It was January 2005, and I was travelling with a group of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. I saw two Muslim women waiting at my gate and suspected that they were a part of my group. As I approached them, I saw that one of the sisters had significant scarring on her face. It seemed to me, that it could only be from extensive burn injuries. I also noticed her beautiful, large dark eyes.
For the first time
When Susu was 5-years-old, her parents sent her away during the summer to study Arabic with family friends living in another state. One day a fire broke out in the kitchen on the main level of their home. Thinking that she could contain the fire, the owner told Susu to go upstairs and get everyone out. There were three people upstairs; the owner’s son, who was about Susu’s age, a woman and her baby. Susu rushed upstairs to warn the others, but the fire spread too quickly.
The house owner managed to escape by running outside. The boy got scared and hid inside a sleeping bag. The woman and her baby were both asleep on the bed. Susu was unable to rouse her, so she picked up the baby and placed the baby in the bathtub. The last thing she remembers is trying to get downstairs.
The boy died from smoke inhalation. The baby’s mother survived only to remain in a permanent vegetable state. Alhamdulillah, the baby in the bathtub suffered no injuries. Susu, who was found unconscious on the staircase, suffered second and third degree burns across 60% of her body. She spent over three months in the hospital in recovery. Her face, neck, arms and hands were severely burned, so much so that doctors wanted to amputate her fingers.
The doctors did not think that she would survive. Her father, a physician, and her mother, a nurse, instructed them not to amputate her fingers but to wait and see how she healed. Her fingers were never amputated, but they are somewhat deformed and limited in use. She also suffered damage to her occipital lobe – the part of the brain controlling vision – due to the smoke. Although she can see, she is legally blind and has lost depth perception making her unable to drive.
Struck again – the second fire
Three months after losing her mother, a 17-year-old Susu found herself in her second fire when she visited one of her mother’s friends. Due to her loss of depth perception from the first fire, she leaned over the stove while making tea and came too close to the open flame. Her hijab caught on fire and her neck burned all over again, as well as her chest. Although her burn injuries this time round were less than in the first fire, they were still severe.
Burn injuries are known to be the most painful injuries to heal. Severe burns require difficult skin graft surgeries and extensive stays in the hospital. To date, Susu who is now 40-years-old, has had over 40 operations and has been in and out of the hospital since the first fire.
Most people will never sustain burn injuries that require prolonged hospitalisation. To have been severely burned in two separate fires, years apart, and survived is nearly unheard of. But what is most remarkable about Susu’s story, is Susu herself.
I have never heard her complain about her fate or question Allah’s (SWT) decree. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Although she does not know why Allah (SWT) has tested her in this way, she believes there is ultimate good in it. She believes that Allah (SWT) loves her and has blessed her in many ways. For Allah (SWT) tells us in the Qur’an that each of us will be tested in this life:
“Everyone is going to taste death, and We shall make a trial of you with evil and with good. And to Us you will be returned.” (Al-Anbiya:35)
Blessings she can’t count
For a long time Susu accepted that she would never marry because of her injuries. During the Hajj many of us made du’a that she would find a loving and pious husband. As her stepmother puts it, “A year later he dropped out of heaven.” Her husband understands her limitations and gladly takes over where he must. He does all the cooking, knowing that it is dangerous for her to be near the stove. He does all the driving as well.
Susu also wondered if she could have and care for a child. A year after she married, she birthed a beautiful boy named Mohammad. When Mohammad was 2 and a half years old, he saw his mother trying unsuccessfully to tear off the foil from a yoghurt container and said, “I’ll do it for you mummy.” Even as a toddler, he understood that his mother was unable to do everything and he has always been there to help her. By all accounts, he is an exceedingly bright child with a memory well beyond his years. At four, he has memorised more of the Qur’an than many adults. Susu is convinced that Mohammad is among the greatest blessings that Allah (SWT) has bestowed upon her.
When I first met Susu I noticed two things about her: the scars on her face and her beautiful eyes. As I got to know her during the Hajj, I discovered that she was full of life, humour and happiness, and she possessed a profound love for Allah (SWT) and His Messenger (SAW). By the end of the Hajj, I knew that I had met one of the very few people who are a witness for Allah (SWT), a living example of what it means to be Muslim.
And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Sabirun (the patient).
Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: “Truly! To Allah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return.”
They are those on whom are the Salawat (i.e., who are blessed and will be forgiven) from their Lord, and (they are those who receive His) mercy, and it is they who are the guided ones.
J. Samia Mair is the author of five children’s book, the most recently to be published a chapter book, The Great Race to Sycamore Street, and Zak and His Good Intentions. She is a Staff Writer for SISTERS Magazine and Discover, The magazine for curious Muslim kids and has published in magazines, books, anthologies, scientific journals and elsewhere.