“Everything remains inconclusive, even our fasts and prayers,” Ali muttered. He fasted all month and spent the last 10 days of Ramazan in the mosque.

Ali is always in religious mode in those 10 days. His days begin with fasts, progress with ritual prayers and end in supplications to the Almighty. He returns home only after the Eid moon is sighted.

But this year was different. Ali had never confronted so many internal distractions as he did this year. He was unable to focus on his prayers. He was not getting the same satisfaction from the fasting as he did before. He felt that even his ‘dua’ lacked sincerity.

For 20 days, the Alif Laila Tavern, Virginia, gave him free food. “Remember us in your prayers,” the tavern’s owner Javed would say every time Ali offered to pay.

On the 20th day, Ali, a Virginia cab driver, locked his vehicle and went to the mosque, devoting the next 10 days to seeking Allah’s blessings. But every time he thought of compensating Javed, he thought of only one option; buy him a bottle of whiskey. This was the only gift that pleased Javed.

Twice he thought about it while saying his prayers. This shook him. “Only a sinner can think of alcohol inside a mosque,” he said to himself. “Surely, I am a sinner.”

This brought tears to his eyes. “All my prayers have gone waste. All I earned is sin. Forgive me, O Lord,” Ali said quietly but was not sure if he will be forgiven.

So he tried to focus on something pure and unadulterated; untouched by sinful thoughts. An act of kindness, with no ulterior motives. Love so pure that it can only be felt, not expressed. A thought as innocent as dew on a rose petal.

Ali remembered how a certain Haji Saheb fed dozens of people every evening when they came to the mosque to break their fast. It definitely was an act of pure kindness. But one day, he heard the Haji Saheb telling a companion to make sure everyone knew that his shop sold the best food in the town.

It hurt Ali. “It still is a kind act but not really selfless,” he said.

“Love your Lord, more than you love your parents or children,” said a preacher after the evening prayers. “Don’t seek compensation for loving God. No rewards. No salary. Love God for love’s sake.”

This convinced Ali. “This is love; unadulterated and unsullied. Complete in its purity. Boundless,” he said.

The next evening, he waited eagerly for the preacher but he did not come. And someone said he will not come again because he was not happy with the “honorarium” he was getting and wanted a raise.

“It is no sin to seek a better salary,” Ali thought but the news did hurt him.

Now he was looking for one innocent act that could wash away this unexplainable guilt that Ali was suffering from. He looked around and saw a group of children – between 10 and 14 – serving food to worshippers at the pre-fast meal.

“There you go,” he said. “I wasted so much time looking for kindness, love and innocence. And yet ignored these innocent angels. See, they are up at four in the morning to assist the worshippers.”

The children indeed had no vested interests. So Ali went to them and asked what motivated them to do this.

“Doo, doo, didi, dada,” said one of them.

Ali thought he did not understand English, so he repeated his question slowly.

“La-la, la-la, la,” said another child and all burst out laughing.

Now Ali realised that they were making fun of his South Asian accent. He understood that children sometimes do become impulsive and act rashly. So he was not upset.

But he was sad because so far he had failed to find one perfect act that could end his depression.

Two days later, it was Eid. And that too started badly for him. The prayer hall that he went to had four namaz. He went to the third, led by a young student from a seminary.

After a long-winded speech, the Imam started the prayer but forgot the additional ‘takbeers’ said at Eid. So the namaz had to be said again.

“I am on a useless pursuit. There’s no perfection in the world,” Ali said. The thought added to his depression.

As the prayer ended, everybody rushed out. This blocked traffic. The drivers started honking; an act looked down upon in the West. This brought the cops. They started blowing their whistles.

As the crowd tried to move out, new people came in for the next namaz, it created so much confusion that Ali gave up his search. He sat on a roadside stone, watching the crowd but not focusing on anything.

An old man in the traditional Afghan dress came and stood near Ali. He raised his right hand and a younger member of the family started kissing it. Some teenagers, obviously brought up in America, ignored him. This upset the old man who waived his hand angrily. The parents noticed this and forced their children to kiss the grandfather’s hand.

“This is just custom, not love,” said Ali.

Then came a teenage girl. She had scores of boils on her face, which had almost disfigured her. She looked very upset and it was obvious that she had been crying.

Her father tried to console her, saying that he had already spoken to her doctor and the medicines she was taking would cure her. She would soon be OK.

But the girl could not hold her tears. The father moved ahead but the mother, who was holding her, kissed the daughter on both cheeks and said: “I am here, my love, I am here. Look into my eyes, see how beautiful you are.”

The daughter held her mother tight and wept.

The mother wiped her tears and said: “Children who have mothers do not cry” and held her so warmly that it brought a beautiful smile on the girl’s face.

“Who says there’s no perfection in the world,” said Ali, and moved ahead, also smiling.

Anwar Iqbal is a correspondent for Dawn, based in Washington, DC.

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Comments are closed.

Comments (25)

August 10, 2013 6:00 pm

Confused ... and confusing..

Samir Gupta
August 10, 2013 6:35 pm

Simply outstanding. Very touching story telling

G Aly Khan
August 10, 2013 6:57 pm

A lovely piece, i hope my misguided countrymen could realize the difference between Nake & Shareef

August 10, 2013 8:08 pm

Perfect illustration on the theme - mother's love is the only thing perfect in the world.....It was a worth-reading article...

August 10, 2013 8:58 pm

The story would have ended smoothly had Javed been given a more non-controversial gift by Ali. So much fuss about a non-issue! There are better ways to highlight the imperfections of this world... just like this imperfect story.

August 11, 2013 12:42 am


August 11, 2013 5:34 am

Indeed! A mother's unconditional, selfless and boundless love and compassion for her children are the closest things to perfection you can see in this world. This cuts across colours, creeds and clans.

Beautifully told. Brought tears to my eyes ....

K B Kale
August 11, 2013 6:26 am

What a wonderful article, Me. Anwar Iqbal! The message of "perfection that is mother's love" brought tears to my eyes. I am an Indian Hindu but I realised how mother's love is above nationalities and religions! Thanks for this touching article!

August 11, 2013 8:03 am

Once I was also searching for the same unconditional Love that Ali was searching. I didnt find even mothers to be Loving their children unconditionally. I found out that mother Loves because it is "her" child because "she" had suffered pain for the child and because this child when grown up would be "her" child and would bring "her" a good name and so on. While I was thinking about this I concluded that "Allah loves unconditionally"......everyone has some motives to satisfy himself, nowhere did I find a single man who is unconditional about his/her love but Allah who has no motives because He is self-sufficient.

muhammad issa
August 11, 2013 10:43 am

this is really superb way to impress the feeling of the rest of people.such type of simple inner feelings are obselet in our society l.e pakistan.we need to spread messages like this to preach the real love and feelings of doing good.

August 11, 2013 10:55 am

What is the point the writer is trying to make.... A perfection of means, and confusion of aims, seems to be our main problem. folks I had nothing to offer anybody except my own confusion.

Muhammad Shahid
August 11, 2013 1:51 pm

Nice article, Evaluated the psyche of people

Islam has within us, only up to lip service It is a sad truth

Being human
August 11, 2013 2:04 pm

Simply outstanding. Hats off to Mr. Anwar Iqbal. Keep writing.

August 11, 2013 6:30 pm

The moral of the story is we need little more humanity for humanity sake and stop using "religion" for personal worldly gains!

August 11, 2013 7:53 pm

Allah is only perfect in this universe.

August 11, 2013 8:20 pm

This is deep, thank you. And it's all very true... we're all searching for perfection.

August 11, 2013 9:09 pm

The brilliant writer.....but i did not understand what Mr. is trying to convey. Mothers and marriages are same across the world. Neither i can say Ali was protagonist in story. Confusing and confused.

August 12, 2013 4:18 am

Absolutely beautiful! Hit home with me. Consider this comment an "act" of kindness :)

Adam Bayzar

August 12, 2013 6:15 am

No question about motherhood; Islam does come to rescue eventually who fear Allah. Please tell Ali to have a look on his earnings if he's doubtful about his prayers.

syed munawar shah
August 12, 2013 1:47 pm

@Anees : ignorance is blessing, confusion is also blessing, it keeps you going with your search and struggle else you are dead. perpetual motion of body and mind is life.

August 12, 2013 3:49 pm


Naseema Perveen
August 12, 2013 5:42 pm

Its splendid writeup, it may be confusing for many of the readers as many of the people have commented but the this is very nice article for those who can understand.

P K mara
August 12, 2013 5:53 pm

Desires make you sad, Is it not a desire to search for perfection on others?. 10 days spent in self introspection is far more productive than just eating, sleeping, praying. The person who has the eatery is far more useful to the society than this cab driver. (I THINK).

Asif Aziz
August 13, 2013 2:55 pm

And Allah loves mankind 70 times more than a mother. Well written, with few disconnections in between. We as humans knit our concept of perfection around expectations. Looking at others would be injustice, because one has to look for his/her deeds to others. Then only we can start to move towards the idea of perfectionism within our acts in this society

August 13, 2013 5:50 pm

A perfect piece of writing.

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