Beautiful houses, neatly arranged

Tall date palm trees, what a wonderful exchange

Little rain during the months of winter

O land you give us back so much better

Sweet gel fruit, with you we break our fasts

Lines of your mother trees, as the traffic goes past

Silent beaches with untreachorous waters

In you we played till sunset, from past noon quarter 

And you O corniche, you magical blue kingdom

Black at night, peace you give on walks that make us soar with freedom

And O athan, the call to prayer, aloud you sound

5 times a day, inviting worshippers to be success bound

And O beautiful parks, in you we played as children

Getting to the swings first, and then sharing with brothers and sisters, different

And O shopping havens, you give us a place for our eyes to feast, for our kids to wander

In you we walk, from you we buy, making sure to not squander

And O open skies, we gaze at you and think of dreams and limitless possibilities

Feeling the rays of heat and commuting daily for our responsibilities

O land, grateful to Allah are we for you,

May He grant you more that is just and true

A few years ago one of my close friends converted to Islam.

It was an enchanting experience, for many reasons.

The first of them being, the setting.

It was in an infamous entrance coaching centre, known for its authoritative, almost dictator like-head.

For the purpose of our story, let's call my friend Bella.

Bella grew up in Saudi Arabia. She was Christian, but was exposed to Islam and texts on it from an early age.

I arrived at the coaching centre's hostel with naive optimism about staying away from home and 
being trained to ace entrance exams to engineering colleges.

Sitting on my bed, I noticed the girl next to me, petite, with a pony tail.

I greeted her cheerfully and went on to have the most connecting conversation that I had in a while.

Always on a spiritual high when it came to new experiences,  I felt something inside in me stir. Call it intuition, call it an out of place feeling, I felt a special pull towards this girl that logic couldn't explain.
In our hostel room, that housed 6 girls altogether, we became close to a third person, a tall intelligent girl from kasarghode, who grew up in Dubai.

It was an NRI (Non Resident Indian) focused training "camp". (Call it a millitary camp if you may).

As a few days went by, I talked to Bella about religion. Initially she evaded the topic with references to Budhism. But later on, I found her curious about Islam and Qur'an.

She expressed her intense interest in the religion and explained that she had read books about it. If I remember correctly, she even owned a translation of the Qur'an.

Our discussions about the Deen grew more intense as the days went by.

One day, during the hostel "study time" Bella writes me a note, expressing her fears about coming to 
Islam. She asked me to destroy it after reading.

But the sentimental part of me wanted to hold on to it as a memento. And I asked her permission to preserve it.

Hesitatingly, she agreed.

I carefully placed it between the pages of my notebook.

Next day, I arrive in class and sit at my usual spot next to Bella in the front.

It was the beginning of chemistry class, but the authoritative dictator head that I mentioned earlier is making rounds. He comes in. I am busy writing something as the students stand up out of respect. I absent mindedly stand up when I realized that he had paused mid stride, halfway down the classroom.

And then with a booming voice he says "Passing notes in class!"

And he picks up a blue piece of paper with a very familiar handwriting.

My heart reached my throat as I recognized it.

Without thinking twice I whisper
"Tawakaltu alallah" (I put my trust in Allah)

I had no clue how that note fell out of my notebook and onto the floor.

And reached the terrifying hands of the head.

He reads out loud from the paper.

"The Hostel food is very bad"

The students start laughing at this.

"What? That doesn't make sense" I thought. Then I realized that he was just mocking the NRI students' lack of patience at the chance he got.

He then mentions a few other complaints to garner a few more chuckles.

At the front of the classroom now, he then starts properly reading the paper, soon turning silent. I see him mouth the word "Islam".

He grew grim as he read it, and then, out of nowhere, I get the courage to stand up and say

"Sir, that's mine"

He looks up, and suddenly his anger changed to mild humility. If there was a miracle, this was one!

"Oh, it's yours?" He says politely, in great contradiction to his character.

"It was written in hostel" I clarified in a quiet voice
"Oh it was written in hostel" he repeats after me, then silently, he hands over the piece of paper.

I noticed Bella's face next to me, petrified.

We got saved.

But this was bound to be a topic of discussion among our peers. This was the next issue.

As the head left and our classes resumed, we were still stuck in what just happened.

That's when the speakers started cackling with an announcement from the head. He named 4 girls who had made a racket in the hostel the night before. They were in trouble.

Both Bella and I heaved sighs of relief as we realized that our peers attention were refocused.

That's how beautifully Allah managed our affairs that day.

Bella relives that day as a clear sign from Allah for her. How else could such dramatic events that had the potential to end badly for the both of us be contained in such an appropriate manner?

Bella ended up taking the shahadah a few days after, with me and the other girl as her witness. In the darkness of the early morning prayer time, before sunrise. We snuck up to the topmost floor of the hostel amidst drying laundry and repeated

"Ash hadu alla ilaha illallah Ash hadu anna Muhammadan rasulullah"

"I bear witness that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad (pbuh) is His messenger"

And for Bella, being a Christian, added

"I bear witness that Jesus is His slave and messenger"

Allahu Akbar.

O dhikr of Allah

I have tasted the sweetness of your nectar

And yet why does the birds of heedlessness steal you away from me

I have felt your sweet presence

Leaving the taste of nourishment for my tarnished heart

And yet why does the bankrupt apothecary of dunya take you away from me

So glittery and beautiful, dunya, you fail to impress

You fail to impress

But O dhikr of Allah

Your sweetness is felt like the breath of a newborn

It is the gift of life

For a dead heart

SubhanAllah when you fall

Alhamdulillah when you feel relief

Astaghfirullah when your mistakes overwhelm you

In sha Allah for the future, unseen

Under the control of Allah, the All Seeing

The darkness of the unseen overpowering

But the delight of knowledge and tawakkul embracing

Comforting, like a gentle mother

Until the madness of the dunya breaks in again

And you get the Shifa of understanding with depth,

You get the company of scholars,

Whom Allah blessed with words of knowledge

With words of cure for the heart

Because what the heart longs

Is for its diseases to be cured

O dhikr of Allah

I will fight for you again, like the warrior in me

Because what could be worse than death without you.