“You are not just a drop in the ocean,
You are the entire ocean in one drop”
Jalal Ad-Din Muhammad Rumi
It’s a beautiful quote from a poem by the best selling poet in the US today. Impressive for an Arab poet who was born over 800 years ago but clearly continues to speak to people today.
A short diversion. Social media can be a two edged sword. It can introduce us to a multitude of people who share our foibles, prejudices, interests and entrench us in the belief that our opinions are fact. That’s the potential downside. It can also broaden our world, introduce us to people from other countries, other cultures, other beliefs, other worlds and help us see that all of us are people, human beings, with more to connect us than divide us.
Through a friend on Twitter I encountered Mariam Hakim and the book she had just had published called “An Ocean in One Drop”. All I saw was the cover and the title but I was intrigued. The cover was a beautiful and almost abstract collection of colours around a droplet shape with background patterns that spoke lightly of another culture. The wonderful title was written in clear blue brush strokes, unfussy but showing real skill if they were done by hand.
Mariam was celebrating the book launch and in a matter of a few tweets I connected her to October Books, our local and very excellent independent bookshop. They happily were interested in the book and before I knew it they had copies for sale and an arrangement for Mariam to appear there next year. So today I bought my copy.
The book though. It is the story of Hajar (Hagar for my Christian friends) and the fascinating and pivotal role she plays in Islamic culture. “An Ocean in One Drop” is the tale of her journey through the desert with her son Isma’il, and how her faith in God ensured not only that she and her son survived their perilous trek but how that faith lead to the founding of Mecca (Makkah) and to the great pilgrimage of Hajj, which every able bodied Muslim who can is expected to make at least once in their life time.
Except that’s not what it’s about. It’s about Jamila and her relationship with her grandmother who has just returned from Hajj. There’s clearly a special bond between the two which is shown through the beautiful artwork and the wonderful smile on Jamila’s face.
Except that’s not what it’s about either. At it’s very heart the book is about the power of love and faith, Hajar’s love for her son, God’s love for them both, Jamila’s love for her grandmother and the grandmother’s love for her granddaughter. The Grandmother is elderly, walks with a stick and appears to be wearing surgical stockings, although that might be me reading to much in. She clearly adores her granddaughter though taking the time to explain the Hajj to Jamila and bring her Zamzam water.
The two artists deserve special mention for their work in bringing this story to life. Laila Aldubaisi and Hameedah Hamadah both worked on the book and I would guess the artwork was split with one artist doing the modern parts with Jamila and her Grandmother and the other doing the story of Hajar. I’ve no idea which did what but both did an amazing job. The pages with Jamila and her grandmother are very clean and modern looking with what looks like a slight manga influence, the palette is a mix of subtle greens, gold and ochres and everything suggests two people who are very happy and comfortable in each other’s company.
The other artist, working on the story of Hajar, takes a much more ornate and almost abstract or dreamlike approach. The artwork is full of subtle patterns that suggest the kind of patterns you see on Islamic tiles and doubtless other places too. there are glimpses of the city to follow the founding of Hajar’s well too. And from end paper to end paper there is a small, crested bird moving through the book like a silent witness to eternity.
This book has taught me so much in 28 pages of pictures and text. This story of a grandmother’s love for her grand daughter, a mother’s love for her child and God’s love for us all is a universal story that demonstrates how little separates us in the end.