It was the 1950s. Emran was the only male child of seven, in Syed al-Yamani’s family. The youngest of the family, the apple of the eye, was very lavished by her mother, Syarifah Khatija. Syarifah Khatija was a strict old lady, especially after being the sole breadwinner when the patriarch passed away. Although strict, Syarifah gave his son everything—the best education, the best clothes and taught the best of manners and he grew to be a very fine young man.
At twenty-one, now working a good job and saving a lot of money, It is time now for Emran to marry. Emran was ready too, he was mature and popular among the girls so Syarifah half-expected that he’d have a good candidate.
“Ummi, I have known this friend, a female friend.” Emran said one day.
“Good? What’s her name?”
“Aisyah? Aisyah what?”
“Aisyah binti Burhan, ummi.”
“Hm. Just friends, I hope. No fancy stuff. “ His mother was silent after that. Maybe his mother didn’t know this girl, that’s why she looks rather uninterested. If she knows who this wonderful young lady is, she might like her.
So he talked about Aisyah a lot more in the coming days.
“Ummi, Aisyah just sew this fancy little baju kurung for her niece. She can sew very well, you know.”
“Ummi, Hajah Halimah met me and Aisyah in town. Hajah praised Aisyah’s good manners.”
“Ummi, Aisyah now does part-time babysitting. She takes care of kids like her own’s!”
“Ummi, Aisyah cooked this nice beef stew for us. Yummy is it?”
Every day without fail Emran took the effort to include the name Aisyah in his conversation. And yet, his Ummi never seemed to care. Not even a reply. Well, she did said ‘Aisyah’ once.
“Emran, what is it so good about Aisyah that you always spoke about her?”
“Ummi, she is faboulous! She is pretty, with ladylike manners, pious, great cook and...”
“How about Sharifah Wahidah, the girl from the Syed Al-Zamani family? She’s good too.”
“But Ummi, I don't love Weeda. She's like my sister.”
“Well, love can be built, but reputation isn’t.”
Emran was slightly puzzled by that reply. He tried to think of a meaning to it, but her preoccupation with Aisyah supersedes everything. He continued working and saving up money as usual, till the big day came six months later.
It was Friday, before the weekly prayers. Ummi was darning an old dress in the living room. Then came Emran in a green Baju Melayu and white songkok, looking more dapper than usual.
“Ummi,” he said, softly.
“Yes, Emran my young one.” Ummi keeps threading the dress, not looking up.
“Ummi, today I want you to accompany me somewhere. After Solat Jumaat, of course.”
“Oh, that’s why you are wearing nicely today. To where Emran?” His mother kept sewing.
“To Aisyah’s. We are gonna merisik.”
Ummi dropped her needle.
“Yes mother. I’d like to marry Aisyah. I know this is sudden and all, but I prepared the money. And also, I bought the ring too, right here...”
“No. You’re not gonna get married. Not with Aisyah.”
“Why Ummi? Aisyah is great! She’s all that! She can cook, sew, take care of kids, polite...”
“But she’s not a Sharifah.” Came her quick reply.
“Yes, I know that but, it’s just a name Ummi. Not everybody has that name...”
“That’s why, not EVERYBODY can marry us.”
“Mother, it’s just a name.” He pleaded. Looking serious, his mother put her dress to the side.
Now she looks straight at him.
“No, it was never ‘just a name’. It’s a reputation. A LINEAGE. A RIGHT. The Syed Al Yamani
descendant must continue to be pure-bred forever, not mixed with this commonfolks.” She stressed on the word commonfolks, as if it was about another species. Emran pleaded again.
“Mother, in Islam there is never a difference in race or skin color. The only difference is faith to God,” Emran debated.
“But in Islam there are four points in choosing a wife remember? Religion, Beauty, Wealth and of course Breed. Our breed is the selected one.”
“But the hadith said that if you emphasise on religion you can have a blessed marriage. Aisyah is pious and polite too. We may not find anyone like her, even in a thousand years.”
“But there are other Syarifahs out there to choose. Why not them, Emran?”
“Ummi, are you willing to miss out on such a great person by making up this rule?”
“Syed and Syarifah. Syarifah and Syed. That’s how it has been, that’s how it will always be.” Her mother ended the argument.
“I like Aisyah. And I WILL marry her.” Emran stood up, and left for the door.
“SYED EMRAN AL YEMENI.” Ummi said, firm and clear.
“You marry her, you are an ungrateful child. Anak derhaka.”
Emran stopped in his tracks. He was silent. She was silent. The room felt awkward for a long moment.
He glanced back to his mother. And turned his footsteps toward her.
“Ummi, I don’t want to be an anak derhaka. If that’s what you want, I will not marry Aisyah.”
Her mother smiled.
“But I won’t be marrying anyone else either.”
Emran took his songkok from the table in front of her mom, and walked out to the mosque, leaving his mother speechless.
*The name Syed Emran is not real, but the story is based on a real one. Till today, Emran never married.