This article is written by Fazal Bahardeen, CEO of Crescent Rating about his late mother. As Muslims, we know that Jannah (Paradise) lies at the feet of our mothers. Like many people of that era, his late mother’s hospitality and selflessness was amazing. We need not just remember them in our prayers but resurrect their values of servitude and hospitality. The impact of their contribution will be felt for generations to come.
My mother passed away last Monday, and I thought I should share the story of her amazing determination to educate her children in very trying conditions. I am what I am today is simply because of that. It is also to reflect on how much we owe them, yet somehow we do not give our Mothers all the love and care that they require when they reach old age.
She lost her own mother when she was less than 2 years old, her father at 7 years, and was brought up by her grandparents. Married at the age of 24 (considered rather late in those times), lost her husband (my dad) at 48. She only studied up to grade 6, but she made it her relentless pursuit to make sure her kids did not miss out on education; that is the reason I am here now. While my dad struggled to make ends meet, she was determined that we did not miss school no matter what the conditions were, and our financial conditions during most of my early schooling days were not good.
I vividly remember one defining moment in my early “education”. I was probably around 4 1/2 years and was attending a Montessori school. She would walk me to school every morning which was around 500 meters from home. One day for whatever reason, when reaching school, I refused to enter the school. She had to bring me back without attending the school that day. That evening when my granduncle returned from work, she told him about the incident. He gave me such a beating that for my entire schooling life, I did not miss school for more than 20 to 25 days. Those days must have been because I was either very sick, or there was very heavy rain.
Such “corporal punishment” does not have a place in our society now, and there are far better ways of parenting these days. But it definitely worked for me in the 1960’s.
We went to a public school. During some of those years, I had to manage with only one set of school clothes and one pair of (damaged) shoes. One generation later, my kids went to one of the most expensive private schools in Singapore. That happened only because of how seriously my mum took to make sure we stayed in school. During my early childhood, our neighbourhood had gang violence. Almost all of the kids I played with in our neighbourhood never completed their O’ Levels, let alone University. Most of them in their later years fell victim to alcohol and drugs. It is amazing now to realize how my mother had managed to protect us from all of that.
She also made sure we had religious education. She ensured that we learned to read the Quran from a very early stage and was sent to Sunday school for religious education. Now two of her grandsons and one granddaughter are Huffaz (Have memorized the whole Quran).
She was no “tiger mum”. I cannot remember her spending time with us doing school “homework”. She must have done that when we were very small. Anyway, in those days, most often after school, we rarely touched any school books at home. We came back from school, had lunch and then spent most of the time outside the house. We played bare foot, cuts and bruises were just normal. My mum made sure we were back in the house before Maghrib (sunset).
Given her limited formal education, when it comes to schooling, the only thing she could do was to absolutely make sure we went to school and never miss a school exam. I probably never missed one. For her, exams were sacrosanct. She was always present at any parent-teacher meetings, while my dad was busy earning a livelihood.
After both my brother and I moved out, she lived with my sister and was equally determined with the education of my sister’s kids. Even during the last few years, she would accompany them to school when no others could go. She was also blessed to be surrounded by great-grandchildren. She would make sure that the eldest of them (her great-granddaughter) went to her Montessori on time! May Allah bless my sister and her kids for taking care of her. Unfortunately for most of our generation, the best care we are able to give for our parents is to confine them to elder care homes.
I’m not sure what made her be so determined when it came to educating the children. We were a lower income family with my dad struggling to put food on the table at times. It was not very normal that someone with her background was so single handedly determined on education. I regret never asking her why.
My grandmother was the eldest of her siblings. She was from a “Moor” family. Most Sri Lankan Muslims ethnicity is classified as “Moors” since one of the theories is that they are the descendants of Arab traders who settled in Sri Lanka sometime between the 8th and 15th centuries. She was married to my grandfather who was an Indian trader from the “Memon” community of Kutiyana, Kathiyawar, in Gujarat, India. My mum was born in 1938 in Colombo and when she was around 6 months old, my grandfather took her and my grandmother to Kutiyana. While in Kutiyana, my grand mum passed away. Probably within 6 months of them getting there.
When my great grandfather heard the sad news, he was determined to go and bring his granddaughter back to Sri Lanka. He went on his own to Kutiyana sometime in 1940 and brought her back to Colombo. My mother must have been around 2 years when she came back.
She told us that her father used to come and see her on Sundays until she was around 7 years. He sometimes used to take her to his place where he was living with his wife (he married again in Sri Lanka). She assumed that he must have passed away when she was around 7 because he stopped visiting her. Unfortunately, we have lost all connections to my grandfather’s roots in India. She married late for a girl at that time. Possibly because they were not well to do, and she was an orphan.
I am sure my great-grandparents were very close to her and doted on her. At that time it was not very common for a Muslim girl to go to school in that community, but she was sent to school until she was probably around 12 years.
That was her challenging experience and upbringing as a child, and even later in her life losing my dad very early. She must have sacrificed a lot to get through, but she rarely showed that.
She was blessed to live the last 65 years of her life in one house, the house that her grandparents settled into. There was a steady stream of people who would come to our place from the time I know. If it was meal-time, most of them did not leave the house without having whatever food we had at home. You don’t have to inform in advance that you are visiting us. Anyone could, and did just walk in. They still do. She was very generous in giving. In her later years, no one who came to visit her who was in need left empty handed. She gave them whatever she had.
Whenever I visited Sri Lanka, I stayed with her. But now going back home would never be the same. I will miss all the warmth she would give me whenever I visited her. Up until she fell ill 3 months ago, she would try to take care of me exactly the same way she probably treated me when I was a kid. Worried whether I was eating properly, taking my medications, resting enough….
This generation is probably the most “connected” generation of human history, but they are also probably the most disconnected with their siblings, cousins, parents, grandparents, uncles, and aunts. I did not have the privilege of seeing or being with any of my grandparents. All my grandparents and my great-grandfather had passed away before I was born, but I cherished my time with my great-grandmother. Until she passed away, when I was around 10, I mostly slept near her. In her last years, she was blind but never missed Salat, even at that age (she was around 90 when she passed away), and would go to the bathroom even at Fajr, to do wudhu on her own.
I am sure many of our Mums have gone through such challenges to bring us up. Unfortunately, we are a generation that needs to put reminders on our calendars to call our parents when they are old and not living with us. I tried my best to call her at least once a week. Sometimes due to the rat race we are in, I would miss calling her for a couple of weeks. Then I would get a message asking to call her. It was mainly to check if everything was Ok with me. I wish I had talked to her more often!
She leaves 3 children, 12 grandchildren, 6 great-grandchildren. Among her grandchildren are Huffaz, Quran teachers, graduates, school teachers and engineers.
May Allah (SWT) bless her, forgive her, have mercy on her and enter her into Jannathul Firdouse without Hisab. Ameen
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