English Column: My brother Ismail Kinya
This is Brother Ismail.
Ismail Kinya al-Hafiz. He’s a Kenyan born, Somali-descent brother whom I tagged along during some lucky nights this Ramadhan. Coming from a refugee-background family, he started memorizing the Quran at the age of 8 and finished all 30 juzs when he was 11. Brother Ismail is in Malaysia with 4 other Somali huffaz to lead the tarawih in mosques all over Malaysia. Their aim – to spread awareness about the condition of our Muslim brothers in Somalia, and to collect funds for development and education projects in their homeland, or rather, the Muslim land there.
Accompanying Ismail opened a new horizon of understanding about Somalia to me. This mild mannered, soft-spoken young man, only 21 this year, was always very articulate in describing the situation his people is enduring. His words were short, but precise and sharply hit the spot whenever uttered. “To get food is a question, to be educated is another”, he said.
Ismail shared about dugsi, the traditional religious education system the Somalis hold firmly onto, despite the harsh condition in densely populated refugee camps with almost no facility at all. Under the shades of tree, Somali children memorize verses of Quran and prophetic hadeeth, writing them down using charcoal pieces on wooden tablets called “luh”. After the verses were memorized, they wipe the writings clean using water and start writing again, yes, using charcoal. Ismail just smiled when a friend of his, Muhammad, a Kenyan who was also dugsi-educated cracked a joke, “I want to open a dugsi here in Malaysia…with no pens and books!” Sitting next to them, I just smiled and admired their resilience of safeguarding the words of God, even with the crudest and most primitive resources. Forget iPad or digital Quran, bro!
In one of his tazkirahs, Ismail raised the attention of the jamaahs on the fact that 99.9% of Somali refugees are Muslims but sadly, 90% of the agencies helping them are non-Muslims. He questioned how long we should let this happen when we actually possess the capability and resources to extend a helping hand. He reminded that the Muslim ummah is one, and that he prays like we pray and he fasts like we fast.
He highlighted that the Somalis are people of high potential. Many muhaddiths were born and trained in their lands, emphasizing the great minds his people possess. What is lacking is the opportunity to pursue secular education – knowledge that can be used to develop their country and sustain its people’s lives with basic facilities and technology. With even no pens and papers, how do we imagine them hitting on keyboards and calculators?
Personally, I was deeply touched with an analogy he gave at a masjid not too far from home, last week. Quoting this from an ulama’ I forgot what’s his name, Ismail said,
“When you were first born in this world, everyone was very happy. Your parents were happy, your family was happy and everyone was smiling. The only person crying was you.
But when you leave this world, witness that everyone will feel sad. Your parents will be sad, your family and friends will feel sad and your children might even cry for you. When you leave them that day, let them cry all they want but make sure that you are the only person smiling. Make sure that Allah allows you to smile as you have enough provisions to meet Him and be certain that you can smile as you have left enough for your family too ”
Sitting next to him, translating his words to the jamaah with their eyes planted so seriously on me, I had to kept my composure and control myself from trembling of sheer heart break. This young brother who have so little material possession, who went through so primitive a system of education, talked about collecting provisions upon meeting Allah, one agenda which we so often took so lightly, distracted by the race for worldly gains.
When we complain of thirst and hunger during Ramadhan, their stomach is so accustomed of being empty it knows no special month of the year. When we lament on the time we use to read the Quran, they don’t just read, but guard it with their hearts and clean minds. When we curse the air-conditioner for not blowing at its normal speed, they endure the heat and enjoy the occasional desert breeze.
This Ramadhan is an eye-opener.
This Ramadhan should be our Renaissance.
Thank you, Brother Ismail.