Salma waited anxiously for the announcement. They were standing in the assembly hall, and the Semester exam results for Grade six were being called out. Usually, Fatima or Salma would compete for the first position. That was where their similarities ended, though.
Salma was always anxious and stressed out over her studies, while Fatima was more composed relaxed, although she, too, always hoped for the first position. Salma sulked and got jealous if someone else got a higher position than her, while Fatima always made a point to congratulate that person.
“Ahem,” the principal cleared her throat. “I have a few announcements to make.” Salma’s heart leaped into her throat. “First, I will start from announcing the semester Exams results, or rather, tell you who came in the first position. In Grade six, we have Salma Nadeem, in a first place. Congratulations!” Salma was so happy that she flushed and walked over to get the certificate. As she passed Fatima, she couldn’t help giving the other girl a triumphant glance and a smirk. Fatima took no notice and sensibly chose to ignore it. At lunch that day, Salma and Fatima were sitting at the lunch table, when Fatima announced that she was off to the Prayer Room. Salma gave her a quizzical look. “What?” asked Fatima.
“Nothing, but…why are you going to pray today?”
Fatima looked puzzled. “And…why shouldn’t I?”
“Well, you didn’t get what you wanted, did you? You didn’t come first, so how come you’re still going to pray, even when your wish didn’t come true?” asked Salma impatiently. Fatima raised an eyebrow. “What, so you think I go to pray only to get what I want?”
When Salma didn’t respond, she sighed and spoke: “Look, I don’t only pray because I want something of this world, it’s because I also want to be successful in the afterlife.” Since Salma had nothing to say, she just nodded. She felt, somehow, that Fatima was superior to her in this way, but she didn’t have the guts to admit it.
The next week dawned early and bright, and both girls leaped out of bed in delight.
“It’s Sport’s Day!”
Fatima gulped down a glass of milk and tried chewing her pancake at the same time. Her mother laughed. “Yes, well, make sure you win a few races!”
Fatima was exceptionally good at running. She smiled and walked out. As it turned out, Fatima did win a lot of races, until people started avoiding being her opponent! All the students were tired and hot as they sat down to have their lunch. Fatima looked worriedly at her watch. It was getting late for Zuhur, and she needed to pray. Confidently, and not a bit concerned at being the odd one out, she walked to her teacher. “Please, may I go to the Prayer room, as it is getting late for prayer?” She asked, politely but firmly. Her teacher frowned. “I suggest you wait until the race finishes, or you’ll miss the most important one, and you have a good chance of winning, too!”
Fatima shook her head. “I wouldn’t mind missing that, Ms. Maryam, but I can’t miss my Salah.” Ms. Maryam sighed, and allowed her to leave, watching as she walked away.
Salma, who was also watching, gaped. Why on earth did Fatima leave, and miss her chances of winning her team? “She must be crazy,” Salma thought. “Never mind, I’ll ask her later.”
She tackled Fatima after a while when they were returning to school on the bus. Fatima willingly explained. “Salma, Salah has a reason, and I can’t afford to miss even one prayer because if I do, how will I answer Allah on The Day of Judgement? That I missed it because of a silly race?” Salma looked thoughtful. “But you’re missing out on a lot of fun! You could have won, and you would get all the credit.”
Fatima shrugged. “I don’t want credit, thanks.”
“Yeaaaah!” Fatima and her classmates were yelling, each in their own house. “Today’s the last day of school! Spring Holidays soon!”
Yes, these were the last days of school, and all the girls were giddy with excitement, not just because of that; they were going on a field trip that day, celebrating the end of the semester. All students reached school early for once, thinking that as it was their second-last day, they might as well spend it in ‘orderly fashion’ as the principal so often said. They were going to a museum, and the girls were very excited. The bus jolted, and they were off, happy, and in the mood for singing. When they reached there, Fatima and a great many other girls were amazed at what they saw and did at the museum.
All in all, it was an extremely successful trip and one that Fatima enjoyed the most. But, as they were returning to school, an awful thing happened. The bus, which was bumping merrily along the road, suddenly came to halt, throwing many girls back and causing them to scream. The driver and the teacher got out seeing what the matter was, and it was soon discovered that there was a problem with the tires. They would have to call a mechanic to fix the problem, but the nearest mechanic was ten blocks away, and they would have to wait.
Fatima watched anxiously as the girls moaned about how tired they were, and some played on their phones, calling their parents, some were wasting everyone’s time by groaning about the heat, but she wanted to pray, and it was getting very late. She sighed, and with the teacher’s permission, prayed on the sidewalk; she didn’t have a choice. Salma, watched her, feeling a sudden surge of anger.
When Fatima had finished praying and had returned to the stifling hot bus, Salma confronted at her. “So, you think you’re being pious by making a show in front of everyone and praying on the sidewalk?”
“What do you mean? I’m not being pious or making a show. It was getting late, and I had to pray,” Fatima replied. Salma disliked her calmness. “You’re deliberately making a big show of asking the teacher and praying on the sidewalk so people think you’re a great Muslim,” she spat. It was curious to see her in such a rage over a little thing, but maybe it was because she felt that Fatima was more mature and acted much older than her, though they were the same age. “Well…” Fatima said, about to spring a retort, when the teacher’s relieved voice suddenly floated in their ears. “It’s done, girls!” So, within a few minutes, everything was fine, but Fatima’s chance to knock some sense into Salma’s head was gone.
The Spring Holidays were over, and the sixth graders groaned; the thought of going to school again for three more months filling them with despair. Salma, for her part, was anticipating this day with nervous anticipation.
School went on as normal, until Lunchtime. Fatima walked away, but Salma ran up to her and grabbed her arm. “Fatima, I’m sorry for what I said that day on the bus, I didn’t mean to be rude.” Fatima smiled. She had almost forgotten the incident. “It’s okay, no hard feelings.”
Salma smiled in relief. “Thanks, but…I need to tell you something. A few days ago, dreamt that you were on a stage, being awarded for something, and the room was flooded with brilliant light, and there were angels all around…”
“Wow,” Fatima laughed. “What a nice dream.”
“Thanks, but that’s not why I came here,” Salma hesitated. “Over the holidays, I realized that you are better than me in keeping track of your prayers. If you don’t mind, I’d like to join you in the prayer room from now on.”
Fatima’s face beamed happily while she led Salma towards the Prayer Room, the amazed eyes of their classmates following them.