The Child who Brought an Open Umbrella for Prayer

Professor Nazeer Ahmed

The rains failed again that year. It was the third year in succession when there was no rain. The crops had disappeared and the land was a brown swath of dusty rubble. Trees had lost their leaves years ago and stood out like silhouettes of cactus on the dusty horizon. There was a stream that skirted the village in years bygone. Now the riverbed was dry. Where once flowed clean, fresh water from the nearby mountains, there was now a bed of clay, cracked in a checkerboard pattern with gaps as wide as a foot.  No one knew what had happened to the birds except for the vultures that circled the town, looking for a carcass or two of an animal that was left dying.

There was famine in the land. People walked around like sticks, sans flesh, surviving on whatever ration was brought to them by trucks, distributed by charities, located in far-away lands.

Desperate for help, the people of the village held a meeting under a big banyan tree that was as old as the village. “Let us pray”, said an elderly man. “Only God can help us now’

There lived people of many faiths in the village. There was a temple, a church and a mosque, each belonging to a different group. There ensued a big debate as to where to hold the prayer- in a temple, a mosque or a church. Each community pressed its respective position. There was no consensus. Exhausted, they decided that each group would go to its own place of worship and beseech the Almighty for rain.

The faithful decided to hold their prayer in the open, late that night, under the open sky, away from the town. It was a full moon night and the moon shone with its alluring brightness against a background of shimmering stars. The men gathered in a field by the river. The mullah was there with his white turban and so were the kazi and the muezzin. And there were the men who at one time were considered rich by virtue of the cattle, sheep, orchards and cultivated land they owned.

As the men formed neat rows for prayer, a child came running from the town, holding high an open umbrella over his head. Huffing for breath, he stood in the back row, umbrella still unfurled. The men could not but help turn around and wonder what was going on.  Some were curious; others were annoyed because the umbrella created space between their shoulders where there should be none.

At last the mullah admonished the child. “Why did you bring the umbrella, O foolish child!” said the mullah to the child. “Don’t you see there is no rain and we have come here to pray for rain?  Only a foolish one would stand on a clear night like this with his umbrella open”

“Yes”, said the child. “I came to pray too. I am certain my prayer will be answered and it will rain. I have complete faith in God. That is why I brought my umbrella.”

The mullah was dumb founded. The men had a sense of shame. Each one looked to his right and to his left and then he looked inside his own soul for that certainty of faith that was absent.

Who was the teacher here and who was the pupil?  If you pray for rain, you must have certainty in your heart that it will rain.

“Verily! Through the passage of time

Humankind is at loss

Except such as those

Who have certainty of faith…”. (The Qur’an)