Preface

“The Revert” tells the story of a young woman who struggles to seek a connection to God to have the sins of her past forgiven.  Natasha is sincere and wants to consider Islam in a fair way and on her own for the first time, but with the baggage of being a “born Muslim,” she fears that the community doesn't have a big enough heart to accept her, even if God does.

The Revert

Natasha took out the compact foundation from her dance bag to look at herself in the mirror.  The scarf she had put on her head made her forehead look freakishly large, kept tugging at her bun, and the worst part was that her bangs kept popping out.  She had made sure that no one she knew was on the bus when she had gotten on.  The bus would take her a half-mile past the Agricultural Department's fields to the university chapel, where Friday prayer was held.  This was the first time she had worn a scarf, and this was the first time she was going to Friday prayer.  She knew she was far from the typical Friday prayer attendee, but she had wanted to finally make things right and didn't know where else to start.

She shoved her fingers into the front of her scarf for what seemed like the hundredth time, making sure to hide her chestnut hair.  Her parents had barely taught her anything about Islam, least of all the proper way to tie a scarf or pray.  She pocketed the compact in her coat so she could keep checking on her scarf, lest one of those “self-righteous fanatics,” as her father would sneeringly say, banish her from the community for doing something wrong.  Those kinds of people were the reason why he had never taken Natasha to a mosque or any religious service before, save his own father's funeral prayer.

She remembered the long drive and the only words he spoke the entire trip.  They were directed to Natasha's mother, “Put your scarf on before anyone sees you.”  That was the only time Natasha had ever seen her mother cover her hair in that way.  Natasha had thought she looked like one of the dolls from her childhood photographs. “And what about Natasha?” her father spat. Natasha's mother had forgotten to bring a scarf for her.  His eyes glared at her through the rear view mirror.  The look he gave her made Natasha feel dirty and ashamed of herself.

The only things Natasha could recall about that mosque were the giant, glittering dome crowning an enormous prayer hall, and the sounds of chanting men and shrieking women reverberating inside of it.  Natasha felt overwhelmed by the beauty and commotion around her.  Her mother placed an arm around her shoulders, drawing Natasha into the side of her body to calm her.  There were only women in the area they sat in, women dressed in all black.  They came to Natasha's mother and shook her hands to offer their condolences.  Some kissed her multiple times on the cheeks.

After the funeral was over, Natasha and her mother waited in the backseat of the car for her father to come back from the cemetery.  Natasha could tell that her mother was furious, “I'm sick of this – all of it.  This is just a game, a sick game, so that Firoz Kaka can go to Heaven.”  Her mother paused and ran her shaking fingers through Natasha's hair.  “But this isn't the Church, Natasha.  Only good people go to Heaven.  You can't buy your way in. And being a good person means you don't hurt others.”  She turned her back towards Natasha and they sat in silence until her father returned.

What her mother said to her that day was something that Natasha thought about every time her father was caught having an affair.  If her father was in any way a reflection of her grandfather, the both of them would be the first to be herded through the gates of Hell.  But with the way her own life seemed to have gone wrong, Natasha began to wonder if they would be the only ones burning in Hell and what kind of game she was playing by getting on the bus and going to Friday prayer.

25 Responses

  1. asmaa aliu

    thee revert is a lovely write up and hoghly eductional,infact soul inspiring. jazak Allahu khyran sister a d beautiful piece. pls wen wil u post d concludin part of the story the revert, lukin 4ward to it,in shaa Allahu

    Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • Meena Malik

      Nope, this is it! Even I don’t know what happens to Natasha after this point in the story. It is very unlikely for me to carry on her story. But I am considering writing a story with Zahid that revisits his life 5-6 years after he graduates.

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      Reply
      • asmaa

        Ok,wil luk 4wward 2 readin it,in shaa Allah,pls a favour Sis Meena,can u pls help post it 2 my email(asmaaaliu@gmail.com) dnt normaly go onlin,but av acess 2 my email,jazak Allahu khyran,may Allah increase ur iman,barakallahu feeh sis

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  2. S Kari

    i find the characters a bit flat – especially Kiran. very cliched and her words are a bit over the top….i think there would be more nuance a lot of the time. she comes across at the beginning as a totally cartooonish character (even physically with her matron look and big glasses)…a bit unfair..

    *Name has been changed to comply to our Comments Policy*

    Thumb up 2 Thumb down 1

    Reply
    • Meena Malik

      I believe that all of the characters are nuanced and have depth to them besides Kiran (and other minor characters like Natasha’s father, Mark, etc.). I had to make a very conscious decision when it came to Kiran. She started out as someone very different than who she is in this final draft, and she morphed a bit in my multiple revisions. I intentionally chose to make her the way she is, and maybe she seems like she’s almost a caricature (I agree), but that’s the person she is in this story because I think the story demands that of her. This comment about Kiran is one that I had heard from my writing teacher as well, and I chose to push Kiran even closer to a caricature from the draft that he gave me feedback on, essentially turning Kiran’s character into a bit of a satire.

      We stay in a third person close to Natasha throughout the story, so there is the added possibility of Natasha’s perception impacting the way she understands what’s happening. But at the same time, some people ARE that one-dimensional and weird. (And actually, I think she is quite complex in her one-dimensionality). In a fiction story, I’d hope that we can make room for characters who are one-dimensional.

      If some readers want to take this fictitious story and carry it over to the real world (which I think is dangerous to do)–I have actually met MANY people who come off to me exactly as Kiran does to Natasha, whether they are well-intentioned or completely unaware of their behavior. I was nervous to make Kiran like this, since she is a representative of the MSA/Muslim community in the story, and I thought that people might be offended. But I believe that readers (especially Muslim readers) know that different communities hold all different kinds of Muslims. And sometimes there are Kirans out there (and maybe we should consider having them not be the first people that new members of the community interact with.)

      I hope that addressed your concern!

      Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  3. Susan Valentino

    Aa, sister. I’m from OC also. I am a revert. Islam found me later in my life. I very much enjoyed reading your work. I look forward to reading more. I think you have a wonderful talent for creating rich prose. jazak allahu feeki.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • salmirah

      Susan mind sharing your story? How did it all happen? What made you revert to Islam? :) I love reading reverts stories, people finally finding the right path.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  4. Wael

    As-salamu alaykum. It’s an interesting read, and you did a phenomenal job conveying Natasha’s sense of anxiety and isolation, as well as the insensitivity and condescending attitudes of some “born” Muslims.

    However, I don’t see the benefit in portraying every single Muslim in the story in such a negative light. None of them, from Natasha’s parents to the sister on the bus, to Zahid, to the women in the mosque, has a single redeeming characteristic, and frankly that does not ring true to life. This is a story I would expect from someone who was trying to discourage people from every visiting a mosque or learning about Islam. It comes across as anti-Islamic propaganda.

    I would have hoped that Natasha would go on to find a more welcoming Muslim community somewhere else, or to meet a few sincere individuals who do not judge her. Instead, the sense of relief or longing that the character seems to feel at the end, when she gazes at the crucified image of Jesus, would seem to indicate a pro-Christian message to the story, which is rather odd considering this is MuslimMatters.

    Thumb up 13 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • Umm Shaharazed

      Agreed! I was also offended by every single Muslim character not having essentially any good qualities. A more realistic story would show that although people have flaws, there should be at least one redeeming characteristic. This story reads like it was written by a Christian Fundamentalist or Muslim hater. Everything is very one-dimensional. This was actually very poorly written, sorry to say.

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      Reply
      • ZAI

        Br. & Sr…
        It is a work of fiction, and good fiction uses literary devices
        like hyperbole to provoke thought and discussion. The intent
        here is to make Muslims think about the way we present our faith
        to both non-Muslims or Muslims who are not practicing. Whether we
        show it to be a merciful and accepting faith or something harsh and
        ceaselessly judgemental….and what that results in.

        If it had a sunny, happy good ending THEN
        it would BE a piece of feel-good MUSLIM propaganda. It wouldn’t provoke
        any thought because we’d think “all is well”. Fictional story loses it’s
        purpose when constraints are applied. Those constraints ARE the propaganda.

        Secondly…please keep in mind that positive interactions w/ Muslims
        and many good Muslims out there, while a reality, are not EVERYONE’S
        reality. There ARE many people who’ve had bad interactions with Muslims
        from their families to others…and that’s NOT one-dimensional…it’s also reality
        for many. It is negating, trivializing or dismissing those feelings to describe them
        as one-dimensional and unrealistic…the very thing the story is trying to point out.
        We must not live in bubbles. Ask a non-practicing Muslim how they feel around
        the more observant. Many of them will tell you their interactions are bad precisely
        because they feel judged.

        Finally, keep in mind the story mentions one memory and goes on to
        mention a brief period of time in one day….all involving one person. It is
        hardly a story entitled “Muslims in New York” or similar.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  5. rabia

    Salaam – I found this story to be really interesting until the end?! I don’t get it lol what just happened – why is she saying wouldn’t it be easier? I hope someone can shed some light and it would be better to continue this story – sounds like it would make a good novel!

    Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • ZAI

      I think the allusion goes back to a statement the mother made at the beginning
      of the story where she indicates church is easier than mosque…or Christianity is
      easier than Islam, because it’s about heart & faith…not deeds. Ergo, easier or more
      forgiving. The girls experiences during the day and her seeing the crucifix in the interfaith
      space remind her of that & the question left in the air is whether she decides to become
      a Christian and leave Islam altogether. That’s what I got out of it. Could be wrong.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
    • Meena Malik

      W/asa

      This story explores different ideas of forgiveness and how they manifest themselves in God and in communities. She does not want to be Christian at the end. She is turning to God because of her guilt from the past, something that I believe is a positive in her life because our guilt from sins is what reminds us of God and our relationship with Him. Her mother remarks about the ease of getting forgiveness in the Church. Natasha wants something that easy to finally put her heart to rest so that she can start over, and who is to say that Islam does not offer a forgiveness that easy? When a person who has made many mistakes sincerely turns to God, don’t we believe that Allah will forgive them as long as he is sincere?

      But forgiveness is much more complex than that, because people in communities choose to step into Allah’s territory when it comes to judging people for their past. If Natasha starts practicing Islam, there is no way she can isolate herself from the community. When she is in the empty church hall, it’s like a ghost of a community is there in the empty pews. She wants forgiveness from Allah, but the community needs to be open-minded and open-hearted enough to accept her as well. Because of GOD can accept a person despite their past, why can’t PEOPLE accept a person despite their past?

      Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

      Reply
      • ZAI

        “Because of GOD can accept a person despite their past, why can’t PEOPLE accept a person despite their past?”

        That’s a good question and I think God provides the solution when he speaks about
        drawing a veil over sins in the Qur’an. In his wisdom, he knows his creation and he knows
        we are not as forgiving as he is, therefore it is better to keep one’s sins to oneself. There is unfortunately a fire-and-brimstone contingent among Muslims that’s growing and therefore that advice is probably more useful now than ever.

        My apologies for misreading the end. I have seen that be a real temptation in actual life though. I know Muslims who have left Islam because of what they see as it’s harsh nature, as advertised by the aforementioned contingent…and gone the route of Christianity or even agnosticism/atheism because they feel it provides them with a comfort that Islam as practiced and preached by many Muslims no longer does. It is a sad situation that people are being chased out of this faith by some of the zealous self-righteous types.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  6. Wael Abdelgawad

    Keep on writing. I think the theme or message of the story needs work, and the Muslim characters are one-sided, but you do have writing talent and you clearly have something to say. Keep it up.

    Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    Reply
  7. Amel

    As-salamu Alaykum,
    This is an interesting conversation. A while back, I was involved in gathering and analyzing data for a survey that tried to determine the factors that lead people to convert to Islam. Overwhelmingly, people said that coming into contact with kind Muslims was a major factor. Indeed, I found this to be my own experience as I was very blessed to meet a number of outstanding Muslims prior to my conversion to Islam. After conversion as well, I felt drowned in the kindness and warmth of the people I met at the mosque and elsewhere.

    Over time, though, I have seen that not everyone has this same experience, and going to the mosque can be frightening and even traumatic for people if they feel they are not welcome for any reason. In some ways, this is a matter of perception. If you go into a situation assuming people are hostile or judging you, then every move they make will seem to confirm this feeling. If you sit by yourself and do not initiate conversation with others, then it is not a given that others will make the first move and approach you. If you do not have high expectations, however, then your experience is likely to be more neutral. And if you go into such situations feeling happy, positive, and assuming the best of others, then your experience will probably be a good one.

    Having said that, I see this story as a wake-up call to Muslims. People who are new to Islam are usually going through major transformations in their lives. Many do not have the support of family members and want to build new friendships with people who understand and accept them. Many need a mentor, someone to take them under their wing and basically take care of them for a while until they find their place in the community. We should constantly be on the look-out for such people and make sure that they have this support. There are a lot of new Muslims out there who are doing everything on their own, and it can get lonely.

    The character in this story had bad experiences as a child that were influenced by the way she was brought up. Her father had some type of hostility towards the community and was not a model Muslim himself, so it is not far-fetched that his daughter would be extremely wary. I do not see the ending as promoting Christianity; rather it shows us that converts are vulnerable and we need to be more aware of that as a community.

    Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • Wael

      Yes, I see the point that you and Zai are making, and I’m not suggesting that it needs to be a feel-good story. But a wake-up call, to be an effective wake-up call, must reflect reality, even if it reflects the worst possible reality. Here we have a mean-spirited, angry father; a bizarre funeral in which women are shrieking inside a mosque; a mother who detests Islamic religious rituals; a sister (Kiran) who manages to be silly and condescending at the same time; an unattractive masjid; a hostile congregation; and a hypocritical, pot-smoking young Imam whose hair is described as being black as the pits of Hell.

      It’s too much. The story comes off as a criticism of Islam and the Muslim people as a whole. I assume that wasn’t the intention. Or perhaps it was, I don’t know.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      Reply
      • Meena Malik

        Br. Wael–you are more than allowed to hate this story. Whatever you see as flaws in this, please take note of them and I encourage you to write your own fiction while keeping the issues you see in my story in the back of your mind. I will no longer read your comments, as I no longer find your criticism to be constructive. This is a fiction story. I created this story to address an issue I thought was important. It is not meant to be creative nonfiction.

        I encourage each and every reader of this story to write their own story, about ANYTHING, and have it published somewhere. We need more Muslims in the arts, and a group of people are “here to stay” once they produce their own cultural/artistic projects.

        And please read “The Peeler” by Flannery O’Connor. That story was one of the last stories I read right before I wrote the first draft of this story, maybe it will give you some insight.

        Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

    • Meena Malik

      W/asa

      That is very interesting research. I think you’ve done a great close-reading of the story and approached it while giving it a fair chance to let the story unfold. You hit the nail on the head–Natasha is traumatized from her childhood (and I have placed certain clues hinting at the corruption of the (invented) Islamic sect they follow), her father is a horrible role model, AND she goes into the whole situation feeling like everyone is going to judge her (note: she keeps pushing her bangs into her hijab and doesn’t want to be banned for her hair showing; she also generally cares about what other people think). Your reading of the ending is also what I was going for. The story is NOT promoting Christianity. Natasha’s main struggle and thing that keeps nagging at her is her want to be forgiven for her sins. Ideas of “blanket forgiveness” come in with Christianity (and even for converts that are Muslim!) are at battle with “earned forgiveness.” How different communities view sin is also at play–whereas Christians come out and say “we’re all sinners and that’s why we need Jesus,” Muslims don’t parade around the idea that they sin in the same way. Natasha’s guilt is a driving force for her actions to reconcile herself with God.

      One of my main messages while writing this story was to explore the idea of convert vs. revert as defined by Natasha. What happens when you have a fresh convert in a community; and what happens when you have someone who is non-practicing for whatever reason (like Natasha: her parents didn’t teach her any better, she has had bad past experiences with Islam) wanting to explore Islam. If two people had the same past, but one had a Muslim background and one was a convert from a different religion, how would they be treated by the Muslim community once they want to learn about Islam or grow in their faith? Natasha deserves the same forgiveness and empathy from the community, if not more, than anyone else who would come in wanting to have a fresh start.

      Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

      Reply
  8. Koshur_Muslim

    My comment may sound trivial, but why we do have to call Muslim converts, “reverts”?It doesn’t make any sense, to me a “revert”, would be a “born-again-Muslim”, somebody that was raised Muslim, left the religion latter and then reverted back to Islam, on the other hand a convert is somebody that was raised non-Muslim and then converted to Islam, the two are different and in my opinion calling a convert a “revert” is actually self-righteous and arrogant, it puts off non-Muslims because it implies that they were all born Muslim and Islam is the only right religion(as Muslims we do believe that, but we shouldn’t go around shoving that fact into the faces of non-Muslims), it makes us look bigoted and self-righteous.

    So for the sake of simplicity and political correctness, a convert and revert are two different people.

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply
    • Meena Malik

      That is a source of confusion for Natasha as well. She also feels that if everyone believes she is a “convert” (since Kiran assumes she is white) will be treated differently than if everyone knew her parents/grandparents were Muslim.

      I wanted to ask the question with this story, it is something I have discussed with other students in my MSA: If Bob used to smoke pot and has been sexually active since he was 16, how would he be treated if he wanted to seek a connection to Islam? If Mohammad used to smoke pot and has been sexually active since he was 16, how would HE be treated if he wanted to seek a connection to Islam?

      In my personal experience and with many other people I know, I have seen that people like “Mohammad” or Natasha, who deserve as much empathy and kindness as “Bob” or “Sally,” are demeaned for their past and it is held against them because “they should have known better as Muslims.” There is a duplicity and double standard that I don’t think should exist.

      Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

      Reply
      • buland iqbal

        Great Story…thanks for shedding light on character like Natasha..some of us get derailed from the right path and when we realize the damage is done..Stories like these help us to reflect and ponder..JazakAllah

        Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  9. salmirah

    Meena darling, your writing is really good. Apart from my piles of work, I love reading inspirational writing, so started following you on wordpress. :) Allahu Akbar!

    Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

    Reply

Leave a Reply