I’d just reached Sarajevo from Manchester, and was trying to figure out my local sim card & the way to my hostel. I was excited to head to my hostel, which is the only war-themed hostel in the world, as (in all my morbidity) I wanted to have the experience of simulating staying in a war. It was the closest I could replace my original intention of volunteering at a soup kitchen in a refugee camp. It wasn’t enough for me anymore to just witness and help from afar, but a week before leaving, I had multiple signs and redirections to postpone the trip.
So I did, and somehow, bought a ticket to Sarajevo instead. I didn’t really plan much ahead, like most of my trips, but I’d realised that folly soon upon landing because everything was in Bosnian. Everything.
I was fumbling with my phone when these two men came to sit next to me, and gave salaam. I trusted their vibes, so I’d replied their salaam and engaged in a conversation with them, which really began about talking about being Muslim. They were waiting for some friends to land, were surprised to find out I was alone, and immediately became protective.
Brother Nisvet (middle) was doing most of the Bosnian – English translation. Brother Eniz shared with me that he was a teacher teaching Islamic studies, and went on to claim that it was a duty to protect fellow Muslim brothers and sisters because – & I quote him – “We are one ummah! We must help each other. You are my sister. You can come and meet my wife and family too. We are family. You are not alone.”
Oh boy, was I surprised when they vehemently advised me not to go to the hostel I’d booked because – and I just found this out – I was going to be staying right smack in the middle of an all-Serbian neighbourhood. Now if you don’t know the history of the conflict of Bosnia, that’s basically me – a Muslim hijabi – going right into a lion’s den alone. It’s better now, but perhaps not too wise to go alone into the territory.
So they asked for my permission to arrange for a new hotel and even offered to pay for it. Now, by then, I was just totally taken aback by their presence, the new important information, and the fact that they sincerely wanted to help. A part of me retained a healthy sense of skepticism (hey what if they had bad intentions?) but at that point, I’d just prayed for protection and followed my gut feeling, which was to trust them.
Trust them I did, which was how I found myself at a new hotel in a Muslim neighbourhood, but completely disoriented with absolutely no idea of my bearings, and a promise to have iftaar with them in a few days time. I immediately called my family after.
Now, the beautiful thing is, right before landing, I’d prayed that He protect me, and allowed me to meet Muslims and people who will help me and welcome me into their hearts and homes. I didn’t want to be alone the entire time, and by Allah’s grace, my prayers were answered nearly immediately. And they continued to be answered again and again.
The new hotel wasn’t only safer, but became a refuge for me that night. How then, can I deny His mercy?