Then and Now: Rereading Mohja Kahf’s “The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf”

In 2007, at the brash, naive, and frankly moronic age of 16, I penned a scathing review of Mohja Kahf’s novel “The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf” for this very website, MuslimMatters.org. Thirteen years later, I read it again – only to find myself deeply, utterly in love with this book.

Khadra Shamy is the American daughter of Syrian immigrants, Wajdy and Ebtahaj, who dreamt of little more than dedicating themselves to the Da’wah in their tiny Muslim community in Indiana. Khadra grows up immersed in the culture of conservative da’wah: of the Deen being black and white, of certain rules followed scrupulously, of culture frowned upon in exchange for the purity of Islam. As she moves from a 10 year old child overwhelmed with guilt for accidentally eating gelatin-containing candy corn, to a black-clad, angry teenager who reads Qutb and supports the Iranian Revolution, to a college student who dutifully marries young, Khadra finds the foundations of her worldview slowly cracking. 

Going for Hajj was not spiritually revolutionary, but a dark glimpse of what Arab youth get up to in the heartland of Islam; after devoting herself to tajweed and hifdh, Khadra is told that she must stop reciting Qur’an in mixed gatherings and that Qur’an competitions are only open to men. Her ideal Islamic marriage begins to crumble when her husband evokes the Qawwam card to prohibit her from riding her bike in public – and when she gets pregnant, only to decide on an abortion, and then a divorce, Khadra creates a schism between herself, her community, and all that she has known. In the years that follow, Khadra breaks down and recreates her identity as a Muslim and her beliefs about Islam. 

In many ways, The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is both a love letter and a breakup note to conservative Muslims. Kahf’s book traces, with intimate authenticity, what it is to be a Western-raised child of parents immersed in the Da’wah; our quirks and eccentricities and ties to a back home culture that we don’t always understand; our hidden hypocrisies and our secret shames. She breathes into words the tenderness of our bonds of faith, the flames of our religious passion, the complexities of our relationships. She knows who we are, how we are, and she speaks to us in our own words. Perhaps ahead of her time, she gently forces Muslim readers to confront the issues of intra-Muslim racism, of the history of Blackamerican Muslims, of the naive arrogance of immigrant Muslims, of the almost insurmountable distance between the theory of Islam for Muslim women, and the reality of what Muslim women experience.

Of course, it comes with a price. Kahf ends her novel by having Khadra follow the by-now-predictable trajectory that we have seen from many Muslims of a progressive bent: Sufism is the only acceptable fluffy-enough type of Islam; all paths, even outside of Islam, lead to God; conservative Muslims are embarrassing, suffocating, and are holding their communities back from true spiritual enlightenment. To be fair, Kahf doesn’t hold back from pointing out the hypocrisies of secular liberal types either, and she is far softer and more tender in her portrayals of conservatives as well. 

It is worth taking a closer look at how Kahf chose to take Khadra down the path of progressiveness. Khadra’s story is a mirror of so many true stories, of children from religious families whose resentment over their experiences pushed them to choose an easier way, one less rooted in following Shari’ah and more a vague idea of spirituality. This narrative portrays turning progressive as the only logical conclusion to such experiences, which is in itself deeply problematic. In truth, there are many Muslims – born Muslims and converts alike – who have suffered far worse than merely restrictive upbringings, or unhappy marriages, and who have chosen instead to commit themselves even more determinedly to orthodoxy. Spirituality is not the sole domain of Sufis or liberals; it is part and parcel of Islam itself, even in its most conservative form. To imply otherwise is a dishonesty that is found all too often amongst those who have their own biases and agendas against any form of Islam that does not feel flexible enough for their own tastes.

As a particularly ridiculous 16-year-old Salafi, I was too consumed in my outrage at Khadra leaving the aqeedah of Ahlus Sunnah wa’l Jamaa’ah, and too busy agreeing with her ex-husband on the inappropriateness of Muslim women riding bikes in public, to understand or appreciate this deeply emotional journey. Fast forward 13 years, and 29-year-old me identifies far more with Khadra than my past self could ever have imagined. Little had I known, that first time, that I too would experience what Khadra and so many other Muslim women have: the painfully cliche toxic marriage to controlling Muslim men who use Islam to suffocate our souls and our spirits. (But really, 16yo Zainab??? You legit thought that Khadra’s husband was justified in stopping her from riding her bike??? You almost deserved going through practically the same thing, you idiot.)

Rereading The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf as an adult, having lived through my own traumas and growth, through spiritual crisis and rediscovery, was a very different experience. My own upbringing was very similar to Khadra’s: in a religious da’wah bubble, surrounded by an insistence on Islamic ideals, blithely ignoring Muslim realities (and occasionally denying them outright). The self righteous ignorance in my 2007 review has me dying a thousand deaths of mortification, and I am all too aware of just how much like teenaged Khadra I was back then. Thirteen years later, my cynicism knows no bounds, my bitterness sours all idealism, and I feel a deep urge to slap my past self upside the head. There’s some Divine irony in all of this, I suppose; certainly, it is cause for reflection on the value of personal growth and maturity, of how the years and one’s experiences can turn one into the very person they once derided. I relate far more to Khadra today than my teenaged self could ever have imagined, and in many ways, I only wish that I could have retained the blithe innocence (if not the ignorance) that I once had in abundance. Following Khadra on her journey was to retrace my own steps, to remember precisely how and when I, too, made the choice to become someone new.

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is an iconic piece of work. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking; utterly tender and yet unflinching from pain; brutally honest, authentic, and unapologetically Muslim.Click To Tweet

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is an iconic piece of work. It is both heartwarming and heartbreaking; utterly tender and yet unflinching from pain; brutally honest, authentic, and unapologetically Muslim. Kahf does not waste time explaining things to a non-Muslim audience, nor does she hold back from dishing out hard truths to Muslim readers. She knows us, inside and out, and it is this startling familiarity that pulls one in and doesn’t let go until we find ourselves shocked that we’ve reached the end of the book. In the era of #OwnVoices and #WeNeedDiverseBooks, Mohja Kahf was undoubtedly a pioneer in the field of diverse fiction.

The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf is a damned good book – one that will have you blinking away furious tears and lay awake at night, feeling your heart ache with unforgotten, unseen bruises.

The post Then and Now: Rereading Mohja Kahf’s “The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf” appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.


Source: Muslim Matters

Pursuing Public Policy as a Field of Study: A Few Principles, Tips, and Advice

Witnessing people rise up, speak out against injustices, and protest, is a life-changing experience. It definitely was one for me. A decade ago, barely a few months into college, watching the unravelling of the Arab Spring inspired me to change my career goals and embark on a journey to better understand the world of government and public policy. While my journey is still young, I’ve learned a few lessons and principles along the way that may be of benefit to anyone starting theirs.

Consider your options

The first principle in pursuing a path in public policy is to take steps to keep your options open for your source of income. Why? There are a few factors at play. The first is the reality of the job market. Government jobs pay the best in the space, but they can be scarce (and unlike the private sector, there’s no startup ready to disrupt the space).

Government jobs, of course, aren’t the only option (and for many people, it’s not what they want to do). Another route is to work at non-profits, or think tanks. Pay in these areas will greatly vary, depending on the prestige (and donor base) of the organization. As with the public sector, here too jobs can be scarce.

How do you keep your options open? Investing in skills that can translate (or even aren’t relevant to public policy) is a good place to start. Software programming, communications, or data analytics are some examples of skills that will provide you with options to fall back on. Learning an in-demand language is another option.

While thinking of your income isn’t, and honestly shouldn’t, be the motivation for entering public policy (I always dodged the ‘how will you make a living?’ questions in college), it is a practical consideration that will eventually catch up with you. This can come in various ways, and is unique to each individual’s circumstances. The worst-case scenario is if one starts to consider bending their ethical framework when they find themselves in a financial squeeze. The freedom to be able to walk away from something in order to maintain your ethical code is extremely powerful, and skills that keep your job options open help greatly.

Maintaining your ethical code is of the upmost importance in this space (and remember that you can still influence policy discussions regardless of your job title).

Take on a non-career mindset

Another principle to keep in mind is to avoid thinking of what you’re doing primarily as a career. The idea that you’ll just work your way up and increase your income, job title, or employer benefits has to be dropped before setting out on this journey.

Why is this important? Many major life decisions are made with the idea of a linear career trajectory in mind. People take out mortgages and car loans with the expectation of an increase in purchasing power as their careers progress. This can’t be the expectation in the public realm. While this advice is arguably applicable in other sectors, I believe it is absolutely critical for anyone considering working in public policy before beginning the journey.

Political winds constantly shift, and will be faced with difficult choices. It is important to fit your work to your ethics, and not the other way around. Dropping the mindset of a linear career, combined with investing in skills that give you the option to walk away if needed, are two ways to make that happen.

Avoid insiderness

The world of public policy is complex, and it requires effort, study, and a keen eye to understand the social role that public agencies play. At times, the ideas and concepts become overly technical and inaccessible to a general audience. This can bring with it a sense of ‘insiderness’, and a general feeling of ‘being in the know.’ Knowing the lingo and talking points is important, but it can disconnect you from the people that you have set out to serve (at worst, it can be a way to intimidate those who aren’t ‘in the know’).

Having a sense of humility, of course, is necessary for any aspect of a Muslim’s life. A field in which you’re expected to provide solutions to society’s problems, and to convince others of your solutions, arguably has an inherit conflict with that sense of humility. But that doesn’t have to be the case. The key is to finding a way to engender a countervailing experience against the highs of insiderness. The one that I believe in, and ties in to the point earlier on building skills for optionality, is to learn a language.

Why learn a language? There are several reasons. The most relevant one here has to do with the process of learning a language itself. This brings with it the experience of having to learn to ‘speak’ again. You put yourself in a context where your words, and in some ways your ability to be heard, are taken away from you. This alone can engender a different sense of humility.

Learning a language also grounds you with the experience of not having your voice understood by others. It builds an appreciation for people whose voice might not be heard in the policy process. Simultaneously, your new language will open the door to learning from new voices and perspectives.

Learn from tradition

Public policy is a secularized space, but that doesn’t mean that our tradition can’t inform our mindset stepping into it. One particularly salient area is keeping in mind how to view success. Stepping in with a commitment to your ethics naturally means discarding the idea that success means a specific title or position associated with your name.

How then should you view success? It begins with accepting that you may not live to see the fruits of your labor. Your name may never be known in this world. Success in a worldly sense isn’t why you’ve stepped on this path.

This doesn’t mean not being ambitious. It’s important to have ambition. Just don’t let your ambition override your values in deciding what to do. Learning the stories of historical figures from our tradition who’ve faced similar struggles helps with this. Examples include, just to name a few, Imam Shamil of Dagestan who resisted Russian imperialism, Imam Malik Ibn Anas who refused to change his beliefs when pressured by political authorities, and Nizam al-Din Awliya whose family were made refugees due to the Mongol invasions and had to subsequently build a new life in India.

Another area to learn, as Imam Dawud Walid suggests in Towards Sacred Activism, is studying usul-ul-fiqh and aqeedah, which will help complement your policy studies and further ground your knowledge of the world.

 

Aim high in whatever good you seek to do. Just keep in mind who truly provides success. And then, get ready for the journey you’re about to take.

The post Pursuing Public Policy as a Field of Study: A Few Principles, Tips, and Advice appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.


Source: Muslim Matters

Politics In Islam: Muslims Are Called To Pursue Justice

The pursuit of justice is a core Islamic value. One of the important roles Allah, the Exalted, assigned to His messengers is the task of establishing justice among the people. Allah, the Almighty, emphasized the importance of justice when He prohibited Himself from oppression and declared it forbidden among us humans. Allah is the Lord of all justice and fairness. In His fairness, He commands us to not allow our anger or hatred towards any group lead us to injustice against them. “Be just,” He commands, “it is closer to righteousness.”

Allah, the Most High, commands us to be witnesses for justice, even against ourselves. The concept of “even against ourselves,” is an open call to all people of faith to rise to the occasion, especially where we see systemic or structural oppression. In most such cases, the oppression is carried out in our name, usually by our elected government.

Allah’s emphasis on justice leads many Muslims to worry that if they vote for a president who transgresses against another country, the fault falls on everyone who voted for him. This fear paralyzes Muslim engagement in the American political system. Let us examine the circumstances of responsibility in such cases.

To be clear, the present governments of almost all countries on Earth, including the so-called Muslim countries operate with corruption and oppression. Taking Egypt as an example, the government’s domestic policies have led to the unjust death and imprisonment of thousands of Egyptian citizens, and their foreign policy enables the perpetuation of Gaza’s destruction. This, however, does not require the average Egyptian Muslim citizen to reject all relationship to the nation of Egypt. The question then arises: how responsible is the Muslim for the actions of his government? Likewise, when the American government acts with injustice at home and abroad, how responsible is the American Muslim for the actions of his government? When the average citizen is not consulted before the execution of military operations, to what degree are we held responsible?

Allah’s Messenger provided for us a balanced approach to engaging with the injustice around us. Abu Saʿīd al-Khudri narrates that he heard the Prophet say,

“Whoever sees evil should change it with his hand; and if he is unable to do so, then he should change it with his tongue; and if he is unable to do so, then he should hate it with his heart—that is the least of faith.”

Let us take a practical example:

In 2001, President George W. Bush decided to invade Iraq. To justify his action, he invented a series of lies that Iraq possessed nuclear capabilities. It took him more than a year to align the power brokers in America and Europe to enable this evil action to occur. Neither the opinions nor the interests of the American population were taken into consideration.

Before the invasion, the public had two concerns: that the justification presented for the war was speculative and unfounded, and the war would result in countless unnecessary deaths. These worries quickly materialized into realities as time proved them to be true. However before the war, various politicians, pundits and opinion makers helped sell this unjust action to the people in order to gain their consent. They are undoubtedly guilty of murder and should be remembered as peddlers of death.

But what was the duty of an average American Muslim? The hadith mentioned above lists three levels of engagement:

Level One:

Someone who was part of the military or legislative authority had a duty in front of Allah to attempt to stop the invasion with action. If he was a congressman, he had a moral duty to vote against the war. If he was a member of the military, any intelligence agency, or government policy group, he had a moral duty to challenge the claims of the war’s proponent’s and provide information to the public so that they can know the truth. This duty applied to the person despite the likelihood that such a course of action would have probably jeopardized their career or their life.

Level Two:

Most Americans were not in the position described in level one. In their case, their duty was to speak out against this act of injustice. They could have written letters to their legislators, participated in protest rallies, held events in congress, and even spoken to their neighbors, classmates and colleagues about how wrong this action was. Any American Muslim who was not under threat of arrest for speaking out, but chose to remain silent still, failed to fulfill his duty to protest the evil.

Level Three:

There is little likelihood that the approach of silence would be justified for most American Muslims. There are countries (such as Saudi Arabia), where people can be arrested, tortured, even murdered if they speak out against the government. A Muslim living in one of these societies has a duty to at least engage with the injustices around them on an internal level, detesting the action from the core of their heart. As for the Muslim who does not detest that millions of innocent people are killed, they should check their heart; they would be missing what the Allah’s Messenger described as, “the least of faith.”

What faith is left in the heart of the Muslim who is not bothered by the death of more than a million Muslims?! Even if his mind is polluted with patriotism, tribalism, nationalism, or an inclination towards military culture, there is no excuse for the lack of humanity that is required for this level of apathy.

Considering the hadith above, our minimum duty is to stand and speak against the use of our tax dollars for such acts of injustice. There were indeed many Muslim and non-Muslim voices of dissent that protested the American invasion of Iraq. In addition to the spiritual duty of speaking out against injustice, it was clear to many what was later proven to be true: the invasion was not good for America. The financial and human loss incurred by this war has not made neither America, nor the world safer.

Many propose that Muslims should react to the injustices in their countries by leaving them. But this evasive approach fails to actually address the injustice. There is a greater, though more challenging, expectation of addressing the injustices from within, especially in a country like America where criticisms are tolerated and protest can lead to policy that is felt around the world. A large amount of the pain, and suffering that is happening to the Muslims today can be stopped from inside America. Our brothers and sisters in Pakistan, Bangladesh, Syria, Jordan, Somalia, Kenya, Yemen, Iraq, and Sudan are hoping that we will do something from our positions that will alleviate their suffering. They need our help.

Exonerating ourselves because our government acts without our consent may appease our consciences, but is of no benefit to our global Muslim community.

Such an approach is contradictory to the teaching of the Prophet as made clear by the hadith above. We have the opportunity and ability to speak out against evil, so passive dissent is not an option.

Allah tells us the story of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) and al-Khadir 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)  in Surah al-Kahf (peace be upon them both). When they boarded a ship of some men who agreed to give them a ride to their destination, Khadir pierced the boat’s basin, damaging their source of livelihood. Confused, Musa criticized this action, as it seemed like an injustice towards people who readily did a favor for them. What Musa didn’t know was that the men would encounter a tyrant king who had sent his men to seize all boats that were sound and intact. And as these men had helped Musa and al-Khadir, he wished to help them evade this king’s oppressive policy; the minor damage saved them from losing their boat!

The king was an oppressive tyrant. Musa and al-Khadir (peace be upon both of them) did not possess the power to remove the king or prevent the king from his evil action, and so they took action according to their ability. They knew that though they could not save everyone from the injustice, it was still their duty to act within their capacity to reduce the king’s injustice.

The Story of The Secret Believer

Allah also tells us the beautiful story of the secret believer in the Quran, who worked in the unjust government of the Pharaoh at the time of Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). We know he had a fairly high status in the government because he was part of their most confidential meetings. This secret believer did not exit the government after he saw the many evil deeds of the Pharaoh’s government. During the discussion in the Pharaoh’s cabinet where they decided that Musa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) was to be killed, this believer rose up and voiced his objections to the injustice, citing historical, logical, and emotional appeals. The meeting, however, concluded with the decision to execute Musa. Having been unable to stop this royal decree, he still made the effort to warn Musa so as to give him the chance to flee.

Allah tells us the beautiful story of the secret believer in the Quran, who worked in the unjust government of the Pharaoh at the time of Musa Click To Tweet

Instead of condemning him for participating in a government founded upon unbelief, Allah exalts his mention in His glorious book. He is our example of speaking truth to power, and the reason for Musa’s 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him)safety from Pharaoh’s plot. This man used his position to obstruct oppression, not perpetuate it.

As Muslim Americans, we live in a non-Muslim country. The decisions and actions of our government impacts all of us living in this country. Disengagement will allow selfish people to make decisions that will result in harm to our communities.

Participation will allow us to follow the examples of proactive engagement so as to prevent harm and ultimately change corrupt systems from within. An all-or-nothing approach will almost always lead to nothing.

Allah, the Exalted, provides these examples so that we can understand the practical role of Muslim in an overwhelmingly hostile society. Even though our environments have not reached that degree, we can still relate to the feelings of being oppressed and ostracized for our faith. Allah’s lesson to us in these stories is that our faith shouldn’t prevent us from trying to change these circumstances.

And to Allah is the end of all matters.

The post Politics In Islam: Muslims Are Called To Pursue Justice appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.


Source: Muslim Matters

Day of the Dogs, Part 6: The Curious Sensation of Pity

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5

“You’re out of my league, hermano.” – Halima

Hundred Watt Smiles

Omar sat on a plush stool as an oddly muscular fortyish woman with pencil thin eyebrows applied makeup to his face.

Panama City, Panama high risesHe’d been picked up that morning by a chauffeur driving a black town car, and delivered to the TVN studio, located on the 40th floor of a Calle 50 high rise. His mother was at work. He was alone on what felt like the biggest day of his life.

He’d worn his school uniform of blue pants and white cotton shirt, having nothing at all “dressy” to wear, but another lady came by – the wardrobe lady, young and skinny with a tight expression on her face. Fingering his sleeve, she said, “this won’t do,” and gave him a blue dress shirt.

He took it into the green room’s exotic bathroom, outfitted with magnifying mirrors on jointed arms and real orchids growing in wall sconces. His face was flushed with nervousness, and he wanted to splash some water on his cheeks, but he’d been warned by the makeup lady not to do so.

Someone knocked: “On the air in ten!”

“Okay,” Omar called back. “I’m almost done.”

In reality he was doing nothing but standing at the sink, looking in the mirror. He looked like a clown. But the makeup lady assured him that it would not show on camera and was necessary to reduce the glare of the set lights.

A giant, he told himself. I may be short, but I’m a giant. I can do this. Noticiera Estelar, starring Omar Bayano. He chuckled at his own stupidity.

Pretending a confidence he did not feel, he limped onto the set with his head high. He saw the two hosts – a 20ish man with spiky blond hair, and an older woman with angular cheekbones and a polished smile – take in his cane and scars. Their hundred-watt smiles flickered, then returned as bright as ever.

The five minute segment went well. The hosts dispensed praise like candy, and while the young man cracked corny jokes (“You’ll be famous now, the ladies will love you”), the woman asked surprisingly relevant questions about Omar’s injuries, and even about Samia, since she was the other person injured in the attack. She’d done her homework.

When they asked how he was spending his summer, he replied, “I’m helping my mom with her organic makeup company, Puro Panameño.”

Mango ice creamWhen it was over they chauffeured him home (and let him keep the shirt). It was strange, returning to an empty house after that. He scrubbed off the makeup and ate mango ice cream while watching football.

His mother came home and asked about the interview. It bothered him a bit that she’d missed it, but he knew it wasn’t her fault. If they’d had a VCR they could have taped it, but they were too poor for that. But couldn’t she have taken a few minutes off and watched it in the Arrocha break room or something?

Say Hip Hop

Around 6 pm the door knocker sounded. He limped to the door, opened it, and there – to his astonishment – were the Muhammad sisters, with Nadia and Naris in their colorful traditional clothing, and Nabila in jeans and a tennis shirt, wearing a backpack and bobbing her head to music only she could hear. Nadia held up a VCR tape and exclaimed, “You’re a celebrity!”

“You did well,” Naris said unsmilingly. “I was impressed.” She carried a VCR machine with the cord dangling to the ground.

Omar’s mouth fell open. “You taped it? How did you even know?”

Nabila kept time with her hand as she rapped, “Your mom gave us the lowdown, because we got the know-how, we’re bringing it on like Motown, we’re three at a pop and we don’t stop, all the Muslims in the house say hip hop-”

“Heep hope” said a heavily Spanish accented voice from behind the girls, and here came Halima, with her father waving goodbye from the family minivan. She looked amazing in black slacks, a black and white checkered top and a gray hijab that set off her green eyes. Before Omar could say anything a pizza delivery car pulled up and a young man trotted up with three large pizzas.

“Let your friends in,” Omar’s mother said. Nabila unslung the backpack and opened it, pulling out an Adidas shoebox that she handed to Omar.

“What’s this?”

“Sponsor swag. These look like they might fit you.”

They were brand new Adidas hi-tops. All black, except for the trademark Adidas stripes, which were white. Omar fingered the leather. They were beautiful shoes, better than anything he’d ever owned. And they were his size! “I don’t know what to say, Nabila.”

“No worries, bro. I get plenty.”

Soon they had the machine hooked up and were all settled in front of the TV, Omar on a folding chair and the ladies crowded onto the love seat and sofa. The doorbell rang again. Mamá went to the door and returned with Hani, followed by Samia and her younger brother, a fifth grader named Nuruddin. Omar was especially happy to see Hani, but the boy seemed reticent, and avoided meeting his eyes. Was he still tripping over what had happened?

Samia did not look good. Her hijab was pulled very low over her eyes, almost like a hood, maybe to hide the few scars that were visible just below her hairline. She’d already been chubby, but she’d gained more weight, and her breath was an audible wheeze. Beyond that, her eyes were troubled somehow, as though an unseen shadow was playing over her features.

They watched the interview three times, and each time the kids cheered when Omar was announced. It was so strange, sitting in his own home surrounded by – friends? – was that what these were?

Then Nadia said, “movie time!’ and popped in another tape. Omar was afraid it would be a chick flick, but to his surprise and excitement it was a Bruce Lee film.

A horn honked outside. Three short blasts. Hani rose. “That’s my ride.”

“Come on, hermano,” Omar pleaded. But Hani insisted, saying he had things to do. Omar started to stand, using his cane to lift himself up, but Hani put up a hand.

“No, man, don’t get up. Please. Just…” He shook his head, walked to the door and let himself out.

Down the Rabbit Hole

After the TV interview, the trickle of orders for his mother’s products became a stream. So did the interview requests. They came pouring in from all over the world, by email and by phone. Every day he did three or four phone or webcam interviews, with TV shows and newspapers from as far afield as Bogotá, Lima, Mexico City and even New York, and some in person as well, when the media sent people to see him. He did not travel. Some paid him, some did not.

It came to a climax when President Juan Carlos Varela invited him to the Palacio de Las Garzas, where he was given the Manuel Amador Guerrero award, the highest civilian honor in Panama.

The day the call came, Omar and his mother stood gaping at each other. It felt like he was living in a strange reality that was half nightmare – with his injuries and pain – and half marvelous dream. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to wake up, or keep dreaming.

This time his mother took the day off and came with him. Omar wore the blue shirt that TVN had let him keep, and a pair of new black slacks, dress shoes, and a tie. Every Panama news station was rolling tape as President Varela placed the medal around Omar’s neck, while Omar’s mother stood beside him and beamed like the tropical sun. The medal was shaped like a white cross surrounded by golden rays, and was heavy around his neck. Omar accepted the cross solemnly, unwilling to say, “I’m a Muslim, I can’t wear this.” When President Varela asked how he was coping since the attack, Omar smiled at the cameras and said, “I stay busy working for my mom’s makeup company, Puro Panameño.”

Now he had definitely tumbled down Alice’s rabbit hole and was looking at the Cheshire cat coalescing into being before him. First the glittering, toothy smile, then the rest, bit by bit, ending in the tail. But he never let the attention go to his head. He sensed that this particular cat was one that could either curl up at your feet and purr, or eat you alive, leaving nothing behind but your bones.

The orders flowed in like the Chagres River, until their small kitchen was filled with shipping boxes, and Mamá was working fourteen hours a day.

Árabe Unido

Estadio Armando Dely Valdes in PanamaThe stadium, Estadio Armando Dely Valdés, held 4,000 people, and was packed to the rafters. People chanted, cheered, and blew horns. Mamá had surprised him with tickets to an Árabe Unido game for his birthday in late July. He had not been to a game since Papá died. It was the semifinal match against Tauro in the Liga Panameña championship.

Omar wore his number 58 jersey, along with a blue and white striped Árabe Unido hat from the concession stand. The concession lady recognized him, as people sometimes did, and insisted on giving him the hat free of charge.

Their seats were all the way down near the field. Making his way down the stadium steps, Omar had to be careful. His left calf had been badly damaged in the dog attack, and his left shin had been fractured by a dog’s tooth. Neither wound had yet fully healed. He held tightly to the railing with one hand as he descended, and with his other hand gripped the cane that he used to take weight off his leg.

Still, he was so thrilled by the scene before him that he hardly noticed the pain. The field was brilliant green, the sky so blue he imagined he could dive upwards into it and swim. The air smelled of cotton beer and french fries, and was so thick with humidity that Omar had sweat spreading out all over his body, even on the backs of his hands.

As they made their way toward their seats in row A2, Omar spotted a tall young man with curly hair sitting in A1. His parents were with him, as well as his younger sister. It was Tameem, and Omar remembered that this was one of the few things in the world that he and Tameem had in common. Tameem was an Árabe Unido fan.

Tameem happened to glance over his shoulder. The older boy’s face went blank as he spotted Omar, no doubt taking in Omar’s scarred face and arms, mangled left ear, his limp, and the cane that he needed to walk. Tameem turned to his father and spoke in the man’s ear. The father looked up at Omar, and the two of them – father and son – appeared to argue. Then the entire family stood up and began to leave.

The only thing Omar could think was that Tameem was ashamed. Tameem had bullied him all through their childhoods, but somehow the situation was now reversed. Omar had become the strong one, sure of himself. It wouldn’t have mattered to him if Tameem had suddenly hollered, “Punching Bag!” or “Patacon.” Such things seemed petty now. He would have laughed it off. But Tameem couldn’t face him.

Omar had hated this bully for so long. In school they’d learned about Argentina’s guerra sucia, their “dirty war” of the 1970’s and 80’s, when right-wing government death squads would fly their enemies out over the ocean in helicopters and drop them in. Omar remembered wishing he could do the same to Tameem.

Now, though, he found himself wondering what it must be like for the older boy, reviled by their friends as a coward. What did Tameem have left now? He’d never been a good student. Omar suddenly perceived the older boy as a mask of arrogance worn by a mannequin. An empty thing. The thought gave him a chill, and he experienced the curious sensation of pity, not for himself but for his tormentor.

He called out, “Tameem!” He was going to say, “You don’t have to leave.” But the older boy didn’t look back.

Armando Cooper of Árabe Unido in action

Armando Cooper of Árabe Unido runs it down.

At halftime, the stadium announcer said, “Give a hand of applause to Omar Bayano, recipient of the Manuel Amador Guerrero award for bravery.” The crowd roared. Omar looked up and there he was on the jumbotron, wide-eyed, his mouth hanging open. His mother lifted his hand and waved it, and the crowd laughed.

Árabe Unido won four to one, and by the time the game was over Omar’s throat was sore from cheering. The blue express had done it again. If only his father had been there it would have been the best day of his life, bar none.

Heroism Befitting a Believer

Returning to school, all Omar knew was that he wanted no pity. He had, at some point, stopped caring about people’s reactions to his scars. He did not regret what had happened to him. He’d done the right thing, trying to save Samia. If he could do it over again, he’d make the same choice. So what sense did bitterness make?

It was true, he still had nightmares. And on the rare occasions when he went out walking, he was nervous, constantly looking over his shoulder. Not that he blamed the dogs who’d attacked him. They had only reacted to Tameem’s provocations. He wished they had not had to die, but he told himself that the dogs’ deaths were not his burden to carry. Like Surat An-Najm said: no bearer of burdens will bear the burden of another. Even so, they had been living creatures, with minds and hearts. Omar knew violence well, and would not wish a violent death on any living thing.

Tameem did not return to IIAP, nor did Basem. Strangely, Hani did not come back either. That first day back, the principal called him up in front of the entire school at morning assembly and gave him a trophy. Inscribed at the base were the words, “For heroism befitting a believer.” Omar found the attention embarrassing.

The other kids treated him with deference, parting for him in crowded hallways, and holding doors for him. Some of the little kids even called him ustadh, which he found hilarious.

Strangely Colored Hope

The first Saturday after school started, he decided to walk to Hani’s house, on the southern end of Panama Viejo. He wanted to know what had happened to the boy. Had he transferred schools for some reason? He put on his number 58 jersey and new Adidas, grabbed his metal cane, and set out.

Panama City slum, Panama

Panama Viejo

Panama Viejo, true to its name, consisted of a slum of dilapidated houses that sprawled along the waterfront, within sight of the skyscrapers of tony Punta Paitilla on one side, and towering Costa del Este on the other. Being on the waterfront did not mean beach access. For one thing, Panama Viejo was cut off from the sea by the taut line of the Corredor Sur highway. Furthermore, there was no beach. Just smelly mud flats that bordered a bay polluted with effluent.

Omar walked through the muddy streets, doing his best to keep the new kicks clean, and pulling his shirt up to cover his nose and mouth whenever a diesel-fueled diablo rojo rumbled by. He detoured around potholes, sometimes stopping to rest his arm, which tired from supporting his weight on the cane. Occasionally he switched the cane to the other hand, angling it to relieve his left leg. Hani’s house was normally a fifteen minute walk, but Omar had a feeling it would take a lot longer today.

The working class inhabitants of this neighborhood drove taxis and buses, cleaned floors and toilets, worked as cashiers, cooks and servers, styled hair and nails, or simply peddled goods on the street. Some did what was called in Panama, “mata el cameron” – killing the shrimp, which meant any odd jobs that paid the rent. And some walked the wrong side of the law, robbing, extorting, and selling drugs or people.

Many lived in fear in this barrio. But Omar had never been afraid. When his father had been alive, and they’d sat on the front steps at night watching the stars, Omar had always felt supremely safe. Papá could handle anyone. But Omar had been wrong about that. Papá was not superman. He could not defeat any bad guy. And if he couldn’t rely on that, then what could he rely on? The world might as well be jello, for all the solidity and security it offered.

After Papá died, Omar was still not afraid, but now it was because he didn’t care what happened to him. What did it matter? If he died in an accident or a mugging, a few people would fill a few thimbles with tears, and the world would roll on, turning inexorably into the horizon like a celestial bulldozer.

He still felt that. He’d been lauded in the media and given awards, but a big part of him felt like he could disappear right now, fall into a bottomless pothole, and there would be no butterfly effect, no tiny ripples as Samia liked to say. His absence would not save the life of a stranger in China. And… he wanted to say that he himself would not care. Living or dead, what was the difference?

He’d felt that way for so long that it felt strange to feel any different.

But he did feel different. Somehow some stray light beams had slipped into his Stygian interior. Some strangely colored hope. It was an odd feeling, almost uncomfortable, but it made him lighter on his feet in spite of his injuries. He stopped walking and gazed up at the moisture-laden afternoon clouds coursing in from the south. He might get rained on. For so long he’d wanted to be anywhere else but here, in this decaying barrio, living this ramshackle life. Today, though – it amazed him to think this – he was okay with existing right here, right now.

Blue Braces

At the moment this thought flitted through his brain, he was standing beside a house with a chain link fence. Suddenly a dog ran up to the fence and barked. It was not a large dog. Some sausage-shaped breed, maybe a dachshund. But its approach frightened Omar badly. He broke into a run purely out of instinct, driven by a pointless but overpowering dread. He managed a half dozen steps before his injured leg gave out. Planting the cane to check his fall, he missed the mark, the tip sliding into a pothole. He fell heavily in the rutted, dirty road. Only his karate training saved him from injury. At the last second he turned in the air and took the fall on his side, as he’d been taught.

He looked up to see two women striding briskly toward him. They were in their mid twenties or early thirties perhaps, and had the angular, used-up look that some women get when they’ve lived too hard. One, a wiry woman with mahogany skin, wore cellophane-tight jeans and new sneakers, and had blue braces on her teeth. The other was white and very thin, and wore a tank top and red shorts that exposed sores on her pale legs. “Hey little brother,” the one with the braces called out. “Are you okay?”

As they neared, the blue braces lady reached out a hand to help him up. Veins that stood out beneath the skin of her muscled arm, and a tattoo of a dandelion covered the back of her hand, with the seeds blowing away up her forearm. A perpetual wish for a better life, Omar supposed.

He reached out to take her hand – and her other hand swung out from behind her back. Omar caught a split-second glimpse of the object she gripped – a large, rough-edged chunk of cement – but didn’t even have time to cry out before it struck him across the face with the force of a sledgehammer. He tumbled back onto the road. Pain seared his face, and his head rang like a gong. One of the women kicked him in the stomach and he folded in over himself, all the breath expelled from his body.

Hands rifled through his pockets. One found his faux leather wallet, pulled it out. Omar knew there was nothing in there except five dollars, a miniature copy of Surat Yasin the school had given him at graduation last year, and a clipping of a newspaper article about him. He had twenty dollars on him – a bit of his newfound wealth from the paid news interviews – but it was tucked inside his sneakers.

Blue Braces rolled him onto his back, then slapped his face with his own wallet. He was still gasping for breath, trying to force air into his lungs.

“Where the money at, puto?” the woman demanded. “I know you got some. Look at these sick kicks. Fancy football shirt, walkin’ with a cane like some kinda gentleman. And this.” She pulled his copper bracelet off his wrist and slid it onto her own. Pulled his little flip phone out of his pocket and took that too. Then she opened the wallet, pocketed the five dollar bill, and flicked the copy of Surat Yasin into the street.

Omar went cold. To disrespect and abuse him was one thing. But there was no world in which he would tolerate someone disrespecting the Quran in his presence. And as for the bracelet, his father had given it to him. His FATHER.

Breath came into his lungs. The pain in his face and stomach vanished, and all emotion fell away. He knew what was happening to him. He’d seen Sensei Alan switch into this state of awareness when sparring. It was frightening, sparring with Alan. Something inside the man would change and you’d see it in his face, which would go as flat as a marble slab. Omar had once kicked Sensei in the stomach while sparring, a hard snap kick, connecting with the ball of his foot. It should at least have driven him back. But the man walked right through it.

He understood now. Cold descended upon him, and he felt as calm as a glacier. A roaring sound filled his ears, and though his eyes were wide and unblinking, his vision narrowed so that he saw only the two women.

Blue Braces pulled a screwdriver from her pocket, took a handful of Omar’s shirt in one hand and pressed the tip into his cheek. She shouted something, her spittle striking his forehead. The screwdriver should have hurt but he felt nothing, and did not hear her words. The two muggers were little dogs, yapping. Dogs again, always dogs, coming at him, attacking him. But he knew how to deal with dogs, didn’t he? He didn’t back down to dogs.

“No,” he said, responding not to any particular thing Blue Braces had said, but to the entire situation.

Blue Braces screwed up her features, said something.

Omar heard only the sound of ocean waves crashing in his ears. “No,” he repeated more loudly.

Blue Braces spoke over her shoulder to Skinny Legs, who hauled back her foot to kick again. Her foot flew at Omar’s thigh. He pulled up one knee and let the woman’s toes impact his kneecap. A common sparring technique. She cried out soundlessly and turned in a circle, hopping on one foot. Blue Braces gripped Omar’s shirt tighter and drove the tip of the screwdriver into his cheek. He felt it break the skin and sink into the flesh. Yet there was no pain. Only pressure.

Enough of this.

“I SAID NO!” He shrimped to the side, seized the wrist that held the screwdriver, then struck Blue Braces in the throat with the web of his hand, using the L-shaped part of the hand formed by the index finger and thumb. This was not a sparring strike, but a technique from kata – the set forms he had practiced thousands of times. It was called the tiger’s mouth.

Immediately Blue Braces released the screwdriver and clutched her throat, gagging. Omar shoved her and she fell away. He stood and faced Skinny Legs. Her green eyes were wide now, her hands up in a placating gesture. Omar kicked her in the stomach, not a snapping kick but a powerful thrusting kick that drove deeply into her abdomen. She flew backward, literally coming off her feet, and crashed to the ground, moaning in agony as she rolled in the dirt.

Omar turned back to Blue Braces, who was still clutching her throat. Her face was turning blue. If he’d crushed her trachea she would die without medical intervention. He took his bracelet back, then dug into her pockets and recovered his phone and cash. A handful of crumpled bills spilled from the woman’s pocket, maybe a hundred dollars, but Omar left that. He found his wallet and surah in the street and wiped the surah on his shirt to clean it.

Reymundo is My Guide

He picked up his cane and began to walk away, and was nearly overcome by a wave of nausea, dizziness and pain. He pushed through it and kept on walking, leaning heavily on the cane, barely aware of his environment. If someone else tried to rob him in that moment he’d be done for. When he’d covered two blocks he came to a small store with a sign that said, “Reymundo is My Guide Panama Viejo Snacks and Lottery.” He’d seen this place before and had always noticed it because Reymundo was his own father’s name. But he’d never actually stopped here.

The shop had a little wooden bench out front, one leg chained and locked to an eye bolt in the ground. Omar sat, took out his phone and dialed 911 for the ambulance service. A woman answered and he gave her Blue Braces’ location and condition, then hung up.

“Hey son,” the shopkeeper called. “Are you okay?” He was an old man with wide Indian features and gray hair, and wore round spectacles.

Omar stepped up to the shop’s small window and looked over the goods. What could he get for $5? He settled on a bottle of Coke and a cheese empanada. The shopkeeper refused Omar’s money. “I know you,” the man said. “I knew your Papá. He was a great man.”

Omar returned to the bench and began to eat and drink. The shopkeeper emerged with a box full of medical supplies. Omar started to protest but the old man ignored him. As Omar ate, the man cleaned Omar’s face with a hot towel, applied alcohol with a cotton swab – that hurt badly, making Omar flinch – then applied three bandages.

“Your father help me build this place,” the man said. “You know that?”

Omar shook his head.

“Oh yes. He was very handy. I buy a big pile of bricks and mortar, and we put this place up in a week. He used to come here, help me move boxes, do repairs. My name is Melocoton.”

Omar gave the man a quizzical look. He was named after a fruit? He had a thought. “Wait a minute,” he said slowly. “The Reymundo in your sign?”

The old man grinned, showing teeth that were yellowed but intact. “Your Papá. Is a story. I tell you someday. Anytime you come here, no charge for the son of Reymundo Bayano.”

Omar thanked the man and decided he was ready to head for home. He’d try the trip to Hani’s house again tomorrow, if he was up to it. Right now he just needed to rest.

By the time he was close to home his face and body were drenched in sweat, and his arm trembled from supporting his weight on the cane. He was exhausted and sore everywhere, and his face ached. As it turned out, the sweat at least was not a problem, because when he was one block from home the sky unleashed its torrent, and the rain came down like the curtain at the end of a Greek tragedy.

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 7:  Rich and Poor

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters and Zaid Karim Private Investigator – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

The post Day of the Dogs, Part 6: The Curious Sensation of Pity appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.


Source: Muslim Matters

Does A Muslim Have To Wish Well For An Oppressor Who Is Struck With Disease?

First, we should differentiate between those who want to curse at the oppressor because it’s a fad, and those who do so because they either experienced oppression directly from said oppressor, or they genuinely empathize with those who have been directly oppressed.

To those who are doing it as a fad, I say what my teachers always said to me:

“Islam is not for blowing off steam.”

You cannot use Islam as an outlet for immaturity. Imam Shafi’i said if you are stuck between two options, choose the one that goes against your desires for there is a higher likelihood that the truth lies in that option.

Second, we also have to be careful not to restrict the Islamic position on something just because it sounds like the moral high road. This may be personal preference for some to hold back from cursing the oppressor, but that doesn’t mean Islam specifically asks this of us.

What is the standard?

The Qur’an – “Tell my servants to say the best word.”

“I was not sent as one who always curses.” -Hadith

“The Muslim is not one who always curses.” -Hadith

Scholars noticed that the Prophet ﷺ used the word اللعّان (la’aan) instead of لاعن (laa’in). The former is صيغة المبالغة which means that one is always cursing, where the latter is a description for one who curses once. If the Prophet ﷺ meant to say that the Muslim NEVER curses he would have said “A Muslim is not one who curses even once.”

Instead, what He ﷺ actually said is it is not part of the character of a Muslim that they frequently curse, which is why he used the word لعّان.

Also, the Prophet ﷺ could not have meant that he never cursed, because he himself cursed at an entire tribe. In an authentic hadith in Saheeh Muslim, Khifaaf ibn Imaa’ al-Ghifaari narrates that the Prophet ﷺ made the following dua during salah:

اللَّهُمَّ العَنْ بَنِي لِحْيَانَ، وَالْعَنْ رِعْلًا، وَذَكْوَانَ، ثُمَّ وَقَعَ سَاجِدًا.

“Oh Allah, send your curse upon Bani Lihyaan, and curse Ri’l, and Thakwaan – and then the Prophet ﷺ fell in prostration.”

There is no way that the Prophet ﷺ would command us never to curse and then in certain instances invoke the curse of Allah on others. This proves that cursing is in fact necessary sometimes.

Abu Bakr [ramhu] told Urwah bin Masood to lick the genitalia of Al-laat, which was an idol that was worshipped at the time. This was after Urwah disrespected the Prophet ﷺ. This is a hadith in Bukhari and the Prophet ﷺ did not scold AbuBakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) for his reaction and all the narrations that say the Prophet ﷺ scolded him are weakened if not fabricated. We know the rulings on the Prophet ﷺ’s silence. His silence is legislation. If there was something wrong with Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)‘ s words the Prophet ﷺ would have HAD to say something about it. His ﷺ silence means he agreed with what Abu Bakr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) did.

Even if you do not want to curse, why should you wish well on any oppressor when Allah cursed all oppressors in the Qur’an? You can be clever. Look at the following example.

When Jamal Abdel-Nasser died, Imam Mohammed al-Ghazzali (ra) said: “Oh Allah have mercy on him in the same way he had mercy on your Ummah.”

لما مات جمال عبد الناصر قال الشيخ الغزالي: اللهم ارحمه بقدر ما رحم الامة

So I can say, (and again this is in the case of wanting to avoid cursing): Oh Allah! Have mercy on Trump to the same degree that Trump had mercy on the immigrant mothers who had to be separated from their children as a result of his ruthless policies.

For Tarbiyah purposes, it is beneficial to teach your children and students of knowledge never to curse. This was the methodology of Imam AbdelQadir Jilani (ra) who would force his students never to curse even against oppressors. However, this is in the context of Tarbiyah and preparing students for scholarship and leadership, not the context of Fiqh. This is so that the students lean more towards the Prophetic reality and is also more in line with the hadith we mentioned in the beginning! A student of knowledge and future leader should not be in the habit of constantly cursing.

Many spiritual paths force their students into a certain “extreme” to discipline them and make their default setting leaning towards what is more spiritually beneficial, so that only when it is absolutely necessary will they use these “licenses” that allow them to express their anger. When it comes to the general masses though, we should not make it seem like this is absolutely not allowed, or that it is even spiritually superior to wish well on an oppressor.

We should not be in the business of telling people that Islam forces you to wish well on forces of evil.

The Prophet ﷺ passed by a janazah and said: “Relieved and one who others are relieved from.” Upon being asked, the Prophet ﷺ explained: “The Believer is relieved at the moment of their death from the toil of life. As for the wicked, the people, land, trees and animals are relieved from their presence as soon as they die.”

May the eyes of the oppressors never find rest. Ameen.

The post Does A Muslim Have To Wish Well For An Oppressor Who Is Struck With Disease? appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.


Source: Muslim Matters