"There was for Saba, aforetime, a sign in their homeland [Yemen] two gardens to the right and to the left . . . be grateful to Him[Allah] . . .But they turned away, and We sent against them the flood released from the Dams [Maarib dam]" (Qur'an. Saba:15-16)
I vividly remember being overcome with awe at the concept of reading.
I was 5 years old during our first few months in England where my father had been posted. I went to an inner city multicultural school, Marlborough Primary School.I still remember its sturdy brown buildings I remember its huge playground where I would race my friends and swear that the blue sneakers my mother got me, were what made me a fast runner. Ah I feel the boredom of sitting in the the wide hall with its waxed floors holding a book of hymns, rebelliously quiet while those around me sung.
My first grade teacher was Miss Lewis. She had a soothing voice that calmed my nerves the first day of school, as I stared at my father in disbelief. How could he abandon me to this strange blond-haired woman. I could not speak a word of English and she did not look like she spoke Arabic either. She sat me down, and I busied myself looking at the letters of the alphabet pasted around the classroom walls.
Months lapsed and I remember speaking English fluently but not reading yet. It frustrated me that I always forgot what my name “looked” like. I would spend far too much time trying to find my drawer labeled “Lemiya.”Occasionally Miss Lewis pitying my confused face would show me where it was. How could these scribblings on the white label also be me?
The time came to finally learn to read. I was introduced to the “book” which would from that point on become my best companion. I carried it everywhere with me, fingering the words on the pages wishing I could prod them into telling me what they were saying.
Finally one day with book in hand I dragged my feet to my mum. She understood. She took the book, opened it up to the first page and showed me how the sound of each letter connected with another to make up a word–the words sounded familiar. As she read the page, I memorized it. But my excitement quickly dampened when I thought how inefficient of a process reading was. Would I have to memorize what every single word looked like? With arms across my chest and pouted lips –which was my way of sulking–I dragged my feet to my mother again and asked her to read the second page. She looked me in the eye and said, “Lamya, if you can make out the words on the first page, you can read ANYTHING.” The light bulb on my head lit up at a 1000 volts–I got it! It was sheer glee !
I could read anything? Anything? Really? From then on my eyes devoured everything readable in sight. I read every carton, bottle, and wrapper around the house. Every sign I passed while riding in the back seat of my father’s blue Fiat. Every book on our classroom bookshelf. I couldn’t get enough.
Reading is truly one of the blessings that I can never get used to. One that feels new every day. One for which I feel I have to show my gratitude to Allah (swt) and yet find my gratitude inadequately lacking and insufficient . Insufficient for the miracle that unfolds right in front of my very own eyes, the one that makes words come alive making me smile, cry, uplifted, high spirited, and connected with my Creator. It is a blessing that compels me to raise my hands in humility to Allah and say “All Praise is due to you O’ Allah” who made me understand the word “iqra” (read) before I knew it was the first word revealed to Prophet Muhammad (saw).