The details of this encounter and the family has been changed to protect the privacy of the family.

We went to Sharjah for lunch with a friend of my aunt. They were originally from Palestine, and the father has worked in UAE for more than 10 years as an architect with an international company.

We took our time going through the extensive Arab buffet; those who know the Arabs would understand the amount and variety of food that they might have served. The family at first talked about the numerous barbeques they have had, and about the men of the house who could process, marinade and barbeque whole goats, with different methods of cooking.

Then the son started talking about his studies in a local university. He’s taking a degree in chemistry, and on the sides he did his own research as an ‘extra paper’. He told us about the difficulties getting the samples, that he had to go all out to obtain them, look for the right solutions, equipments and computer programmes to analyze his studies.

He further said, “I have my own office in the university, because I’m teaching about 120 students myself.”

Our eyes started to widen. He has his own students to teach???

“You mean, on top of your degree and your research?” my aunt asked.

“Yes,” he said, smiling.

Wow, we thought, trying to recall what we did during our lives as students.

The father said, “We don’t like to waste time, you see. We don’t go for parties. We sleep latest by 9pm, and wake up at 4am. After fajr prayers at around 6am, I’d sit at the mosque and teach the Quran to anyone who’d want to learn. I used to have a few men as students. Sometimes there are elderly people who do not know how to read the Quran, and I’d trach them too.”

His wife then chipped in, “If he has no students, he’d pull me to sit with him so that he could teach me! We’d then read the Quran together.”

His wife is working in education, has a degree in physics and is pursuing a masters degree so that she could give bigger contribution to the system.

“You know, my husband and my son learned Quran from a chain or narrators who go back to Prophet Muhammad SAW,” she said

Our eyes widened even more.

“And they are hafidhs too,” she added.

(Hafidhs are people who memorise the Quran word by word, from cover to cover).

We felt so small by now.

. . .

Yes, the lunch was great.

But this conversation is even greater.

We walked out of the restaurant feeling grateful and inspired for having met that family. Yes, we felt small, we asked ourselves what have we done in our lives as compared to these people. They studied hard, worked hard, they have the right kind of fun, and they contributed a lot to the people around them.

It doesn’t mean we have to feel depressed when we look back at our lives. I believe a meeting like this is meant to inspire us to use our time better, to be more productive, to give more to people around us.

Truly we were blessed to have met this Palestinian family. The only way to show our gratefulness is by emulating them in our lives.