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September 24, 2005
An Encounter with Reality

by Bint Idris

As I stepped wearily into the Sanaa Airport arrivals area, my eyes scanned the crowd for anybody that might look like an agent sent to pick us up. Actually, there wasnít much of a crowd, just random groups of people in what seemed like a dimly lit shopping and waiting area rolled into one. If it hadnít been such a strange, new place, its simplicity may even have been touching.

I nudged my father along to the rows of plastic seats and we both sat down. Looking around, I was now aware that I was just one of a handful of females, and possibly the only one with her face uncovered. I tried not to notice. As the minutes ticked by, my father decided it was probably best to make a phone call and enquire what was happening. He left me with the luggage as he went to exchange money and find a phone booth.

I was contemplating whether it would be better to rummage around and find my face-veil and put it on, or leave it. I never really did decide, as my gaze fell upon a family that was approaching. An over-sized Arab lady walked forwards in a slow waddle. Her eyes, the only part of her face showing, were laden with thick black mascara and eyeliner and her abaya glittered with heavy silver beading and embroidery. With her were two small children. The girl, a pretty princess of no more than 7, clothed in a frilly white dress skipped along beside her mother. From her obvious excitement she seemed familiar with her surroundings. The little boy too, was a definite delight to the eye. His chubby form was clothed in a bright outfit and a gleeful smile was spread across his fresh little face. As I watched, they walked and sat down only a few rows away.

Trying to busy myself, I inspected the on goings of the airport. My gaze wandered and soon fell upon a pathetic little figure stood in the airport doorway. From his height, he looked no more than four years old. Dressed in a dirty, brown suit, probably worn away with time and his feet bare and dusty from the heat-cracked ground outside. He couldnít possibly be working there, I thought to myself. Heís just a child. But I was aware of the gruesome reality of child labour and was quite horrified by the sight.

I watched as the little figure made his way towards the family I had earlier seen. Did he know them, I thought. But his hesitant little steps suggested otherwise and I was slightly confused. As the little boy approached, the children backed away, as if afraid to be touched by him. But as I looked at the frail, outstretched hand, I realised he didnít want to touch, he was asking. There was an obvious pleading in his posture as he leaned forward and looked at the woman, his hand begging for something. But the woman didnít even look at him, and talked to her children as though the little figure before her was inexistent. A lump formed in my throat and my heart felt heavy with sadness as I thought of this little boyís plight. His head fell against his chest, and lowering his hand he turned around and started to walk away. Oh my God, heís just a baby. Heís a child like those children. How can a mother turn him away like that. My heart ached.

It dawned on me that the boy was walking away from the woman, and walking towards me. I looked at him approaching and tried to smile. As he came closer, trying to remember the little Arabic I knew at the time I asked him, ma ismuk? But he silently shook his head and just looked at me. Now that he was closer, I realised he was probably older than four, perhaps about seven. But the obvious malnutrition of his body and the demand on his delicate little frame had probably slowed his growth. He looked at me with wide almond eyes, from under a tuft of sun bleached brown hair that fell over his face. His face was streaked with mud, and dry from the heat of the sun. I wanted to just reach out and hug him, but I felt paralysed. I could only look. I tried to desperately keep calm as I felt a rush of emotions surge through me. I thought of children back home; at that age most are oblivious to all forms of hardship. Their lives are full of comfort, fulfilling of wants. Above all, children were supposed to play. I could not comprehend this injustice, this unfairness, this failure on our part. We have failed these children.

I was tempted to take him to the store and buy him anything he pointed to. In my naivety, I failed to realise at the time that what this child was missing ran deeper than material wants, above all he was in need of love and affection. But to my dismay, it dawned on me I had no money. My father had gone to exchange and hadnít returned, and I was in possession of no money whatsoever. The little boy pointed to his mouth then held out his hand. The silent pleading in his eyes shook my heart and my eyes started brimming with tears. I held them back as I rummaged through my handbag and drew out whatever snacks, chocolates and sweets I could find and crammed them into his outstretched hands until my bag was empty and he could hold no more. His eyes widened in amazement and a slow smile spread across his tired and worn little face.

I could take no more. Like a flood bursting through a dam, my heart broke and sobs ran through me with a force I had not felt in a while. As the little boy was turning to walk away he saw my tears, his gentle face creased with concern and he cocked his head to one side as he inspected me. I watched as he struggled to hold his newly found treasures in one hand and then held the thumb of another up at me as if to thank me. A realisation dawned on me. This child probably could not speak. He hadnít spoken a single word throughout the time and had only shaken his head at my enquiry of his name. Whether he was born with a problem or whether his childhood neglect had resulted in this, in my mind it was clear. We had failed him. He would probably never get the treatment, or even the love and care needed to make a child emotionally and physically stable. I looked on as he glanced at me one last time, and then with a skip of delight, he turned and hurried away.

I slowly calmed down and as the tears subsided I realised there are many children like little Omar (which I called him to myself). Children of many nations and countries, who due to circumstances are born without basic freedoms and rights. All children have a right to a basic childhood of innocence and play, of education and learning, of shelter and love. Think of our own children, of our families, how distraught we feel at their pain. Our compassion should extend to the whole of humanity. We are all the children of Adam and as Muslims we are all from one ummah. An ummah which the Beloved of Allah (peace be upon him) said, should be like one body, if one part is in pain, it is all in pain. Many of us are in adulthood, but we have not experienced true suffering. We will probably never know what it is like to sleep day in day out on empty stomachs, what it is like to have no home, to have families torn apart, maybe to have never have had a family. It is our duty to take it upon ourselves to show this love and concern to these children like they are our own. And so far, we have failed them.

I called him Omar, because of his strength and gentleness. I do not speak of physical strength, but of the strength of his character. The hardship that the little boy endures is something unimaginable to many of us. Perhaps he had no home, no family, no person in the world that would know if he was to be taken away; yet through all this, he had the strength to smile. Though my meeting him was just an encounter of minutes, the impact was timeless.

of and relating to...
sister said

subhanallah, I am really touched by the story you wrote. I started to cry at the point you were crying. I am sure you set an example to the numerous Muslims that were there in the airport, what is the use of niqab, read Surah Al-Ma'oon.
The fact the boy tried to reassure you that everything was okay. He is being take care of by Allah 'Aza wa Jal. For each being there is a rizq already there. It is offcourse our duty as Muslims to help those who are less fortunate than us. I am sure the boy has family, it was the duty of his relatives really to take care of him, and it is unfortunate they are not able to. If each one of us takes care and watches over our poor relatives, then no one will be without a family or care-taker, in sha Allah

on September 24, 2005 8:01 PM
Talal said

MashaAllah... this is a beautiful piece of writing. It really does hit the heart with a mighty blow.

"I called him Omar, because of his strength and gentleness." <-- I love this line.

on September 25, 2005 12:51 AM
Bint Abdul Khaliq said

As Salaamu Alaikum

Masha Allah...really beautiful and touching..You see alot of boys like that here in South Africa..on street corners,in Parking lots,going house to house..Its very sad.

May Allah soften our hearts.Ameen.

Was Salaam

on September 25, 2005 2:44 AM
Justoju said

MashaAllah. Beautiful...

For those of us who grow up in developed countries, encounters such as these deeply move our sense of injustice. Its personal. Its difficult, however, to keep one's heart from hardening when one sees such sights every day of every month of every year and is taught by society to coldly ignore and keep things impersonal.

Such societies turn man into a 'selective' humanitarian, one that picks and chooses where his rahmah shall fall...which directly goes against the exact definition of rahmah. These societies rob all of their members of a quality that is beloved to the Beloved and that is a prerequisite of vice-regency. When one sees such encounters pity should be felt for both parties, the one being scorned and the one who scorns. Both are being wronged. Both have been failed. Both are in need of Islam.

on September 25, 2005 1:44 PM
Mohammed Irfan Shariff said

I wish i could give brother Omar a hug....

Most significant is how you stated that you can not buy him what he was missing... it was the love and comfort that was missing. Which is indeed priceless.

JazakumAllahkar for the entry

on September 25, 2005 4:11 PM
Rami said

Asalaam Aleikum Warahmatullah Wabarakatu,

"According to UNICEF, 30,000 children die each day due to poverty.

Note that the statistic cited uses children as those under the age of five. If it was say 6, or 7, the numbers would be even higher."

- UNICEF. The Progress of Nations 2000. p. 27. Published 2000. Accessed 14 Sept. 2005,

on September 25, 2005 8:02 PM
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