Mom Between Cultures: Arab-Islamic & American

by Janan Zaitoun

After 18-Years of My Grandfather’s Passing, I Hear His Voice on WhatsApp


My grandfather, Mohammad Taha Zaitoun.

I was checking my messages on my phone, when I noticed 12 notifications from my WhatsApp. When I opened the “Rabeeha Girls” group—a group I named after my late paternal grandmother and created for my aunts and my female cousins—I saw that my aunt Suraya, 57, had sent an audio recording. Under it she texted in Arabic “I found it [the recording] in the closet between old tapes, and I found myself really missing dad and his voice that I started crying.”

I was confused. I hadn’t heard the audio recording yet. Was she saying that the recording is the voice of my grandfather, who had passed away in 1997? I quickly played the audio. As I heard the voice coming from my phone, I froze. I literally felt chills from my spine go up to my ears. I was listening to my Grandfather (Sidi, in Arabic) reading the last two verses of Surat al-Kahf (The Cave chapter) from the Holy Quran.

Muslims believe that when a person dies all his deeds stop except for three things: 1) his/her good deeds, 2) his/her knowledge, and 3) his/her pious child who prays for him/her. As I reminded myself of this hadeeth (teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him) I was determined to keep my grandfather’s recitation of the Quran alive in cyber space, forever.

My grandfather, Muhammad Taha Zaitoun, was born in Hebron, Palestine in 1927. At age 18, he married my grandmother, Rabeeha Zaitoun. She was 16-years-old. They moved to Amman, Jordan for work in 1954. There, he worked in the Central Market selling fruits and vegetables. They eventually had 9 children: Four boys (my father, Robeen, the fourth of the nine) and five girls (one of them, Haya, died at the age of three).

I have blurry memories of my grandfather. My favorite one was when I was 8-years-old. We were at their kitchen table finishing up the lunch which my grandmother (sitty, in Arabic) had made. She had cooked a very tasty meal with chicken. I loved it so much that I was biting on the chicken bones afterwards. My grandfather smiled at me, and said to me in Arabic: “You eat like a cat.” I giggled, and from then on I smile at the memory of my grandfather whenever I catch myself biting on a chicken bone.

The last time I saw my grandfather, in 1997, was in the hospital. I was 9-years-old. He had lost a lot of weight, and was looking pale in the face. He had cancer. Nevertheless, he was excited to see us again after our two-month trip to the States to see my mother’s family for the first time. A few nights later, our land-line rang. It was my father calling from the hospital. My grandfather had passed away. An hour or two later, my father came home and found my brother, Ali, and I in my bedroom in shock ( I can’t remember where my brother Hasan was). My father sat on my bed between my brother and me, and the three of us cried in each other’s arms.

My grandfather had recorded three chapters (al-Kahf, al-Rahman, and Yaseen) in his voice one year before he passed away at the age of 69.

Before my Aunt Suraya found the tape last Sunday, she said, she had been remembering her mother (my grandmother) all day. When she made her bed, cleaned the window, and put the pot on the stove she made a prayer for her late mother. Later that day, her son, Murad, 20, asked her for some tapes to try in the car’s old stereo. She gave him a few old tapes from the closet, and a few minutes later her son asked her to come to the car.

“This is for you, Mom,” Murad said in Arabic.

When my aunt heard the first two words being recited, she recognized her father’s voice immediately. She began to cry.

“I always pray for both my parents,” said my aunt in Arabic. “I was only remembering and praying for my mother that day. Hearing my father’s voice was like a reminder for me: Don’t forget your father.”

-The End-


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This entry was posted on April 17, 2015 by in The Arab & Islamic Cultures.
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