In the battle of Badr, the Muslim army was made up of about 300 men and the polytheists’ army was about 1000 men.
By: Safiur Rahman Mubarakpuri
The Reason of the Battle of Badr
A caravan belonging to Quraish had escaped an imminent military encounter with the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and his men. When their return from Syria approached, the Prophet dispatched Talhah ibn `Ubaidullah and Sa`id ibn Zaid northward to scout around for any movements of this sort. The two scouts stayed at Al-Hawra’ for some days until Abu Sufyan, the leader of the caravan, passed by them. The two men hurried back to Madinah and reported to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) their findings.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) immediately exhorted the Muslims to rush out and waylay the caravan to make up for their property and wealth they were forced to give up in Makkah. He did not give orders binding to everyone, but rather gave them full liberty to go out or stay back, thinking that it would be just an errand on a small scale.
The Muslim army was made up of 300-317 men, 82-86 Emigrants, 61 from Aws and 170 from Khazraj. They were not well-equipped nor adequately prepared. They had only two horses belonging to Az-Zubair ibn Al-‘Awwam and Al-Miqdad ibn Al-Aswad Al-Kindi, 70 camels, one for two or three men to ride alternatively. The Prophet (Peace be upon him), at the head of his army, marched out along the main road leading to Makkah. He then turned left towards Badr and when he reached As-Safra’, he dispatched two men to scout about for the camels of Quraish.
Abu Sufyan, on the other hand, was on the utmost alert. He had already been aware that the route he was following was attended with dangers. He was also anxious to know about the movements of Muhammad (Peace be upon him). His scouting men submitted to him reports to the effect that the Muslims were lying in ambush for his caravan. To be on the safe side, he hired Damdam ibn ‘Amr Al-Ghifari to communicate a message asking for help from the Quraish people. The messenger rode fast and reached Makkah in frenzy. Felling himself from his camel, he stood dramatically before Al-Ka‘bah, cut off the nose and the ears of the camel, turned its saddle upside down, tore off his own shirt from front and behind, and cried: “O Quraish! Your merchandise! It is with Abu Sufyan. The caravan is being intercepted by Muhammad (Peace be upon him) and his companions. I cannot say what would have happened to them. Help! Help!”
The effect of this hue and cry was instantaneous and the news stunned Quraish and they immediately remembered their pride that was wounded when the Muslims had intercepted Al-Hadrami caravan. They therefore swiftly mustered almost all of their forces and none stayed behind except Abu Lahab,. Soon an excited throng of 1300 soldiers including 100 horsemen and 600 mailed soldiers with a large number of camels, was clamoring to proceed to fight the Muslims.
They moved swiftly northward to Badr. On the way they received another message from Abu Sufyan asking them to go back home because the caravan had escaped the Muslims. Incidentally, Abu Sufyan, on learning the intention of the Muslims, led his caravan off the main route, and inclined it towards the Red Sea. By this maneuver, he was able to slip past the Madinese ambush and was out of their reach.
On receiving Abu Sufyan’s message, the Makkan army showed a desire to return home. The tyrant Abu Jahl, however haughtily and arrogantly insisted that they proceed to Badr, stay three nights there for making festivities. Now they wanted to punish the Muslims and prevent them from intercepting their caravans, and impress on the Arabs that Quraish still had the upper hand and enjoyed supremacy in that area.
Muslims Prepare for the Battle
On account of these new grave developments, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) held an advisory military emergency meeting to review the ongoing situation and exchange viewpoints with the army leaders. They assured the Prophet (Peace be upon him) of the unreserved obedience to his command. Sa‘d ibn Mu‘adh said: “O Prophet of Allah! We give you our firm pledge of obedience and sacrifice. We will obey you most willingly in whatever you command us, and by Allah, Who has sent you with the Truth, if you were to ask us to plunge into the sea, we will do that most readily and not a man of us will stay behind.” The Prophet (Peace be upon him) was impressed with the fidelity and the spirit of sacrifice which his companions showed at this critical juncture.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) spent the whole night preceding the day of the battle in prayer and supplication. That was Friday night, Ramadan 17th., the year 2 A.H.
In the morning, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) called his men to offer the prayers and then urged them to fight in the way of Allah. As the sun rose over the desert, the Prophet(Peace be upon him) drew up his little army, and pointing with an arrow which he held in his hand, arranged the ranks.
When the two parties approached closer and were visible to each other, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) began supplicating Allah. He also gave strict orders that his men would not start fighting until he gave them his final word.
The Battle Starts
The first disbeliever to trigger the fire of the battle and be its first victim was Al-Aswad ibn `Abdul Asad Al-Makhzumi, a fierce bad-tempered idolater. He stepped out swearing he would drink from the water basin of the Muslims, otherwise, destroy it or die for it. He engaged with Hamzah ibn Abdul Muttalib, who struck his leg with his sword and dealt him another blow that finished him off inside the basin.
The battle had actually started and it was the help of Allah with them. The Makkans suffered terrible defeats in all the combats and lost some of their most precious lives. They were too much exasperated and enraged and fell upon the Muslims to exterminate them once and for all. The Muslims, however, after supplicating their Lord, calling upon Him for assistance, were made to hold to their position and conduct a defensive war plan that was successful enough to inflict heavy losses on the attackers. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) used to pray to his Lord ceaselessly persistently and day and night to come to their succor. Immediate was the response from Allah, Who sent down angels from the heavens for the help and assistance of the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and his companions.
The ranks of Quraish began to give way and their numbers added nothing but confusion. The Muslims followed eagerly their retreating steps, slaying or taking captive all that fell within their reach. Retreat soon turned into ignominious rout; and they flied in haste, casting away their armor, abandoned beasts of burden, camp and equipage.
The Battle Ends
When the war activities had been concluded, the Prophet (Peace be upon him) ordered that the corpses of the polytheists be dropped into an empty well.
The polytheists having received a large dose of disciplining and heavy defeat, fled away in great disorder in the vales and hillocks heading for Makkah panicked and too ashamed to see their people. The defeat was a matter of great shame and grief for the Makkans. In almost every house there were silent tears for the dead and the captives. They were burning with humiliation and were thirsting for revenge. Wailing, lamenting and crying however were decreed strictly forbidden lest the Muslims should rejoice at their affliction.
Source: Taken from the author’s “Ar-Rahiq Al-Makhtum”
Note to the reader: Some Muslims debate which term we should use for someone who has chosen to accept Islam. Is it supposed to be “convert” or “revert?” In this article, I choose to use the word “convert.” Before I start receiving comments from individuals who are convinced that the term “revert” is the only correct one, I would like to share this superb article on the issue written by Ricardo Peña, who says it better than I ever could.
Nuha* thought she had found her soulmate and future life partner in Joel*, her co-worker. He was kind, hardworking, and charming, and the young couple wanted to get married. Nuha’s father, however, would not give his blessing to the union because the potential groom had recently converted to Islam. Nuha’s dad wanted his daughter to marry a man who had grown up in a Muslim family and therefore, presumably, had years of Islamic experience and fairly solid religious knowledge. He speculated about some of the things Joel might have done before embracing Islam and whether he had any habits that would be hard to break. He also thought it would be wiser for his daughter to marry someone from the same background; he doubted a white guy would really know how to relate to a Pakistani-American girl and her desi family. Most of all, he worried that Joel would not know enough about Islam to be a good husband, father, and imam of his family.
Was Nuha’s father justified? Do converts make good spouses and parents? Can they ever truly move on from any un-Islamic aspects of their past and adhere to their new deen?
How do converts attain the knowledge necessary to raise children with Islamic knowledge, taqwa, and adab?
To answer this question I spoke with six Muslims who grew up in a household where one or more parents were converts to Islam. Their answers give insight into the true dynamics of what happens when converts raise children.
Khadijah is a freelance writer, editor, and writing coach from the United Kingdom. Her mother, a white British woman, converted when Khadijah was eight years old. When she and Khadijah’s father had divorced, she had felt a need to find a deeper meaning in life. This searching led her to Islam.
“My mum taught me Islam in stages,” explains Khadijah. “As she learnt things, she passed them onto me. We went to study circles together, and we learnt to pray together as well. She wrote the transliteration of the prayer on little blue cards for us to hold whilst we prayed. I wouldn’t say her knowledge was sufficient at the time, but whose knowledge is? I learnt valuable lessons as I watched her do her own reading, leaning, and questioning. I felt like we stumbled through together. As I grew up, this taught me Islam is a constant journey, and it’s ok to ask questions.”
Shaheda, a freelance writer from North Carolina, grew up in different circumstances than Khadijah, but the women’s stories have definite parallels. Shaheda’s parents are African Americans who were both raised in traditional southern Christian families. The pair converted to Islam in the 1960s when they were college students who were active in the Civil Rights movement. They began to learn about Islam after their introduction to leaders like Malcolm X.
As different as her parents’ life experiences were from Khadijah’s mum’s, Shaheda enjoyed the same benefit of being able to see her parents growing and changing due to the love of Islam. “My parents were learning Islam as they were raising us,” explains Shaheda, “and so their increase in knowledge was tangible to us. We grew up in a community where you would see the physical manifestations of knowledge acquisition. The style of dress of the sisters became more modest, the separation of women and men became more pronounced in social gatherings, social gatherings took on a more religious tone, we began to attend Sunday school to learn Quran and Arabic.”
Though it may come as a surprise to some, in families where one spouse was a born to a Muslim family and the other is a convert, the convert is often actually the more knowledgable and practicing parent. Aliyah is a family counselor from the Midwestern United States whose Indian mother and white American father met when they were partners in pre-med. “My dad had read about ‘Mohammedans’ and would ask my mom lots of questions about them,” explains Aliyah. “My mom was raised in a home that was only culturally Muslim. Plus, back then most immigrants just wanted to assimilate. She didn’t really know the answer to my dad’s intensive questions. One day she suggested he ask her father the same questions. My grandfather took him to the ISNA convention where he could ask more knowledgeable people. Alhumdulilah he got all his questions answered and converted!”
She continues, “As a little kid we always looked at my dad as the sheikh of the house. We all agree that he’s the reason my family is even practicing. He would always patiently entertain and answer my questions, read me stories about the Prophets and Seerah, and really focus on aqeedah and comparative religions. When I grew up and both our levels of knowledge needed to grow, we learnt together. As a teen, my dad and I would walk to the masjid together and attend the Friday night halaqa. In college, our favorite thing to do was attend al Maghrib classes. I would ditch my friends and discuss with him what we had learned during the lunch break.”
For Iman,* a stay at home mom who grew up between the United States and the Middle East, it was her convert mother — not her Arab father — who was her main Islamic influence. “I was about 6-7 years old when my mom converted,” she explains. “I grew up celebrating Christmas and Eid. We had a Christmas tree in our living room for the first several years of my life. My mother, who was raised a Southern Baptist, embraced Islam when my youngest brother was a baby, so for most of his life she was a practicing Muslim. We learned most of what we know from her. I remember as a child seeing stacks of books on the dining table that she would check out of the masjid library to read and learn. She was a very intelligent woman who knew more about Islam than lots of born Muslims.”
Based on her own experiences, Iman asserts, “Generally speaking, I think converts are more knowledgeable than born Muslims. It can be challenging,” she adds, “when the convert is more serious about deen than their born-Muslim spouse.”
Anisa, a former teacher from Missouri, agrees with Iman. “In some ways, I feel converts may have more Islamic knowledge than born Muslims because they have had to search for the knowledge themselves as opposed to growing up with it. Also,” she adds, “many born Muslims have grown up with so much culture mixed with the religion that the difference between the two can get blurred.”
Anisa’s mom, a white American woman who was raised Christian, met some Muslims at Oklahoma Baptist College back in 1970. She started conversations with them in the hopes of converting them to Christianity, but ended up intrigued by their faith. She took an Islamic History class and read whatever books she could find at the library. She decided to become a Muslim at an MSA conference and made her shahada in 1973. “By the time my mother was raising my sisters and me, she definitely knew all the basics of Islam and was able to teach us,” says Anisa.
Mustafa is the child of an Egyptian dad and an American mom. He was born in the U.S. but raised primarily in Egypt where he was surrounded by Muslims, and yet his convert mother was a huge inspiration to him in his faith. “I know that I loved my mom so much,” Mustafa says. “I felt that she had done the decision-making process for us. That if someone so smart, clever, and precise figured out Islam was the Truth, it must be.”
“My mom became Muslim in the early 80s,” explains Mustafa. “She learned about Islam from her students while completing her Masters at the University of Illinois-Champagne. She was teaching English as a second language to Malaysian exchange students. She also ended up living with them and learning about Islam from them. People always assumed my mom converted for my dad,” muses Mustafa. “She didn’t even know him when she converted!”
As positive as their experiences were, overall, with the guidance of their convert parents, life was not always easy for the children who grew up with one born-Muslim parent and one convert. Many times, stereotypes about race, ethnicity, and cultural differences complicated their relationships with extended family members and outsiders. Both as children and as adults, many of them had to cope with people’s misconceptions and tactlessness.
“I was always teased,” confides Aliyah. “I’ve been called ‘half Muslim,’ ‘zebra,’ and ‘white girl’ in a derogatory way. Aunties always questioned if I was taught Islam properly. People would assume my dad converted for love (the pet peeve of my whole family). I would hear talk in Urdu in the masjid kitchen that I couldn’t cut an onion because I’m white. It was hard for us when we were getting married to find someone that clicked with us because we were so culturally different than everyone we knew.”
“Kids are rough,” adds Mustafa. “Muslims can be ignorant, stereotypical, and not know what is offensive. Someone asked my sister, ‘Did your dad marry your mom because she wore a bikini?’ We were oddities at school in Egypt when people would see my mom pick us up from school. I was actually embarrassed to be seen with her for a while growing up, just because of all the attention it got me.”
I was “the white girl” in a Muslim school,” explains Khadijah, “and whilst that made the other girls very aware of who I was, there was always an element of separation there. I didn’t feel white. I didn’t feel Pakistani or Gujarati. I don’t feel like it affected me in either a negative or positive way. I got used to not completely belonging and forged my own ‘culture.’ I married an Afro-Caribbean brother, so my children have such a mix of cultures around them and I think it’s pretty beautiful. Whether my upbringing influenced this or not, I don’t know!”
While Shaheda did not feel any religious tension within her extended family, (“I understand from firsthand experience how people of different faiths can coexist in love and mutual respect,” she says), she does experience some difficulty from her brothers and sisters in Islam. She reports “having to repeatedly validate my identity as an actual Muslim to those who don’t have the same experience. The assumption that there may be something missing or not quite Muslim enough is troublesome.”
Wisdom to Share
These children of converts with their unique experiences and courageous dedication to their faith have excellent wisdom to share with the Ummah.
Aliyah, whose work as a counselor focuses especially on Muslim families, has advice for Muslim parents whose marriage is mixed, either culturally or racially. “To youth,” she says, “identity matters SO MUCH, especially in this day and age when that’s all anyone ever talks about. If you’re a white convert parent of brown/black kids, identify your privilege that comes with that. If your kids are brown or black…learn about what that means in America. When I was with my non-Muslim relatives they would just make me feel so ‘other.’ They would focus on my exotic look and beliefs and just make me feel like an alien.”
She continues, “Research things to consider when you are raising a child that is a different ethnicity than you. Ask your kids how they feel about it. Have an open conversation. Teach them about valuing both their cultural backgrounds.”
Khadijah’s advice to Muslim parents is,
“Learn WITH your children. Let them see that you’re still learning and struggling as well. Let them experience the journey with you. They’ll learn more that way than through lectures. You don’t have to act like you have everything figured out.”
“I believe the constant cycling in of converts into Muslim communities is a great blessing,” offers Shaheda. “And with that blessing comes a responsibility. We owe them our support, wisdom, and love, and I think we should take that responsibility very seriously. We should create bonds. These individuals who Allah has chosen as believers among disbelievers are special, and they keep us on our spiritual toes. There are multitudes of blessings when a community gains a new convert.”
When I asked them if they would have any concerns about their own children marrying converts, all of the interviewees answered a firm “no.” They realize that a person’s dedication to Islam is not guaranteed by being born into it, or even raised with it.
Converts — people who chose Islam as mature adults after a great deal of research, soul-searching, and personal transformation — are among our Ummah’s most passionate, educated, and sincere members.
*Names have been changed
The post Raised by Converts appeared first on MuslimMatters.org.
Source: Muslim Matters
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“I’m going to kill her,” the man in the back seat growled. A moment earlier his phone had beeped, indicating a text message.
Randa ignored him. She could already smell him – he reeked of cigarette smoke and Drakkar, a syrupy yet rancid combination, like a rotting fruit – and didn’t care to expend the energy to turn her head.
Exhausted from a nine hour shift slinging overloaded plates of food to hordes of Japanese and German tourists, she sat in the front seat of the UberPOOL car, staring out the window at the passing nightlife of San Francisco. Taxis and buses jostling for space, restaurants with lines down the block. Cable cars, street cars, tourists with their expensive cameras like baby candy for Tenderloin junkie thieves. Chinese women heading home from SOMA sweatshops, elbowing their way onto packed buses. Local hipsters, bike messengers and pimply faced tech millionaires. They were all jammed into this city on seven hills, mesmerized by the lights and endless cash, or imprisoned by them. Free to go where they would; free to ruin themselves.
She reached into the shopping bag between her knees and fingered the silk scarf she’d purchased. She’d spent half her weekly paycheck on it. A gift for Nawal. SubhanAllah, its exquisite softness was unreal. What she would have given during the last three years to feel something so yielding. She released the scarf and settled back into the seat. Quick stop at the halfway house to shower and change, then on to Nawal’s party. She could do this. After all she’d been through, why should a party make her nervous?
“Bitches lie,” the smoker went on. “That’s all women do, they lie. I’m going to kill the sl*t.”
“Sir,” the driver said, glancing in the rear view mirror. He was a tiny man with a thick moustache and a flat cap. His name was Ali, according to the Uber app. European looking, maybe Kurdish, maybe Arab. “Calm down or I will put you out.”
“Screw you,” Smoker said. “I paid for this ride, I’m not going any-”
Ali swerved to the curb and hit the brakes, screeching to a stop beside Union Square. “Out.”
It was almost Christmastime, and the square was packed. Randa saw people ice skating on the little rink they set up every December. The compressor that cooled the ice was very loud. Tourists were crowded into the Starbucks beside the rink. On every side of the square, monuments to consumerism rose. Macy’s, the Westin St. Francis, Nike, Apple, Louis Vuitton, Bul93gari, Tiffany & Co… Idols of wealth and third world labor. After spending three years owning nothing but a few sets of clothing and a few books, this was all foreign. As if some great beast had eaten every valuable thing in the world and regurgitated it in one place. She wasn’t quite sure if she wanted it all, or was revolted by it all.
““Drive the damn car,” Smoker said.
Randa had had enough. She turned and scanned the back seat. Directly behind her, a teenaged blonde girl in denim looked very uncomfortable – almost frightened but not quite there. Randa focused on the smoker. He was brown skinned and barrel chested, with thinning black hair. Middle Eastern. He looked familiar, actually. His eyes were bloodshot. It was like a set up for a joke: three Arabs and a white girl get into an Uber… Except there was nothing funny about this guy. He was big and looked quite capable of violence.
Randa, on the other hand, was physically unimposing. Short, skinny, long black hair tied in a ponytail, she was a typical Yemeni girl, as light as one of the reeds that grew in the Aden wetlands, where her parents had grown up. That didn’t matter. Anyone could hurt anyone, she knew this. Her eyes were lasers drilling into the smoker. Her jaw was a steel trap. Liquid nitrogen flowed through her veins. If this guy wanted to mix it up, she would tear him to pieces.
The man’s eyes met hers, he opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it. He exited the car, slamming the door.
The driver smiled at Randa. He looked very relieved. “MashaAllah alayki,” he praised her in Arabic. “I don’t know what you did, but thanks. Maybe you should be a rideshare driver.”
Randa did not reply.
She checked into the halfway house on Turk Street with ten minutes to spare before her work period expired. The staff member on duty was her own case manager, a thin, bald man with a pasty complexion and a scar on his lip.
“I’ll need a recreation block later,” Randa told him. “Starting at seven.”
The man smirked. “Hot date?”
Randa gazed at him impassively, her face as ungiving as a concrete wall.
“I need to know where you’re going,” the case manager said, annoyed.
“Better not be any drugs there.”
“Muslim party. No drugs, no alcohol, no men. Just women dancing and eating.”
“You only have one rec block left this month.” He nodded toward the door that led to his private office. “Come back here, we’ll have a little fun, I’ll give you five more blocks. You’ll have a good time.” He punctuated this assurance with a wink.
“Eat poison and die.”
The man flinched as if he’d been slapped, then snarled. “Take your block. But if you’re one minute late I will violate your skinny ass faster than you can say, ‘Allah help me.’”
Up in her tiny second floor room with the two-woman bunk bed, changing out of her waitressing uniform, she considered not going. She hadn’t been to a social event since her release. She knew they’d all be talking about her.
While locked up she’d earned a correspondence bachelor’s degree in business administration. She was still trying to figure out what to do with it. Education wise she’d already surpassed 90% of the Yemeni community. But that didn’t matter. To them she was a shame and a wreck, a disgrace to her family.
And she wasn’t sure it was safe. What if her brother Motaz showed up? Did he still have it in for her? She had not seen him since her arrest, when he came to see her in the county jail. They sat across from each other in small cubbies, separated by thick plexiglass into which someone had scratched the words, “LOVE YOU FOREVER.”
Leaning forward to talk through a perforated panel, she explained that she hadn’t known there were drugs in the backpack. Her boyfriend had told her it was a game console he’d sold, and asked her to deliver it on her way to school. She’d been in love with Lucas, and never imagined he would manipulate her that way.
Her brother’s cheeks were purple with rage. “I don’t care about the drugs,” he seethed. “That only proves how stupid you are. You had a boyfriend. An American.” He struck the plexiglass and Randa reeled, nearly falling over in her seat. “If we were back in Yemen,” her brother went on, “I would kill you myself. It would be best for the family if you hang yourself from your bunk.”
The Phone Call
The phone rang. It was her mom, reading her mind. Randa told her she was going to skip the party.
Her mom clucked her tongue. “Nawal is your friend. She’s getting married, she wants you to celebrate with her.”
“She didn’t invite me.”
“She invited me. That means you as well.”
“What if Motaz shows up?”
“Why would he? It is a ladies party. And if he did, so what?”
“You know what. He threatened to kill me.”
“Ah, Randa! Astaghfirullah. That was in the past. All is forgiven. Anyway he never meant it. It was only his anger talking.”
Randa was not sure. Islam taught compassion and mercy, but in her native Yemen, feuds could carry on for generations. People did not forget. She voiced another of her fears: “They’ll all be judging me. The ladies.”
“Eh?” Her mother sounded genuinely perplexed. “Why should they?”
“Because I just spent the last three years-”
“No,” her mother interrupted. “We don’t speak about that. It never happened.”
“I don’t know how to talk to those people.”
“Those people?” Her mother sounded outraged. “They are your people, Randa!”
Randa sighed and shook her head. She could fight off people trying to kill her, and had done so, but she was powerless against her mother. Why was that, still?
Her mom switched to Arabic. “Give your tribe your money and blood, but give outsiders the point of a sword.”
Her mom and her proverbs. And she never used them right. “That doesn’t even fit.”
“It means do not justify yourself. The past is the past.”
“I don’t think it means that.”
“And wear something colorful. No more black like you’re going to a funeral.”
All she had was black. What else? After three years of state-issued denim, she’d sworn she’d never wear any shade of blue again. What, then? Orange was jail jumpsuits. Red, pink, yellow, purple? What was she, a clown? Or white, like a nun, a nurse, or a virgin bride? She would laugh at that if she remembered how.
She donned a long black skirt over black stockings, walking shoes, a long-sleeved blouse and a black sweater, and set out on foot. Her first stop was the Islamic Society masjid on Jones at Market. In the elevator she took a light black abayah from her purse and draped it over herself, covering everything but her face and hands. The masjid was on the third floor, a wide open space in which Randa could forget her problems for a time. She had rediscovered her faith in prison, and sometimes it was the only thing that kept her going.
She knew that was a cliche, but it was true. When every door was made of solid steel, double locked and remote controlled – Allah’s door was open. When every road was not only blocked but taken away altogether, because you were sealed in a tiny room – the road to Allah was still there. When there were no windows, and the light bulbs were turned off so that you sat in utter darkness, Allah’s light was still there.
She smiled imperceptibly, remembering the first of Ruby’s rules. Ruby, her cellmate and mentor, had developed a set of rules to survive and thrive in prison. Rule number one: only God can get you out.
Well here, she was, out, and just in time for ‘ishaa. A handful of other women were in attendance and she prayed beside them. As the Imam recited Surat Ar-Rahman, Randa searched her own heart for some sign of spring. A bit of softness, a warm breeze stirring, a melting of the ice. She found little to give her hope. Too soon, she thought. Her great fear was that her past self, the Randa who cried at the recital of the Quran, hung out with friends and gossiped or laughed about boys, or just walked down the street with a bounce in her step, happy to be alive, was gone.
She took another Uber to Nawal’s house, out in the Richmond district, near the ocean. At the party she stood against the wall near the front door, as if she might attempt escape. No one talked to her, though she saw plenty of glances cast her way. She drank guava juice from a small glass and ate a mutabaq. At least the food was good. She hadn’t eaten anything so delicious in years.
Her mom had hugged her when she arrived, chastised her for her grim sartorial choices, then wandered off to sit and gossip with her friends.
There were at least forty women present. The younger ones danced to the sounds of A-Wa, with the occasional Ahmed Fathi song thrown in to appease the aunties. Others sat at a table around a henna artist, taking turns getting their hands and arms tattooed. A woman in an orange scarf sat on a sofa crying, while two other women flanked her, comforting her.
Nawal sauntered over and embraced her. She looked radiant in a sequined blue gown, her long black hair flowing freely, her arms hennaed up to the elbows with intricate designs. “Thanks again for the scarf. It’s lovely. You didn’t have to do that.”
“My pleasure.” Randa nodded to the crying woman. “What’s going on there?”
Nawal looked. “Oh. That’s my Tant Ruqayyah. Her husband’s been cheating on her. But she’s finally done with him. She sent him a message today, asking for a divorce. Hey.” Nawal grinned at Randa. “What’s up with the black outfit? You planning a burglary later?”
Randa bristled, pulling back. “What do you mean?”
Nawal faltered. “No. Nothing. Just a joke, Randa. What happened to you? You lost your sense of humor.” Nawal squeezed Randa’s shoulder and turned away to rejoin her friends.
Randa wanted to shrink into a corner of the room and draw the darkness around her like a cloak. Nawal’s comment stung like chili in a cut, all the more for its truth. She knew she wasn’t the fun person she’d once been. She wasn’t someone people wanted to be around. She wasn’t someone people loved.
A commotion from the direction of the entrance made her turn. The door was just around the corner and she couldn’t see what was happening. She heard a man shouting, and a woman protesting. For a second she had the irrational thought that it was her brother, come to murder her as he’d threatened to do three years ago. Then she smelled it. The stench of cigarette smoke and Drakkar. It was the man from the Uber. Suddenly she knew why the man had seemed familiar. She’d seen him with his wife at parties in the past. His name was Momo, she remembered now, and he was Ruqayyah’s husband. She remembered the text message Momo had received in the car, and his saying, “I’ll kill her.”
A woman shrieked from the doorway and the man pushed his way in. He passed by Randa, not noticing her. Her eyes shot to the man’s hands, just as Ruby had taught her. Rule thirty: watch people’s hands, not their faces.
Momo held a long butcher knife tucked low against the back of his leg. No one else in the room seemed to have noticed it. The other women were too busy scrambling to put their scarves on, now that there was a man in the room. Some were retreating quickly, heading for the bedrooms. Some of the younger ones were still dancing, oblivious. Meanwhile, Momo was making a beeline for Ruqayyah.
Ruqayyah had spotted the knife. Her eyes were locked on it as she backed up, her hands held to her mouth in horror, her face pale as the moon.
Randa moved. Dropping her plate and glass, she walked rapidly toward the food table, slipping off her sweater as she did so. Rule thirty two: anything can be a weapon. Without breaking stride she snatched up the pepper shaker and pocketed it, then grabbed two unopened soda cans. She wrapped the cans with her sweater and twisted it, gripping it by the sleeves.
Momo had almost reached Ruqayyah. He brought the knife up, aiming it at her heart. Ruqayyah stepped back and stumbled into a chair leg. It probably saved her life.
Randa was only a few feet behind Momo now. He still had not seen her. Rule thirty five: hit first and hit hard. She gripped the sweater sleeves with both hands and swung, turning her hips, putting everything she had into it. All her frustration, fury and shame, her loneliness and self doubt. The soda cans in the sweater connected with the side of Momo’s head. There was a loud thudding sound, and Momo dropped as if a djinn had snatched his heart out of his chest. His hand opened and the knife clattered to the ground beside him. Some of the women screamed, and someone finally turned off the music.
Still clutching the sweater in one hand, Randa reached down and took Ruqayyah’s hand, helping the older woman to her feet, and helping her adjust her scarf, which had slid forward over her eyes. The auntie was stunned speechless.
Momo groaned. Randa turned to see him reach for the knife, find it, and begin to climb back to his feet. Damn. Hard-headed bastard. Reaching into her pocket, she calmly unscrewed the pepper shaker and flung the contents into Momo’s eyes. He hollered in pain and dropped the knife once more, and this time Randa kicked it away so that it skittered under the table. Once again she gripped the sweater sleeves with both hands and swung. The cans smashed Momo square in the face. He fell backwards with a cry, blood spurting from his nose. He rolled about on the floor, clutching his face, all the fight gone out of him.
Someone seized Randa’s arm and she turned to see her mother. The woman was literally quaking with rage. “Get out of here,” she hissed. “You crazy person. Why did I think you changed? You are a majnoonah.”
Nawal was there too, her face set in stone. “You should leave,” she said. “I won’t tell the police what you did, but you should go.”
Randa didn’t argue. What did it matter? These women had their minds made up about her, as did her mother. Fine. She turned to leave. Again someone gripped her arm, but this time it was Tant Ruqayyah. The auntie pulled Randa into an embrace, then kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said, her lower lip trembling. “You saved my life, habibti. May Allah give you life. I don’t know how I can ever repay you.”
Nawal frowned. “What are you saying, Tant? Randa, what does she mean?”
Randa looked at her former friend. “He came here to kill her. He had a knife.” She gestured with her chin to the table. “It’s under there.”
“To kill her?” her mother said. “What nonsense is this?”
Randa smoothed Ruqayyah’s orange scarf. “Don’t worry, Tant. You’ll be fine.” She turned away, replacing the pepper shaker and dented soda cans on the table on her way out. One of the cans had punctured and was spraying soda in a fine stream. She put her sweater on and found it wet.
At the doorway, a woman was rising from where Momo had pushed her over on his way in. Thank God he hadn’t stabbed her.
Her mother called out to her, but she let herself out. The night breeze instantly penetrated her wet sweater and raised goosebumps on her skin. Her hands were shaking badly, so she thrust them into her pockets, violating one of Ruby’s rules. In fact her entire body shook. She told herself it was just the cold.
Nawal emerged from the house and called to her, then hurried to catch up. Her friend was flustered, her cheeks red. “I’m sorry,” she said, taking Randa’s hand. “I misunderstood. You… You are a hero.”
Randa looked away. In the distance she could see the Golden Gate Bridge glowing red in the night, and the dark hills of Marin County silhouetted against the sky. Bridges took you from one reality to another then back again, but what if you never wanted to go back? What if you wanted to put the past behind you forever? Was there such a thing as a one way bridge?
They said she was a villain, then a hero. Which label applied? Ex-con? Disgrace? Waitress? Yemeni, American, daughter, friend?
She returned her gaze to Nawal’s face. “No,” she said. “I’m not.”
She turned away. A light drizzle began to fall, chilling her, but somehow she’d stopped shivering. She was miles from the halfway house, but there was plenty of time left on her rec block. She would walk. The city stretched out before her like a jeweled wedding veil, the wet sidewalks shining beneath the street lamps. Appreciate the moment. Another of Ruby’s rules.
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See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories on this website.
Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, Zaid Karim Private Investigator, and Uber Tales – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.
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