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The Short Tale of a Bosnian

Abu Reem

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The capture of the butcher of Sarajevo, Radovan Karadzic, alhamdulilah, a few days ago was a welcome news not just for Bosnians, but for all Muslims. To the Bosnian Muslims in the blogosphere that I know of (Samaha and Hamdy), mabrook. May Allah give this butcher all what he deserves, and may Allah preserve the Muslims of Bosnia (guiding those who are astray) upon His path and safe from their enemies.

More than a decade ago, when the Bosnian genocide was ongoing at its apex, I penned a short story, a sort of historical fiction. The capture of Karadzic gave me an opportunity to dig it out of my creative briefcase, scan it, and present it to all. Please note that this is really, really old work, and I hope it serves as a reminder and snippet of the brutality that filled the lands of Bosnia-Herzegovina. Please excuse me for any inaccuracy… imagination can take some leaps of faith at times. Though no one can deny that it was probably much worse than anyone can capture in words:

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bosnia-genocide.jpgThe stars and the moon were in their hideout- the night was very dark indeed. A grim sense of fear lurked around every soul that dared to walk upon the desolated street.

He stepped out of his devastated house onto the rubble that welcomed him— the rubble that once was an attractively adorned street. A chilled, hideous wind greeted his snow—white face. He knew it, everyone did— no mortal being was safe on this hell on earth. He screwed his dark muffler over his naked ears and started to walk briskly.

The cruel silence of the darkness was brutally shattered by the familiar sound of gun shots and then a dying scream.Now him, next me- he contemplated. But this thought had long ceased to disturb him, let alone scare him. The plain truth was that there was no escape, no optimism; the future was as dead as the land beneath the remains of the shoes he was wearing. He knew one thing though— the land could become alive if there was rain. But then again, there was no rain in sight. Clouds had long forgotten the way to this forbidden land. Tears streamed out of his jaded eyes. They surprised him- he was quite sure that they too had deserted him. He wiped them off with his scarred hands.

Almost suddenly, pictures of the pre-war period flashed in front of his damp eyes:

The streets lights flashing, couples and families, hand in hand, strolling around the glittering shops with their decorated showrooms. There was no fear, a hand shake here and there, a hug, a smile, a petty argument… it was beautiful.

He smiled, then laughed and finally cried. Maybe he couldn’t recognize emotion any more, it all seemed the same now. He did recognize though that his life was a hapless journey; a trip through hell into the grapples of death and probably as futile as the dried leaf that falls down and never gets up.

The damned wind seemed to get cooler every minute. Or maybe his tattered clothes had given up on him. After all, the world had given up on his homeland. After all, the world had been reduced to being mere spectators to yet another genocide. After all, they had other more important things to deal with. After all, after all…

The man dragged on. He stumbled over dead flesh. Part of a cat lay spluttered in front of him. “Those beasts, ba**rds didn’t even leave the cat alive,” he mumbled. Of course they didn’t; cats were just animals but humans. He changed his mind…we are animals too. He kicked away the intruding creature with a loud thud. No, he wasn’t always so insensitive. He had just grown out it. In fact, he had grown out of many other feelings, too, like love for instance. They were just old traditions that everybody had to grow out of. Honestly, most already had.

Lost in paradoxical thoughts, he came across a dried up well, a preserved ‘antiquity’. He remembered how people had crowded around it, throwing away their coins, wishing for so many things. How stupid, he thought. If only they had known better, they’d spend their money elsewhere. If only it wasn’t a wishing well, if only it had some fortune in it, like oil perhaps…The thought amused him but he didn‘t smile. It just seemed so honest, so really true. He buried his eyes in his hands and went back…

It was eight in the evening and he had just come back home after a hard, laborious day. Not that he was the only one who worked hard. Back then everybody did but at least everyone was allowed to live. His wife had just cooked the daily rice and beans. Life was difficult and ends barely met. Suddenly, his daughter barged into the room and instinctively he realized how beautiful she had become- his little girl had flowered into a beautiful woman. He held her close and wept. I

t was a hard life, if only he could give his daughter more… His son followed in next and they came together for a big bear hug. This had become a daily ritual, a sort of family endearment and how sure he was that his strength lay in this. They sat down for food and gobbled down their inadequate daily rations but they were happy to be alive, to be together. No one complained and this hurt him more. Sometimes, he wished that they would argue, that they would be angry, but like his other wishes; these too vanished into thin air.

He shook his head to disperse the snow that had collected over it and wiped off his tears. Suddenly, he started running, fell down and then sprinted again. But he knew that it would catch him, it always did. Surely, the pictures swept in front of him and he became witness to yet another hallucination.

It was eight in the evening and he had just come home. He heard the sound of loud barking and before he had time to make sense of it, a sharp blow hit across his forehead and he crashed down. Adem woke up to a nightmare— only that he wasn’t sleeping. He was tied to the door. His daughter lay in the bed in front of him, she was stark naked. He closed his eyes and screamed and cried.

A tight slap hit across his face. It opened his eyes and forced him to witness. The soldier climbed into the bed, encouraged on by fits of laughter and cheers. Adem looked on in disbelief. He had stopped screaming. The man raped his daughter. She wept, begged for mercy, begged for help…The dogs had started to bark even louder and their barking seemed to be drowning her voice and her strength. Adem wished for respite, wished for death. He’d gladly accept either. Moments later, another soldier entered the scene and repeatedly raped his daughter. Adem fainted. Not much later, he was awakened by boiling water poured over his head but it didn’t hurt at all. Physical pain seemed so minute…

This time his wife was the centerpiece. Besides her lay his daughter, apparently dead. His wife was screaming too but Adem didn’t flinch, he didn’t cry. He watched quietly as his wife became another toy for the animals. Next his son was brought in. It was a procession of death and he was the chief guest. The little child’s hands were placed on the table and severed, one by one.

The child had fainted after the first blow but the savages systematically continued to mutilate him, one bit at a time. The remains of the innocent human beings were gathered and then thrown in front of the beasts’ beasts. Throughout the ordeal, Adem had fainted several times but the butchers made sure that he didn’t miss any of the action. They didn’t kill him, though. It was too easy an escape.

Adem was now screaming and hammering his head into the barren ground. He kicked, he shouted, he cried…Why couldn’t these thoughts leave him alone? He raised his hands to the heavens and begged for mercy.

The mirage of his thoughts had barely subsided when he heard Serb words behind him.

He smiled and looked back.

A shot whizzed past his ear but the second one was more accurate.

The old man fell down with a thud.

He was dead and so too seemed hope.


For background information and eye-witness accounts, pls visit these links:

  1. General Information On Wikipedia on Bosnian Genocide and Srebrenica Massacre
  2. Eye-witness accounts and more on PBS
  3. Case Study: The Srebrenica Massacre
  4. Eyewitness to Gendercide: A Critical Feminist Analysis of Rape as a Tool of War in Bosnia and Rwanda
  5. Robert Fisk: Our shame over Srebrenica
  6. Memorialization of the Srebrenica Massacre (Photos)
  7. Srebrenica Survivors Sue Netherlands, United Nations
  8. Srebrenica, An Orchestrated Tragedy (a Documentary)
  9. Genocid.org (Tons of information and photos)

Abu Reem is one of the founders of MuslimMatters, Inc. His identity is shaped by his religion (Islam), place of birth (Pakistan), and nationality (American). By education, he is a ChemE, topped off with an MBA from Wharton. He has been involved with Texas Dawah, Clear Lake Islamic Center and MSA. His interests include politics, cricket, and media interactions. Career-wise, Abu Reem is in management in the oil & gas industry (but one who still appreciates the "green revolution").

44 Comments

44 Comments

  1. Amad

    Amad

    July 31, 2008 at 9:12 AM

    As I was scanning this story from the the decade-old pages I had printed it on, I was thinking how far the electronic age had come. I don’t recall exactly when I wrote it, but I remember e-mail and internet being new frontiers at the time. There was no place I could really publish this, except offer it to the print-media, where it could be either accepted or rejected. At that time, we relied on “official” news channels for information. There was no opportunity for Bosnians to blog about their situation. Or fellow sympathizers around the world. No facebook support group, no internet campaigns, etc. You could easily shut a population down and destroy it, as the Serbs tried to do. No more now. How much things have changed. Some for the good, some for the bad.

  2. Avatar

    iMuslim

    July 31, 2008 at 10:05 AM

    It terrifies me how humans can behave worse than the most evil of creation… not even like animals; like shayateen – true demons of the darkest kind. May Allah protect us from the evil of our own selves and His creation. Subhanallah.

  3. Avatar

    Amna

    July 31, 2008 at 12:28 PM

    Subhanallah! It never ceases to amaze me the destruction that human hands can cause. Allah gave us little power on Earth compared to His and look at the injustice that spreads. In comparison, His Power makes Him Just. Subhanallah!
    This piece was great, mashallah!

  4. Amad

    Amad

    July 31, 2008 at 1:16 PM

    We have to be mindful of this history. People don’t become animals overnight. There is a slow and systematic process of brainwashing and fear-mongering.

    Do we think that these Serbs or the German Nazis or the Russian army in Chechnya or the Gujarati Hindus became beasts overnight? No, rather, the process of inculcating hate and bias kept on going for years, decades and eventually when the opportunity came, this hatred was unleashed.

    Why is this relevant? I keep reminding people, and I said this in a speech on Islamophobia at school, that even though what is happening in America, in terms of islamophobia, is not at the proportion of Nazi Germany or other centers of pre-genocide. But, it is a slow process. And we cannot let that hate reach such a boiling point, such that when there is an opportunity or an incident that sparks anti-Muslim sentiment; that this hatred isn’t suddenly unleashed upon Muslims in America. If we don’t stop this train of Islamophobia, in American, and worse in Europe, then we will be left to wonder on later what happened!!

  5. Avatar

    abu abdurrahman

    July 31, 2008 at 2:03 PM

    i can’t believe that people still actually support him but then again there are still neo-nazis out there.

    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/world/2008/0730/1217368580572.html

  6. Avatar

    Samaha

    July 31, 2008 at 2:59 PM

    Amad – thank you for thinking of me – this is just one big war criminal but so much more accountability needs to take place – the UN, individual countries and not just the leaders of this campaign but individuals that had commited acts that you have described above. Until then – all of these things will keep happening in this world. When organizations like the UN can not hold to their own genocide articles and then hide behind immunity – I lose all hope.

    You’re also correct that people don’t just become animals over night it takes a lot of brainwashing – here’s a post with a link to an interesting article which discusses this a bit: http://samaha.wordpress.com/2008/02/29/yugo-nostalgia-heavy-sarcasm/ . I agree with you about the Islamophobia – maybe because in Bosnia we never saw this comming – we were friends, we inter married, most people were agnostic .. so we never felt this Islamophobic presence which could have been a warning .. the propoganda was really subtle and while there was some sort of animosity towards Muslims by very few people (nothing like the standards of what is happening in the US) it never seemed like it would be a problem. Also – since I’m here – I do want to mention that there were Serbs who fought with the Bosnians and Serbs who protected Bosnians from Serb forces and many Serbs lost their lives for it – I know of one from my mothers home town that was hiding Bosnians from the forces and was killed for it.

    You know, it was at this time (1992) as well that I started using the internet and you are so correct at how much it has changed. I was the secretary for a Bosnian youth organization that was actively involved in the Bosnia crisis – we even had our own radio program and I used to write/compose the news in Bosnian and English for our broadcasters. $300.00 a month phone bills and I didn’t have the luxury of google and advanced searches back then. Who knew when my father bought us that Commodore 64 back in the mid 80’s .. sat us down and told us that one day we’d be doing all our shopping and banking and EVERYTHING on this thing that we’d be here today doing just that and so much more like telling our stories and connecting with people accross the globe.

    The story – while very hard to read because it just reminds me of everything that my friends have gone through and relayed to me – was really well written. Thanks for sharing it with us.

  7. Amad

    Amad

    July 31, 2008 at 3:44 PM

    Thanks Samaha for your comments. I am really glad that I did do some justice to the Bosnian tragedy. I was really worried about being wrong in such a sensitive issue.

    You know Shaykh Yaser Birjas worked in Bosnia for some time. I wish he would share some stories with us some day too.

    wasalam

  8. Avatar

    Hamdi

    July 31, 2008 at 4:07 PM

    I recently came back from Bosnia and I was there, in Republika Srpska, when the news of his arrest broke. The majority of the Serbs there were unhappy with the news and still consider Karadzic a hero. However, I also met a Serb whose family saved the lives of my neighbours by hiding them from the Serb army, just like Samaha mentioned.
    It’s interesting that Karadzic claimed today that he struck a deal with the United States in which he would be left alone as long as he didn’t appear in public, since the former Bosnian foreign minister and ambassador to the UN Muhamed Sacirbey recently said that he knew that such a deal existed and that he is prepared to testify in the Hague, if asked.

  9. Amad

    Amad

    July 31, 2008 at 4:15 PM

    Thanks for sharing Hamdi. I can’t imagine how they could let this beast go unscathed, considering Karadzic’s role in the genocide.

    How is the situation in Bosnia? State of dawah? One thing that I have heard is that the genocide had an effect on Muslims to wake them up from their slumber… and that people started practicing more. Is that your and Samaha’s experience?

    w/s

  10. Avatar

    Samaha

    July 31, 2008 at 4:18 PM

    Amad – it would be great to hear some more stories.

    Hamdi – I was just wondering if I knew anyone that was over there when the news broke – and wow – to be in RS to hear it .. ughhh. I’ve also been writting about the lack of reaction from Serbians – I was following RTS’s website and a few blogs – shameful that they are so enthralled with his appearance, alleged mistress etc and make no mentions of the atrocities he’s commited. There had also been edited and deleted comments at RTS – when I first looked all the comments were pro-karadzic and then the site was done for a little while and when i went back – voila .. a new and improved comments thread that looked so much more balanced.

  11. Avatar

    Samaha

    July 31, 2008 at 4:24 PM

    No – Amad – I was always very religious. I had lived in Bosnia when I was 14 so that I could master the language so that I could attend Gazi Husrefbeg’s Medresa. Due to three Australian girls failing that year I was denied entrance to the madrassah because it was typical that foreigners did not do as well so it was ashame to take spots from Bosnians :( Reis ul-lema Mustafa Ceric had later secured me a spot since he was a family friend but by that time I was already 19 and had met who would soon become my husband and I had not taken that opportunity.

    I’m going to let Hamdi approach the state of the dawah question because he may be more knowledgeable and I’ll chime in if I disagree (from my own observations from 2 years ago) :-) I Hamdi – samo da znas da sam (typical) Bosanka – dobro se svadzam :-)

  12. Avatar

    Samaha

    July 31, 2008 at 5:17 PM

    Sorry – I read the question wrong Amad. I’ll chime in right away then .. from my own personal experience – I’ve actually seen a bit of a downfall in regards to being a practicing Muslim from a village that was predominantly Muslim that had more liberty to practice Islam during socialism. My mother was from Vlasenica and that is where I lived for a year .. it was hard comming by old friends and time was short but about the only revival I saw was that they now consider themselves Muslim, believe in god but I wouldn’t say that they are now practicing Muslims. It’s nice to know that so many people fast during Ramadan now and I hear it is supposed to be beautiful during that month and that many more people are going to hajj but to say that so many more people are praying five times a day now – would be a false statement.

    I’d have to say that in Sarajevo there seemed to be more young women covering their hair than I remember pre-war. Mostly I remember groups of girls from the madrassah that would venture out for a walk and older women who covered their hair in pre-war Sarajevo.

    The thing is that this is a start and an Islamic revival just because of persecution is bound not to last. The thing is that now there is hope because one can say that they are Muslim and that their children can go to ‘mejtef’ (sunday school) and that their children will know they are Muslim and inshallah, this will lead them to find out what Islam is – a natural revival.

  13. Avatar

    Seeker7

    July 31, 2008 at 5:38 PM

    SubhanAllah, reading this story…I did some searching and I found this series of videos by the BBC titled: A Cry From The Grave – Muslim Genocide In Bosnia, it’s in 11 10-min parts on youtube.

  14. Avatar

    Hamdi

    July 31, 2008 at 5:39 PM

    Samaha – Yeah, I’m from Bosanska Gradiska and I’ve seen t-shirts being sold with Karadzic’s and Mladic’s pictures on them. I don’t even react to that kind of a thing anymore since I’ve gotten used to it. What made me react, however, is that a Serb whom I am friendly with and joke around with, expressed his sadness about Karadzic’s arrest. It felt so weird to know that someone like that, whom I had good contact with and everything, still liked someone like Karadzic. It’s as if there is a type of cognitive dissonance among many Serbs. They have Muslim friends and act kind towards them, but still consider someone like Karadzic a hero. In fact, during an interview with Karadzic’s former Muslim colleague, he revealed that Karadzic used to call his mother every Eid to congratulate her, even after the war broke out.
    Anyway, I watched the news the days after his arrest and they asked normal Serbs on the streets about their reactions and basically every person they asked said that they were saddened by the news that he was arrested. Still, there were no major incidents in RS alhamdulillah which didn’t really surprise me since it seems that the general Serb population has abandoned Karadzic’s party in favour of Milorad Dodik and his ways, even though they still like Karadzic’s persona. I nadam se da nece biti razloga za svadju =P

    Amad – I am from a Muslim village in a Serb dominated area. The Muslims in this village are extremely secular and I would say that my family is one of the most secular ones in this already secular village, both my parents having been Communists. The presence of Islam here basically comes down to this (apart from the Muslim names and the occasional Arabic words used in everyday language):
    There are quite a few mosques (all of whom were destroyed during the war and have been rebuilt) and adhan is pronounced. There are maybe a dozen men in the mosque for Jumuah (women don’t attend). Islam really begins to play a part in their lives when someone dies. Apart from the janazah, you have sessions after a week, 40 days and a year has passed after the death in which the imam and some others that are present read the Qur’an, sing songs about the Seerah, do dhikr, praise the Prophet etc. The widow usually starts wearing hijab during her mourning period. You also have Eid celebrations and mawlid celebrations. Apart from this, I LITERALLY cannot think of anything among the people that would indicate that they are Muslims. No hijab, no people at the mosque for the daily prayers except the imam and maybe the retired imam. Apart from what I just listed, it’s just like the neighbouring Serb village with the bars, zina, etc. Even worse though, the general people have no clue about aqidah and it isn’t even that uncommon to hear people swearing at God. I know that there are places in Bosnia that aren’t like this, but this is the case in my village. This is largely due to Communism since I know that it was very different before that era. My great grandmother wore a niqab for example, something that would be unthinkable today.

    I have also been to Sarajevo and it is different there. You will see women with hijab (and some with niqab) as well as bearded men even though they are a minority. The Salafi dawah has had relative success since it was virtually non-existent in Bosnia before the war.

  15. Avatar

    Hamdi

    July 31, 2008 at 5:47 PM

    Oh, yes, I forgot to mention that people do send their kids to “mejtef” which Samaha talked about and that it is different during Ramadan with people fasting and going to tarawih prayers. Apart from those two things and what I listed in my previous post, Islam isn’t really that much present there.

  16. Avatar

    Samaha

    July 31, 2008 at 6:09 PM

    Hamdi – with the way the population shifted around in Bosna and all of the Serb propoganda – I’m really not surprised. I think a smart move right now would be to include an agreement between the EU and Serbia that annexing any portions of surrounding lands in other countries (ie. RS) can not happen and if such an act were considered that such act would be considered an act of war. Such an agreement might help put things into perspective for Bosnian Serbs. It’s still ashame that even though Karadzic is at the Hague that his campaign of ethnic cleansing suceeded and still even thrives in Bosnia – the lack of our returning refugees to their homes in RS is evidence of that. I’m glad that your family is able to live in Bosanska Gradiska. When I was in Vlasenica two years ago – I had been pinned between a rock wall and the side of a chetnik’s car just for having a camera – he wanted to know what I was doing and to inform me that he lives in one of these houses now.

    hehe – bas nismo imali razloga da se svadamo :-) Ali, bas ovdje uvijek se nadem u belajima – bas nema ta utopia za koju si prico u tvoj poslednji post na tvoj blog – mozda i zamalo ce mi istrajati ovaj bujrum. Eto – mozes posjetiti i moj blog ako me nestane ovdje.

  17. Amad

    Amad

    July 31, 2008 at 6:42 PM

    jazakumAllahkhair to both of you for opening up this little window into the Bosnian world… most Muslims have no idea about European Islam, and this sort of first-hand information is refreshing and enlightening, and makes blogging so worthwhile! :)

  18. Avatar

    Hamdi

    July 31, 2008 at 6:46 PM

    Samaha – My family owned a house, an apartment and a café before the war and three Serb families took over all three places but we got them back a few years ago and I think that every Muslim family in our village has been able to get their house back. One Serb family that moved into a Muslim-owned house actually put up a picture of Karadzic on the window to provoke the Muslims. But RS have been forced to return the houses even though there are still some problems for all of the families to return.
    One thing I’ve noticed is that it seems that 5-6 years ago it was kind of taboo for politicians to talk too much about abolishing RS (for the Bosniak politicians) or having a referendum about RS independence (for Serb politicians) because of a kind of fear of OHR and perhaps also a fear of being viewed as too radical. Now, it is more okay to do so especially with the rise of Dodik and Silajdzic. This is just my perception.

  19. Avatar

    Hamdi

    July 31, 2008 at 6:49 PM

    Amad – Wa iyyak. It seems, however, that this discussion is going into a direction where only people already familiar with Bosnian politics will really understand hehe… If that becomes the case, feel free to ask for clarifications. It’s my pleasure to share some information.

  20. Avatar

    Aalia

    July 31, 2008 at 6:56 PM

    Oh my… This story brought tears to my eyes, subhanAllah :'( How can people become such evil, strong followers of shaytaan??? A`uthu billahi min ashaytaani-rajim wa humma. JazakAllahukhair for this reminder that just because the Bosnian genocide had been swept under the other headlines, doesn’t mean their suffering was any less. These were real people, families, Muslims.

    *sigh*

  21. AnonyMouse

    AnonyMouse

    July 31, 2008 at 7:18 PM

    I’ve found that fiction always strikes me more than news reports do – maybe it’s because rather than simply viewing the facts (which in this care are horrifying enough in and of itself), the story goes into the person’s head and heart, creating a personal connection between us.

    Also, jazakumAllahu khairan to Samaha and Hamdi – just reading these comments, I’ve learnt quite a bit.

  22. Avatar

    Samaha

    July 31, 2008 at 7:20 PM

    Amad – glad that you are learning something about Bosnia. I think that is the point to blogging – we put ourselves out there to learn from each other, inform each other and I think we have a wonderfully diverse community of Muslim bloggers.

    Seeker7 – thanks for posting that link – I may have to use it today.

    Hamdi – in Vlasenica, if a Serb refugee is living in your home or has demolished your home and put up another house or strip mall – you have to go to court to get it back – and I hear the cases go on for years. My friends just came back from their summer trip and they had Serbs living in their house and they let them stay for free just so the house is kept up – they would visit and bring them gifts and their children chocolates – this year before their vacation they had asked them to move out because they needed to sell the place. This summer when they got back to their house – EVERYTHING was removed from the house – the curtains, cabinets, toilets, sinks and even the tub.

    I think that it is a natural reaction to talk about aboloshing the RS in response to talks of RS’s independence. This is the only reason I didn’t go back this summer – once Kosovo went independent I knew that it would take one minor incident for hostilities to take place.

    The thing is while I believe that the RS should not be allowed to seceed – I think it is the international community that is going to have to step up and take action on this – Paddy Ashdown just recently made some remarks in regards to this. Also there was an article at Avaz that interviewed an American ex-CIA specialist that said that Bosnia must come to an agreement or Bosnia is going to cease to exist – he predicts that it will not be able to and that RS will become independent. So, Silajdzic has to make the statements that he is making otherwise we will lose RS. I may never be able to return to Vlasenica to live but on the other hand I couldn’t bare the thought of anyone losing their lives over it in order for me to be able to return (not Muslims and not Serbs) and I do not want Bosnians to be the agressors. By the same token I do not want the ethnic cleansing/genocide campaign to be rewarded with an independent RS. We all kind of knew that Dayton was a reward for the aggression but I think many people thought that we’d be able to prepare ourselves for a better defense and that Serb hostility would resume again in the near future. Long term .. I knew that Dayton meant writting off RS. If there is a way to not reward the systematic cruelty that took place on our people – I think we need to resort to it – diplomatically cutting off RS from any hopes of independence is going to be it – but that is going to take pressuring the international community into action.

    What’s your opinion on all this talk?

  23. Avatar

    Hamdi

    July 31, 2008 at 7:50 PM

    Samaha – We also got our home back by going to court and resolving it there. They also took everything but the walls, roof and the foundation.

    As for the whole RS, issue. I don’t know, I think I’ve become a bit jaded. I used to get all worked up when the issue came up, but things don’t seem to go forward, really, and it all seems to be hot air. The international community insists on Dayton and wants to upholds the status quo (which is also in the interest of RS since they seem to be giving up on the idea of RS independence in the short term) even though they know that Bosnia cannot be a normal country with the situation as it is now, and as long as that is the case not much can happen. I know that the RS exists because of genocide and ethnic cleansing and as such shouldn’t exist, as a matter of principle. But I have just gotten so tired of the whole thing since it doesn’t seem to go anywhere and I agree with you that lives should never be lost because of this.

  24. Avatar

    Samaha

    August 1, 2008 at 3:11 PM

    mouse – glad you are learning something and there really is a lot of literature out there that is written by Bosnians who lived through the war and many books by foreign journalists as well – I know how much you love to read.

    Hamdi – I know that the issues are tiring but comming up with a just solution is important – it’s importance goes way beyond Bosnia and affects how all conflicts are fought. I mean when you think about it – when the UN can’t live up to its own genocide convention articles and actively do everything in its power to thwart it – what good is the UN, what is going to get those in other conflicts to ever give up their weapons when they have seen what happened to Srebrenica under UN protection. What is going to keep leaders from inspiring the masses to commit these acts when the example of Bosnia is territorial reward for those actions – Karadzic may be in the Hague but there is something to be said about his hero status – if the Serbs weren’t rewarded with land for their agression, were in some way punished for this agression then maybe Karadzic wouldn’t be a hero – and some people may choose jail for that status amongst their people.

    Additionally, this wasn’t the first time we were persecuted in Bosna and it might not be last time if we are only going to look at RS’s short term goals – maybe we can secure a better future now by taking appropriate diplomatic actions to thwart the long term goals. There’s also so much we can do to actually bring back our Muslim population to RS but it would take a lot of money to implement it but unfortunately we’re not the wealthiest society to do this and Islamic countries seem more interested in building up the mosques and madrasas than to assist in relocating our population back to its hometowns or investing into our economy. But, yes it is all very complex and there is only so much we are going to be able to do.

  25. Pingback: Out and About in the Islamosphere and a Global Voice « Samaha

  26. Avatar

    wikipedia_needs_policing

    August 1, 2008 at 8:42 PM

    Thanx for the article

    I think more muslims should take a larger proofing role on some of these wikipedia articles, particularly related to issues related to muslims. I always feel as though news such as this “muslim genocide” gets under-rated and overshadowed by technical aspects of the case. Is it a genocide, or not, was it state crime or much smaller individual responsibility etc…and list of reductionist terms go on… always packaged with controversies, or ” stupid reductionist opinions” .

    The massacre took place a decade ago, but the story seems to get merely focused on the political motivations of such crimes. The human side is never focused in isolation or given enough weight or exposure. The numbers, the names etc…all are less important.

  27. Avatar

    Owen

    August 2, 2008 at 7:33 AM

    Samaha, excuse me having a pop. I’m surprised to hear you say “Long term .. I knew that Dayton meant writting off RS.” Dayton was a fix to a situation on the ground. It involved Milosevic because Milosevic was a power-broker. Milosevic is gone. While it was a fix, it wasn’t a hand-out. There were conditions attached that RS has fought tooth and nail not to meet, above all of course respect for the rule of law in its institutions. There should be no question of accepting the entity status of RS as a given. To do so is to allow the people who profited from genocide to capitalise their gains. It’s not just a question of what’s important for Bosnia, it’s a question of what’s important for “Never Again”.

    Hamdi, thanks for the story. It’s important to have an occasional punch between the eyes like that to remind us outsiders what all the fuss concerning alternative therapists is really about. (and thanks for the signpost, Samaha)

  28. Avatar

    Owen

    August 2, 2008 at 7:37 AM

    Sorry, Amad, I got the authorship of the story muddled. Of course, the thanks remain the same.

  29. Avatar

    Samaha

    August 2, 2008 at 10:57 AM

    Sorry Owen – I really should clarify it. I knew that long term that their was potential for RS to attempt independence and by that potential that we would write it off.

  30. Avatar

    patb

    August 2, 2008 at 1:04 PM

    I need a history lesson from you folks that have lived this.
    How long has the problem existed between the different ethnic religios groups in the former Yugoslavia and the region?
    I had a serb tell me that the present hatred goes back to the World War Two period when the Mufti of Jerusalem raised a 20,000 man Muslim division for the German Wafen SS that terrorized the Serb population and hunted anti Nazi partisans. He said many still remember that period but the strong communist government (ruthless) kept the lid on issues by threat of force.
    Has this ethnic/religious unrest been continuous from the time of Islamic expansion (Spanish conquest) or is it a phenomina of the last century?

  31. Avatar

    Hamdi

    August 2, 2008 at 2:37 PM

    Samaha – Yeah, of course we need a solution to the problem. I just don’t see one coming in the near future. I think that if things remain the same the next 10-20 years, then a new generation of Bosnians who don’t have the war in recent memory will be able to make Bosnia a normal country, since nationalism may become less popular with the goal of most people in Bosnia to become EU members and have better living standards. Nationalism wont put food on your table.
    Allahu a’lam.

    patb – I’ve never actually heard Serbs emphasising the whole Bosnian Muslim invovlment in WW2. Usually I hear it from Western Islamophobes and never from the Serbs themselves, which has always made me feel that it might’ve been blown out of proportion. I don’t know.

  32. Avatar

    Owen

    August 3, 2008 at 4:35 AM

    Samaha, I know you’re not a defeatist! It’s important, however, that everybody he’s talking to hears Paddy Ashdown’s wake-up call about the way Dodik is creating parallel structures in Republika Srpska –
    http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2008/jul/27/serbia.balkans (if the article itself doesn’ show, click on Read Full Article). He argues that Bosnia is in danger of breaking up. Dodik is taking advantage of the political vacuum to move RS towards complete autonomy, undermining the Bosnia that Dayton envisaged, and eventually aiming at secession. He’s the only man working to a plan, Croats wait and see, Bosniaks squabble and EU is tired – the locals pretend to reform and the EU pretends to believe them.
    But also go down the Comments (most are the usual apologist rubbish) to an interesting one by someone called “discourse-analysis” in which he talks about the constraints on Dodik> He sees Dodik as having less scope to pursue independence and characterises Bosnia since Dayton as being trapped in a state of “Malign stability”.

  33. Avatar

    patb

    August 3, 2008 at 3:16 PM

    Hamdi,
    I think you are wrong about that actually. I first heard about that (Muslim SS) studying history in the 60’s from an American friend Milan Peric (sp) and didn’t really believe him til I looked it up. There wasn’t much written about it but much more is available nowadays on the internet. It is history and not a phobia as that’s an irrational fear. Iook it up as it wasn’t an insignificant event, the Muslim SS division also was used in Hungary to hunt Jews and other ‘objectionable’ people at the behest of the Germans.
    In truth, the British initially supported the Serbs in this recent conflict as they thought them more of allies (fought for the Allies against the Nazi’s) than the Muslims/Croates that they identified with the German effort. The Brits’s fought behind the scenes to support the Serbs for this instance alone.
    That being said this bloody conflict, wether religious or ethnic, is an ugly reminder of the depravity of men when they rationalize rape/murder as if it will further their goals.

  34. Avatar

    Samaha

    August 4, 2008 at 9:52 AM

    Owen – I know and that is why I have been saying that we need to take advantage of diplomatic efforts – Silajdzic is rocking the boat because he has no choice – really.

    patb – Milan Peric is at the very least a Serbian-American. I was born here as well and if I tell people that I am Bosnian-American so that people do know that I have an interest in the region. So, my dear, please read my link somewhere above about perpetually endless Serbian victimization.

    Now – there has been tensions between us since before even WWI and that has to do with the Greater Serbia dream and chetniks – not because of some SS division in which the Bosnians were 20,000 (most reported number and please make sure you are referring to BOSNIANS in this thread and not all of the balkan Muslims who were all divided between a couple of batallions.

    During WWII Bosnians had to go through the same as what went through this past war – they were being slaughtered by Chetniks, Ustase (Croatian Nationalist extremists) and then there were Partizans who were fighting for communism. Many Bosnians stayed out of the war altogether – others did join the Partizans and a relatively small group joined the SS division only to defend their local territories – they did not have many choices it’s not like their was some magical democratic side they could join – all sides represented something against their nature. Again – they were in a position of having to defend themselves from territorial goals of neighboring nationalist extremists – war takes great tolls on people but considering the small number that did go to the SS division this is hardly something to complain about in terms of Bosnians.

    Additionally, one of the batalions with Bosnian soldiers – the Bosnian soldiers were slaughtered because the German officers could not handle being with them – I believe they even killed many as they prayed. The other batallion was in France – and why is it that no one mentions that this is the only group to ever carry out a mutiny – France celebrates this batallion every year for their bravery.

    As far as I can recall – the Bosnian batallion was only training to be ready to protect local areas in Bosnia from being attacked, Croatians had already cleared Sarajevo of Jews and there is enough evidence of the Muslims accross Bosnia not wanting to take part in these efforts and even taking stand against it in Sarajevo.

    But yeah – it kills me – this whole SS thing gets fed to the west and Jewish community via Trifkovic and people gobble it up whole but if only you knew the animosity that Serbs feel towards both the west and Jews.

    Still – the MAJORITY of Bosnia’s Muslims were secular before this last war and even today most are – we lived with Serbs peacefully, they were our friends, we inter-married, they were our best men and maids of honor and if you had seen this society pre-war – you would never have imagined that this would happen.

  35. Avatar

    bint Ashfaq

    August 4, 2008 at 11:05 AM

    Subhan’Allah i actually sat down to read this, at times it’s all too much and i’ll skim read it. Subhan’Allah this is one story that made me stop and cry instantly and that doesn’t happen alot. I remeber watching a few clips on Islam Channel news long ago, it was bad at times humans can be the most evil of creatures. How evil, may Allah protect us and save us from such animals. ameen.

    Jazak Allahu khayr for posting this br Amad, very well written and all those who have given us a greater insight into Bosnia.

  36. Avatar

    Owen

    August 4, 2008 at 11:18 AM

    Churchill chose to work with Tito despite ideological differences because Tito was the only Yugoslav leader he believed had the determination to defeat the Germans in Yugoslavia. The Major govt basically supported the Serbs because Milosevic was seen as likely to achieve a stable final outcome reasonably quickly. There was quite a lot of accompanying propaganda exploiting the WWII relationship but basically John Major and Douglas Hurd seem to have wanted the whole untidy business sorted out with minimum fuss.

    I can very rarely bring myself to say anything positive about Margaret Thatcher but she was on the ball over Bosnia. In her New York Times article in August 1992 – http://www.margaretthatcher.org/speeches/displaydocument.asp?docid=108299 – she spoke her mind pretty unambiguously. She called for NATO intervention to stop the Serb/Serbian assault on Goražde and Sarajevo, in order to end ethnic cleansing and to preserve the legitmate Bosnian state of Alija Izetbegovic. She referred to “the Serbian ‘ethnic cleansing’ policy—a term for the expulsion of the non Serb population that combines the barbarities of Hitler’s and Stalin’s policies toward other nations”. She described the the conflict as a “killing field the like of which I thought we would never see in Europe again.”

    For some reason Serb sources always seem to have a lot of information to offer about the Bosnian Muslims who collaborated with the Nazis and very little about the Serb collaborators. Samaha, I find it extraordinary anyone can pay attention for long to Trifkovic’s pedantic pseudo-academic milking of the limitless history of Serb victimhood. He certainly helped me work out early on which side was more likely to be telling the truth.

  37. Avatar

    patb

    August 4, 2008 at 12:46 PM

    Samaha,
    Thank you for your viewpoint and yes, Milan was an American Serb.
    I only find this interesting (the SS thing) from the viewpoint of the Mufti of Jerusalem and his personal contacts with Hitler. A very unusual alliance.
    This begs the larger question of multi culturalism and societal health in a nation state. It seems that a happy medium in society requires just that, a medium or meeting point. When ethnic cultures develop, or maintain, different languages, modes of dress, etc. and different visions based upon disparete cultures they tend to clash at different levels.
    In your experience that multiculturalism ‘experiment’ did not work unless there was an overarching ruthless regime to enforce peace.
    Celebrating a link to a culture left behind (as has traditionally been the case in the US) and importing a culture to stand alone within the established culture will, I believe, cause issues.
    Maybe these enclaves will eventually disperse, I hope so. A certain commonality must exist for the common good.
    I’m not speaking about religion.

  38. Avatar

    jawwadsti

    August 4, 2008 at 4:01 PM

    This article makes me so sad :(

  39. Avatar

    bosanka

    August 7, 2008 at 5:17 PM

    Things are pretty clear here, Serbs (99,9 %) are very saddened by Karadzic being imprisoned, they consider him as their hero and not afraid to show that. In past few days there have been several “gatherings” in Republic of Srpska, where men, women and children went out in the street, showing how much they love him, shouting that allowing his arrest is shame for Serbian people and carrying billboards that saying : We are all Karadzic. Police is very active in that part of Bosnia, as treats to Serbian prime minister and others came from there.

    Imagine how does it feel to actually LIVE here. Surrounded by those same people who were killing us for all those years. And Hamdi, I understand you pointing to our people being affected by communism, this is very true, but Islam has come to a better days here during and after the war. At least thats the case with youth. Me, I didn’t know anything about Islam b4 war. This is mostly due to the fear of my parents, as we lived in city with Serbs as majority. But alhamdulillah, a lot has been changed and I see many many people living Islam and feeling proud because of it.

    May Allah’s help be with Muslims, fe koll makan.

  40. Avatar

    Olivia

    August 10, 2008 at 2:47 PM

    I went to a highschool in Indiana and there was a group of highly nationalistic serbs who went there too and they were NUTS. they had all this serbian propaganda all over their backpacks scrawled in whiteout and would draw serbian tattoos on themselves with pen. everybody thought they were whacky and made fun of them but it didnt phase them at all. shows you how evil nationalism is.

    im so glad theres a day of judgment where all those evil people will get their come-uppance.

    EDIT: Sorry k, can’t let that last one through ;)

    luv,
    b (aka Siraaj)

  41. Avatar

    Amina

    August 18, 2008 at 9:30 PM

    Assalamu alaikum

    I come also from the city that is occupied by Serbians.
    Alhamdulillah I am blessed that I am still alive and that Allah guided me to learn Islam and practice it. Even in Bosnia majority of people are still not practicing religion but we have more and more our youth studying Islam correct way so they can inshAllah teach other.
    May Allah unity our ummah and make us better Muslims. Ameen

    Assalamu alaikum

  42. Avatar

    ilmsummitee

    December 7, 2008 at 12:12 PM

    I just came upon this story, but JazakAllahu khairan brother for the story, SubhanAllah it really touches upon the personal element.

    I remember growing up about both the Kosova and Bosnia conflicts and killings. May Allah restore their lands and all the Muslim lands with peace, justice—and bring in rain to the desolate misery out of which will spring hope and strength and blossom into victory. Ameen.

    Keep the ummah in your duaas, always brothers and sisters, let us not forget them………

    Wasalams.

  43. Pingback: In Memory of Srebrenica | MuslimMatters.org

  44. Avatar

    ASKARI

    May 2, 2010 at 10:44 AM

    Allah Humma al an Quam azzalameen

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#Culture

To Kill a Muslim – Part 1

Yahya noticed the obscene gesture that the man across the street gave him, but he ignored it, and chose not to tell his wife Samira. He knew how deep racism ran in these small towns. He would just have to be patient.

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1. Ragheads

Rotting wooden porch steps

Nursing a warm beer, Chad sat on the ramshackle front porch with the rotting steps and peeling paint. His hand clenched tightly the beer can as he watched the filthy camel hugging family move in across the street. Liquid sloshed over his fist.

It was unbelievable. This was Alhambra, a white town in America. Trump’s America. Making America great again, putting the freaks and coloreds back in their places. Sure, there were wetbacks in Alhambra – you couldn’t escape them in California – but there were hardly any blacks, and there were certainly no terrorist camel huggers.

Until now. There they were across the street and two houses down, unloading a trailer hooked to a silver Honda Accord. It was a whole family of ragheads – a woman with her stupid oppressed scarf on her head, a little boy and girl, and the father. Chad studied the man with contempt. The guy was tall, maybe 6’1 or 6’2, and black. Well, maybe he was African or some such, ‘cause he wore one of those long, colorful African shirts. His skin was mud colored, and his hair was short under that stupid beanie. He was skinny though. Chad was pretty sure he could kick the guy’s ass. The man noticed Chad looking and waved. Chad flipped him the bird. The man frowned and went on moving his crap.

Chad spent a lot of time sitting on the porch nowadays, ever since he’d been fired from his loss prevention job at Walmart. That still made his jaw clench and his vision go red every time he thought about it. Some black dude – a gangbanger no doubt – had tried to shoplift box of tampons, of all things, and Chad stopped him. A scuffle ensued. Chad recovered the tampons, but the banger got away. And Walmart fired him. Said he’d violated the terms of service of his employment, which required no physical engagement of any kind. You were supposed to ask the thief to return the goods, but if they refused you were not supposed to stop them, follow them, or “engage” in any way, due to the liability to other customers if the encounter turned violent.

So the shade goes off scot-free, and Chad gets fired. A law abiding, hard working, white American gets fired for doing the right thing. It made him want to smash something. Actually it made him want to smash someone, ideally his Filipino woman boss at Walmart, but any foreigner would do.

So here he was, twenty two and unemployed, nothing but a high school diploma to his name, sitting on his mom’s porch. All his old high school friends had jobs and girlfriends. Some even had wives. A couple had gone to college.

It wasn’t right. His life wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. He’d been a track star in high school – hundred meters and hurdles – and was supposed to have gone to college on a scholarship, but he’d blown out his knee, and they’d all abandoned him. It was like, if you weren’t of use to people, they didn’t give a crap about you. You were disposable. Blood sucking leeches. They’d given his spot on the track team to a black kid, a sophomore. Kid probably couldn’t even read. Was that piece of crap out there now, living the life that should have been Chad’s? How could this happen in Trump’s America? That was the problem, that it hadn’t been Trump’s America back then. It had been Barack Hussein’s America, the Commie Muslim traitor, damn his terrorist soul.

He seethed with the unfairness of it. He was no genius, he knew that. But he’d been a good runner, talented. He’d had the opportunity to make something of himself, to be the first in his family to go to college. He could have been more than his parents. A teacher maybe, or even a lawyer. His mother survived on welfare and what she could beg, borrow or steal from her string of boyfriends.

As for his dad, sure, Chad admired him in some ways – the man had been a shot caller in the Aryan Nation prison gang, able to point a finger and have another man killed. He’d been looked up to and respected. And he’d taught Chad what it meant to be a proud white man, standing up for your race and not taking any crap from coloreds. But let’s face it, Dad had spent 90% of his adult life in prison, and in the end had died the way he lived, with a knife in his gut. That wasn’t what Chad wanted for himself.

Plus, if Chad was being honest, he’d evolved beyond this father’s way of thinking. His father always used to say that the coloreds – no matter the shade – were filthy and inferior and should all be eliminated, even if that meant a race war across the face of America. It was a certainty, according to him, that the race war was coming. RaHoWa, he used to call it – Racial Holy War. The coloreds were secretly plotting to wipe out white America. It was an assault on the white, Christian values that had built everything worldwide in the modern world.

But when Chad had worked at Walmart he’d been forced to work with people of all colors and even folks from other countries like Filipinos and Chinks. He´d asked a few of them about RaHoWa, trying to find out about their plans to destroy the white race, but they seemed genuinely clueless. Chad slowly realized that RaHoWa was a myth, and that the coloreds were ordinary people like himself. They liked the same sports teams he did, played the same video games, watched the same shows. Yeah, they ate some weird crap and some of them smelled different, and their music was garbage. And they weren’t as smart of course. That was a fact. White people were the smartest, they had invented everything. That was why they ran the world. But the point was that the coloreds weren’t evil.

He had come to the conclusion that what was needed was not a race war, but separation. Let the coloreds live in their own neighborhoods and go to their own schools. Let them marry their own women and breed their own brats. And Chad and the white people would do the same. Live and let live. Not the Filipino bitch who fired him of course, he still wanted to bust her head open. But the others, yeah.

But the Muzzies – the Islamics – that was a different story. They were terrorist, cult following traitors. Not normal people. Muzzies were evil and sick in the head. Everybody said so. Plus, they lied as part of their sicko religion. It was called takaya or some crap. What kind of twisted bullcrap was that? They beheaded people, for Christ’s sake. If you were Christian in their country they would cut off your head with a hunting knife. They were devil worshipers. They should all either be kicked out of the country or killed. Period. And then Mecca should be nuked, and that would be the end of it.

But instead of taking care of business, the government was letting them go around like normal people. Even Trump had wimped out. The evidence was right in front of Chad’s eyes. Ragheads in his neighborhood, on his street. It was insane. How could terrorists go around openly showing off their rags? Where was Homeland Security? That was a good idea, actually. See something, say something, right? He took his phone out of his pocket and called 911.

2. Moving Day

Yahya Mtondo noticed the young man across the street staring. He waved, and when the fellow gave him an obscene gesture in return he frowned. In the old days – that is to say, in his angry and lost years of his youth – he would have marched straight over there and punched the man in the face, and damn the consequences. But he wasn’t that man anymore. So here merely shook his head and turned back to the job of moving.

His wife Samira must have noticed his expression. “What’s wrong habibi?”

He forced a smile. “Nothing’s at all, mchumba wangu.” Usually he called her mpenzi wangu – my love. But when he wanted to tease her he called her mchumba wangu, my homemaker. It was actually a term of endearment in his native Kenya, or at least it was what his dad always used to call his mom, may Allah have mercy on them. But he knew it annoyed Samira. In any case, he wasn’t going to tell her about the young man across the street. Samira tended to worry – she even had anxiety attacks sometimes – and he didn’t want to give her anything more to stress over.

“Just tired from the fast,” he added. “But I love it. I feel so light and free. I’m a bird doing loop de loops. Oooh!” He spread his arms. “My feathers are as cool as ice.”

Samira rolled her eyes. “You’re such a nut.”

He had not been crazy about the idea of moving to this poor, mostly white enclave in Central California, about twenty miles northeast of Fresno. He knew from experience how deep racism often ran in such towns. And he had two strikes against him in these people’s eyes, since he was both African and Muslim. Not that he was ashamed. He was proud of his Kenyan heritage, and was grateful that Allah had guided him to Islam.

They were here because his wife had just completed her medical residency in Fort Worth, Texas, where they’d moved from, and Alhambra Community Hospital had unexpectedly offered her a fellowship in her specialty of oncology. The salary was not spectacular, but it was better than she’d earned as a resident. Between that and his income as a rideshare driver, plus the low property values here in Alhambra, they’d been able to buy a house for the first time, alhamdulillah – thanks to God for all His blessings.

Craftsman bungalow cottage

The best part of all was that there was no ribaa involved. No interest. They’d gone through a group called Central Valley Islamic Finance, which helped qualified Muslims to buy cars and homes without interest. Yahya was deeply relieved about that. He ́d made plenty of mistakes in life, but so far he’d managed to avoid the sin of ribaa, sometimes making great sacrifices in the process.

It felt like an achievement. He could see himself on Yawm Al-Qiyamah – the Day of Resurrection – standing before some great angel who held in his hand a parchment listing Yahya´s sins, each with a small checked box: anger, resentment, cursing, jealousy, ingratitude, and more. But then Yahya ́s eyes would settle on the one little unchecked box – Ribaa. He would point to it excitedly, saying, ̈Look, look!̈ And he ́d hope that it might perhaps, offer him a chance for safety on that Day.

It was pretty sad, he knew, when avoiding a major sin was your last chance for salvation. Welcome to the 21st century. Or maybe that was a cop-out. He sighed.

̈Come on babe, tell me. What is it?̈ His sweaty-faced wife touched his cheek. She was always so alert to any sign of inner turbulence on his part.

He smiled. ¨Nothing.¨

She slid her arm through his. ̈Look at our house. Our house. SubhanAllah.¨

He set down the box he had tucked under one arm and studied the house. 701 Minarets Avenue. They had taken the street name as a sign. Their own little homestead, their own piece of earth – of course it all belonged to Allah, but it was theirs to care for. He would import a few elephants and a lion and call it Little House on the Serengeti. He chuckled at his own joke.

The house was small for a family of four – only 1,100 square feet. But it was cute – a little Craftsman bungalow built in 1901, painted teal with white trim, and featuring a small covered veranda to relax on when the weather go too hot, as it often did here in Central California. The yard was planted with wildflowers and native shrubs, while an immense magnolia tree grew in the front yard, casting shade over most of the house, its thick, waxy leaves glowing deep emerald in the morning sun. Some sort of songbird trilled from deep in the tree, praising God in its own language. Yahya loved it.

As an added bonus, Samira’s family lived in Los Angeles, only a four hour drive from here.

Allah the Most High had opened a door for them, and they’d walked through, taking the path that the Most Wise chose for them. Yahya knew in his heart that there would be good in this path, or Allah would not have set them upon it. That was trust, tawakkul. Doing your best, then putting your life in Allah’s hands and trusting Him to bring you through whatever obstacles you faced. Tawakkul was not, as some thought, naivete. Yahya had not lived an easy life. He ́d experienced terrible tragedies, and had walked through trench and terror, metaphorically speaking, just to stay alive. No, tawakkul was a choice and a mindset. It was faith.

As for the young man across the street, Yahya would make an effort to reach out to the neighbors, get to know them. Weren’t Muslims commanded to be kind to their neighbors? Only through kindness could an enemy become a friend.

He kissed his wife on the temple and bent down wearily to pick up the box.This was Ramadan, and Yahya’s energy level was at rock bottom. He hadn’t taken any food or water in many hours. Fortunately, all the family’s possessions fit into a small U-Haul trailer, and the moving was nearly done. That was one advantage of being poor, he thought wryly. It made moving easier.

Ten minutes later, hefting a 6-foot bookshelf and turning, he almost tripped over Sulayman, his four-year-old son, who had picked up a table fan by the cord. Yahya resisted the temptation to chide the boy. The irritability he felt was a byproduct of his hunger and weariness from the fast. Part of the challenge of Ramadan was to overcome that irritability and replace it with compassion. Instead of anger, to give love. Instead of resentment, to exercise generosity. Instead of self-absorption, to expand your sphere of concern to include your family, neighbors, the community, the Muslim ummah, and finally the world. That was Ramadan, and that was Islam.

Sulayman and his three-year-old sister Amirah were only trying to help in their little way. But yeah, they were getting underfoot. He was about to suggest they go play inside the house when he heard sirens approaching. It sounded like there were a lot of them, and they were close. Curious, he set the bookshelf down in the driveway. The sirens kept getting louder, and a moment later a black-and-white Alhambra police cruiser careened around the corner, then another right behind it, tires squealing. Yahya didn’t know what was going on – a burglary in the neighborhood, or a domestic dispute maybe? – but he wanted his family out of harm’s way.

“Samira,” he said urgently. “Take the kids into the house, please. Right away.” His wife had also paused to see the source of the commotion. She stood near the front door of the house, her hands gripping tightly on the box of dinnerware she was carrying. Like him, she was tall – about 5’10” to his 6’1” – and though she was Palestinian, her skin was a beautiful shade of brown that fell somewhere between copper and mahogany. Her purple hijab concealed long black hair that she typically wore loose beneath her scarf.

While Yahya was quiet and contemplative, Samira could be loud. She had a laugh that rang out, and a smile that stretched a mile wide. People were drawn to her brash and bubbly personality. Only those who knew her best understood the insecurities and worries that she hid beneath that bright and happy laugh.

As the wailing sirens mounted Samira dropped the box. Whatever was inside shattered when it hit the ground. She scooped up the kids, lifting them bodily off the ground, and disappeared inside the house.

Cop with gun drawn

What on earth? What had gotten into her? Yahya was about to go after her when the police cars skidded to a halt in the street in front of his own home. Doors were thrown open, and officers kneeled behind them, pointing their guns at his house. Yahya looked around in confusion. Was a fugitive hiding in his yard?

“Put your hands on your head,” someone bellowed through a loudspeaker, “and get down on your knees!”

Again Yahya looked around. Surely they did not mean him?

“You with the hat and the beard! Put your hands on your head and get down on your knees! This is your last warning!”

SubhanAllah, they did mean him! He considered protesting or at least asking for clarification. Then he looked at the barrels of the firearms pointing at him, one of which was bright yellow for some reason – some kind of phaser pistol? he thought crazily – and realized this was not the time for anything less than obedience. Moving slowly so as not to alarm the cops, he put his hands on his head and went down to his knees. Two offers charged forward, their weapons trained on Yahya’s chest. One pulled his hands behind his back and handcuffed him, then shoved him forward. He fell, turning his face to the side at the last second and striking his cheek on the driveway. The impact made him grunt in pain. He thought he heard the muffled cries of his wife or children from inside the house. They were probably watching through the window.

This was not something he would have ever wanted them to see. He struggled to rise up, to say to the officers, “Come on now, what’s this all about?” He was not personally afraid. It was never his way to be afraid of people or the things people did. He was good with God and trusted in the path. He just didn’t want his children to see their father being treated this way.

The cops tased him. He didn’t understand at that moment what was happening. Every muscle in his body seized in a terrible cramp. His limbs thrashed uncontrollably and his torso flopped like a dying fish on the floor of a boat. His vision went red as agonizing pain blasted his consciousness. He still heard his family screaming, and in the distance he heard laughter as well – triumphant, mocking laughter. The agony seemed to go on forever, then vanished without a trace, leaving no remainder of pain.

He regained control of himself and turned his head to look at the officers. The one who’d tased him stood rigid, his arms in a classic firing pose, his muscles quivering. He was young and slender, pasty white with red hair and a prematurely receding hairline. What Yahya noticed most of all, however, was that the man was petrified. His eyes were wide with fear. SubhanAllah, what was he so afraid of? He was staring as if Yahya were some mythical monster laying in the driveway, like an abominable snowman. Except he wasn’t an abominable snowman. He was an abominable Muslim, apparently.

“Hey,” Yahya said in what he hoped was a soothing tone. “It’s alright. I’m not-”

“Shut up, faggot!” one of the officers bellowed, and once again the electricity coursed through him. He spasmed and fell hard, striking his mouth this time. Then he felt hard objects hitting him, striking his legs and back. A hammering blow clapped the side of his head, and darkness descended upon his mind.

* * *

Next: Part 2 – The Black Jesus

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.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novel, Pieces of a Dream, is available on Amazon.com.

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Gravedigger: A Short Story

A fist crashed into Ghada Aziz’s eye, snapping her head back and turning her legs to straw. Pain exploded in her face and she wondered if her orbital socket had just shattered. Somehow she clung to consciousness, covering her head with her arms, then lashing out with a punch of her own.

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fight, life, death, grave

A fist crashed into Ghada Aziz’s eye, snapping her head back and turning her legs to straw. Pain exploded in her face and she wondered if her orbital socket had just shattered. Somehow she clung to consciousness, covering her head with her arms, then lashing out with a punch of her own. She couldn’t take much more. Her left leg was swollen and numb, her ribs deeply bruised, and blood poured into her eyes from a cut on her forehead.

MMA ringShe never saw the blow that knocked her out. She crashed to the blood-spattered canvas, mouth open and drooling, dimly aware of the referee shielding her. A roaring sound like an avalanche filled her ears, and knew it was the sound of the crowd cheering her opponent. This was her sixth loss in the last two years, and the fourth by knockout. She’d once been the seventh ranked female bantamweight fighter in the world, but she was done. Twenty seven years old and washed up, her MMA career was over.

Was it for this that Baba – her father – had fled Iraq with her when she was twelve, leaving behind the land where his wife and son – her mother and older brother – had been slaughtered? Was it for this that he gave up his work as a radiologist to work as a janitor in Los Angeles, somehow managing to pay for her English and karate lessons?

And how had she repaid him? Other Arab-American children became doctors and engineers, but Ghada dropped out of college, driven by her passion for martial arts. The fighting ring was the only place where she felt completely in control of her destiny. Life delivered one crushing blow after another – losing loved ones, loneliness, grief – but in the ring, standing over her opponent in triumph, life was powerless to harm her. Only in the ring did she feel in control, secure.

She wouldn’t have blamed Baba for being disappointed in her, but he’d been proud, even when the local Arab community criticized him for letting his daughter adopt immoral ways. He dropped in on her training sessions and hung news stories about her on the wall. Unlike many fighters Ghada had no nickname, and Baba used to teasingly say that she should call herself The Saracen, or The Arab Assassin. As if she needed to call attention to her heritage. She already received death threats from Americans and Arabs alike. The only thing Baba would not do was attend her fights. He couldn’t bear to see her getting hit. Baba also supported her financially until she began to win, at which point she bought him a little house in Eagle Rock with a garden that he tended lovingly.

Then he died, his heart giving out on a cold January morning as he raked the leaves in the yard, while Ghada was away at training camp. Her shame at having neglected him was a worse blow than any she’d ever taken in the ring.

Someone gripped her arm. Sibni, she thought in Arabic, her cheek glued to the canvas, her braided black hair soaking up blood. Let me be. But the coach pulled her up and mopped her face as the cut man pressed the freezing end-swell disc into her forehead to stanch the flow of blood. She hung her head, not wanting to see the faces of the leering crowd, many of them overjoyed to see the Arab bitch lose. So much hate she’d faced. All for nothing.

She remembered being surprised at how many people came to Baba’s funeral. Arabs and other members of the Muslim community – Pakistanis, Indians, African-Americans, and the odd Latino or white convert – stood in rows to pray.  Non-Muslims came as well, approaching her to offer their condolences. She didn’t know most of them. They spoke of her father’s generosity or his guidance. While she’d been focused on training, Baba had intertwined with many lives, touching many hearts. That should have been comforting, but it only reminded her that she hadn’t been there enough to truly know him. She hadn’t been involved. Her grief was a thunderstorm in her head and would not let up. She skipped training sessions, lived on instant noodles and delivery pizza, slept past noon every day and lost fight after fight, unable to win the outer battles while the inner ones raged.

Now that her career was finally over, she fell into a pit of despair. She stopped bathing, washing the dishes, and paying the bills. Late notices came. Sometimes the doorbell rang and people called to her. A few times she recognized the voices of Farah and Summer, two Muslim friends she’d had in high school. They’d drifted away after she became an MMA fighter. Or had she pushed them away, preempting the threat of their rejection? They’d attended a few of her fights as well – she’d seen them in the front rows, cheering. She’d always refused to acknowledge them, fearing that they were there to judge her. They both wore hijab after all, while she was out in front of the world wearing knee-length shorts and a lycra shirt, making a spectacle of herself. So she’d deliberately avoided them, not meeting their eyes when she left the ring after the fights.

Sometimes she thought about killing herself. She resisted the idea, knowing it was against her religion and everything her father had taught her. But… there was no way forward. She was an unemployed college drop-out, finished in her career, alone in the world, and – judging from the unopened late notices she was receiving from the state – about to lose her father’s house for non-payment of taxes.

One miserable night, unable to sleep and equally unable to bear her own thoughts, she walked into the kitchen. Roaches scattered. Filthy dishes stewed in the sink. In the middle of the room stood a small table and two folding chairs. Her father used to sit there when he read the newspaper and paid the bills. Why had he kept two chairs there? Perpetually waiting – hoping – for Ghada to return home and join him at that little table? Atop the table stood a glass vase filled with desiccated morning glories. Those same dead flowers had been there since Baba died.

Kitchen knifeShe went to the cutlery drawer and took out a large steel vegetable knife. Her father always kept the knives sharp. She placed the tip against the inside of her left wrist. She would make a long, deep cut, then she’d do the other arm. Then she’d lie down in bed and wait for it to be over.

She pressed the tip of the knife into her wrist. It broke the skin and blood welled up, running in a rivulet into her palm and dripping from her middle finger. It was time to die.

Except… she could not make her hand move. She could not go further. An inner voice said, “This isn’t right. There’s always another way, a better way. You’re a fighter. Don’t give up now.” She ignored that voice and cut a little further. Blood began to pour now, running down her wrist and hand and spattering onto the kitchen floor. Her arms trembled. One of her elbows bumped the vase on the table. It tipped over, rolled off the table and shattered into a hundred fragments.

A memory came to her in a flash. She was a child in Baghdad, in the small villa they’d called home. Mama was standing on a stepladder, removing a burnt-out fluorescent bulb – the long kind – from the ceiling fixture. She handed it down to Ghada, who was her assistant in everything, whether cooking, cleaning or home repair. “Pass me the new one,” Mama said.

“I’ll do it, I’ll do it!” exclaimed tousle-haired Ibrahim, her younger brother. Before Ghada could stop him he snatched up the new bulb from where it leaned against the wall – and dropped it. Slivers of glass exploded across the floor. Both children froze, expecting to be punished. Their cat, Halawa, came padding in to investigate the commotion. Mama sighed and instructed Ghada to put Halawa in the bathroom before she cut her paws. It was the only room with a door, since the others had only curtains in the doorways. As they all worked to clean the broken glass, Halawa kept crying to be let out. Ghada felt bad for the cat, but it was for the kitty’s own good. When they were finally finished and released the cat she trotted out with her tail high, giving them all an accusing look.

Later, Mama said, “What we did with Halawa is a metaphor for how Allah protects us.”

“What’s a metaphor?” Ibrahim wanted to know.

“An example. Sometimes we feel trapped in our situations. We can’t find a way out. We cry and complain, not understanding why Allah has closed the doors. Our vision is small, so we don’t see the broken glass all around. We don’t realize that we are exactly where we need to be in that moment, and that Allah is protecting us. But if we are patient, the door will open when the time is right.”

Remembering this now, remembering her dear, patient mother, and imagining what her mother would say if she could see her daughter in this moment, Ghada cried out and dropped the knife, which fell to the floor with a clatter. Her entire body trembled, with what emotion she could not say. She would wait. She would… try something. What, she did not know.

She left the house for the first time in two weeks and went to visit her father’s grave. It was located in a sprawling, hilly cemetery that belonged to the city of Los Angeles. She sat on the grass of his grave and wept, fingering the plaque set into the ground. Sami Daoud Aziz, beloved husband and father. She tried to speak to him or pray over him, but no words came.

On her way out she saw a sign on the gate: Help Wanted. She saved the number in her phone and called it the next morning. The cemetery was looking for a full-time gravedigger. The job paid $15 per hour plus benefits. It was no fortune, but it might allow her to pay the bills, and more importantly she’d be close to Baba. She applied and was accepted.

For the first six months there was hardly a day when she did not think about quitting. The work was grueling, even harder than MMA training. Even as a full time fighter she’d only trained four hours per day. The rest of it was just healthy eating, watching and analyzing training videos, and getting nine hours of sleep every night.

This job, on the other hand, was what she imagined when a convict was sentenced to “hard labor.” Not that the environment was forbidding – it was actually extraordinarily beautiful. But this was a green cemetery, which is why the graves were hand dug. There was no gas-powered machinery of any kind, and only two maintenance workers for this entire, sprawling cemetery – herself and Dave, the groundskeeper. No embalming chemicals – Ghada learned all this in time – were used in burials, nor any grave liners or vaults. Only shrouds or biodegradable wooden caskets. Wildflowers were allowed to proliferate freely. Songbirds, squirrels and deer could be seen roaming the grounds, and butterflies were everywhere. With oak and bay trees covering the slopes, it looked more like a natural woodland than a traditional cemetery.

On a typical day Ghada had to dig two or three graves, which meant a full eight or nine hours of digging. She’d wake up in the morning with her muscles still aching from the previous day. At first her hands blistered, then they bled. Finally they grew calloused.

The plus side to the job was that she was close to Baba. She’d sit on his grave every day at lunchtime, sometimes crying, sometimes praying, sometimes just talking to him. Was this morbid? Was she psychologically damaged, unable to let go of the past? She didn’t know. She only knew that being near her father comforted her.

Time passed. She paid off her bills. Her muscles stopped aching. Her almond colored skin darkened to cafe-au-lait from working in the sun every day. And she stopped crying. She began to pray again and to fast in the holy month of Ramadan, two things she hadn’t done since she was a teenager. Her own transformation amazed her at times. She thought back to the night she’d pressed the knife to her wrist. Was it Allah who’d put that memory in her head at that moment – the memory of her cat Halawa and the broken glass? Regardless, alhamdulillah – all praise to God.

* * *

baba, death, suicide,She tossed the last spadeful of dirt and mopped her brow. The sun was straight overhead, illuminating even the inside of the grave. Unhooking a tape measure from her belt, she checked the grave. One shovel deep, two and a half feet wide by seven long. Industry standard. Satisfied, she tossed the shovel out and leaped out of the grave, tucking and rolling as she cleared the top. Time for lunch.

The back east acre was screened by a row of pines. Management kept the maintenance equipment in a shed back here, but there was a narrow stretch of clear grass. Ghada always spent the first half of her break practicing martial arts here. It was something she’d come back to this year. She wasn’t training for anything. It was movement for the sake of movement. Running through footwork and strikes, angling in and out, the workout left her physically energized and as emotionally serene as a summer sky. She hadn’t been in a gym in two years, so she worked on fundamentals, sometimes combining the moves she already knew in inventive ways.

Later, sitting on the grass of Baba’s grave, she unwrapped the ‘eggah sandwich she’d prepared that morning. It was a dish her mother had taught her to make – a patty formed from a blend of eggs, broccoli and cheese, served in pita bread with a hummus spread. With it she had a cup of hasa al-khadr – vegetable soup spiced with ginger, garlic, cilantro and cumin. Eating these traditional foods made her feel that she was carrying on her cultural heritage in some way, and also kept her healthy for the extreme labor of this job.

The warm sunshine on her face felt pleasant. The air smelled of bay leaves and wild roses. Two squirrels chased each other around a tree and up and down the trunk. Watching them, Ghada smiled. Life was good. It amazed and pleased her that she could think this. The only thing lacking in her life was companionship. She had no family, no friends. She was all alone in the world.

As if disproving her assertion, Dave the groundskeeper sauntered over from where he’d been digging out a patch of invasive broom grass. He carried his lunch bag in one hand and thermos in the other. Ghada didn’t mind. Nearing forty, tall but stoop shouldered, Dave was harmless, not to mention married. He and his wife June were MMA fans. He’d been thrilled to meet her when she first started, as he’d seen her fight when she was in her prime. He kept telling her she should be coaching fighters, not digging graves. She always shrugged this off. Maybe someday. The fighting world felt too much like the bad old days – though, if she was honest with herself, there was still a part of her that wondered how far she could have gone as a fighter if Baba had not died.

They ate in silence for a while. This was one of the things she liked about Dave. The two of them were well attuned to each other’s moods.

“You don’t talk to your dad much anymore,” Dave said. He nodded to her father’s plaque.

Ghada remembered how she used to sit here and confess her sins, sometimes weeping, sometimes telling Baba haltingly about her life, as if she expected him to condemn her failings. Why had she thought that? He’d never condemned her in life, after all. He’d done nothing but love her. My shining star, he used to call her.

“I’ve said it all.”

“So you two are good?”

She smiled. “Yeah.”

“You’ve changed since you started here.”

“No kidding. I don’t wake up with my limbs aching like I just ran a marathon. I remember when digging a single grave was exhausting. Blisters everywhere, my back sore, everything.”

“Not just that. You’re peaceful.”

She nodded. “It’s this job.” She waved a hand at a bluejay that sat on the branch of a nearby oak tree, watching them and waiting for crumbs, no doubt. “Life amid death, you know? It’s a constant reminder to live in the moment.”

Her phone rang. That was odd. No one ever called her. She dug it out of her pocket and looked at it, then frowned. It was her coach. She hadn’t spoken to him in two years. For a moment she thought of not taking the call. But that was the old Ghada. The new Ghada had nothing to fear from the past. “You sure you have the right number?” she greeted him, then listened as he spoke. “I’ll get back to you,” she said when he was done. “I know. Give me a half hour.”

“What was that about?” Dave asked. “You look like you’ve seen a dead body.” He grinned at his own joke. Funerals were a part of daily life here.

She said nothing.

“You’re scaring me, kiddo.”

“Sorry. You know the WFC? The World Fighting Championship?”

“Of course. You know I’m a fan. There’s an event tonight. June and I are going.”

“Oh. Well, the woman who was supposed to fight against Viviani Silva had an injury. They want me to fight her.”

It was Dave’s turn to gape. “Viviani ‘The Monster’ Silva? That’s a title fight!”

“No one else wants it on such short notice. Or if they do, they’re too far away.”

“Man! Wait ‘til I tell June. She’ll freak out.”

Ghada put up a hand. “I haven’t said I’ll do it. Listen, do you mind leaving me alone for a bit?”

“Sure.” He scooped up his lunch and hurried off, no doubt to call his wife.

She ran a hand through the grass of her father’s grave. She was not afraid. Where once the storm had raged inside her, now she was the eye. “But Baba,” she said aloud. “That’s not my life anymore.”

Does the dream still live inside you? came his reply. If so then seize it, habibti, my love, my shining star.

* * *

“I owe you big time for taking this.” Her coach hustled her into the arena. “No one expects you to win, okay? All you have to do is put on a show. Flash that Aziz spirit, try to make it through the first round. Even if you lose you make fifty grand. You look fit at least. Better than the last time I saw you.”

Not much of a pep talk, Ghada thought. To hell with him if that was all he thought of her. She’d fight, but for herself, not for her coach or anyone else. Oddly, the thought of the fight itself excited her more than the $50,000 purse. What did she need $50K for anyway? She had everything she needed in life. What thrilled her was the opportunity to plunge into combat once again, to hit and be hit in a battle that was mental and emotional even more than physical. Those electric, brutal, and vivid minutes in which she was more fully alive than 99.99% of human beings.

Five minutes later she stood on the scale at the weigh-in, fight officials all around and press bulbs flashing. Viviani ‘The Monster’ Silva had already weighed in, but was there to check out the competition. The thick-jawed, heavily tattooed woman postured and called out insults. She looked exotic and mean in her skin-tight short-shorts and halter top.

Ghada, on the other hand, wore her usual knee-length shorts and a form fitting long sleeved shirt. It was her concession to Islamic modesty and she knew it was insufficient, but it was the best she could do in the ring. Her jet black hair was braided in cornrows, close to the scalp. She ignored The Monster and let out a slow breath, unperturbed. She saw surprise on the faces of the officials. Did they remember the out of shape, emotionally depressed wreck of a fighter from two years ago? Her eyes flicked to the wall mirror, curious to see herself as they saw her. Standing 5’7”, she weighed in at 133 pounds. That was near the upper weight limit for a bantamweight, but there was not an ounce of fat on her. Her legs were rock solid and rippling with muscle, her arms powerful and well defined even through the shirt, her shoulders like two small boulders. She looked like a granite statue. The gravedigging, she realized. Digging graves was the most physically taxing thing she’d ever done. When she’d first started she couldn’t dig a single grave without resting multiple times. Now she could dig for ten hours, wake up the next day and do it again, as easy as babaganoush. She’d never been stronger in her life, both physically and emotionally.

She looked to The Monster and saw a flicker of doubt on the woman’s face. The hair stood up on Ghada’s arms. I’m going to win this fight. The premonition hit her like the light of the summer sun, leaving no room for doubt. She was going to win. She was going to become the next women’s bantamweight champion of the world.

What would she do after that? Would she continue to fight, or become a coach as Dave was always telling her to do? Or would she go back to digging graves? She didn’t know. But she was sure she was going to win. She could feel it in her bones, as surely as her ancestors had been able to feel the approach of a sandstorm or the coming of the rain.

Someone called out her name. She looked over the crowd and spotted Farah and Summer at the back of the crowd of spectators. They grinned and waved. How had they known she would be here? In the past she would have looked away, not wanting to acknowledge them. But this time she smiled and waved, genuinely happy to see them. Their faces lit up and they shrieked as if they’d just met a celebrity.

The fight announcer approached, shook her hand. “Do you have a nickname you want me to use when I announce you?” he asked.

Ghada’s smile spread into a grin. Then she laughed out loud. “Sure. Call me Gravedigger.”

THE END

* * *

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories. Wael’s novel, Pieces of a Dream, is available on Amazon.com.

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Of Dreams and Shadows

A short story

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By Saulat Pervez

Tears streaming down her face and her lips moving fervently in supplication, the lady’s terrified face spoke volumes. Watching the lady, she realized how closely this woman was viewing death. She herself always considered someone passing away as a reminder, casting a shadow on her consciousness, making her hyperaware of the transience of life, but the darkness would dissipate as the hours passed by, overtaken by the urgent demands of the mundane. For this woman, however, death was no longer an abstract concept: she stood mesmerized by the fear gripping the woman who could see herself being carried off in a coffin very soon.

That night, she wrote in her journal,

We often ask one another what we want to do with our lives, but rarely think about our own deaths. Perhaps it’s time for us to work backwards. Let death be the starting point and then find purpose in our lives – knowing that no matter how old/young we are, or whether we have a prognosis hanging over our heads or not, death is right around the corner. In our zeal to accomplish everything we want, are we cognizant of the fact that anytime our life can come to an end? Too often, there’s a disconnect and death – despite its certainty – comes as a surprise. Instead, I want to think about the person I want to be at the time of my death and then figure out everything I need to do to be that person.

***

“So, how were the latest test results?”

“Not good. Her kidneys are getting worse, and now the liver is affected too.”

“And, how old did you say she was?”

“She’s 80.”

“Oh, so she’s old,” she casually said, shifting her eyes to the computer screen.

He realized it was the end of that conversation and looked at his notes for the tasks to be accomplished for the day, pushing his ill aunt in a faraway country from his thoughts. Lurking in his mind, though, was the question: Can we decide when it’s okay for someone to die? To say that they have spent enough time in this world?

“Anything new today?” she asked.

***

He lay there, staring into space. A grandchild sat some distance away, a coffee cup next to her. From the window, he could see the hospital next door. Somehow, it looked really flimsy in his slanted gaze, as if the slightest jolt would crumble it into a miserable heap. His glance returned to the coffee cup for a fleeting second. He could taste the mocha latte in his mouth, but felt no appetite for it at that moment. His granddaughter looked up from her phone and caught his eye. “Would you like anything, Nana?” she asked, leaning forward.

He shook his head quietly and felt his son’s hand slip into his with a squeeze. He looked around the room and saw his family spread out before him, standing, sitting on the sofa handle, slouching on a couch, reading, whispering, praying. He felt a sudden burst of love. He closed his eyes and saw the words that he was thinking: Am I ready to leave all this? He winced before sleep mercifully overtook him.

***

Her husband had been in a coma for only two days but the doctors were already recommending that he should be taken off the ventilator. His brain had been damaged – his heart had stopped beating for a couple of minutes before the paramedics had managed to revive it. His organs had started failing soon after the heart attack.

She was horrified. How could she take such a huge decision? Wouldn’t she be ending his life if she agreed to pull the plug? What if he woke up in the next minute, day, week…? Taking his life was not a decision for her. She would refuse.

The doctors told her that she was only prolonging his pain. Let him go. But, to her, he didn’t look like he was in pain. And she wondered if they had ulterior motives – did they want to give his bed to someone else? Was he costing the insurance provider a fortune? Did they want to salvage whatever organs that remained intact? All sorts of thoughts kept plaguing her. Oh God, why are you putting me through this? She held her head in her hands.

She sat next to him. His heart was beating, he was breathing. She knew that if they removed him from the respirator, he would deteriorate very quickly. To her, the machine was keeping him alive and they wanted to take it away. But, then, a thought crept up to her: Had his soul already left his body? Was he even alive? 

She remembered reading somewhere that a baby’s heart starts beating within the first few weeks in the womb. But her faith taught her that the soul isn’t breathed into the baby until the 12th week. So, technically, the heart could be beating without any soul. She let this sink in. The conflicting thoughts in her mind gradually grew quiet.

She looked at her husband and decided to listen to the doctors. I will let his life take its course. If he is meant to live, then he will survive, somehow.

***

Their house had an eerie silence, casting long shadows on everything it touched. Unless they were fighting, which happened quite a lot lately. It always began with whispered fury, as if their son was still living in the next room, but would escalate inevitably into a crescendo that would topple the silence into smithereens. Followed by a lot of sobbing and slammed doors. It was their way of mourning their only child, who had left them as suddenly as he had entered their lives.

She didn’t think she had any maternal skills, but she knew how much he wanted a baby, and she had eventually given in. She would always remember the day she birthed him as the day a mother was born. He soon became their sun, their world revolving around his every need and want, years passing by. Of course, in her eyes, her husband was never as careful as he should be around him. And, to him, she was too overprotective and needed to lighten up. As he became a young man, though, the three had formed an endearing friendship and life seemed perfect.

It would’ve been an ordinary day in their mundane lives had tragedy not struck and snatched their grown child away senselessly. In the aftermath, they both found themselves standing on the edge of a precipice, their bodies weighed down by grief and blame. And then the letter arrived, yanking them back onto safe space.

It began with, “In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful. Exalted is He who holds all control in His hands; who has power over all things; who created death and life to test you [people] and reveal which of you does best––He is the Mighty, the Forgiving; who created the seven heavens, one above the other. You will not see any flaw in what the Lord of Mercy creates. Look again! Can you see any flaw? Look again! And again! Your sight will turn back to you, weak and defeated” (Qur’an, 67:1-4).

Written by a mutual friend who was thousands of miles away, it amazingly acknowledged their pain and anger while reminding them that neither could’ve changed the fate of their son. It exposed their raw feelings towards each other and demanded that they not let this tragedy cause further damage by pulling away from each other. That, in this time of unspeakable loss, they need each other the most. It spoke of life and death as something far larger than them, and nothing they could’ve done would’ve saved their son. At the same time, it encouraged them to invest their energies into causes that would prevent others from suffering like they were. And, it ended with, “Say, ‘Only what God has decreed will happen to us. He is our Master: let the believers put their trust in God’” (9:51).

They didn’t know how many times they read the letter and when they curled their arms around each other, tears flowing. And that’s when their long, torturous journey toward healing finally began. Together.

***

Inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon, to God we belong and to Him we return. She couldn’t believe the news: Was he really gone? As much as she wanted to deny it, she had to accept the reality. A sudden gloom settled in her. The distance killed her. She knew she wouldn’t be able to go for the funeral. Worse, she felt guilty for not visiting. She should’ve known, she should’ve gone.

She went about her day like a zombie. She was physically present, but mentally and emotionally, she felt completely numb. Flashes from her childhood kept distracting her. He had always loved her like his daughter. As she began imagining family and friends gathering to console the immediate family and prepare for the funeral, she felt lonely – tinged with poignant nostalgia, the detachment made the loss more pronounced, compounding her sorrow. She lost her appetite and everything around her became dull. Instead, she hungrily sought every detail around his death. She messaged ten people at once and waited anxiously for the responses. As they began pouring in, she began to cry, utterly desolate.

Through the layers of grief and loss, a voice managed to speak: Is this about him or you? She was caught off guard. She realized that she was so self-absorbed that she hadn’t even prayed for him. She started murmuring supplications, asking for his forgiveness and peace. She reached for the Qur’an and opened it to Surah Ya-Sin and began reciting. The lyrical verses gradually soothed her. Her mind began to fill with his smiling face and the happy moments they had spent together. She suddenly understood that what mattered most was the time they had shared when he was alive – the ways in which she was there for him, the things he had done for her.

It isn’t about him or me. It’s about us.

*** 

“What is the procedure for inducing here? How long after the due date do you wait?”

“We don’t wait. If you aren’t in labor by your due date, we schedule you.”

“Oh. My other two babies arrived late—”

 

“Why can’t we find the baby’s heartbeat?” The doctor said to herself as she walked over and took the device from the nurse, pressing and moving it firmly on her swollen belly.

She woke up in a sweat. This is how the dream always ended. Except each time the setting was different. Tonight, they were in a massive kitchen with the doctor and the nurse in crisp, white aprons; the device was a shiny spatula and she was lying flat on a counter.

Instinctively, her hand stroked her stomach, now flattened. In the bleak light, she looked at the empty corner where the crib had stood not too long ago and she wept, consumed with longing. For the umpteenth time, she asked herself, When was the last time I felt the baby kick? She could honestly not remember. The night before, she had been up late, worrying and waiting for her husband to come home from work. During the day, her toddler kids had kept her occupied until it was time to rush for the doctor’s appointment. She had just started her ninth month.

The truth of the matter was that she had never thought anything would go wrong. After all, her other pregnancies had been entirely normal and natural. She had stayed active and agile until it was time to go to the hospital. So, what happened? No one knew. There was a heartbeat, and then there wasn’t. If only I had sensed that something was wrong. What kind of mother am I?

Flashbacks, flashbacks, and yet more flashbacks. She was riddled with flashbacks lately. It’s incredible how suddenly the entire stage can be reset. One moment you have something and the next, it’s gone – and you’re left looking at your emptiness shocked with wonder: how did it happen? Just like that, life ends or a catastrophe strikes, and colors everything a different shade.

As she wallowed in her sorrow, she was yanked out yet again by the same verse: Not a leaf moves without His knowledge. She shook her head, amazed by the simple phrase that sprinkled her conversations so casually: insha’Allah, if God wills. She would say it and yet expect certain outcomes. This time, when He had other plans, it hit her with such force that she felt completely dwarfed.

She sighed. She whispered quietly, inna lillahi wa inna ilaihi rajioon.

She got up and went to check on her kids. As she kissed them and sat by them, she reminded herself: You are an amanah, a trust, from God. I do not own you. And I am ever so grateful that He has given you to me. I promise to take care of you. But, ultimately, we all return to Him, for every soul must taste death.

She returned to bed, taking refuge in this moment of comfort, knowing full well how elusive it was. But it’s what kept her afloat and she held on to it dearly.

-end-

Saulat Pervez has come of age, both as a child and an adult, between Pakistan and the United States. She has taught English Literature in Karachi, worked remotely for Why Islam, a project of the Islamic Circle of North America, and is currently an Associate Researcher at the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) in Herndon, Virginia.

As a result of her diverse encounters here and abroad, and grounded in her experiences in teaching, writing, and research, she is committed to investigating ways to cultivate reading, writing, and thinking cultures both locally and globally, especially in multilingual contexts.

Saulat has been writing stories since she was a newly arrived immigrant and middle schooler in Central Jersey. Most of her adult life, however, was spent writing journalistic pieces and website content, with a few children’s books published in Pakistan. She has also mentored six teenagers in the writing of a collaborative murder mystery, Shades of Prey, which is available on Amazon.com

This particular short story — made up of discrete yet connected pieces — has been a labor of love which she hopes the reader will find intriguing and thought-provoking. Much like her life, it has been written between places, with snatches of time both at home and during travel. 

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