One day, the door bell rang. It was my neighbor of three years, Ambuli she and I never talk; we just smile at each other every few months or whenever she happens to catch me coming in from my numerous errands and obligations. You see she speaks Malayalam, a south Indian language, I can only recognize, not speak. So, I open the door, and she says, “Give me fifty dirhams.” I first thought to myself, how do you know I have fifty dirhams? Anyway, I gave her a hundred and asked her to find change because it was all I had. I closed my door and thought, how funny. Then I felt flattered to be able to help someone in need.
Somehow she had guessed that I was a good bet and I knew that she was to be trusted to give the fifty back. Also, I thought if she doesn’t, it’s no problem. As a Muslim, this is my duty to help my neighbors. To me, this is Islam. It’s about being acutely aware to things and people around you. Sensitivity and understanding, is part of being a Muslim this I believe.
I know in these times, the idea of a Muslim being as esoteric as this, but for many Muslims, it is. Some say that Islam is peace, but it’s more, it’s a simple submission to the commands of Allah, who has said that our neighbors have rights over us and we have to honor them.
Looking and learning from the world around me, I find a simple a serenity that is available to anyone who wants it. Next time you’re out just before sunset, listen to the birds-it doesn’t matter where you are, they will be there. I guarantee it. These birds are not just in quiet country hills. Down at Valley Fair, in parking lot, where the buses stop, on the Newark-Irvington border in New Jersey, there is an old and broken neon sign. Just before sunset i it is full of chirping sparrows. Yep, in a parking lot full of cars and buses, there is a sign for anyone who wants to listen. To me, this is how I am sure that Allah is real and Islam is the way for me.
There is a Turkish proverb that says, Before you look at the house, look at the neighbors. Ambuli is not Turkish or Muslim, but she knows that she can ring my bell anytime as ask for fifty dirhams. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.