At the medical faculty of Alexandria University, a lady professor walks into Auditorium no 7 and greets her students, “Assalamu alaykum wa rahmatuLlahi wa barakatuh.”
The students reply in unison, “W alaykumus salam wa rahmatuLlahi wa barakatuh.”
The professor addresses the class, “How is everyone? Today is the first day of the second term, and it is my good fortune to be with you this term. Before I introduce myself to you there is something I want to tell you. If there is anyone whose circumstances do not allow him to purchase my textbook, he should simply write me a note after class and send it to my office. He will be excused from buying the book.”
A student asks, “How come, professor? All the professors before you made it clear that those who don’t buy the textbooks will fail the year.”
She replies, “That does not apply to me. I am speaking only of my own textbook.”
A student laughingly remarks, “In that case, professor, everyone is going to claim difficult circumstances and no one will buy the book.”
And the professor replies, also with a laugh, “No problem. I will allow it. This being my first day with you, let me tell you a little story.”
And she began…
Twenty years ago, before most of you were even born, there was a microbus taxi driver named Ahmad Abdul Tawwab. He had a daughter just beginning her first year of medical school, more or less the same age as you. As he was taking her to university one morning he gave her sandwiches which he had prepared: “Fatima, take these sandwiches. You can have them for lunch.”
Fatima laughed and replied, “Daddy, ever since first term you have been giving me sandwiches, which I take with me to college and then just bring back home. Daddy, I’m not at school anymore. I am in first year med school!”
Uncle Ahmad said, “So what? You still have to eat, don’t you? Take the sandwiches and have them for lunch.”
Fatima: “Dearest dearest Daddy, it won’t help. The other students will laugh at me when they see me with sandwiches!”
Uncle Ahmad: “Ok, then take these fifty pounds and use it to buy yourself some lunch. And buy something to prepare for supper.”
Fatima: “You are truly the best father in the world. I know that from the day Mommy died you have only been eating from my cooking.”
Uncle Ahmad: “You cook just like your mother, although you were very young when she died. I didn’t have to teach you anything.”
Fatima: “But Daddy, didn’t you tell me you had to teach Mommy how to cook because she barely knew how? So you taught me too, and therefore my cooking has to be good.”
Uncle Ahmad, smiling sadly: “There was no one like your mother.”
Fatima: “Of course, of course. She has always been the love of your heart.”
Uncle Ahmad: “She was my heart itself, my dear… But where is the time going? We still have to get to university. Come, let’s go!”
Fatima: “Daddy, every year you have been dropping me off right at the school gate, and this year you’re dropping me at the university gates. I am so glad that I could realize the dreams you and Mommy had for me.”
Uncle Ahmad: “Allah have mercy on her soul. What time do you want me to come and get you?”
Fatima: “I am not sure what time lectures come out. So I’d rather come over to you at the terminus when I am done.”
Uncle Ahmad: “Ok, my dear, I will wait for you there, in sha Allah.”
At the terminus.
Uncle Galal, another taxi driver: “How are you, father of the doctor?”
Uncle Ahmad: “Al-hamdu liLlah, Galal, you good man. What is my round number today?”
Uncle Galal: “You are on Round number 5 today. But the weather looks bad. Seems like it’s going to rain cats and dogs today.”
Uncle Ahmad: “Al-hamdu liLlah, rain is good. It gives me a chance to earn something this evening.”
Uncle Galal: “Allah be with you, Ahmad!”
The hours pass and Fatima comes to her father at the terminus. He takes her home to their little house in Damanhour, together with a load of passengers. On the way they chat.
Fatima: “Daddy, I need 350 pounds tomorrow, to buy books, a stethoscope and a white lab coat.”
Uncle Ahmad: “Must it be tomorrow?”
Fatima: “Yes Daddy, that’s what the professors told us.”
Uncle Ahmad, with no idea how he was going to get this large sum of money: “Ok baby, you go home and study while I put in a bit of evening work.”
Fatima: “But the weather looks bad today, Daddy.”
Uncle Ahmad: “Its ok, baby. Allah protects.”
Dropping off the passengers at Damanhour terminus, and Fatima at home, he returned to the terminus once again.
There were no taxis at Damanhour terminus, but many passengers. Uncle Ahmad loaded up his taxi and headed back Alexandria. There were no taxis at Alexandria terminus as well, so he found plenty of work. From Asr till 2 in the morning he ferried passengers all over. Eventually there were no more passengers left who he could take back with him to Damanhour. With the 200 pounds which he earned for his daughter, he returned home.
On the way home he came across a well-dressed gentleman who flagged him down.
The man: “Would you please take me to Damanhour? I will pay whatever you ask.”
Uncle Ahmad: “Get in sir, Allah bless you! First get out of the rain, we can talk afterwards.”
The gentleman got in next to Uncle Ahmad and said, “I have no money with me right now, driver. If you would take me to my house I will pay you there.”
Uncle Ahmad, without as much as glance at the man’s refined appearance and elegant clothes: “What payment are you talking about, sir? As long as Allah protects you, that is enough. I’m going to take you to your doorstep, and then I don’t need anything else. There is still good in this world, sir!”
The man looked at Uncle Ahmad in amazement. He said: I was attacked by gangsters who robbed me of my car and my money and threw me out at the place you found me at.”
Uncle Ahmad: “Really? Then let’s go to the police station and file a case.”
The man: “I just need to go home to change my clothing and check on my family. Then I will go to the police station.”
Uncle Ahmad: “Never mind the stolen car or anything else. The important thing is that you are ok. Money comes and money goes.”
As they were going along they came across a large group of people who flagged them down. Uncle Ahmad asked his passenger if it was ok for him to stop for them. He agreed. It turned out that they were abandoned in the rain when the taxi in which they were travelling, at exorbitant rates, broke down. There were more people than the taxi could carry, but Uncle Ahmad somehow or the other made some space for every man, woman and child. He took them all as far as their destination, Kafr al-Dawar, where he dropped them off, refusing to take a single cent. All he asked them was, “Please make du’a for my daughter, Dr Fatima.”
His remaining passenger, the distinguished looking gentleman, was intrigued. He looked at the photo which Uncle Ahmad kept on his dashboard: “Is this your daughter, Dr Fatima?”
Uncle Ahmad beamed with pride: “That’s her, my daughter the doctor.”
The man: “She looks a bit young to be a doctor.”
Uncle Ahmad: “Actually, she is not yet a doctor. She is still a first year med student.”
They passed one of those roadside cold water machines. Uncle Ahmad stopped to take a drink and got back in.
His passenger asked: “Why would you drink from that machine instead of keeping water in your taxi?”
Uncle Ahmad: “Oh that machine! Three years ago I put up that machine as a continuous charity for my late wife, Allah rest her soul. Whenever I pass it I must drink from it.”
The man looked at Uncle Ahmad with new respect: “May Allah have mercy on her.”
They reached Damanhour and made for the man’s house.
The man: “Please wait for me. I will just change and come with you to the police station.”
Uncle Ahmad: “No problem. I am waiting.”
The man had barely entered the house when Uncle Ahmad heard him calling in alarm. One of the gas pipes had sprung a leak into the house. The man’s wife and two children were lying unconscious from inhaling gas. Uncle Ahmad rushed in. They carried the man’s wife and children into the taxi and rushed them off to the hospital. Once there, the lady and her children were successfully revived and stabilized.
The man: “I owe you my life and the lives of my wife and children. Just a few minutes too late and they would have been…”
He put his hand in his pocket and offered Uncle Ahmad a sum of money… which Uncle Ahmad refused!
Uncle Ahmad: “Sir, I will not accept a cent. Even if you were not robbed, and if this calamity had not befallen your family, I would still not take anything from you.”
The man couldn’t understand: “But why…?
Uncle Ahmad: “Twenty years ago when I bought this microbus, my wife—Allah have mercy on her—was extremely happy. She made me promise something: the last passenger of the day must always be for free, for Allah’s sake, so that Allah should protect me on the road from bad people. When I asked her why the last passenger specifically she said, because the night can be frightening and difficult for a stranger.”
Uncle Ahmad went on: “Allah have mercy on her. You know, sir, people who see my microbus would think that no one would want to ride in it because it looks like it can barely make it off the terminus. But I tell you, sir, in twenty years I have only had two breakdowns.”
The man: “Ya Allah! What a good man you are! Please, you must tell me your full name. Even if you refuse to take any compensation, at the very least we are brothers now. Do please tell me your name.”
Uncle Ahmad: “The honour is all mine, sir. I am Ahmad Abdul Tawwab Ismail Ahmad.”
The man: “And your daughter on the photo, what is her name? Fatima, wasn’t it?”
Uncle Ahmad: “Yes.”
The man: “And do you have any other children?”
Uncle Ahmad: “None, sir.”
The man: “Now you know where I live, Ahmad. Yo and your daughter must come and visit us.”
Uncle Ahmad: “In sha Allah, we will come to see how your wife and children are doing.”
The man: “I will be waiting for you.”
It was late when Uncle Ahmad got home and told his daughter of the night’s happenings.
Fatima: “Did you really manage to get only 200 of the 350 pounds, Daddy? Why did you refuse the payment? I might be thrown out of med school tomorrow!”
Uncle Ahmad: “My daughter, listen to me. What brought you all the way to medical school and protected all the way was the last load of the night which I do for Allah’s sake. I know for a factthat Allah will compensate me for it many times over. And then, Allah’s Messenger (may Allah’s peace and salutations be upon him) tells us: ‘Whoever hides the fault of others, Allah will hide his faults on the Day of Judgement. Whoever removes the worldly difficulty of his brother, Allah will remove his difficulty on the Day of Judgement. And Allah is at the service of the slave for as long as the slave is at the service of his brother.’”
Fatima, knowing that she was wrong: “Allah’s Messenger has spoken the truth, may Allah’s peace and salutations be upon him. Daddy, I just fear for tomorrow. I so much want to make you proud by becoming the best doctor I can.”
Uncle Ahmad: “In sha Allah, it is all good, my child. Just go to college tomorrow with the 200 pounds and leave the rest to Allah.”
Fatima: “Yes, Daddy, I will.”
The next day when Fatima was in class, a messenger entered her class and asked for her by name: “Would Fatima Ahmad Abdul Tawwab Ismail Ahmad please come to the Dean’s office?”
Fatima stood up in consternation: “Me?”
The messenger: “Please come with me. The Dean wants to see you.”
With all sorts of fears rushing through her mind, Fatima went up to the Dean’s office. Why did Dean want to see her? Did she do something wrong? With a heart that was beating almost audibly against her ribs, she entered the Dean’s office.
The Dean: “Are you Fatima Ahmad Abdul Tawwab Ismail Ahmad?”
Fatima, unsure of herself: “Yes, sir.”
The Dean smiled broadly: “And your father works as a taxi driver on the Alexandria-Damanhour line?”
Fatima, astonished: “Yes…but how do you know that, sir? Has something happened to my father?”
The Dean: “No, nothing of that sort.But something bad would certainly have happened to my wife and children, and had I not met your father last night after my car was stolen.”
Fatima: “Then are you the gentleman who was my father’s passenger last night, whose wife and children almost fell victim to a leaking gas pipe?”
The Dean smiled: “Yes, that was I. So now you see. I will be waiting for you and your father to visit us today.”
Fatima, extremely excited: “Oh, we will come, in sha Allah, we will certainly come, sir!”
The Dean offered Fatima profuse thanks. She then asked him permission to rejoin her class. As she was leaving he called her back.
“These are your textbooks, your lab coat, and your stethoscope. Please accept them.”
Fatima modestly tried to refuse these gifts, but the Dean absolutely insisted and simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. So she accepted.
With the story at an end, the professor addressed her students in the auditorium:
“And now it is time to introduce myself. I am Dr Fatima Ahmad Abdul Tawwab Ismail Ahmad, the taxi driver’s daughter.”