Married in his twenties, Awwal ibn Muazzam al-Tariq and his wife, secure in finance thanks to Awwal’s dealings in pearls (the “most successful seller of pearls in Jam,” according to Wadud), lived a happy life and wanted nothing more than a child. As much as they tried, he’d said with a subdued laughter, they could not. “I fell into a great despair—” He didn’t bother to wipe the tears streaming down his face. “—and became violent toward my wife. I did not beat her, but my violence greased my words and like grease, I often caught fire. I was out of control though I knew what I was doing was wrong. You ever get like that? You get so caught up in doing what you’re doing, even though you know what you’re doing is wrong? I kept hearing myself saying, ‘stop, stop, stop!’ but I didn’t, I wouldn’t. So the deeper I fell.” He sniffled.
“One day I realized I was pulling her down with me and as much as I did not want to, I suggested we divorce. She didn’t want to either, but she saw in my eyes I did not want to hurt her any longer. Reluctantly she agreed. Some years later, both in our late twenties, she remarried and had that child.” He sighed. “So beautiful her daughter was, the two of them really. My wife glowed. She was happy and I was happy for her. Of course I knew I was the reason we could not have children and I realized I would forever be without child.” He eyes dry, he wiped his face.
“I tumbled and I drank myself to a bottom I never thought existed. I lost my money, my home and one day, when I was out
on the street, begging for money so I could buy some more wine, a man named Hayy abu Mutahhar ibn Mukhallad al-
Kausir gave me water and told me I should be happy I was still alive. Funny thing was, I truly believed I didn’t deserve to be. You ever feel like that? That you don’t deserve to be alive? Like you just want to cut yourself, but not so deep that you actually die? Just enough to see the blood to remind you that you are alive? Even though you don’t want to be? But in those very words I felt a peace the likes of which I had only seen in my wife’s eyes after she had her child. Hayy’s stored it too. He knew I was poor and suggested I embrace it, suggested I join the poor. I asked him if he was a poor and when he said yes, I said okay. I was willing. Simple as that. And I’ve been a poor ever since.
“You see, I wanted to know why, why I could not have child. I searched and searched for answers but to those questions, those questions of where these things begin—I never received an answer. Who knows who knows the answers? The Exalted, I presume, but all I know now is that I am alive and I am staying alive and many wondrous things fill my life, so much so my gratitude overflows. You, for one, seek similar answers. You want to know why—you want to know why you suffer and why others suffer. If I have learned anything, I learned there is no reason—suffering just is. And yet what seems peculiar about you, in so far as what you have told me, is while everyone says they know everyone suffers, you really do know. You feel it, smell it, hear it, taste it. Yet you cannot contain it—and you overflow. That is when you fall ill and I, for one, think that this is what happened to you on your way to Kulliyah.”
“And still,” started Akhir, “you have carried it to the best of your ability. After listening to your story, I for one am surprised you are still alive. And just like my brother was saying, who knows why things begin, who knows where and how they will end? You don’t know, I don’t know, nobody knows. But just as suffering is, just as its beginning is, so too is its end. When I saw my brother’s suffering end, I followed him into the poor. Do I still suffer? Yes, yes I do. But I suffer a little less each and every day. And for that my gratitude overflows as I too stay alive.