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She dunked her head and sank into her seat in Summit High School’s auditorium after she failed to answer a U.S. history question correctly. Flailing beneath the surface, she lost control of her voice and stammered her speech. Once making bold statements, she ended instead with breathless inflections to indicate questions. As an underrepresented minority in the urban student body, she felt the weight of her mistakes in academia. She had not done the reading the night before; which was not reflective of her usual, consistent effort. Her life was a blank page, but she was consumed by the pressure to memorize whole textbooks. It was overwhelming. Her confidence waned, like a flickering flame. Her crimson hijab snugly framed her face. She was blood red. The head covering deflected attention and simultaneously made her a target for discrimination.

The dispassionate blonde teacher, Mrs. Hardin, stifled a laugh, “This class is for young scholars. I’m here to prepare you for college. Some of you are in for a rude awakening.” The students collectively held their breath, and a brief silence ensued before her words shook the seats. “Slavery ended in the U.S. because of a conflict between the North and the South. The main issue was the economy. How could the North keep apace with the South, if the latter industrialized and benefited from free labor? Descendants of Europeans did not just arise from slumber and experience moral compunctions.”

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Halima coughed and mustered up the courage to articulate, “Forgive me for assuming descendants of Europeans would regard promulgating chattel slavery as morally reprehensible.” She tried to speak dryly.

Tim furled his eyebrows as he chimed in, “So, we’re to believe white people didn’t just wake up one day and feel guilty about enslaving millions of black Africans? What about the apology issued by former President Bill Clinton?”

The history teacher continued with both fists on her desk in an aggressive manner, “That’s one man’s voice. He doesn’t speak on behalf of his ancestors – no matter how well-intentioned he was, Tim. And, Halima, think logically. What does your conscience have to do with cost-effectiveness? Imagine the bottom line in dollars and cents, not the, forgive me if I sound condescending, difference between right and wrong. Think profits over the rights of a person.”

Halima straightened her spine and sat up in defense of her ancestors who suffered unduly, but not in ways more than they could bear. Before she could say another word, the class bell rang.

The teacher nodded in Halima’s direction and motioned for her to come closer –to bridge the distance between student and teacher. Mrs. Hardin wanted Halima to join her at the table. The teacher, who took pity, shrugged her shoulders when Halima approached the desk and asked, “How will you prepare for college if you don’t think critically? The world is not run by idealists. It’s obvious you did not do the reading. When I ask ‘why did slavery end?,’ I don’t want to hear wishful thinking. It’s a disservice to you and your fellow classmates. Stop dreaming! Wake up.”

The auditorium was shaped like an inverted slave ship. It was empty and hollow. The classroom experience could be equally as traumatizing as historical injustices, like being publicly flogged. Maybe not in terms of physical pain, but in terms of being dishonored and discredited. 

“But I have experienced an awakening,” Halima protested. “I accepted Islam; it’s an enlightenment. Enlightenment is not reserved for Europeans.” She winced.

“Listen, the world is not run by Islamic principles. Not everyone was touched by the Prophet.” The teacher hammered away trying to carve her student into her image. 

“I’d rather take my cues from a Prophet than be obsessed with profits,” Halima said flustered. “Besides, you and I have different interpretations of what it means to be a slave or a servant. We don’t agree on the basic definition of oppression.”

“If I wore a headscarf, I would feel oppressed.”

“It’s out of modesty. It’s not oppressive. It’s expressive–symbolic of a covenant between me and Allah. Have you read the Qur’an?”

“Not yet, and I don’t intend to.”

The teacher’s brazen arrogance surprised Halima. The next day, Halima offered her teacher a copy of the English translation of the Qur’an. It was a peace offering.

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Halima had strengths. Diplomacy was one of them. She handed Mrs. Hardin the book and said, “This should be required reading. When I am a senator, I’ll be sworn in with my hand on the Qur’an, inshaAllah.”

“I like your confidence,” the teacher responded with both of her hands clasping the Qur’an. “I hope I’m alive to see that day. I apologize if ever I’m harsh with you. I expect great things from you.”

“One can dream, eh?” Halima concluded. “Slavery was a soulless and selfish act. The saddest fact is that modern slavery still exists. There are more slaves today than at the height of the transatlantic slave trade.”

“It looks like you could write an essay about that, but frame your argument in terms of economic history. It’s not too late to redeem yourself. You can earn extra credit to make up for low marks in class participation. I can tell when you’ve done the reading.”

“Let me wrap my mind around the subject. In my eyes, the subjugation of a people based on immutable characteristics is indefensible.”

“Don’t defend; instead, recommend.”

“I can definitely recommend a course of action to make up for slavery, and it starts with reparations.”

Mrs. Hardin bit her tongue. “That’s controversial. What a great start! I knew you’d shake things up in halls of power. You’ve made a lot of progress this semester. You should be proud.”

“I am, thank you.”

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Source: Muslim Matters