Saturday, May 9, 2009

Perfect Strangers

Being both an orphan and poor was an initiatory state for the future Messenger of God. Other than feeling for the underprivileged, this taught him a lesson that is valid for each human being: never to forget one’s past, one’s trials, one’s environment and origin, and to turn it all into a positive teaching for oneself and for others.

Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) lived in the desert, a nomad, forever on the move. Nomads learn to move on, to become strangers.

Such is the experience of a believer which the Prophet was to later describe in this way: “Be in this world as if you were a stranger or a wayfarer” (Hadith –tradition- by Al-Bukhari)… …

The daugther was born in one place, raised until her teens in another, then spent her adulthood elsewhere too. Languages, she knows a lot. People, she met plenty. Cultural conflict, she’s known it well. Identity, it’s complicated.

But she thinks of her parents now. Perhaps, the first place where a child lives is in the world of his parents. What was it like? Their identity. Were they also strangers not only in this world, but to themselves? There is no tragedy in this, but a training for her in all that she’s been through, just like the Prophet who turned his experience into a positive teaching for himself and for others.

The Parents

… He was a bright, handsome young man with an attractive leadership quality. They say he took it from his father – a Palestinian “Fallah” (farmer) down from the orchards of Acre, Palestine. He was the eldest of six children, and even though he belonged to the Fallaheen (the farmer culture), he had a love for education. Under the dim light of the lamp-post in the middle of the night, he’d later tell his daughter, I’d read my books and do my homework.

1948 hit, and Palestinians were dispersed like nomads in the world’s desert. He landed in Lebanon at the Palestinian refugee camps in Ayn al-helwe and Rashidiyyeh. In time, he attended university in Beirut.

…. She was a beautiful one from a well-to-do rich, affluent and reputable Lebanese family. She was the eldest of two girls and she had three brothers. When she was two months old, her father passed away, so she was sent to live in Jordan with her father’s family. She grew up and sprouted into a young woman who knew her grandparents more than her own mother – and later step father.

She came back to Beirut to continue her education. Her mother showed her off to the entire affluent Lebanese community – the beauty of the town! A girl like her, she’d later tell her daughter, would only marry the best of the best. Heck a Prince! A King!

A leader in so many ways, he excelled not only in his education but even in his political journalism. After school, he’d interview prominent figures in Beirut and publish about them whenever he could.

She joined the student Dabkeh (folklore dance) club, and he covered a story on one of their performances.

He was Palestinian, she was Lebanese. Palestinians were, and continue to be perceived as third rate minority citizens in Lebanon.

Her mother did not like how he proposed to her daughter who is supposed to marry the best of the best. Her mother said, “look, there are three suitors asking for your hand”, she’d later tell her daughter, “ you have to choose one”. Frustrated, she said, “I don’t want any of them. I want the Palestinian”.

…. To Be Continued ….


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