Too many of our conversations revolve around the driver, I complained to my husband last month while visiting family in Pakistan, but now that I'm back home I find myself blogging about you-know-who.
"Is the driver here yet?" we would ask one another first thing every morning. Mohammad Yasin, a fifth-grade passed, husky man and father of four who lived in a nearby village, wound up as our driver (long story) for our three-week stay in Lahore. He was perpetually late.
Throughout the day: "Where is Mohammad Yasin?!" (Sleeping in the car with the seat reclined all the way down.) "Mohammad Yasin sent back his veggies and lentils (from his lunch plate)." "Mohammad Yasin says he wants to go home (mid-day)."
Me in the car: "Mohammad Yasin, slow down!!!" "Mohammad Yasin, please don't smoke in the car!" "Mohammad Yasin, no talking on the phone while driving (especially in LOUD Punjabi)!"
At first, it was Mohammad Yasin's poor work ethics and offensive personal habits that irritated me. But soon I realized his presence was bothersome for a more significant reason.
As Mohammad Yasin chauffeured us around, he was a constant reminder of the disparity between the rich and poor in this world as well as my gluttonous role in perpetuating it.
Wearing his faded yellow "Los Angeles" jacket, Mohammad Yasin drove us to overpriced boutiques (I didn't have the time or nerves to deal with unreliable tailors.), where one child's outfit cost more than his month's salary.
During meal times, he was given Rs. 150 to eat from a street vendor while we ate at M.M. Alam Road's finest restaurants.
And while his family usually went without dessert (as he told me when I asked which sweets his children like), we frequently asked him to stop by Gourmet bakery for patay- or gajar-ka-halwa (pumpkin or carrot dessert) anytime our stash at home went low.
While God allows people to freely consume in accordance to their income levels, honor, respect, status, age, etc., he also strictly warns against israf or extravagance (considered the thirty-second Greater sin), which is defined as wasting or spending more than is necessary.
With so many people like Mohammad Yasin (and others in even more dire straits all around us on the streets of Pakistan), I realized how over-the-top our "normal" level of spending and consumption really is.
God: “…and eat and drink and be not extravagant; surely He does not love the extravagant.” (Quran 7:31)
"Anything that is in our custody--time, resources, sustenance, children, skills--that God has given us, we should be careful in the use of the blessings of God," Dr. Syed Abbas Naqvi instructed in a recent Friday sermon.
“Do you think if God has bestowed someone with wealth, it is because he is His beloved?" asked Imam Jafar Sadiq, great grandson of Fatima (one of the four perfect women of all times).
"And if He has given less to someone it is because he is low? No! It is not so. Whatever wealth is there, it all belongs to God. God gives it to whomsoever He wishes as a trust and He has permitted the trustee to eat, drink, wear clothes, marry, and ride from it, (but) in moderation. If he has excess he must distribute it among the poor and fulfill their needs. Then whoever follows the Divine commands, whatever he has eaten, drunk, worn, married and riden in moderation, all this is lawful for him, and if he does not act upon it, everything is haram (unlawful).”
Among the most superb examples of someone who lived (and not just talked or blogged) about justice and balance in this world was Ali, husband of Fatima.
A man went to see him on Eid holiday and saw that a tightly sealed bag was brought before Ali, the caliph of the time, and assumed it contained jewels. But when Ali opened the bag, it contained dried pieces of bread, which he softened with water.
The man asked Ali why he painstakingly sealed food that even a beggar would not care to steal. Ali smiled and said: "I keep it sealed because my children try to substitute softer bread, containing oil or butter in it."
The man asked, "Has God prohibited you to eat better kind of food?"
Ali replied: "No, but I want to eat the kind of food which the poorest of this realm can afford at least once a day. I shall improve it after I have improved their standards of life. I want to live, feel and suffer like them."
Although we never came close to foregoing fineries like Ali used to, after three weeks of togetherness our family had moved from irritation to guilt to some sort of compassion for Mohammad Yasin.
My eleven-year-old started nudging me in the backseat and whispering: "Be nice to him, Umma!" whenever I chided him for not slowing down for speed bumps.
My husband once suggested we get him a separate table inside a restaurant.
Even I developed a soft spot for Mohammad Yasin, and found myself sharing my pomegranates, including my favorite sweet bedana (seedless) ones, with him.
"You don't have to," Mohammad Yasin said, taken aback as I handed him the bag from the backseat.
Yes, I do.