Commuter Diaries

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(Note: this article is part of Volume 18, Issue 2 publication, to view other articles click here. To view the ISSUU version of the magazine click here)


I was standing in line for a bus and a few feet ahead of me was a university student in crutches. As I stood wondering what cause his broken leg, a small boy of around the age of 4 or 5 went up to him and exclaimed, “What did you do to your leg?” The university student was obviously amused and replied, “I broke it playing baseball.” Satisfied with this answer the small boy nodded and went back to the end of the line to his mother. I was touched by his concern for the older boy and oh-so-amused at his bold manner of asking. Sometimes it is hard for us as adults to express our concern to strangers in fear of asking something personal. Thank goodness for inquisitive kids! They are at a more innocent phase in their lives and do not trouble themselves with silly concerns regarding proper manners.

by Aisha Ahmed
Travelling home from university, sitting on the train, I looked out the window as the train stopped at a station. On the opposite platform, I saw a man. He was walking towards the tracks, and for a moment, I thought he’d walk right onto them. My heart jumped at the sight, thinking he was mad. What on earth was he doing? Then, all of a sudden he felt the edge of the platform with the stick he held in his hand and he abruptly stopped.

The man was blind.

Sitting on that train at the opposite platform, my heart still racing, I thanked Allah for all of those blessings I take for granted. As I looked around the platform where the blind man stood, I noticed numerous people. In fact, there was a group of teenage boys right next to him. They were heedless of the situation that had just played itself out in front of my eyes. They were so consumed by their gadgets – earphones in, swagger on, and no sign of sight. It was then that I realized how blind we’ve become. We’ve become so consumed in the attempt to fill ourselves that we no longer recognize those times when others need us.

Seeing that blind man today really made me think. Who is it that’s really blind? The blind man recognized his place on the platform and he figured out when he should stop by using his cane. But what about all those standing by his side? Even with the capacity of vision, they remained blind to the assistance that was required of them. There was no concern, no movement, not even a worrisome glance towards the blind man. Those 30 seconds at that subway station may have opened my eyes to one of our greatest and most deeply rooted problem: we’ve become desensitized.

No problem in the world is greater than the discomfort of removing our earphones, taking our eyes off our phone, or taking a few steps because we feel utterly lazy. Those are our justifications, completely blind to everything and everyone but ourselves. And so I wondered what it is that I should do more of: be grateful for my ability to physically see or pray for vision that goes beyond just the physical dimension, somewhere far deeper, somewhere profound.

by Hirra Skeikh
I guess it is only through my commute that I realize the terrible misconceptions that people have of Muslims, specifically hijabis, jilbabis and, most of all, niqabis. I have seen people look confused at the sound of my speech. Who knows – perhaps they assumed that I was an illiterate woman with a thick foreign accent. Lo and behold! They get me and you can just see their faces: dumbfounded. I find it quite intriguing sometimes, smirking underneath my niqab.

One time on a crowded subway, a lady asked me why I wear the niqab. I told her that this is a choice I’ve made because this is something I want to do. Confused, she asked me, “But why?” I said, “Why not?” She understood then that it was just a choice I made, so she went back to her spot. Then, unsatisfied, she approached me again and boldly said, “Did your father force you to wear that?” Stunned, amazed, dumbfounded! I told her, “No. In fact, I had to convince my dad and mom to let me wear it because they find it a safety issue.” I explained to her that some of my friends had to take it off due to the vulnerability of harassment, susceptibility to name-calling and emotional abuse, and parents’ wish to avoid their daughters from experiencing such abuse. She was blown away from this truth. She replied, “Would you believe that! The media lied.” It was a nice conversation. She thanked me for informing her of the truth and went her way.

I enjoyed proving myself through my speech and defying her stereotype. On her way out of the subway, she made a conscious effort to say bye to me before she left. May Allah guide her, Ameen!

by Marwa A.
I will forever be amazed by and grateful for the instantaneous friendships that two hijabis (or two Muslims generally) can begin just by giving each other their salaams or by their exchange of smiles as they pass by one another. They simply recognize one another as Muslim, a believer in Allah and His Messenger, and a sister in Islam. I remember one overcast Thursday afternoon in the winter months in particular, getting on my regular Mississauga bus at Islington station on my way home from class for the day. I sat closer to the front of the bus and a woman wearing the hijab got on after me and sat nearby. Customarily, we exchanged greetings and a little while into the ride, I offered her a piece of my favourite chocolate. She accepted happily and shortly after this we began conversing. Her name was Rouba and she was a mother and wife and lived closer to the city centre, much further down the route than I. After this initial meeting, I would see Rouba almost every Thursday morning; we would take the bus and then the subway together. I would be on my way to class and Rouba on her way to volunteer at the museum.

Early on, she had asked me what I was studying in school. I knew by this time she was Arab and a native Arabic speaker, so I was happy to tell her I was taking the beginner Arabic class at the university. Arabic then became one of the common topics of conversation while we traveled. I will never forget one of our trips, when I admitted to Rouba that I had difficulty pronouncing one of the harder letters when I read and spoke Arabic: ‘ayn (ﻉ). The letter ‘ayn, when pronounced, is essentially a noise that comes from the back of the throat and can be a difficult letter to learn to pronounce for English speakers because the muscles used to pronounce it are rarely used – there is no equivalent in English. It also sounds a little funny when you are first learning it. I’m unable to recall exactly how it started but I can still clearly remember being on the subway with Rouba practicing the proper way to pronounce the letter ‘ayn and the two of us repeating it back and forth. First would be Rouba pronouncing the letter properly and then my failed attempt which probably unintentionally made my pronunciation and the situation even funnier. We repeated this over and over, interrupted only by encouraging exclamations of “better” or “that was good” by Rouba. I remember getting some strange looks as this all took place and understandably people must have thought our exchange of ‘ayn’s had been odd. Nevertheless, the moment has resonated with me as such a humorous occurrence and I treasure it greatly, so much so that I felt the need to share what took place. Like many of us, my commuting experience and my university experience have been two patterns on the same fabric, intertwining insha’Allah to transport me to the next hub in my line of connections. A place where I am certain Muslims will not cease helping one another and the world will not cease being a classroom.

by Anela Zlatic