This reflection is part of Sapelo’s Ramadan 2020 series. To read other reflections in the series click here.
By Kaaronica Evans-Ware
Juz’ 13 (12:53–14:52) encompasses the last half of Surah Yusuf along with Surahs al-Ra’ad and Ibrahim. The Juz’ reminds us of the role of God in human affairs from the story of Prophet Yusef (as) and his brothers and cycles of growth and decay in the natural world to the Angels and the roles they play linking the seen and unseen. Enjoy reading this short story, set in the time of a plague, as the author’s powerful reflection on these reminders.
The Still of Night
She woke just before dawn to the hoot of an owl. She craned her neck and pricked her ears to hear if the call would come again. O, Allah, Has Haaris really returned? He hadn’t been killed? Her heart throbbed at the thought. Haaris had visited her every night for several years before he suddenly stopped one night last year. At first, she believed he traveled too far while scavenging for food. But when Isha came and went for three consecutive nights, she feared Asif had finally made true on his threat to kill him. When Asif denied killing Haaris and had even seemed saddened to have had nothing to do with his disappearance, Sabiya finally accepted that Haaris flew away, perhaps returning to his station. And if so, she may never see him again.
The next hoot never came, so she left her bed to make ablution and prayed tahajjud. When she finished, she folded the mat, grabbed her tasbih and stepped onto the front porch to look at the stars. Maybe it was a dream, she thought as she unwound the beads until her fingers found the minaret. Emptying her heart of all desires besides the words to draw nearer to Him, she began sliding beads across the strand with each beat of her heart.
High in the tree next to her house, perched Haaris, whose glowing eyes were concealed behind large leaves. He peered down at his dear friend, but was forbidden to draw closer than the old tree. His instructions were to not allow her to see him or her heart would reveal the truth. He was sick with what had killed her parents and would soon kill him. The grief of losing her parents and the fear of losing him would only distract her with thoughts of saving him. He would not be saved. His final task was to make her curious enough to go outside and sit under Allah’s vast sky like she had done with her father before he died. She still woke for tahajjud, but stayed in the house. She missed the times they sat outside in the still of the night to worship under the stars until a little sliver of light cracked in the horizon. Not a sound between them other than the slight clacking of their beads.
Now, the scourge kept her inside. That’s what the radio announcer called it; a scourge. Her parents corrected the announcer by calling it a plague before they too died from it, leaving her to manage the family farm alone. After wiping out the neighboring cities, it changed the remaining good and decent men into brutes or worse. Whatever it was, whatever purpose it had, whether it was a plague or a scourge, the distinction for her was insignificant then and certainly now. Sabiya knew only that it left her alone and vulnerable.
Some men came by to check on her. She managed to chase them all away except for Asif who all but declared his entitlement to the farm and to her. He worked the land with her father for five years before her parents succumbed. He made promises to take care of Sabiya if they died. Sabiya overheard Asif’s promises one day as she brought soup to her parents in bed. His back faced the door. He sat on her father’s side of the bed hunching over them in a way that reminded Sabiya of a vulture. He held their full attention with a sincere tone and words of undying love for her but Sabiya’s heart perceived his deception.
“As you know sir, I have loved Sabiya since I first saw her. I don’t think I’ll ever stop loving her.”
“Sabiya feels controlled by you so naturally, the two of you argue constantly,” her mother said.
“True,” her father said. “She doesn’t seem to like you in that way.”
“It doesn’t matter, she will. In time she will love me the way I love her. I will make her love me,” he paused hoping for a few words of encouragement but her parents offered only blank stares, so he continued, “Sir, if you don’t mind, you told me once that you and your wife didn’t love each other at first…that love came later. The same can be true of us.”
“Asif, it is her decision,” her father said. “We’ve told you many times that if she chooses you, then we give our blessing.”
“…it is her decision,” her father said. “We’ve told you many times that if she chooses you, then we give our blessing.”
Her mother changed the subject and asked about Haaris. “Where is Haaris? I haven’t heard him in a few days.”
Asif didn’t answer. His eyes followed her parents and fell upon Sabiya who stood in the doorway holding a tray of food. Silently, he rose and stormed out of the house. He did not return to the farm for ten days, leaving Sabiya and two unseasoned boys to do the back-breaking work alone. Which, she realized was his intent. Perhaps, she thought, this was his protest, an organized abandonment for not getting his way. An intentional desertion to prove his worth. But all he proved to Sabiya was her own worth. His absence caused hardship at first. Mostly for her parents who received their meal after maghrib instead of after asr as they were accustomed. With each passing day that Asif’s enviousness kept him away, her father reminded her, “And upon Allah let the believers rely.”
Guilt pierced Sabiya in an instant when her mother mentioned Haaris. She was too busy to notice he wasn’t there. She placed the tray on the bed between them and handed each a bowl of soup. When they began eating she said, “Excuse me,” and headed outside towards the side of the house. His perch, the one she set up near her balcony, was undisturbed. She’d even forgot to place fresh raw meat for him so the meat she had placed days ago was being devoured by a swarm of flies. Usually Haaris regurgitated pellets by the tree but there weren’t any to be found. He was gone and she had never noticed. She scanned the branches of the tree next to the house. For the first time in her life, she wished she could fly. Too sad to sit with her parents again and bear the dozens of questions they’d ask about his whereabouts, she plopped on the front steps and pulled her prayer beads from her pants pocket. Asif! As much as she tried not to think of him harming Haaris, her mind betrayed her by recalling his many threats to “get rid of that noisy bird.” His worst threat was to tie a brick to Haaris and lower him down the well. Astaghfirullah, she chanted for blaming him without proof and against the fear starting to fill her with panic. She fought every urge to run to the well. She prayed instead. Allah, please return him to me. Alive or dead. Just please don’t leave me in the darknesses of my wondering.
But again, her attention left Haaris, it had to, for her parents’ condition worsened by morning. They died within hours of each other two days later. The young farm hands carried their bodies to the family cemetery where she quietly buried them. “The longer people assume we are still alive, the safer you will be,” her father said, grasping for breath being pulled out of him. “Look for us in the night sky and wait for a sign from Allah. You will know what to do next,” he added. That night, her first night alone, she realized that shortness of breath stole more than air.
Asif returned several days after their burial. Sabiya met him at the front door. He wanted to offer his apologies and personally ask them for forgiveness but Sabiya told him they wished to never see him and that he no longer worked on their farm. When she closed the door, she pressed her back against it to await his retreating footsteps. She bolted and chained the door when they never came. Slowly, he dragged his feet away and walked off the porch. Sabiya watched him walk down the long driveway and off down the road. He kept away afterwards. Aside from glaring at her from a distance, he caused her no known harm. For the next year, Sabiya lived in peace and tranquility even as the food stopped coming to the stores. There were reports of looting and robberies. Still her farm was safe as it was far from the main road. Many drove by without knowing the bounty in the valley. Per her father’s instructions, she used a flashlight or candle after dark, never lights. The farm hands had long since moved on to easier and higher paying work shortly after her parents died. She suspected they returned and took two of her four cows. She kept the cows for milk and would only slaughter them if Allah revealed to her it was their time. Of her chickens, she ate one every season as long as they continued to reproduce. The cows and chickens were all that was left of the farm when Haaris returned.
He noticed them first. Three shadowy figures standing at the end of her driveway just out of view of the porch. Sabiya’s eyes were closed. Her soul lost in remembrance. She allowed the stillness of the night to comfort her for the first time in months. Be silent. Be still. Watch. Haaris reminded himself. The figures drew closer to the house, seemingly gliding in air.
Sabiya felt a charge in the air around her but kept her eyes closed for she was soaring. The world around her seemed to brighten beyond her closed eyes but she remained focused on the journey inward. Whatever it was, whatever purpose it had, she knew in the depths of her heart it was not there to harm her.
They stopped about a yard away from her and waited. When she didn’t open her eyes, the one in the middle said, “As salaamu alaikum, Sabiya.”
Sabiya jolted back to herself with such a fright, she shrieked and clamored to stand.
“Be calm as you were. Return to yourself and know we are not here to harm you.”
Sabiya’s legs trembled so violently she had to sit because it wasn’t safe to stand.
“Wa ̒alaikum salaam,” she replied, in nothing more than a whisper. “I have very little to offer but—”
“We are not here to take from you. We are here to give. Lead us to your storeroom.”
“I am afraid to move,” she said.
“We understand. As I mentioned before. We are not here to harm you but to help you complete your purpose by the permission of Our Lord and Yours. Lead us to your storeroom.”
Sabiya stood on barely stable legs. “Wait here,” she said and turned to enter the house. She grabbed a set of keys that she kept in a box behind the door. She descended the front steps and led them across the yard to the storehouse next to the barn. It was so dark she had trouble finding where to insert the key on the padlock. She looked back at them and smiled at them. “I’m having trouble seeing in the dark. I should have brought my flashlight.” Then, one of them approached her and illuminated the darkness around them.
Sabiya’s eyes lit up with joy. “SubhanAllah. Angels? Really? O, Allah, in the flesh?” she exclaimed loudly before trailing off. “I mean um, I can’t believe it!” she finally uttered, astonished and overwhelmed
“Yes, Sabiya. We have come to help you help others. It is time for you to complete your purpose.”
Sabiya opened the storeroom door and peered inside. It was empty aside from several cans of black beans, two cans of corn, a gallon of oil, and a can of stewed tomatoes. Though she didn’t see the point of storing food for one person, she felt ashamed she had neglected the storeroom after her father died.
“Know that there is no shame in keeping the balance, Sabiya,” the one who greeted her said. “Wait here and do not be tempted to look inside.”
They entered the storeroom one after another with the last one shutting the door behind him. Almost immediately, a soothing, incandescent light filled the storeroom and radiated beyond and through the many cracks and crevices into the night. Sabiya stepped into one of the rays and let it fill her with its energy if it were at all possible for angelic light to work that way. When the door opened, the light began a gradual, very subtle reining in of its brilliance. Just enough remained to reveal that on every shelf there was now food of every kind. The angels stepped aside to allow her entry.
“Sabiya, this is part of your amanah, your trust. Your sustenance will continue to come from your normal sources. What you find here is for the community around you. For forty days we will replenish your storeroom providing the following stipulations: You must give away its contents, in its entirety, every day by maghrib. You must never tell anyone where the food comes from. You must allow no one to enter this storeroom except you, and only you. You are its sole and entrusted keeper. Should any of these rules be violated by your error or the misdeeds of others, we will cease providing food before the 40 days expire. Last and listen closely, should there ever be a time when this trust overwhelms your capacity through no fault of your own, say these words and Allah’s help will come.”
The angel spoke in a language she had never heard before and when finished, the weight of her heart increased with knowledge.
“I understand. I will do my very best.”
“Then you will be successful, Sabiya.”
They vanished. Sabiya locked the storeroom and entered her home. Haaris took to the sky, flying farther than he ever had.
“SubhanAllah. Angels? Really? O, Allah, in the flesh?”
The next morning Sabiya painted “free food” on an old wooden board she found in the cellar. She didn’t have tables, so she grabbed her mother’s stash of blankets and tossed them in the cabin of her father’s truck. She filled the flatbed with as much food as it could carry, which still left more than half of the food. She drove out to the main road and propped the sign on the hood and windshield. A few cars drove by, it’s passengers curiously skeptical. Soon, an elderly couple stopped and grabbed a few items. The man offered to pay her something but Sabiya pointed to the sign and said, “really, it’s free, please take it.” By noon, the pick-up truck was empty. She told those who missed the first round that she’d be back in an hour. She didn’t know where the energy came to reload the truck two more times that day but by maghrib, the storeroom was empty; and the townspeople were talking about the little lady giving away food out of her daddy’s green pick-up truck.
Sabiya awoke for tahajjud with plenty of time to pray and complete her wird. She went outside to sit in her father’s chair. After ten minutes, the storeroom began glowing from within. A few minutes later, it was dark again.
The next morning, Sabiya was greeted by the elder couple from the previous day. They brought several friends. Again, by noon the flatbed was empty. Asif, who she spotted watching her the day before, approached her. “Can I help you? You must be exhausted,” he said sliding next to her.
“No, thank you,” she replied and walked off.
For five days, Sabiya gave away enough food that people stopped grocery shopping all together. The looting stopped.The townspeople began gathering for dinner to share the food, but mostly so they could talk about the little lady with the green pickup truck. Who was she? They wondered. Many of them debated about the source of the food. “Where on earth did all of that food come from?” A man asked as he smeared butter on his brioche roll. “Who cares, honestly? Who cares? Just as long as it keeps coming and it’s free. I do not care,” a man who sat across from him answered. The questions kept coming. Why didn’t she keep it for herself? Do you think she’s an angel?
Asif was present when that question was posed on one of the banquet nights. “She’s no angel. Believe me!” His tone, incensed, on the border of rage, quieted everyone. To their glowering and incriminating stares, Asif retorted, “she’s sweet and all, don’t get me wrong. I grew up with her and even worked for her folks a short while. All I’m saying is that she’s human like the rest of us. Anyway, y’all know her folks, they have a farm a mile from the lake.” Some nodded. Others looked ambivalent but everyone wanted to get back to the joys and blessings of eating.
Angry store owners were the first to greet her on the sixth day. They tried to ruin the food but the townspeople ran them off. Asif watched it all from his car that was parked a distance away. That night, Sabiya dreamt Asif had broken into the storeroom and found it empty. She was anxious — the dream meant he had already been there; but three hours before fajr, the storeroom lit up once again. Sabiya fell back asleep with praises of gratitude light on her tongue. However, the next morning, Asif was there again but stood across the road. She ignored him and passed out the food.
Swiftly, he strode across the road towards the crowd. Sabiya tried to ignore him. She turned away, but he bellowed for her attention. “Oh, Sabiya, won’t you tell us where you get this food?”
Sabiya and everyone around her looked at him but only her eyes pleaded for peace. “Good people, do you know where she gets this food she feeds us? Why is it that we never see her eat it?” He asked them.
They turned to her now. Sabiya lowered the basket of food she held and began slowly backing away from them.
“Yeah, she never eats this food!” she heard someone say.
“Eat the food, Sabiya,” someone else said.
“And where does she get this food?” Asif reminded the crowd.
“Asif, please don’t,” she begged. But he continued.
“Perhaps this food is poisoned,” he suggested.
The townspeople dropped their bags and descended upon Sabiya even though the food had sustained them for days without harm. Some had gotten in their car and drove towards her farm.
“Stop them,” she cried, “or the food will—” She nearly revealed the truth.
O, Allah, save me from the wrongdoing people. The more the people asked, and she remained silent, the more their anger grew.
“Please trust me. There is nothing wrong with this food,” she pleaded, stumbling backwards over an extended foot behind her.
“Then prove it! Eat it,” someone yelled.
“Eat!” they chanted.
“I cannot,” she cried. “O Allah, save me!”
Above her, the clouds parted. Sabiya’s heart began speaking the words the angels placed within it. Her feet lifted off the ground. She rose above the crowd. Her arms morphed into large green wings. She flapped them and up she flew. She hovered in the sky above them before flying away.
The crowd lost sight of her. They looted the remaining food on the road and whatever was left in the storeroom. The next morning, Asif returned to her post by the road hoping he’d see her, but she never came.
For the past 5 years Sapelo Square has been delivering award-winning original content that centers Black Muslims in the U.S. — on a shoestring budget. Help up reach 5 more years and beyond. Donate today!
Kaaronica Evans-Ware graduated from Northwestern University with a degree in Communication. She currently lives in Santa Barbara and is a doctoral student in the English Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. She is also a writer who is best known for her speculative fiction novel Fire & Clay. When Kaaronica is not studying, teaching, or writing, she is pursuing an avid interest in Islamic esotericism and eschatology. She credits both with informing her writing and general approach to interacting with others and the world at large.