I am in a mosque near the Toronto airport, which I am told, is actually in Mississauga. I am enroute to Scotland via Toronto. Is this weird? What am I doing here? How Allah invites me and hosts me once I make the commitment to visit his house. Here is my story:
“Are you coming from the airport?” she asks, I stop in the middle of wiping down the wet counter where I have just performed wudu and look at her.
Clad in a flowing black abaya relieved only by a few strings of crystal hanging from the sleeve, her hair covered with unrelieved black with no fringes or color, she appears simple, focused and confident.
She looks at me and it is obvious she comes from my home country, the inflection in her tone, her erect posture and her efficient manner and gracious smile all exude the Pakistani woman who has adopted the efficiency of the west without giving up her culture.
“Yes” I say coming out of the wudu area of the mosque located kitty corner from the sister’s entrance into the musallah.
“Come with me” she says “the people who brought you are waiting for you”
I am perplexed as I gather my things obediently I wonder why the cab driver has come early to pick me up and I follow her out of the mosque.
“Have you prayed,” she asks, “no” I answer.
Come come she says leading me into the street and then up the sidewalk towards the residential area, adjoining the mosque. She walks up to her car in strong long strides, where a brother from Pakistan is waiting. He invites me to come to their house eat with them and pray at their house”
For some reason despite the weirdness of the invitation coming from two complete strangers parked a block away from the mosque the alarm bells do not come on.
“No no……..” I say as my pragmatic side kicks in. “I have come all this way with the niyyah to pray in the mosque, I must pray there. She agrees but insists that I meet her in an hour so that she can bring me to her home for lunch/dinner and then drive me to the airport.
I am stunned by the graciousness that has fallen from the sky into my lap. As I walk back towards the mosque I realize, nothing has really fallen in my lap accidentally, it is a series of events modulated by Allah’s attention to me starting with the moment I made the intention to visit one of his houses for wudu, salah and rest. From that moment on things happened in a sequence that can only be orchestrated by a host who wishes to make the visit to his house most comfortable and pleasant for his guest in transition from US to Scotland via Toronto.
It began with the custom officer at the Toronto airport. She looked at my boarding card and transit time and said “you can go out and get some fresh air, eat something and then return, if you pass through here and she waves to the gate to the transit lounge, you will not be allowed to go out after that and you have a long waiting time”
I had been dreading seven hours in an enclosed glass cage being bombarded with electromagnetic pollution emanating from a thousand sources, huge monitors advertising everything to attract a man or a woman, and to drink yourself silly or into oblivion.
I took her advice and walked out of the airport, stopping at the info desk briefly while he wrote down the name of the nearest mosque to the airport.
Outside was the sleek line of limos with Pakistani, Indian and Sikh drivers. The first limo had an Indian driver and did not know of any mosques and was unfamiliar with the address I showed him. The second man sounded Pakistani, how ever the price quoted seemed expensive…He was apologetic for the price though it was a flat rate, he gave me a card for a prearrange limos which would give me a discount.
The African American woman in the booth for the prearranged limo was very helpful and encouraged me to go to a market or restaurants closer to avoid a large taxi expense.
Disappointed I left the booth, I really wanted the peace and serenity of a mosque in between Dhuhr and Asr Salah, I needed that sense of peace before the continuation of my journey to Scotland.
I walked out of the taxi booth and hailed a cab, the driver was a Sikh, respectful and reassuring. He suggested a Muslim community with a mosque close to the airport and showed me on the map where I could go and also have a choice of halal food.
We drove up to the mosque and it was open, the women’s section was empty but there was a hubbub of activity among children coming and going. From the remote recesses of rooms behind the door separating the women from the main musallah I could hear the serene Qiraat of an adult followed by the voice of child. Canadian accents laced with Pakistani names floated into the sister’s musallah from the wudu area, followed by the squeaking of the door and the semi slamming noise as it was let go by young hands.
I pray in the austere dark room with two tone green carpet denoting the lines of the iqama and then curiosity leads me to the main mosque the entrance of which opens from the brothers entrance. Light streams into the sunlit musallah. The large chandelier hangs in the midst of the green skylight dome, filtering the light from above.
My spirits lift, this is where I want to pray…and yet there are no signs indicating that I can or cannot.
Regretfully I return to the dark room and pray and leave for the appointed rendezvous with the Pakistani lady in the black abaya.
She meets me near the mosque we drive to her home and in a few minutes while I refresh myself for my next phase of travel, she has a six-course meal with salad on the table. How beautiful to see hospitality with efficiency and generosity to a total stranger.
We eat, and I learn that she is the mother of three; her husband has gone to give condolences to a family whose son in Pakistan was killed in a drive by shooting. Her children are at a school fair and she has to pick them up after she drops me at the airport.
We eat, talk about our home country, where a 6.7 Richter earthquake has ripped through the heart of the people of Baluchistan and about the sign of Allah when an island pops out in the Arabian Sea where there was none before.
Nostalgia mixed with a deep respect enters my heart for my blood brothers and sisters from Pakistan in whom, generosity, hospitality and a deep sense of Islam is impregnated in the genome called the Sunnah within them.
It does not matter where they are but the deep respect protection and honor of their women ingrained into them through generations of following the Sunnah in Islam, is untainted by the affluence and materialism around them, at least in this generation that grew up with intact families steeped in the spirituality of Islam as a way of life.
Soon it is time for me to go to the airport and for her to pick up her children, as we part she relates the story of her father in foreign lands earning to educate his family and then succumbing to a terminal illness, her immigration to Canada and her going to high school in Canada……….and thus like the Arabian Nights one story leads into another and we arrive at the airport.
I am left standing outside the departures at the concrete jungle of the Toronto airport with a deep feeling of gratitude to Allah for easing my time between flights and facilitating my visit to His house in Mississauga and sending me His hosts to give me comfort, food and friendship.