By DANIEL ABD AL-HAYY MOORE
AS I was growing up, I was always fascinated by Uncle Ali's beard. It wasn't a very long beard. It wasn't bushy or bristly like an old hair brush. It didn't stick out like the quills of a porcupine. Uncle Ali was a strong, short man with a round face and red, curly hair. His beard was also curly, and it glowed a lustrous red. The beard grew around his face like coiling plants. I always expected to see wildflowers peeping from between the hairs.
What always amazed me about this beard of Uncle Ali's was what he used to say when I was very young. He told me, “A man's beard is a blessing. It is his veil of modesty. It is said that between every hair of a man's beard there is an angel.” I don't remember when he first told me this. It was probably when l was grabbing his beard to see what it was made of and why it tickled me when he kissed my cheeks. After that, I always looked for the angels. I ran my fingers through the soft, curly hairs and peered into his beard. I gazed around hoping to catch sight of the angels or even just a little glimmer from their wings. I never saw the angels in my uncle's beard, but I wasn’t disappointed. Uncle Ali was always cheerful and full of light and love, so I felt angels all around him even if I couldn’t see them.
Uncle Ali always brought my family bags of vegetables from his garden. He grew them behind his house. His garden was as lush and luxurious as his beard. He called his garden “a little bit of Paradise,” a tiny image of the real Garden in the next world. He brought us squashes and tomatoes. From his orchard, he brought us peaches from his peach trees and olives from his olive trees. He brought bunches of flowers for my mother and sisters. He always brought me smooth, velvety stones he found in his garden. He told me that the stones were precious jewels from the storehouse of Allah's treasures. I kept them all on the windowsill in my bedroom. Sometimes I would take one of the smoothest stones to bed with me. I would hold it in the palm of my hand and rub it until I fell asleep.
One day Uncle Ali said he had to go away to fight in a war. He packed a few things in a shoulder bag. Before he set out, he hugged us all and waved goodbye. He joined other Muslim comrades from our village. He would have to go on foot for many miles. He would hike the tall mountains and cross the long valleys to get to the war. We weren't sure what to think about Uncle Ali’s going. My father said that the war may become much worse. If so, he would have to leave his shop in my mother's hands and go to fight the war also.
The days were not the same without Uncle Ali. They were dull and boring. It seemed that every new day was more or less like the last. It wasn't because there weren't things to do. I had chores as much as before. I still played with the other boys in the gullies behind the houses. Our soccer matches went on as usual. I had to do fetching and carrying, and there was the occasional long trek with the donkey to get the milk jugs from the distant farm. But without Uncle Ali, things didn't get explained the same way. His twinkling eyes and red beard didn't sparkle and wag and make things more wonderful and more wondrous than they seemed. Uncle Ali always had a story to tell, or an explanation, or a hadith of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. These made things radiate with a certain light. Uncle Ali also radiated, and his smile always followed some piece of wisdom he would impart.
I had an older brother and two sisters that Uncle Ali loved as well. I watched them grow up as time slipped by. My sisters became more secretive and removed from us boys. My brother got a deeper voice, and he got taller. Even the first few hairs of his own beard began to appear. Amazingly they were a kind of red color, wispy and orangey-blond, almost feathery. I could imagine his face like Uncle Ali's, ringed around with a bright red beard. I began rubbing my own chin from time to time, hoping I'd feel the first few ticklish hairs there. But no such luck! Allah hadn't seen fit to give me a beard yet, even though I wished for one as soon as possible!
Many months went by, two, three, and finally eight. We would get letters from time to time from Uncle Ali. They were always very sweet and full of hope for victory. H always said he thought of us often and would like to come home soon to see us.
“I know you are growing up nice and tall,” he wrote to me once, “and maybe you will begin to have a beard of your own soon, and all the angels that go with it!”
When we didn't hear a word from him for three months, my mother (his sister) began to worry. We could hear her weeping at night. We heard her talking with my father about whether he was alive or dead. Then one day we received a small letter in a very battered envelope. The letter was very short, and Uncle Ali greeted us in the Name of Allah and His Prophet, peace be upon him. When I took the letter to read it, a small, curly hair fell out onto the palm of my hand. It was bright red. It shone in the palm of my hand like a fleck of sunlight. It was a sad hair, a single hair, and in my mind I could see Uncle Ali's laughing face. I imagined him scratching that beard of his with one hand while gesturing with the other. And then I thought of the angels, all the angels in his beard, the ones I couldn't see no matter how hard I tried. I wondered if the angel had come with the hair, or whether it stayed back with the other angels that always went with him wherever he went.
[Copyright by Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore; first published by Young Muslim magazine (Volume 2, Issue 2). Abdal-Hayy is an artist and poet featured on www.danielmoorepoetry.com. His vast array of works includes a book for young readers, Abdullah Jones and the Disappearing-Dust Caper.]