A few weeks after my release from 11 years in prison, I was in the waiting room of a hospital in central London when I heard a sound. It sounded like the wail of someone in agony, someone who was unable to articulate their pain in words. I scanned the room until my eyes stopped at a boy in a wheelchair. He was in his late teens, perhaps around 19. His chin was resting on his chest, his tongue was hanging on his lips and he was dribbling. As soon as he moaned, a Somali woman in a headscarf rushed to him and put her hand on his head until he quietened.

A short while later, I left the hospital on my way out. In a corridor far from the crowded waiting room I saw the same boy in the wheelchair. Sitting on a row of plastic seats next to him was that same Somali woman. She had sandwiched both of her hands onto one of the boy’s hands. With the palm of her upper hand she was stroking the back of his hand and speaking loving, comforting words to him. She was smiling.

The scene triggered a memory in my mind of a disabled relative that I once had, a young girl named Sana who died at the age of 8 after being born mentally and physically disabled. Her umbilical cord had been wrapped around her neck during her birth, starving her of oxygen. Shortly after Sana died, I saw her in a dream with her parents. She was perfectly normal and speaking and acting like any other child. (The disabled are cured of their disability before they enter Paradise.)

I walked past. Then I stopped and turn around. “Is he your son?” I asked her. She nodded as if to say yes. “How old is he?” I asked.

“19,” she replied.

“What is his name?” I enquired.

“Khalid,” she answered.

I looked at the boy and said, “Assalamualaikum, Khalid.”

“He can’t reply to you,” Khalid’s mother replied with a smile. “He is disabled. He can’t speak.”

“I know he can’t reply to me,” I told her. “But I know he can hear me.” I then went onto ask her about Khalid’s disability. “Has he been like this since birth?”

“No,” his mother replied. “He has been disabled since the age of four.”

He has been disabled since the age of four.

Shocked at her answer, I asked her to clarify. “You mean, until the age of 4, Khalid was a perfectly normal child, like any other child?”

“Yes,” she replied, still smiling.

The image of Somali children being killed and maimed in war was the first thing that came to my mind. “If you don’t mind me asking, would you share with me what happened?” I continued.

Khalid’s mother then went on to describe to me what happened. “He was riding a bicycle. He fell down and bumped his head. And that was it.” The woman had five other children, but Khalid was the youngest. Khalid was the baby of the family. The accident happened in London, not Somalia.

I was lost for words. So I just said what I felt. “Only Allah knows the pain and suffering that you have gone through during these last 15 years of caring for your son day and night. But tell me, is it not true that your life is richer today than it was all those years ago? That you appreciate life more today than you did before this happened? That you now have something to live for, to wake up for every morning? That your life now has a meaning and a purpose that you didn’t know before? Am I right?”

She smiled and replied, “Yes, you are right. Alhamdulillah [Praise be to God] for everything.”

As I prepared to end the conversation, I said to her, “Remember that whatever you have been through is not for free. What I mean is that you have got, and will get, something out of your suffering more than you have lost. Allah does not derive pleasure out of putting His servants through pain and suffering. It pains Him when His servants are in distress, but He does this for a wisdom and a purpose that we can never imagine. Allah will reward you for your suffering. And one day you will be able to enjoy Khalid as a healthy man, free of disability. Never forget that.”

I put my hand on Khalid’s head, bade him farewell then walked off in awe at this magnificent woman. A woman who had been through 15 years of unimaginable suffering but was still able to smile. Later that day I told my sister about my conversation with the mother of Khalid.

“Why didn’t you tell her who you were and about what you have just been through?” my sister suggested. “It would have given her hope.”

“I didn’t talk to the woman because I wanted to tell her about myself,” I replied. “I wanted her to tell me about she was going through. And besides, what I went through is not even a fraction of what she has gone through.”

No-one’s life is without suffering, without pain. Sometimes in the midst of our own worries, we forget that there are others worse off than us. Thinking of others worse off than us helps us to appreciate that while we may not have everything, we all do have many things to be grateful for.

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