smaller boy who looked just like my youngest son, Sufyaan. It occurred to me in the dream that this was almost definitely Sufyaan’s twin who I’d lost in pregnancy. In the dream Sayfullah complained of a slight tummy pain but assured me he was okay and I placed him and ‘Sufyaan’s twin’ in a buggy and we went to a place full of light and books.

I didn’t really think much of the dream until my husband came to see how I was and to tell me of a wonderful occurrence at the graveyard. He related that amidst the bright sunshine and as the brothers took turns covering over my son’s grave with soil, there was a five second shower of light rain. He said everyone witnessed it and felt it was a beautiful sign of hope and mercy. My husband also informed me that the hospital mortuary had forgotten to remove Sayfullah’s pacemaker. The pacemaker had still been in his tummy. So when I had dreamt of him being with his brother and complaining of slight pain, the pacemaker was really still in his tummy.

Two years prior to Sayfullah’s death I had had another dream. In this one Sayfullah was riding on the back of a magnificent horse with the Prophet Ibrahim(AS).[3] My dream then cut to a scene where I shot a man on the other side of battle trenches. I knew the man’s name was Abu Jahl, but at this time I didn’t know who Abu Jahl was. However following research I found my local Sheikh knew (May Allah have mercy on him, his body now rests in Madina)- Abu Jahl was the most staunch enemy of our Prophet Muhammad(SAW).The Sheikh never said too much about the meaning of my dream at the time and only advised me to increase in knowledge of my religion and to stay strong through trials. On the day of my son’s burial a long lost friend called me and as a person of knowledge she informed me that Sayfullah now resided in Barzakh[4] with Ibrahim(AS). I remembered my dream and knew I had to remain strong.

One of the most empowering feelings I have ever had was a week following Sayfullah’s death, walking home from dropping my daughter at the very same nursery Sayfullah attended, leaving her there crying just as Sayfullah would cry there every day. During that walk I would say loud and proud through my heartache and sobbing,

إِنَّا لِلّهِ وَإِنَّـا إِلَيْهِ رَاجِعونَ‎

To Allah we belong and to Him is our return.

I took comfort knowing the angels would report back to Allah that despite my loss, despite Him testing me in one of the most difficult ways possible; I uttered His name and spoke words of patience and truth, for Our Lord Allah says in the Qur’an: [5]

“And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, Who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah , and indeed to Him we will return.’”

I did not ever nor do I now regret for a second not having the abortion. The six years I had with Sayfullah taught me hope and faith, patience and gratitude, loving and trusting Allah, through every trial and every blessing. Sayfullah was a happy and delightful young boy who touched the hearts of many. I take comfort that he will intercede to Allah on my behalf in shaa Allah, (God willing) and we will enter the Gardens of Paradise together.

We are not just an accumulation of matter. We are not a chipped mug begging to be thrown away or a dirty damaged pane of glass ready for the recycle bin. We are not the same as a banana skin though we share 55% of its trees’ DNA, and so just waiting to be turned into compost and ultimately finishing off as worm food.

We have in us a spirit to choose to love, live, give and laugh. To taste, feel, learn and inspire. To obey the natural laws given to us by our Wise Creator- or rather deny Him and therefore deny our very selves. Allah created us with a consciousness that can only be explained through the existence of Him. Through Him our hearts will find peace. To Him is our Return.

I hope I inspired you to reach further into yourselves and see the amazing creation you are.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

[1] Tawakkul – in the Arabic language it is the word for the Islamic concept of reliance on God or trusting in God’s plan.

[2] God (Allah) is Great.

[3] Prophet Abraham, peace be upon him

[4] The literal meaning of ‘Barzakh’ is a veil or a barrier and commonly used to signify the waiting                                        place between death and Judgement Day.

[5] Quran 2:155-156

 

 

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