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Deeds Within the Dash
بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم
The second ayat of Juz’ 29 (67:1–77:50), a powerful reminder is presented for us to glean upon,
ٱلَّذِى خَلَقَ ٱلْمَوْتَ وَٱلْحَيَوٰةَ لِيَبْلُوَكُمْ أَيُّكُمْ أَحْسَنُ عَمَلًۭا ۚ وَهُوَ ٱلْعَزِيزُ ٱلْغَفُورُ ٢
“He is the One˺ Who created death and life in order to test which of you is best in deeds. And He is the Almighty, All-Forgiving.” (67:2)
When I read this ayat, I think about the line between our birth date and death date. That short little line representing our timeline. The word used in the ayat أَحْسَنُʾaḥsan is an Arabic term meaning “to do beautiful things,” “beautification,” “perfection,” or “excellence.” Al-Fuḍayl ibn ʻIyāḍ stated, “[G-d] tests you to see who is more sincere in deed, and whose deed is most correct and a deed is not accepted by G-d, until it is sincere, and it is correct.” Also, the statement from Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) comes to mind, “The best amongst you are those who have the best manners and character.” Thinking about all of this caused me to pause and reflect on the choices I’ve made, especially as a volunteer with Sapelo Square since its inception.
I remember when the online exhibition ‘Preserving The Legacy: Portraits and Stories Capturing Black Muslim Life (PTL),’ was merely an idea that had not been given life. Through the tireless efforts of all that collaborated on it, we brought it into being. This project was a major test for all involved, especially for me given that I’m the curator and executive producer of the project. Life as I knew it, prior to being the Special Projects Lead for Sapelo Square, is no longer the same. There have been deaths and births, and, in between time, there has been lots of correspondence with so many people involved with this particular special project.
This ebb and flow between death and life tries us all. Although these tests are opportunities for us to improve our character through performing beautiful deeds. One participant from the PTL project exemplified this. In my humble opinion, Sister Zaynab Mansour Ansari’s story symbolizes this Quranic principle within the context of motherhood and sisterhood.
This ebb and flow between death and life tries us all. Although these tests are opportunities for us to improve our character through performing beautiful deeds.
Photo courtesy of Zaynab Ansari
When Sister Zaynab took a portrait for the PTL project, she was accompanied by her son and two daughters. Several years passed, and as we were preparing to release the portraits publicly, I contacted PTL participants to make sure it was alright to share their portraits. When I contacted sister Zaynab she shared that her daughters now cover their hair, and they didn’t feel comfortable with their family portrait being shared. So she respectfully declined to participate in the project. She was still compelled to share a reflection for the category her family portrait was categorized in, ‘A Sacred Responsibility: Raising Children’:
“Allah Ta‘ala revealed in Surah al-Mu’minun in a beautiful description of the qualities of the believers: [the believers are also] those who are true to their trusts and covenants (23:8). When I read this ayah, I always reflect on the weighty responsibility we carry as parents and what it means to have brought children into this world and what it means to be raising the next generation of believers. It’s so easy to lose sight of the awe-inspiring nature of this responsibility when you’re immersed in the day-to-day demands of parenting. Indeed, it seems like the logistics of it all can be overwhelming, and especially when you’re a solo parent like me. (My children lost their father eight years ago when he died in an accident.) However, when I step back for a moment and reflect on this ayah, I see that I’ve been given a very special amanah and while schedules, appointments, doctor’s visits, homework, and groceries are all a part of this, this trust transcends this earthly realm. Allah Ta‘ala has placed these children under my care and I owe it to them to ensure they are raised upon the love of God and His Messenger, peace be upon him. And I am grateful for every day that Allah Ta‘ala gives me to spend time with my children, to love them, and to learn from their laughter, their precious hearts, and their joie de vivre. May Allah Ta‘ala bless and protect all of our children and make them firm upon His religion.”
There is a deep amount of respect I have for my sister Zaynab, and she taught me in this moment the importance of responding beautifully in a situation that could be viewed as unfavorable.
Although knowing our dear beloved sister is a widow and a mother of three, she somehow made time to swiftly respond to me (via email). Additionally, she made time to write a brief statement along with sharing a few informal photographs (simply captured with a cell phone), of her with her son and her two daughters in formal hijab. Her actions (and the photographs) held just as much weight and beauty as the formal portraits and stories we shared within the online exhibit. Her gestures felt intentional and sincere, which reminded me that we all have choices for how we choose to respond in moments that could be viewed as contentious or uncomfortable. She also reminded me that we can set boundaries in a beautiful way.
When I read this ayah, I always reflect on the weighty responsibility we carry as parents and what it means to have brought children into this world and what it means to be raising the next generation of believers.
The Hadith of Angel Gabriel in which Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (peace be upon him) states, “…[Ihsan is] to worship G-d as though you see Him, and if you cannot see Him, then indeed He sees you…” Going back to that small line or the dash between our birth and death date, my prayer is that we all strive to exemplify iḥsan in all that we do, knowing that one day we will all return to Allah. May we all return to our Lord, well-pleased and pleasing.
“…So, when your eulogy is being read
With your life’s actions to rehash…
Would you be proud of the things they say
About how you spent YOUR dash?”
– Excerpt from ‘The Dash’ poem by Linda Ellis
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Photo Credit: Adrian Octavious Walker
Aïdah Aliyah Rasheed has been on the Sapelo squad since 2015 (first as the Arts and Culture Editor and then the Special Projects Lead). She is also a wife, mother, and a multi-disciplinary artist who works as a curator, filmmaker, educator, and visual artist. Rasheed recognizes the power of art and culture as a means of cultivating communal awareness and connectivity. She has worked nationally and internationally with world-renowned artists, fine art museums, and educational institutions. Currently Rasheed lives and works in Kuwait, along with being an educator and freelance documentary filmmaker. When she is not time traveling (between Pacific, Eastern, and Arabian Standard Time) she strives to be fully present with her family, specifically basking in the light and warmth of her husband, daughter, and son.