Sun, 14 Jan 2001

A son in his mother's eyes

By Sori Siregar

Zulkarnain was uncomfortable with the praise he received from so many people. His mother has gone to Mecca for a haj pilgrimage. When his mother went to Mecca to fulfill the fifth tenet of Islam and at the time his mother returned home, Zulkarnain was still working in a neighboring country. He went home after completing his contract. It was then he received praise from those who met him. There must be something wrong and unfair, he thought.

"What did you tell people about your pilgrimage last year, Mama?" Zulkarnain questioned his mother one afternoon.

"Many, many things. About the happiness and sorrow in Mecca; Medina, Mina and the journey; about the Arabs and about my friends who suffered from a persistent cough; and about the seizure of Masjidil Haram."*)

His mother told him everything; everything she had told her friends in their regular religious class and to those who came to see her at home. Zulkarnain listened to his mother's story seriously. For him all his mother told him was interesting, not only because the content of the story itself was interesting, but also because his mother told the story so impressively. But he felt there was something still unanswered. Actually, this was what Zulkarnain wanted to know.

"Many people shook my hand then praised me, because you went to perform the haj pilgrimage", said Zulkarnain.

"Yes, I shared my experiences with those who shook your hand".

Zulkarnain smiled, his mothers face reflected her great her pride about last year's pilgrimage.

"They shook my hand not because of your experience, but for another reason. You told them that it was me who paid the expenses for the pilgrimage."

"That's a fact, my son. You must be proud of it".

"Yes, of course there is a little pride. But Mama, you have given so much to us, your children. What we give to you is nothing compared to what you have done for us. Ronggur, Buchori, Azwar and I shared your expenses to go to Mecca. But to people you met you said it was me who paid all the expenses".

His mother smiled.

"In that case they are also busy shaking hands and receiving praise".

Zulkarnain fell into silence. It's good if that is true. But he doubted that people shook their hands and praised them.

"I don't think so, Mama".


"You told those people that I was the only one who paid your travel expenses, not the four of us."

Zulkarnain's mother could not contain her smile. She looked at her son for quite a long time, with pride and affection in her eyes. My youngest son, who used to disobey me. God has opened his heart. Since his marriage, he is the only son who closes his letters with: "Most Respectfully, Your Son".

"Ah," the mother said to herself. "He might think that I had pushed him too far ahead. In the meantime I neglected his elder brothers who also love me so much. I could never have imagined, this beloved son, who used to be obstinate, could change so radically to become a tender-hearted and kind child.

"I always mentioned your name, if anyone asked me about the haj pilgrimage. But it doesn't mean I forgot to mention your brothers' names. They might forget your brothers, but they remembered you because you are my youngest son who was well known as being stubborn and disobedient".

Zulkarnain staged his protest in silence. He believed his mother's story. But his mother's excessive love and affection were too heavy for him to bear.

"I was eager to go to Mecca for the haj pilgrimage after I saw the pictures of you and your wife when both of you were in the holy city to perform the mini pilgrimage outside the haj season. All this time I kept the desire to go there in my heart. I was fully aware that our family couldn't afford it. But after I saw the pictures you showed me I was determined to go. But I didn't express my desire to anyone. But you have a good heart. You could read it well. You said, there were tears in my eyes anytime I saw your pictures of when you and your wife made the pilgrimage. Then, you were my first son to ask me about the possibility of performing the pilgrimage. I can't tell you, my son, how happy I was when you asked me about my wish. You may remember I didn't answer your question at once. Instead of answering, I asked you 'who is going to pay for the travel expenses?' Then you said you would give a quarter of the amount needed and the rest you would ask from your brothers. For me that was enough. More than enough. With that promise you gave me, I went to see your brothers and told them about your plan. I purposely met them before you went to see them. As I expected they gave a good response and they all agreed to actualize the plan in the same year."

His mother's story paralyzed Zulkarnain's protest.

"Was I wrong if I frequently mentioned your name? No. I fully realized that if your three brothers disagreed with your plan, because I was too old to go beside I was not all the time in a good health, you certainly would try to send me to Mecca on your own. I was really aware you would do that, I know you well, my son."

Zulkarnain's feeling of protest has gone and he was relieved when his mother finished speaking.

"You told me, you had gone to every corner of the world. You had visited big cities like New York, Paris, Washington, London, Tokyo, Cairo. But for you those cities were nothing when you prayed in front of the Ka'bah, Islam's holiest shrine. When you entered Masjidil Haram, all the knowledge and experience you had previously was unimportant. When you performed the tawaf -- the circumambulation of the Ka'bah and recited 'labbaik allahumma labbaik'**) since you left Jeddah that evening; all that had really touched me. A child who used to disobey my advice and instructions, had fulfilled his call in advance although it was only for umrah***) not for haj pilgrimage. I was so proud, my son. I have never been so proud in my life".

In his silence, her words echoed in Zulkarnain's heart.

"The intention to perform umrah had been planted deeply in me since we left Jakarta for London to start my three-year work contract there. But I almost forgot the plan because the money we brought home was not as much as I expected. But when I set the plan aside, my wife, your daughter in law, consistently reminded me, 'God has decided that a part of the money we brought home is allocated for umrah, that has long been planned, not for buying a house or a car.' That's it Mom, our noble plan would have been almost forgotten if your daughter-in-law's heart was not open to remind me".

"That's why Zul, Ustaz Ghazali Hasan came to see me and shook your hand repeatedly, because I told him a lot about you. The piety of your elder brothers has long been known to others. It would be nothing special if they sent me for the haj pilgrimage. But your serious effort to be a firm believer had moved my heart and was really God's invaluable mercy".

Zulkarnain nodded. Actually, I was the focus of attention all this time, he thought. I used to be the black sheep in the family. There was a strong reason for my mother's happiness. A son who always tried to neglect the strong tradition of religion in the family had returned as an obedient person with his own conscience. He returned not because of any ordeal; not because of suffering, threat or the bitterness of life. He returned just like that; as if there was a guidance that religion was the safest and most comfortable place to take shelter. God does everything for a reason, Zulkarnain told himself.

The son and his mother gazed at each other.

"Is there anything else you want to ask?'

Zulkarnain nodded.

"Was it true that father wanted me to be an Islamic preacher?'

"Yes", his mother answered softly.

"I am sure that you are disappointed that I became a businessman."

"You have a long way to go, God willing. We don't know what is going to happen tomorrow.

Anything He wants can happen beyond our expectations".

A smile appeared on Zulkarnain's face. He never imagined that he could became a preacher. But who knows, he thought,

His mother read his thoughts.

"Who knows," she said staring at his son who had come to see her in one of her son's houses. The old mother who kept moving from one house to another of her children celebrated her 75 birthday when Zulkarnain came to see her. Only he, the youngest son of the old mother remembered the date of his mother's birthday.

Glossary *) The Grand Mosque in Mecca **) A traditional call during the pilgrimage, meaning "here we are, oh God, here we are." ***) Mini pilgrimage