Community. A simple word with so much meaning, so many possibilities. As we continue our search for a community to move to here in the States, I find myself thinking back to different places we’ve lived since beginning our journey as a family, trying to sort out and understand what is truly important, and what makes a group of people truly a community.
Perhaps the community that affected me the most in the last ten years was the one we became a part of when we lived in a small mountain village in the north of Yemen.
Most of the Americans lived in the Mezra’, across the wadi’, or seasonal watercourse, from the neighborhood we lived in, which was right next to the large masjid where most of the classes were held. We consciously chose to live near the masjid because our purpose in going to the village was to learn about our religion, and we wanted to focus on that as much as possible. Living apart from the other Americans also helped us to stretch our wings and learn to relate to the people around us on a level that transcended any nationalistic feelings, removing the patina of familiarity and forcing us to constantly step outside of our comfort zones. It was exhilarating getting to know our neighbors one by one, knowing that what we shared with them was simply our love of Islaam and our hunger for knowledge.
There were Yemenis from several different parts of the country. Umm Ayman, who became a dear friend, who came to my house on Eid and gave a beautiful talk to the sisters gathered there, and who asked my daughter to stay overnight with her when her husband was on guard duty on the mountain. She helped me to learn the power of trust and love for one another for the sake of Allaah. Umm Abdullaah al-Indoneesiyyah, who taught classes in her home for a small and select group of sisters, showed us the importance of understanding and linking our knowledge with action. During her classes she always forced us to push our limits, her gentle nature extending not only to her students but to the cats that had free run of her house. She taught me the importance of recognizing my own ignorance and the striving to overcome it by filling my mind with the light of authentic knowledge. Umm Salamah, who had been the wife of Sheikh Muqbil, the scholar who had established the center, may Allaah have mercy upon him. She taught every day of the week except for two, always on time, always encouraging us and teaching us not only the rulings of Islaam but also the reasons and revelation behind those rulings. Her patience in dealing with the people was incredible, including her patience with my shyness, as she let me sit in the class a whole month before she began calling on me to recite the hadeeth or answer questions. She taught me the importance of learning from the people of knowledge directly, in order to benefit from both their knowledge and their character. Umm Ahmad, whose little family lived in one small room, who always had enough to share with her American neighbors during Ramadhaan. We would exchange a little of anything we had for breaking the fast, making the experience one of giving and gratefully receiving. She showed me the true face of generosity of spirit. Hasnaa’, my fellow American, who, though not a neighbor, would show up on my doorstep just when I needed her, bearing a loaf of bread and peanut butter for a treat for the children, a bag of wheat, or even, on one memorable occasion, a lamb for the children to pet. One day when I was ill she came in, pushed up her sleeves, and cleaned the house, despite my embarrassment over its state. She ignored my grumpiness and put things to right, chatting happily the whole time. She helped me to see the nature of friendship and the face of sisterly love.
So many more people, so many more stories, so many more lessons learned. This is what we are searching for now, a community established upon the love of Islaam and the desire to both learn it and live it. A place where we can share the gifts that Allaah has blessed us with, while at the same time learning from and growing with our brothers and sisters. We know that we will never find the “perfect” community in this life; however, having learned the meaning of community first hand, we have hope that we can find, with the help of Allaah, a small corner of the world where we can share what we have learned from our neighbors and friends from around the world in that small mountain fastness that was our home.