There is a saying in the Holy Quran that God is closer to you than your jugular vein. Some days I comprehend this concept more than others. Today is one of those days. This morning, I watched my sister embrace her 3-1/2-year old son Kareem at 6:45 a.m. We – my sister, her husband and myself – were heading out the door for the hospital. Kareem had obviously heard a bit of commotion downstairs and decided to walk across the dimly lit, second-floor family room adjacent to his room, his favourite blanket in hand, and headed down the long staircase, just in time to find his way into his mommy’s arms before she walked out the door.

My sister immediately stepped back inside the corridor, sat down on a hallway chair and gathered Kareem in her arms as she always does, as though he is still a tiny baby, nestling his head on one shoulder while allowing his legs to dangle over the opposite arm as she squeezed him. The tremendous warmth and tenderness she applies to her expressions of love for her sons is something I cannot fully understand since I am not a mother myself. It was one of the timeless moments: even in the midst of a mad rush to sprint out the door so as not to be late for an appointment, we are able to find the time to pause, remembering what’s most important, and clinch the moment as though it were hours.
A couple of minutes later, Kareem left his mother’s arms and cuddled up close to his grandmother’s leg, still clinging to the small, worn out fleece blanket, and we departed. I don’t know whether what is said about the mother-child bond is true, that it is informed by a great deal of intuition, but today as I watched my sister and her son, I knew in my heart there is some divine connection between them that I hope one day, God willing, I will experience myself. I couldn’t help but have the impression Kareem knew his mom wouldn’t be going to work today as she normally does, albeit several hours later in the morning. Even last night, Kareem awoke from sleep at 11 pm, after only three hours, just so his mom could tuck him in and sleep with him.
I came to visit my sister this week to accompany her to the hospital. She is having surgery today to remove a tumour from her breast. They assured us is a basic procedure, she most likely will not even have to stay in the hospital overnight. A biopsy conducted on the mass last month revealed that it is harmless. They said removing it is a precautionary step taken because doctors were a bit worried about the shape of the lump. Biopsies are effective at testing only the tissue that is extracted during the procedure, but cannot provide any guarantees about the surrounding tissue. I’m sure that all will be smooth as I begin writing this entry during the 45-minute car ride to the hospital. I have been praying for that for more than a month since my sister discovered the lump and had it tested. Every prayer, particularly in the early morning, I ask God to give her health and keep her strong for her two boys, the other of whom is not yet two. Since last summer I have never underestimated the power of prayer.

Up until about a year ago, the concept of God for me was very distant. Divinity, heaven, hell, sin, repentance –these were all concepts that appeared so far away. But in the three months prior to the surprise death of my father last August, I found myself drawn to my spiritual side for the first time. It was as though God shone a light on my heart, enabling me to clearly see truth for the first time in my life. I completed my first reading of the Holy Quran less than a month prior to my father’s death, which happened on the second day of the holy month of Ramadan. For the first time after three decades in a Muslim family, I discovered what it means to be a Muslim, which literally means in Arabic ‘one who submits him/herself to God’. When we begin to approach the meanderings of life with patience and constancy, we can come to realise that each step we take is a blessing from God, or Allah as He is called in Arabic. When we are suffering, God is there, testing our patience, and this is a blessing. When we are happy and joyful, God is there, testing our remembrance, and that is a blessing. Encapsulating this reality is the poignant and simple Quranic phrase: “Verily, with every difficulty there is relief”.

I think sometimes we need to be faced with illness, near accidents, and death to remember that really the end of this life is only a breath away – and can happen at any time. We should work toward achieving a state of mind where death would never blindside us. If we achieve this, we will be more capable of appreciating those around us whom we hold dearly and living fulfilled lives without allowing daily troubles burden our minds. People often speak of God and heaven as being far above the clouds and night stars. We often raise our hands and look up to the sky to offer a prayer. But for me, God is right here, in every breath we inhale, in every word we utter, in every step we take. The struggle, of course, is learning how to surrender to this.

So today, I am leaving everything to God and doing the only thing I can, standing next to my sweet sister, who is a year-and-a-half older than me and has been a constant source of inspiration and bravery in my life. The surgery went smoothly, elhamd’Allah (praise to God). She may emerge from this experience slightly changed in her physical appearance. But the spiritual growth that she, and all of us, will derive from this will be immeasurably greater than any scar that may be left behind.

“..Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of Allah: For without doubt in the remembrance of God do hearts find satisfaction.” (13:28)