When I arrived at the class, some students had already taken their seats. Finding an empty place near the front next to a seat someone had saved with her jacket, I sat down. A short time later, an elder lady came in and sat beside me, introduced herself, and had just started asking about me when another younger lady in her late twenties walked into the room and over to us looking a bit perturbed. With a hint of displeasure in her voice, she spoke to the lady next to me, "Excuse me, but that was my seat." Suddenly realizing her oversight, the elder lady apologized and moved to a vacant chair at another table a bit farther back from the whiteboard. Satisfied with this corrective action, the younger lady took her seat quickly returning to her naturally pleasant demeanor.
Just about then, the teacher came in to start the class. Being the first class of the semester, introductions were in order, but before too long, he swung into teaching mode and shared with us our initial lesson in this visually and vocally eloquent, although intricate, language. From that moment on, each of the students in the class in their struggle to grasp this precious jewel of Arabic literacy became bonded, especially my tablemate and me. Giving each other supportive glances, we made it through that first class and many more in our endeavor to attain fluency.
As our friendship grew, we became study partners outside of class too. Each time I went to my new friend's house, she was always hospitable and very accommodating when I needed to take a break to catch one of the prayers. I prayed she too would some day strive to complete the practice of her religion by joining me and discovering the blessings in doing so. With our growing knowledge and friendship, I was disappointed when she stopped coming to class, but understood when she told me of her need to give her family more time.
A few minutes ago, I received a call from her, which wasn't unusual because we had stayed in touch over the months since she dropped the class. She was her usual cheerful self, but there was a hint of something more in her voice. "I just had to call you, and give you the good news," she said with a calm joy.
My mind raced with what it could be. She paused. My excitement mounted. "Oh, oh, she's getting married!!!" I thought with tremendous hope knowing how much she wanted to find the right man soon. "Yes, what is it?" I asked with eager anticipation.
"I...," she starts and then broke off turning to a friend in the room with her to ask how long it had been. Unable to hear the voice in the background clearly, I thought with even more hope and increasing happiness, "Oh, she's talking to her fiancé. It's got to be him she's talking to." Finally replying to my inquiry, she said, "It has been two months now that I have been performing my five daily prayers."
Shocked at first by this unexpected news and then utterly thrilled by it, my eyes overflowed with joyful tears as the magnitude of this moment gently saturated me like the refreshing mist of a magnificent waterfall pouring forth out of a lush, green mountain. She had chosen to humble herself before her Lord, Creator, and Sustainer! She has decided to show her gratitude to Him by obeying Him.
"Praise be to Allah! May He accept it from you," I told her in a voice quivering from such intense happiness that it is indescribable. "My friend, I knew you would want to know. I have found a peace I never knew before," she went on with her precious news.
"How did it happen? What made you decide to do this?" I had to ask. Then she told me of how she had been visiting the fiancé of her friend who had recently been murdered and of the unexpected request this recently bereaved fiancé made of her, "Let's perform our prayers." My friend then said she had long thought that some day in the future she would start praying, but she never anticipated that she would begin so soon.
It seems the wisdom of our Prophet's words as narrated by Abu Qatadah ibn Rab'I had struck their hearts:
Allah, the Exalted, said: I made five times' prayers obligatory on your people, and I took a guarantee that if anyone observes them regularly at their times, I shall admit him to Paradise; if anyone does not offer them regularly, there is no such guarantee of Mine for him.
Dawud (book 2, hadith 430)
From that moment on both young ladies started completing their five daily prayers recognizing in the unexpected death of their friend their urgent need to pursue the purpose of life. It was truly the best news she could have given me!