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Even if the Pain: Review of “Poems From Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak” -Ruth Nasrullah

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poems-from-guantanamo.jpgEven if the pain of the wound increases,
There must be a remedy to treat it.

Even if the days in prison endure,
There must be a day when we will get out.

–“Even if the Pain” by Siddiq Turkestani

This short work is from Poems From Guantanamo: The Detainees Speak, edited by Marc Falkoff, an assistant professor of law at Northern Illinois University and pro bono attorney for 17 prisoners in the U.S. military detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. The book is a compilation of 22 poems written by prisoners in Guantanamo. All 22 were written by Muslim brothers, most of whom are held without charge, trial or promise of protection under Geneva Convention standards. The poems, many originally written in Arabic and Urdu, have been declassified by the government and translated into English for publication in this book.

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The poems are chilling, saddening and heartbreaking. Some are angry, some are pensive, but they all express the prisoner’s despair:

When I heard pigeons cooing in the trees,
Hot tears covered my face.

When the lark chirped, my thoughts composed
A message for my son.

Mohammad, I am afflicted.
In my despair, I have no one but Allah for comfort…

First verses of “Humiliated in the Shackles” by Sami Al Haj

When I first read the book I was as angered and sad as I should have been. However, shortly after that I read the New York Times’ review of the book by Dan Chiasson, who noted that in light of the fact that the poems were declassified and translated by US government officials, they may actually represent a twisted PR campaign by the government and military. Good point. The poets’ voices were so real and so genuine, and the steadfastness in asking Allah for help so moving that I found the idea of not believing wholeheartedly that they were completely original distasteful at the least. But probably accurate.

That said, it’s the bios that precede each poem that are truly telling. Written by the editors, they tell the real story, the details of how the prisoners ended up in Guantanamo. Among the saddest is the story of Mohammed El Gharani, a 14-year-old Chadian raised in Saudi Arabia, who was one of the first “enemy combatants” to arrive at Guantanamo Bay. He is still there. His bio notes that “as many as 29 juveniles have been detained at Guantanamo in violation of international law.” These short narratives, then, are the story, and the poems, written by amateur writers and scrutinized by their captors, are icing on the cake.

Please read this book and think of our brothers in Guantanamo, and pray for them.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

8 Comments

8 Comments

  1. Avatar

    iMuslim

    November 14, 2007 at 12:18 PM

    Jazakallah khair for this review. Insha’Allah i will attain a copy soon… but in a way, i am put off, just because i know how heartbreaking it will be to read. But at least my dua will be sincere because of it, insha’Allah.

    May Allah protect the innocent and relieve the oppressed, wherever they are. Ameen.

  2. Avatar

    MR

    November 14, 2007 at 12:43 PM

    May Allah (swt) free them all asap!

  3. Avatar

    ruth nasrullah

    November 14, 2007 at 12:59 PM

    You know, the sad/ironic thing is that some of them may in fact be guilty of crimes against the US, but we can’t know the facts as long as they’re held without charges and without access to a trial or military judicial proceeding of some sort. That’s the horror of Guantanamo – that even if there are terrorists held there, they have no hope of ever having their day in court, which is something we afford to even the most vile child molestor or serial killer.

    And of course for the innocent Guantanamo is an utter nightmare.

  4. Avatar

    Moiez

    November 14, 2007 at 4:30 PM

    Ameen! ;(
    Where can I get this book?

  5. Avatar

    Abu Noor Al-Irlandee

    November 14, 2007 at 6:45 PM

  6. Avatar

    Aidan

    November 15, 2007 at 3:38 AM

    I am shocked that no one at Muslim Matters has picked up on this issue of Muslims in Los Angeles being mapped by the LAPD?

    Remember LA was the place where the Police Department set up the “Red Squad” to go hunt for liberals and union workers. Which was followed by a department for disorderly behavior and intelligence which spied on political figures and then that was followed by the racists LAPD tactics against the African American and Latino communities which lead to the 1992 riots. this same police department which used brutal force against immigrant rights marchers back in the spring of 2007 is now working on “mapping the Muslim community” in Los Angeles.

    Hmm, not sure why this hasn’t made the circuits on the blogs yet.

  7. Amad

    Amad

    November 15, 2007 at 11:04 AM

    Aidan, it didn’t slip past us… we discussed it,
    just that no one volunteered to do it.

    But alhamdulilah, the program has been called off:
    http://dunner99.blogspot.com/2007/11/update-to-lapd-announces-muslim-mapping.html

  8. Pingback: muslimmatters.org » A Nightmare World of Torture and Prison Guard Suicides

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Books

Podcast: David’s Dollar | Tariq Touré and Khaled Nurhssien

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We often preach about our children learning the importance of money, group economics, and developing healthy spending habits. How awesome would it be to have a fully illustrated picture book that explores how a dollar travels from hand-to-hand?

Join Khaled Nurhssien and award winning poet and author Tariq Touré as they discuss Tariq’s new children’s book David’s Dollar. In this Interview they touch on art, Islam’s approach to community and Tariq’s creative process.

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The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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

Zainab (AnonyMouse)

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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. 

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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.

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Podcast: Day Of The Dogs Part 1 | Wael Abdelgawad

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THE DOGS WOULD NOT STOP BITING HIM. Omar felt wet all over, and knew it was his own blood. He was almost blind from the sting of it in his eyes, and tasted it in his mouth, coppery and hot, along with the rank dog fur he’d bitten off. Pain burst and roiled everywhere in his body. He’d been in pain before, he’d been beaten and bruised and had even fractured bones. But nothing like this. He was baking like a piece of beef in an oven, transforming into something unrecognizable. They were killing him…

Part one of Wael Abdelgawad’s newest novella, Day of the Dogs, read by Zeba Khan. The full novella will be posted every Wednesday on MuslimMatters.org

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