Book By Shulamith Levey Oppenheim
“I am near; I hear and answer the call of every caller when he calls to Me.”
My children want a pet cat. In truth, “want” is too weak a word – they are virtually consumed by the idea of having a cute kitten to play with and raise. Every morning and every night we are regaled by tales of this kitty. How wonderful and playful it will be. What it will look like. What we will name it. How happy it will make us… the list goes on. I love how much they adore this future pet already and admittedly, I’d enjoy adding a cat to our household, but for a number of very practical reasons, there is no way we are adopting a feline friend anytime soon.
No matter how many times I try to explain it, they are oblivious to my reasons. Oh, don’t worry Mama, says my six year old, I’ll make du’a for it and everything will be okay. Allah will send us the perfect kitten. This response from her always touches me for its straightforward approach and firm belief that her supplication will be answered and one day, a kitten will be ours. I am pleased that, Alhamdullilah, instead of getting frustrated, she continues to make du’a for all the things she wants, from kittens to red shoes, but I also want to broaden her understanding of what it means to make du’a – beyond asking for material things or focusing solely on oneself.
With this in mind, I was intrigued when a friend mentioned The Hundredth Name, describing it as a children’s book about a camel, prayer and the secret name of God. It seemed interesting and different enough to look up online – I found a used copy for a little more than the price of a cup of coffee and a few days later it arrived in the post.
I opened the package to find a treasure of a book, gorgeously illustrated in warm undulating shades of blue and gold with a tender and uplifting story to match.
Written by Shulamith Levey Oppenheim, illustrated by Michael Hays and published in 1995 by Boyds Mills Press,this gentle tale is set “far back in time” in Muslim Egypt and follows the the concerns of seven year old Salah.
Salah has a special friend, a camel named Qadiim. He and Qadiim are the same age, they work together, sleep together and take care of one another “like brothers”. However, we find Salah profoundly concerned and perturbed over his camel. He is worried that his camel is deeply sad and he doesn’t know why. Salah is unable to enjoy anything good in his day as how can he be happy when his beloved camel is sad?
Salah tries to speak to his father about this situation and find some way to make Qadiim happy. Salah’s father is kind and listens carefully but is not convinced that anything can be done for a sad camel:
“I don’t laugh at you , my son. Your heart is speaking. But one cannot have everything… Think, (even) here on earth we poor mortals must live and die knowing only ninety-nine names for Allah, our God, though there are, in truth, one hundred names, and the last one most important. And do we walk about dejected, head down, shuffling our feet? No! We work, we eat, we care for each other. We try to be happy, as Allah wishes us to be. And… we pray!”
And so, as his father finishes his own prayer and heads to the fields, Salah is left to his own thoughts. Later that evening, his worries regarding Qadiim keep him from sleeping and as he reflects on what his father told him, he realises what he must do.
He rises from his bed in the middle of the night, takes his prayer mat and, imitating his father, prays to Allah.
He prays that Allah will grant Qadiim knowledge of His most important name, His hundredth name and that this knowledge will make Qadiim happy.
The next morning, Salah and his family find Qadiim a changed camel! Standing tall and proud, his neck long and his head high – he is not only happy but wears “a look of infinite wisdom”. Salah’s du’a has been answered and Qadiim has been granted knowledge of the hundreth name, a name he can share only with other camels. And this, the author writes, is why “the camel has the look it does. For while man knows only ninety-nine names for Allah, the camel knows the hundredth name, and he has never told.”
This is a storybook which truly captures the concerns and thoughts of a child and how they view the world and their relationships. Open-hearted and loving, Salah reflects all children in his concern for a beloved animal and even though his father can’t see Qadiim’s sadness, his words and actions remind us, as parents reading this story, that children watch everything we do and that the answers they seek will come just as much (if not more) from their observations of our behaviour as from what we say.
It is also, ultimately, a beautiful meditation on making du’a and the power of prayer. I love that Salah is moved to pray for his camel, that his du’a is focused on asking for something so profound – for knowledge and happiness – not for himself but for one he loves. He wants nothing but that his camel be happy. This type of message is often difficult to convey in children’s books and stories without sounding instructive, but here it is done with eloquence and grace and may even serve as the beginning of a more in-depth conversation on the topic.
I do admit, that when I first read the book (by myself) I was a little concerned that the slow pace of the story and all the wordy descriptions would fail to capture the attention of my three year old, but that has not been the case at all. In fact, the detailed writing, especially the specific mention of Allah, along with the illustrations, really drew both my children into the story and held them there. After it was finished, there was a moment of stillness as they took it all in.
The Hundredth Name should be available at your local library and if it isn’t, you should definitely try to request that they order it for their collection. It is also currently available to purchase new as a paperback but I would encourage you to try to find a used hardcover copy as this is one story you will want to read over and over, and that I am sure will continue to inspire faith and action, even for the hundredth time.