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The Maher


Snowflakes spattered on the windows of the small apartment, but the living room was warm with
lamplight and the deep, rich, woodsy fragrance of oud.  I sat on one end of the big grey sectional beside
my friend and now sister Hasna – the same one who had sat beside me in the mosque three months
ago when I recited the statement of faith “there is no god except Allah, and Mohammed is His
messenger.” 

Her black eyes sparkled just as much now and she exuded radiant even though she was entirely covered
in a dark blue khimar and a niqab. I could still hardly believe that I was here now, my hands decorated
with dark brown henna as Hasna insisted Yemeni brides’ always were, my own head and face covered
with a gold-threaded veil that had been her mother’s. 

I had been an entirely different person just a season ago, but as I looked across the room at Hasna’s
older brother and the small group of men with him, I felt at home in a strange way almost like déjà vu.
Never in my life had I been so peaceful; never in my life had I felt so clear, so light, or so sure of what I was doing.  

The imam cleared his throat to shush the little group, and he spoke without looking up from the legal
binder spread out on the coffee table.  “The last question I have,” he stated to the room as a whole,
“is about the maher. Has the bride stipulated an amount?” He held a pen, poised, above the pages of
the nikah.  

Hasna glanced at me, and I shook my head at her.  “I didn’t set a sum,” I whispered.  
“Ask. Anything you want, ask,” she answered.  “My brother must give it to you to make the marriage
official.”  

I hesitated, but the idea of asking for money seemed strange to me.  Hasna and her family were my
family now and had been like one through the hardest time of my life when my own relatives shut me
out and my mother walked away from me in tears.  Hasna had taught me to pray; she had suggested my
marriage to her brother so that I would never again fear abandonment. How could I ask more than that?  

I looked up and met Hasna’s steady gaze firmly.  “Have your brother give me whatever he thinks is right,”
I answered at last.  “I’m content.”  

The men on the other side of the room said something in Arabic, sounding surprised, but I could hear the
smiles in their tone too.  Then Bilal spoke to the imam.  
“I’m not rich, and I have almost nothing of my own to give. I only have seventy-five dollars left over from
the rent payment, but it is hers right now.”  

The imam noted the amount in the contract, and then he paused.  “Normally we simply continue,” he
said to the room in general, “but I want to speak about this agreement. Our Prophet, peace be upon
him, stated that the best marriage was the one made easy, and the best maher is the one reduced. If any
of you ever feel doubt about this union or question each other, remember this moment. Your wife’s
request is a kind of purity that we do not see enough of these days. Treasure this, both of you, and may
Allah reward you for the modesty and love you both demonstrated today with a joyful marriage.”  

We were married for ten years and had three beautiful boys.  My husband worked long hours, and it was
difficult for me to adjust to being a stay-at-home wife as he requested.  My hands became rough and
scarred from housework, and I became heavier from having three children. But we pressed on.  I never
forgot what my husband, or his family, had done for me, and I always noticed how Bilal gave up his own
self interest for us.  I watched him play with his babies, talk to his sons, and I loved him more and more
as time went on.  

Finally, my husband was promoted to a managerial position, and this happened just before Ramadan. 
We were all thrilled; he brought presents for the children, perfume and earrings for me, jewelry for
Hasna (who lived in the apartment just below ours), and laughed with a kind of happiness I hadn’t seen
in a long time.  The feeling of relief was palpable in our home that night, and when I went to bed, I felt
like a load had slipped off my shoulders. Finally, finally, we could have a good life with our family. We
might not be rich, but that wasn’t what I wanted.  It was enough to have this kind of happiness and to
hear my son’s excited whispers in the other room. It was more than enough.  

On the morning of Eid I prepared breakfast after fajr, instead of before, and waited for my husband to
return from the mosque.  The clock ticked on and my sons chased each other through the narrow halls.
I set out a platter of hot bread and stirred the last of the spicy oat soup on the stove.  Where could Bilal
be? It wasn’t like him to take so long coming back from prayer. The sunshine was turning brilliant at the
windows, and a sick feeling twisted in my stomach.  Could something have happened to him?  

I was making dua when I heard his key in the front door. 
“Baba!” Abdulrahman shouted.  He and Omar charged into the living room, somehow managing to
sound like an entire herd of horses, and two-year-old Ibrahim toddled behind them.  I forgot myself and
dropped the spoon in the sink in my haste to join them and find out what had happened to Bilal.  

Alhamdulilah, I thought when I saw him in the entryway.  His face shone and he had a son under either
arm, tousling like they always did.  But when he saw me, he pushed them back, kissed each boy on the
top of his head, and came straight to me.  
“Eid Mubarak,” he greeted me.  “I have something to tell you.”  

To my astonishment, he reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a tiny red box.  “It’s been ten years,”
he said. “For ten years I’ve had you at my side and known that, no matter what, you were there for me.
Even if you didn’t have answers, you listened to me and told me to hope. You carried three incredible
children and you have raised them dedicatedly and lovingly. Even in the hardest times, you struggled on
and gave to us everything you could. And I always, always think about the day you gave me the greatest
gift – when you trusted and loved me enough to say, in front of Allah and everyone, that I was enough
for you. I can’t tell you how completely that captured my heart or how it has made me feel about you all
this time, even when we were angry or over-tired or just too busy. And I have always, always wanted to
give you something better than we began our marriage with.”  

I gasped when he opened the box and placed it in my hand.  It was a triple-layered silver ring; tiny
crystals along the bands caught the sunlight and flashed sparkling white.  But it was the writing inside
that caught my attention the most, and carefully – almost afraid to touch the beautiful wedding ring –
I lifted it and squinted at the Arabic letters.  
Abdulrahman
Omar
Ibrahim 

“I’ve been saving for ten years,” my husband told me, as the boys came to my side and looked anxiously
into my face.  
“We were in on it!” Abdulrahman shouted.  He pulled my hand for attention, looking anxious and
important at the same time.  “Baba told us last summer and we went with him to the store and told
them to put our names on it. I told them how to spell it.”  

I could feel myself shaking all over from shock and an overwhelming kind of happiness.  How silly I could
have felt, standing there with my hair in plain braids, in ratty old jeans and a striped t-shirt, and this
beautiful jewel in my hands.  But instead, I looked up at Bilal as he slipped the ring onto my finger, and
his eyes were so full of love and admiration that I forgot anything like self-consciousness.  The boys
laughed triumphantly at the joy on both our faces and I reached out to pull them all close in a tight hug.  

People used to tell me I had lost everything by becoming Muslim: family, identity, freedom, and respect. 
But the truth is that I never really understood what any of those were until I became a Muslim and
married Bilal.  And on that day, I felt like not a single one of those words was adequate for what we all
shared together.
____________________________________

Abigail Trumbo
Country: USA
June 2019 Writing Contest

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