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Good Muslims Do Bad Things Too

Inaya’s Struggle

Inaya is sixteen years old. She’s memorized Qur’an and is an inspiration to youth and adults alike. She’s inspired other girls to wear hijab and respect the rules of Islam. She even teaches Qur’an to children on the weekend. But there’s only one problem. When her mother isn’t looking, she removes her hijab after leaving for school, and she hides her Islam from teachers and classmates…and she likes a non-Muslim boy.

In other words, Inaya is living a double life.

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And to make matters worse, Inaya’s mother, who converted to Islam when Inaya was a child, thinks the only real Muslims are those who favor women wearing all black and niqaab (the face veil). When Inaya’s Arab stepfather asks Inaya’s mother Veronica to consider making exceptions to covering her face in America, Veronica becomes indignant and vents to a friend. Incidentally, Inaya overhears part of the conversation after she returns home from school, where she’d secretly removed hijab for the first time:

“What about Inaya?” Veronica said, the question halting Inaya’s steps after Inaya closed the front door and stepped inside. “If I take off my face veil, how do I explain that to her?” Veronica groaned. “Next thing you know, he’s going to ask me to start wearing colored hijabs.” Silence followed for several seconds before Inaya heard her mother moan in exhaustion. “I know, ukhti,” Veronica said. “I’m not saying it’s haraam. I’m just scared he might ask me to take off hijab eventually.”

Inaya dragged herself to the kitchen, sadness weighing on her.

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“I’m not overreacting,” Veronica said defensively. “Why should I uncover my face? Even if niqaab’s not obligatory, what’s the point of taking it off? I fear Allah, not the people.”

Inaya glanced at the clock. It was almost four o’clock, and she hadn’t even prayed Dhuhr, the early afternoon prayer, and it was almost time for Asr.

“Because that stupid Arab culture made Sa’ad ashamed of his wife.” Veronica’s tone was indignant. “And now I’m supposed to feel ashamed for practicing the Sunnah?” She huffed. “They can keep their on-off hijab crap to themselves.”

How Could You Portray a Good Muslim Like That?

The above excerpt and storyline are taken from my latest novel Muslim Girl, and although the response to the book has been overwhelmingly positive, the story has received its share of criticism. How is it possible that a Muslim author could take such a praiseworthy act like memorizing the Qur’an and associate it with a girl removing her hijab behind her parents’ backs, hiding her Islam at school, and liking a non-Muslim boy?

Well, it’s not the memorization of Qur’an that is being linked to Inaya removing her hijab and living a double life. It’s her humanity. It’s just that this particular human being happened to have also memorized Qur’an and is generally viewed as a “good Muslim” in the community. The point of this complex scenario is simply that our humanity and obligation to strive against our faults and sins does not magically disappear just because we happen to love reading Qur’an and inspiring others to do good.

But more than that, in my view, presenting real-life struggles—which often include pretty shameful behavior—demonstrates on a practical level why we do righteous acts like memorize Qur’an and wear hijab in the first place. We do not engage in righteous behavior because we are already pure. We engage in righteous behavior because we hope to be purified.

However, we live in a pretty confusing time, especially for Muslim youth, who are often thrust into contradictory environments simultaneously. On the one hand, their parents teach them to be good Muslims, have righteous companions, and put Allah first in everything. On the other hand, their parents leave Muslim lands and communities and enroll the youth in public schools and secular colleges, and they genuinely expect actions like wearing hijab and memorizing Qur’an to act as fool-proof shields against any human weakness and sin.

On top of that, even when these youth seek out Muslim company and environments, whether online or in their local communities, they find that the culture of “religious” Muslims is often cliquish, uppity, and hostile. The Muslims who consider themselves more knowledgeable than others feel free to dictate not only what “weak” Muslims should be doing, but also what “good” Muslims couldn’t possibly be doing.

On the surface, it might appear as if these practices are aimed at simply commanding good and forbidding evil. But in practical reality, this is not what is happening. Many of these “religious” Muslims announce and publicize others’ faults. Many storm social media sites and Facebook pages by posting Qur’anic verses, hadith, and threats of Hell Fire to “advise” those they disagree with—even regarding matters in which there are legitimate differing opinions. Many spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over the “right” hijab such that even women who are already fully covered are subjected to constant criticism and harassment. And even when Muslims are doing nothing visibly wrong, these Muslims dig for evil to forbid. Then they openly question and reproach others for trivial decisions like having a profile picture or posting a status or link unrelated to the suffering in Palestine and Syria.

Why then does it come as a surprise that some youth who are genuinely striving to be good Muslims stay away from other Muslims, avoid Islamic activities, and minimize their trips to the masjid itself? For certainly, if those who are committing no clear sin are berated for being “bad Muslims” just because someone holds a different fiqh opinion than they do, where in the world do youth go who are committing clear sin and merely want a spiritually safe environment to get back on track?

What Is It That You Really Want?

In this suffocating environment, it often feels as if the decision to become visibly Muslim is simply a public announcement to other Muslims that they now have the right—and “Islamic obligation”— to make your life miserable until they appoint themselves as overseers of every detail of your life, from your decision to wear a certain scarf pin to your decision to pursue a certain career path or even marry (or not marry) a certain person.

What is it that you really want? I think this is a question that each of us must honestly ask ourselves. Do you want your brother and sister to live a life dedicated to pleasing and serving Allah? Or do you want them to live a life dedicated to pleasing and mimicking you?

This might sound like a rhetorical or even sarcastic question, but it really isn’t. Most of us, myself included, would like to think that we genuinely want our brother or sister to dedicate his or her life to pleasing and serving Allah when we “advise” them on certain matters.

But what do our hearts and actions attest to?

This is a difficult question to answer, at least for those who truly wish to be honest with themselves. Many of us have enough Islamic knowledge and life experience to understand that, outside of adhering to foundational and clear, indisputable requirements in Islam, pleasing and serving Allah simply will not “look” the same for each individual Muslim. Why then do we keep perpetuating “Islamic” environments that are more focused on creating clones of ourselves than on fostering close relationships with Allah?

No, it isn’t right for a girl to memorize and teach Qur’an then turn around and remove her hijab, hide her Islam, and try to hook up with a boy. But it also isn’t right for us to tell Muslim girls and boys that they can’t wear hijab or memorize Qur’an if they have these struggles or inclinations. Being human is a part of life. And our humanity doesn’t disappear simply because we love doing righteous deeds.

Yes, we need to remind and advise each other toward good and away from sin. But we also need to understand that as we strive to do good and avoid sin, we should feel free to memorize Qur’an, wear hijab, and engage in any righteous action, even as we’ll always have faults and sins to tend to. These righteous actions just might one day be the means through which we overcome the very faults and sins that people say a hijabi or memorizer of Qur’an couldn’t possibly be doing.

And yes, we could even benefit from more Muslim Girl-type fiction stories in books. Because we have more than enough Muslim girl [and boy] true stories in real life. And given that so many Inayas of the world feel suffocated by modern “religious” culture, castigated by Islamic preaching, and unwelcomed in masjids, I think they at least deserve the opportunity to sit alone in their homes, open a book, and learn that yes, pleasing and serving Allah is possible after all—and that even if you’re a “good Muslim,” you’ll sometimes do bad things.

And, even then, so long as you don’t give up on your soul altogether, Paradise is for you too.






Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the If I Should Speak trilogy. Her latest novel Muslim Girl is now available. To learn more about the author, visit or subscribe to her YouTube channel.


Copyright © 2014 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.


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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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

Daughter of American converts to Islam, Umm Zakiyyah writes about the interfaith struggles of Muslims and Christians, and the intercultural, spiritual, and moral struggles of Muslims in America. She is the internationally acclaimed author of more than fifteen books, including the If I Should Speak trilogy, Muslim Girl, His Other Wife and the newly released self-help book for Muslim survivors of parental and family abuse: Reverencing the Wombs That Broke You, with contributions by Haleh Banani, behavioral therapist.Her books have been used in universities in America and abroad including Indiana University-Bloomington, Howard University, University of D.C. and Prince Sultan University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.To learn more about the author, visit



  1. Avatar

    Joyce Larsen

    August 7, 2014 at 2:25 AM

    All glory be to Allah…this article spoke so much truth. Love it, so much to think about.

  2. Avatar

    Tadar Jihad Wazir

    August 7, 2014 at 8:55 AM

    As-Salaam-u alaikum, Read in the name of your Rabb: Surah An-Nisaa’, 4:28, then in its context 4:26–32. We are His representatives to His creation as guided by the Lights of His Qur’an and the lifestyle, not just the ahadith, his uswah is what we are to be emulating, of His final Messenger to “man”, study the meaning of that word, Muhammad ibn Abdullah of Arabia some 1,400 years ago. We perfect ourselves through sincere practice and repentance to those we harm and to Allah for being disobedient, this purification prescription allows Allah to fulfill His statement in 4:28.

  3. Avatar


    August 7, 2014 at 9:15 AM

    “The problem with religion is that it only helps religious people”

    Really good post. One thing does stand out: if a girl likes a boy, then she is considered of “loose moral” yet if a hafiz fell for a girl, it would be he was tempted: why the double standards ?

    And there is nothing wrong with liking the opposite gender (thank God). I have liked girls all my life and will continue to do so.

    • Avatar

      Fahim Abdullah

      August 10, 2014 at 6:40 AM

      Because guys fall in love 100000 times easier than girls. You keep a Tom Cruise in 100 girls. Perhaps 2/3 will glance. You keep a Megan Fox in 100 guys. 99 will ogle their eyes out.

      • Avatar

        Not so simple!

        August 10, 2014 at 1:36 PM

        To Fahim:

        As Salamu Alaikum!

        I just wanted to note that love/lust/infatuation amongst the sexes is much more complex than can be summarized with simple statements…

        Yes, conventional wisdom tells us that men fall in love (I would say infatuation) easier than women…

        But…have you ever attended a rock concert with a ‘hot male lead’ or ‘a boy band’ – whether its the Beatles, or Justin Bieber or whoever the latest ‘crush’ of the day is?

        The crazy screaming reactions of the girls in the audience is much more than glancing, and much more than ogling!! They totally loose it…

        The Quran actually highlights this bizarre behavior in Sura Yusuf…when the ‘ladies of the town’ go absolutely crazy when they see Prophet Yusuf and start cutting their hands with their dinner knives!

        Anyway, whatever the reality is regarding the sexes and lust/love, the Quran and Sunnah do not endorse double standards when it comes to llicit loves/relationships, and neither should we. Its wrong for both sexes, and thats that.

        Of course, we are all prone to error…we all need to turn to Allah and repeatedly ask for him to forgive us and purify us…and we all need to remember generosity and forgiveness amongst ourselves….

    • Avatar


      August 10, 2014 at 11:42 PM

      This article will do well in this discussion…

  4. Avatar


    August 7, 2014 at 10:28 AM

    Assalamu alaikum,

    I’m a religious teenage/college-age girl who has already lived away from home and been placed in many positions of trust by my family, and I can testify to the truth of what is written in this article about how Muslims often ‘search for evil to forbid’ – if you protest and say this is untrue, kindly take one look at the type of websites that a person my age, interested in their deen, will encounter when trying to search for information.

    Having seen life in both Muslim and non Muslim countries, I want to sharply emphasize something to ALL parents – these problems with youth (taking off hijab, going behind your back) would NOT go away if you attempted to protect them through controlling them. It does not matter if they go to a segregated Islamic college in Saudi, or a community college in the USA – they WILL encounter haram (I saw MANY example of things happening in Muslim countries that would make elders’ hair curl – they simply don’t see them). My mother has taught in an Islamic school for years and years, and she constantly complains that parents seem unable to find a balance – you can’t forbid everything (haram! no! never!) OR be completely lax and leave your children to their own devices. Both these parenting styles simply mean one thing – you will be wringing your hands when your kids grow up and they rebel. The true solution is to be flexible, and to give your children the tools they need to make those hard decisions, and understand the societal issues that are around them – because when they grow up, no matter if they live in the safest, most comfortable bubble ever – they are going to have to make those hard decisions.

    • Avatar


      August 7, 2014 at 3:43 PM

      Excellent response with clarity and truth :)

    • Avatar

      Tadar Jihad Wazir

      August 7, 2014 at 5:31 PM

      What was the picture of the environment that all of the early Muslims lived in? They did not have TV or the radio they saw everything in living color and sometimes people living as the “Hippies” of the 1960s in the USA lived with no shame. And Allah states that He did not prescribe for people to become “monks” withdrawn from the temptations of the world. How else can one perfect one’s faith, and trust in Allah, Whom they are to be His willing, obedient, representatives agents to His creation? WAKE UP, AND STUDY AL-QUR’AN as Allah instructs us to? Ameen.

  5. Avatar

    Hurt but Hopeful

    August 7, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    You teach them what you consider the truth but the day will come when they must make their own choices. And sometimes those choices are much different than you choose for yourself!! It hurts like hell to see your children leaving Islam when you fought so hard to become and stay a Muslim. Just remember Guidance comes from Allah!! It is not transfered thru DNA or even a wonderful home enviroment or even an Islamic school.
    People will judge you by what your children does not help!! InshAllah We can be more kind with each other.

    • Avatar


      August 10, 2014 at 1:15 AM

      Kindness and compassion are more effective in changing a person or at least making them want to take steps in the right direction than harshness and condemnation.

    • Avatar


      August 10, 2014 at 10:49 PM

      As Khalil Gibran said: “Our children are not from us, they merely come through us”

      Our children are souls on their own unique individual journey

      Would anyone say that Prophet Nuh did not do a good job preaching Islam for so long?

      And in the end, his wife and his son denied the message of Islam ie Oneness of Allah.

      So many muslim youth leave the religion and eventually come back. Keep the doors of your love open for them.

      And mashallah this was an amazing article with amazing insights

  6. Avatar


    August 8, 2014 at 9:06 AM

    If someone does not do good and right from their own heart but in fear of parental punishment then ultimately there wil be a point when they choose to go against what they are told, either openly rebel or by sneaking around. Many parents focus on teaching their kids memorizing Quran and praying because they are told they HAVE to. Few delve deeper into teaching understanding Quran and loving Allah SWT and Prophet SAW for his sacrifices and amazing character. Obedience is never true without love. The modern Ummah has focused far too much on rules and less on the nia (spirit) of Islam. They are both important but if one does not do good out of love and fear of Allah SWT then we are missing the most important point of all. We all sin. We all have chances to redeem ourselves. If there is not mercy in that then I don’t know what else to say.

  7. Avatar


    August 8, 2014 at 3:14 PM

    loved your comments Umm HAdy. FInally the most important lesson to teach kids and ourselves is, it always between me and God. Because God decides whether u need punishment to put u on the right track or be forgiven right away. In my opinion, the carrot the stick comes to us, and both are in AllahuSubhanaWataala’s Mercy. And we must consider ourselves to have received Allah’s mercy, when our heart turns towards Him, whether out of fear or favor or just plain love. Kids need to be taught that what if u do not get forgiven right away and end up being punished,before you get forgiven? So teach them enough fear,and yet give them hope of compassion from Allah, and their conscience will take it over from there. We cannot control anybody, not even ourselves by just berating or spying really

    • Avatar


      August 10, 2014 at 6:07 AM

      Alhamdulillah, we do not know the state in which we will die. The ” religious” who judge another may fall out of grace and the other rise to a purer state of iman. It is better to sin and sincerely repent and beg Allah SWT for forgiveness than to do good and feel pride in it. Allah loves to be asked for forgiveness. Likewise He afflicts those He loves with adversity in this life I imagine so that they may be given a chance to face it with patience and earn Jannah after having been purged of their sins with such adversity.

  8. Avatar


    August 8, 2014 at 6:13 PM

    But who on earth is really in the position to make the call that someone is a good muslim, yeag we give benefit of doubt, byt even Rasulillah sallallahu 3layhi wa salam, warned muslims be careful in your praise of others. Is not Allah the one who will decide who is good and not, and do think the salaf would have married their children to a girl who doesnt do the fardh of covering? Im not judging her, but the fact is she is not doing the fardh, and thats not the worst thing ever she could be a lot worse in her practices. And to completely memorize the quran doesnt makr someone good, I knoe many of the youth in my local masjids quran class, that say themselves thr didnt wish to enroll in that, not that they hate it, but it was really only the8r parents choice. Good muslims do bad things too, we alreadt know the only perfect human was rasulillah, this sounds like a statement to please and make people content with their sins, or please the west I dunno

  9. Pingback: From Bollywood to Islam: a journey of Kashmir girl | Rich Dubai

  10. Avatar

    Abu Haazim

    August 9, 2014 at 5:38 PM

    Masha Allah good article! My teacher teaches me not to judge other people(Muslims and non-Muslims included) and the time spent searching and fixing one’s own mistakes and shortcomings is time worth spent.

    This has helped me tremendously given the fact that I consider myself practicing(Alhamdu lillah) and my wife wears a niqab and somehow in my head I used to consider sisters who didn’t wear a hijab less Muslim. May Allah Ta’ala forgive me! I hope I had spent that valuable time fixing my own shortcomings instead of commenting(to my wife) about other Muslims.

  11. Avatar


    August 10, 2014 at 11:16 PM

    Great article mashallah

    Jazakallah khair for that

    But as someone who has published a few books on amazon, let me say that your Kindle price of $9 is too high.

    In fact, we can see from your books ranking that you are only making a few sales a week

    I am sure that the content of the book is great, but to stand out your marketing efforts should be just as good

    I would suggest lowering the price of the Kindle version to $2.99. And you also need a better book cover.

    Finally, as you already may know….the Kindle format allows you to offer the book for free for 5 days every 3 months

    I urge you to use that to boost your rankings. Amazon will then feature your book more prominently and you will make more sales inshallah

    Finally…when you do offer your book for free for those 5 days, make sure you list them on websites that feature free kindle books

    one of those sites is

    I wish you success in this life and in the next inshallah

  12. Avatar


    August 11, 2014 at 4:18 PM

    Mashallaah great article from an excellent author I enjoy reading from. I however disagree with this premise.

    “We do not engage in righteous behavior because we are already pure. We engage in righteous behavior because we hope to be purified.”

    Looking at the backdrop of the article, it seems to suggest many Muslims are dealing with insecurity issues.

    While I agree that some Muslims are over zealous in calling others to the deen… we shouldn’t lose sight that while the methodology may be wrong and flawed, the are often correct in their criticism. Often I see people talk about the “Nosy Uncles” and “Nosy Aunties” but we don’t often talk about what got the “Nosy” people irate in the first place. I havent read your story I would love to inshaallaah.

    But A question I would ask is… Why would some that memorized the Quran… a real Haafidah “fall” for a non-Muslim… She most likely was coerced to memorize or didn’t understand what she’s been memorizing and reading on a daily basis (Retaining Memorized verses is easier than the first memorization). This is a major problem we have… our disconnect with the verses that we read.

    • Avatar


      August 11, 2014 at 7:01 PM

      I agree with your statement that ‘memorization without understanding’ is a big problem for Muslims – but saying “Why would a REAL hafidha fall for a non-Muslim” demonstrates the very problem that the author is trying to point out. Why would Allah SWT order us in the Quran to not marry non-Muslims, if this was something SO unthinkable to the everyday Muslim? Also – just because one has memorized the Quran, doesn’t mean that a person cannot get a crush. Crushes are blind – your hormones don’t say “Authubillah! A non-Muslim!”, they say – “Hm, someone attractive who can provide companionship”, whether pursuit of that attraction is right/good in the long run or not.

      • Avatar


        August 11, 2014 at 11:56 PM

        Baarkallahu feek Sr Sarah

        An Haafidhah is not an everyday Muslim… Some that have memorized (protected) an Ayaah that says the NonMuslim are impure or has memorized(protected) that marrying a slave is better than a Mushrik, wont fall for a Non-Muslim. Someone that has memorized restraining their gaze and their desires. The key is having memorized and understood what was memorized.

    • Avatar


      August 11, 2014 at 11:22 PM

      Br. Qasim,
      I agree with Sarah.
      You’re setting up hafiz e quran e sharif as an abstract ideal.
      They are human beings like anyone else and susceptible to whatever the rest
      of us are. Even if they UNDERSTAND it does not mean they won’t make mistakes or
      just have feelings man. They’re insaan…not robots. Understanding Quran
      has nothing to do with encountering attraction, temptation or any struggle. Ultimately we USE
      Quran and other sources of the deen to overcome the temptations and struggles…doesn’t
      mean we will never have them. Imam Ahmad(R) DIED while combating his ego. Many
      Sahaba made mistakes. That’s what tawba is for.

      I’ve had non-Muslim girls attracted to me, etc….and it if I said knowing the Quran’s
      stance on extra-marital relationships meant I wasn’t tempted, attracted or ever
      considered it, I’d be a liar. Fact that I overcame in the end doesn’t mean it wasn’t
      a struggle or thought never crossed my mind. Quran and hadith are clear that
      only the act is judged as wrong if carried out..and even then there is tawbah.. and thank God for that. Why are
      we expecting angel-like perfection from people?

      • Avatar


        August 12, 2014 at 12:05 AM

        Br Zai… An Haafidhah is not an ignoramus….If we read Surah Yusuf, we see that Yusuf was inclined if not for the fact that he didn’t want to be among the Jaahiliyeen.
        As portrayed by the abstract..this had a little more than a mere inclination…
        We cant compare the actions of an ignorant and that or a learned person.

      • Avatar


        August 12, 2014 at 12:36 AM

        Additional Br Zai, I’ll understand why non Mulsims are attracted to you… You are Muslim… so you should be Honorable, trustworthy, honest…. all the many desirable qualities in a responsible man.

        What qualities will attract a non-Muslim to an Haafidhah… Kufr?

      • Avatar


        August 12, 2014 at 11:48 AM

        Hmm, what Zai is a handsome chap ? Or drives a sports cars ? Or is eloquent in speech ? inclination ? It could be super real attraction and even worse !

  13. Avatar

    Farheen Ghaffar

    August 13, 2014 at 2:26 AM

    Jazak’Allah! Needed to read this SO much right now! Love your blog/website. Indeed, Allah knows best the matters of the heart and He alone will judge – what we need to remind ourselves ALL the time.

  14. Avatar


    August 14, 2014 at 7:30 AM

    Jazak ALLAH for such a Great Article :)

  15. Avatar


    August 16, 2014 at 8:40 PM

    Thanks Umm Zakiyyah, Inayah’s case definitely applies to many people I know, and your perspective is totally true. Why categorize people as either ‘good Muslim’ or ‘bad Muslim’ when all that does is if you’ve commuted sins that ‘good Muslims’ don’t do then you’re branded as a ‘bad Muslim’ and you fall into a spiral of not caring about sins anymore. People may do many good deeds but will also commit bad ones because they’re human, and we should help each other as best as we can.

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  17. Avatar

    Kamran Khan

    October 19, 2014 at 4:03 AM

    You teach them what you consider the truth but the day will come when they must make their own choices. And sometimes those choices are much different than you choose for yourself!! It hurts like hell to see your children leaving Islam when you fought so hard to become and stay a Muslim. Just remember Guidance comes from Allah!! It is not transfered thru DNA or even a wonderful home enviroment or even an Islamic school.
    People will judge you by what your children does not help!! InshAllah We can be more kind with each other.

  18. Avatar


    October 25, 2015 at 3:32 PM

    Nice…Mashallah.. Really an inspiration fr the younger generations….

  19. Avatar

    modifikasi motor

    April 23, 2016 at 6:46 AM

    Quality articles or reviews is the secret to be a focus for the users to go to see the web page, that’s what this web page is providing.

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No, My Son | A Short Story

It was pure happenstance that Payedar Olan was sitting near the entrance of the masjid on the day the gunman entered and shot him. He had forgotten that here in America they changed the time twice a year…

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

It was pure happenstance that Payedar Olan was sitting near the entrance of the masjid on the day the gunman entered and shot him. He had forgotten that in America they changed the time twice a year, so he was an hour early for Friday congregational prayer. The little masjid at the top of a hill was almost empty, with only a few brothers praying, and one washing up in the ablutions room. So he sat with his back against the wall to relax and wait.

Such a strange thing, this time changing. The sun rose and set. How could men change it? But in America they believed they had power over all things.

Life here was bewildering. People zipped around on electric scooters, in Uber cars and in trains that rumbled beneath the ground. Skyscrapers blocked the sun. People wore strange costumes, and one could often not tell a woman from a man. The markets contained more food than anyone could need, much of it artificial, tasting too salty or too sweet. People smiled for no reason, while crazy people wandered the streets, shouting at nothing.

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This city and country had taken him in and given him shelter when his own homeland was being devoured by evil men; so he was grateful. Still, it was perplexing, and so far removed from his experience that sometimes he felt he was on a different planet.

The Kurdish Heart

A Kurdish village

Kurdish village

Payedar had been born in 1953 in Iraqi Kurdistan, in a mountain village called Gur-e-Sofia, reachable by traveling first on the Ruwandiz road from Erbil, then by a three hour climb up a mule track. His bav was a duck hunter, and his dê a midwife.

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In his village, whitewashed homes were built into steep hillsides in tiers, facing the sun. The mud of the roofs had to be rolled anew every September, before the winter rains, because in summer it would crack. Sheep and goats dotted the slopes. Most people grew barley or bearded wheat, and tobacco in summer, using oxen to plow the fields. Every family knew precisely how much water they could take for irrigation, and no one took more than their share, for fairness was ingrained in the Kurdish heart.

Walnut trees grew everywhere, and Payedar would shake them to bring the walnuts down, then crack them between two stones. Because of this he was never hungry, alhamdulillah.

He remembered his bav, his father, sitting at the village coffee shop, smoking rich Kurdish tobacco from a hookah pipe, and shouting exultantly as he won a round of backgammon. At home his dê cooked spiced kofta meatballs, bulgur pilaf and flatbread, with figs and sweetened black tea for dessert. Payedar, his parents and six siblings ate on the floor, sitting around a clean cloth. At night Bev led them in prayer, reciting the Quran in his powerful voice.

It was life, and he was happy, until he was eight years old and the Kurdish-Iraqi war began. His three older brothers and one sister went to fight and never returned. The village was bombed. Many were killed and many homes were destroyed. Even the small masjid was reduced to rubble. His bav fell into despondency, and one day went out to hunt ducks and blew his own head off.

Payedar, the eldest remaining child, became the breadwinner. Twice a month he loaded up a mule with white grapes, tobacco and walnuts and traveled over the mountain to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where he sold them at a good profit. It was hazardous work. More than once he was injured. Three times he was robbed.

These dangers were balanced by getting to see Erbil, a city of a million people. A million! Where ancient Assyrian and Roman monuments and citadels mixed with four-story buildings and a modern soccer stadium. Women went out with their forearms uncovered, people wore Western jeans and shirts, and music played from boomboxes sold in shops filled with electronic goods. At the same time, Erbil was a frequent target of Iraqi bombs, and it was not unusual to see bodies in the streets.

The Dying and the Dead

The war ended when he was seventeen, and began again when he was twenty one. This time he joined the Kurdish peshmerga and fought the Iraqi invaders, sending his salary home to his mother.

Female peshmerga fighters

Female peshmerga fighters

It was in the war that he met his wife, Letya. Her name, which meant tiny and womanly, matched her stature, if not her personality, for she too was a member of the peshmerga, and the first time he saw her she was in a soldier’s uniform with a Soviet rifle in her hands, her fierce black eyes promising death to the enemies of the Kurds, and her long black hair streaming in the hot southern wind.

He killed many men, and saw many die. Back home in Sofia-e-Gul one of his two younger sisters got married and moved away, while the other, out one day foraging for food, was kidnapped by Iraqi soldiers, raped and killed. Shortly afterward his mother died of loneliness and heartbreak. He returned home to bury her, his tears falling into the rich mountain soil atop her grave. Sofia-e-Gul was now populated only by old people waiting to die, and by the dead in the cemetery. The fields lay untended, many homes half-destroyed, the animals lost. He prayed, begging Allah’s forgiveness for leaving his mother alone. He did not ask for Allah’s mercy on his mother, for it was unnecessary. She was a saint, and if anyone in the world deserved Paradise it was her.

He left Sofia-e-Gul and never returned.

Payedar and Letya were married as the war raged, and when the Kurdish militias lost and the Kurdish region was overrun by Iraqi troops, they fled to the Kurdish border region in Iran. There Payedar worked as an assistant to a stone mason. He and Letya raised two boys and a girl.

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

These were the things Payedar was thinking about as he sat with his back against the wall in the little masjid. Lately it seemed his mind dwelled more in the past than the present. Sometimes he found himself standing on a street corner in this American city, thinking about the feel of his father’s bristly mustache when he kissed Payedar goodnight, or the smell of his wife’s hair, redolent with the day’s cooking – or, if she had bathed, with the scent of fermented rice-water shampoo. Then someone would interrupt his reverie, some Spanish girl with green hair, or a goateed man with earrings and a baby in a belly sling, and ask if he was alright. And he would smile and thank them.

He had no complaints about the way his life had turned out. He’d lost so much, yes. But he’d been a fighter all his life, and what more could any man do? Everything was in Allah’s hands. Whatever had happened was always going to happen, and whatever had passed him by was always going to pass him by. There was nothing he could say in the end but alhamdulillah. And if he was fortunate, he would meet his lost ones in Jannah, and all would be well.

Boots On

The gunman entered with his boots on. That was the first thing Payedar noticed, glancing to his left and seeing the military boots on the plush carpet of the prayer room. His eyes shot up to take the man in: tall, white, with a powerful frame. Green eyes and a scattering of freckles across his cheeks. Brown hair in a buzz cut. Dressed in green army fatigues, and carrying a semi-automatic rifle. The gun was pointed toward the mehrab as the man’s head swiveled, taking in the interior of the masjid.

The man seemed confused. Maybe he too had been fooled by the time change, and was expecting to find a full congregation. Maybe his eyes were adjusting to the gloom, for the interior lights had not yet been turned on, and the masjid was all cool shadows and lazily spinning ceiling fans.

The gunman’s hesitation gave Payedar the time he needed. He leaped up and embraced the man tightly, throwing his arms over the man’s arms, pinning them to his sides so that the rifle pointed at the ground. “No, my son,” Payedar said intensely, whispering in the man’s ear as if telling secrets to a confidante. “No.”

“Get off me you goddamn terrorist!” the man bellowed. He struggled, nearly falling. He was strong, but Payedar also was strong, for though he was sixty seven years old he had been a stone mason for decades, and the work had given him a broad back and muscular arms.

“No, my son,” he said again, his voice rising. “I will not allow it. I cannot, I cannot.” He heard other men shouting in panic and confusion, but he did not turn to look.

“I’ll kill you!” the man drove forward, but Payedar held on. The gun went off. The sound ricocheted off the walls like the roar of a cannon. Someone screamed. Payedar’s foot exploded with pain. Starbursts appeared before his eyes. Yet he kept his arms clasped. “No, my son,” he said again, desperately. ‘No, my son.” He was pleading, but not for his life. He and death were old friends or old enemies – he could not tell anymore. Sometimes you hated a man but admired him. So it was with Payedar and death. No, he was pleading for this man to understand, to stop before it was too late.


Again the gun fired, and this time it was as if a sword had been driven into Payedar’s thigh. He closed his eyes and groaned in agony, but held on. Again he pleaded, his voice filled with something that might have been anger but might also have been love, and this time it was a shout, driven by pain and desperation. “No my son!”

The gunman stopped struggling. Payedar felt the man’s body go limp within the circle of his embrace. He opened his eyes to meet a gaze filled with hatred and rage, but also confusion and shame. Now that the man had stopped struggling, Payedar seemed to have lost his own ability to fight, as if he had drawn his energy from the other’s seething will. His arms grew slack and the world turned monochrome, as if he were seeing everything on the old television he and Letya had purchased when the children were still small and still alive. Pain filled his mind, and he could not stand.

Arms seized Payedar and the gunman. Both fell. Men were atop them, shouting in Arabic and English. Payedar’s mouth fell open as his eyelids came down like steel doors.

His Young Prince

Hospital IV bag

Two surgeries and a week in the hospital, and he was on his way to recovery. People said he was a hero. Visitors from the masjid were allowed in two at a time, but Payedar found their visits tiring. Reporters wanted to see him, but his son Ekrem shielded him. Payedar had no desire for fame. Police came as well. He told the story in halting English, and picked the gunman out of a selection of photos on a card.

Sometimes he did not know where he was. A hospital, but he had been in many clinics and field hospitals. He had been shot twice before, bombed, struck with grenade shrapnel, and tortured in an Iranian jail, where he was accused of being a Kurdish separatist.

When he became confused he remained silent and waited stiffly. Eventually Ekrem would appear, sometimes with his beautiful wife Amirah, and Payedar would relax, for even if he did not know where he was he knew that Ekrem was his young prince, his joy and legacy, and that if Ekrem was there then everything was fine.

Later, he awoke on the sofa in Ekrem’s living room. Usually he slept in a tiny upstairs room, but he had a titanium rod in his thigh and a cast from knee to toe. He let out a groan. His leg and foot ached as if a lion were gnawing on the bones. He’d experienced worse pain in life. But he was old now.

Amirah stood over him, speaking. “Apê. Tu dixwazî hin çay bi şekirê dixwazî? Dem dema dermanê we ye.” Uncle, would you like tea with sugar? It’s time for your medication.

Payedar smiled at this princess, this beautiful African-American Muslim woman who had given him two grandsons and had even learned Kurdish!

Trying not to show how much his leg hurt, he rubbed his eyes and yawned. “How about some mast-aw?” he replied in Kurdish. It was an old joke. Mast-aw was a Kurdish favorite: heated goat’s milk mixed with sour goat’s milk to curdle it, then with cold water. Of course it could not be found in America.

“Honey,” Amirah called in English. “He wants mast-aw.”

“Coming up.” Ekrem emerged from the kitchen carrying a tray with a single glass of milk perched in the center, and four pills beside it. The boys trooped at his heels, grinning. Payedar looked at his son, with his curly hair and long, proud nose. He was sturdy, for he too was a stonemason, having learned at Payedar’s side.

Payedar smiled at this prank. The pasteurized, homogenized milk sold in America was a far cry from mast-aw. But he took the glass without complaint, and downed a few pills. His eyes widened. The drink was thick and tangy, rich with the flavors of his homeland. It was mast-aw! He had not tasted it in many years, and for a moment the flavor took him back, so that he was a child, sitting on the floor with his parents and siblings after a long day of trooping over the mountains with his bav. The children enjoyed mast-aw and boiled wheat with sugar, and when his older brother tried to talk about the war Bav shushed him. His sister told a joke about a cat that tried to ride a bicycle, and Payedar laughed.

Remembering this, he laughed again, and witnessing this, Ekrem and his family laughed as well, and Payedar returned to the present. “This is miracle,” Payedar said in English, and his family grinned and told him how they had sourced all the ingredients.

Moments like this were a barakah, and Payedar was filled with gratitude to Allah. If only… he faltered, his hand shaking, nearly dropping the glass, so that Amirah took it quickly. A tear ran down his cheek. Ekrem was beside him, touching his shoulder. “What is it, Bav? Is something wrong?”

Payedar shook his head. “You are the spirit of my heart, Ekrem. All of you.” He reached a hand to his grandsons and they piled onto the sofa. “I wish…” He could not continue. He wished Letya, his wife, could have lived long enough to see this new land. And Sara, his daughter, gassed by Saddam Hussein along with her husband and children. And Baz, his firstborn, a lifelong soldier.

Ekrem rubbed his shoulder. “I know, Bav.”

“Can I try the mast-aw?” This was Ibrahim, his youngest grandson, a wide-faced boy with curly black hair and dark eyes, only four years old. His mother gave him the glass and he took a sip, then coughed and grimaced. “Eww!”

Payedar chuckled. “You are American boy. You better stick to apple juice.”

* * *

An assistant district attorney came to see him. A rail-thin blonde woman with spectacles like tea glasses. The gunman, whose name was Amundsen, had so far refused to speak to the police. He said he would only speak to, “the old man.”

“Meaning you, Mr. Olan,” the ADA said. “You’d be doing us a favor.”

Good Crazy or Bad Crazy

They met in a room in the county jail building. It was painted steel gray, with a thick window beyond which a tall black guard watched. There were no cameras or listening devices, as far as Payedar could tell.

The gunman, Amundsen, sat across from Payedar at a metal table that was bolted to the ground. The man wore orange jail coveralls with “JAIL INMATE” printed on the chest and back. He was handcuffed, his ankles shackled, another chain connecting hands and feet to a belly chain, and the whole mess chained to a steel eye loop welded to the table. The man was unmarked. No bruises or burns. Back home he would have been tortured until he confessed. Here they had to appeal to him, negotiate, reason. America was crazy. But good crazy or bad crazy? Both, Payedar supposed.

Payedar wore the traditional clothing of his homeland: a dark vest over a white robe, a black turban, and boots. He did not always dress thus. Sometimes he wore typical Western clothing. He was not sure why he had chosen to dress this way today.

The gunman eyed him. There was some hostility in that look, but not as much as Payedar had expected. The man seemed almost curious. “You speak English?”

“Yes. I learn.”

The chains rattled as Amundsen gestured to Payedar’s leg. “You gonna be alright?”

Payedar nodded.

“You really messed me up.”

“You mess up yourself.”


Neither of them said anything for a while. Payedar studied the gunman. The man’s eyes were intelligent, his jaw set tightly. A forearm tattoo peeked out beneath the sleeve of his coverall. His torso was as wide as a barrel. Payedar was amazed he’d been able to hold the man. In fact, he could not see how it was possible.

“Why did you say that?” the gunman wanted to know.

“Say what?” Though he knew.

“You know. You called me your son. You kept saying that. Even when I shot you. What the hell, man? I’m not your son.”

Payedar flushed with embarrassment. But he had agreed to talk to the man, so he answered. “Sometimes I get confused. At that time I thought you was my son, Baz.”

Amundsen stared, then shook his head and laughed. “Unbelievable. I got stopped by a senile old kook. Do I look like your son?”

“Little bit. Big and strong. He was soldier, fighting the Iraqis. Seven years ago, when ISIS start to invade our land, Baz come to me, say he going to fight them. I did not want. I lose so many people already. So I hug him, I tell him, no, my son. Do not go.”

Amundsen frowned. “Your son was going to fight against ISIS? I thought you Muslims supported ISIS.”

“You are fool!” Payedar snapped. “Never say this. Do you understand what ISIS did to my people? They attack the Yazidi villages because the Yazidis are Christian, not Muslim. So ISIS kill the men, take the women and rape them. My son cannot accept this, so he go to fight, to protect them.”

“So…” Amundsen’s mouth hung open as he took in what Payedar was telling him. “Your son fought to protect Christians?”

“Muslim, Christians, one people. They are Kurds.”

“What happened to him?”

“What you think?” Not wanting to speak it out loud.

The room fell silent. Payedar looked around absently, taking in the clean floor and walls, the even light from the fluorescents embedded in the ceiling. He looked at the jail guard on the other side of the window, who stood calmly, watching them both. Payedar’s mind wandered, traveling through time, crossing borders and eras in an instant, feeling the touch of his wife’s lips on his cheek, whispering her love. She had loved him like a fighter, fiercely, unreservedly. Then his mind swept forward like a flash flood in a mountain ravine, and he was once again in the present, in this tiny room in a foreign city far from home. His gaze returned to Amundsen, who in turn studied him silently. No one spoke.

The end

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

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on

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The Conundrum | A Short Story


It was all over the news. The earthquake had wiped out whole towns. The entire country was in shock. Upcoming festivals were cancelled and citywide donation drives were springing up everywhere. Charity organizations were activating their networks and sending teams of volunteers to help in the rescue efforts.

“This is God’s punishment for all the evil things we do,” her uncle said mournfully.

She was confused. If they were doing bad things, then shouldn’t they be dead too? She looked at her father to see what he would say. He shook his head and countered, “That’s not true, you know. This is a trial from God. And it is a reminder for us to be conscious of Him and be aware of His power. So that we may worship Him more.”

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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“So, you’re saying that bad things don’t happen because of our wicked deeds?” her uncle challenged his brother.

“No, they can, but we have no way of knowing for certain. After all, God also promises us that He will test us to see which of us is better in action. As a reminder of His presence and power.”

“So, you prefer to turn a blind eye to God’s punishment just because you’re not sure?” He asked incredulously.

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“Of course not. All I am saying is that I don’t know – and neither do you! So, instead of delving into God’s matters and condemning everyone, especially the victims, we should focus on rectifying our own selves! This is a time for astaghfar, for asking forgiveness,” her father shook his head again.

“Well, that’s precisely my point! If we see this as punishment, it will strike fear in our hearts and make us change our ways, so we can avert another disaster!”

“Yes, but the problem with that logic is that, in the process, you have denounced whole swaths of people who may be completely innocent. Only God knows,” he emphasized.

She was so proud of her father. His explanation made so much more sense, but she couldn’t resist asking, “Baba, why would God let such a terrible thing happen?”

“Because He is angry,” her uncle immediately responded. Apparently, he hadn’t changed his mind.

“My dear,” her father began, ignoring his brother.

“God’s plan and vision is much greater than what we see. Life and death are a reality of life. Every person must die. It is really sad what has happened to all of these people, but we must also remember that God gives us the reassurance that if believers die in such a state, they are martyrs. What a high station! Which is why it baffles me every time I hear that somehow this was a punishment,” he pointedly remarked, looking at his brother who stayed quiet.

He sighed and continued, “For those who are gone, we must pray for their souls. And take care of the survivors. As for us, we need to draw ourselves nearer to God and follow His guidance, so that when our turn comes, we are ready.”

He pulled her close to him and she felt safe.


“The author is grateful to Prof. Ovamir Anjum for his kind assistance during the writing of this story.”

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Launch of Zaid Karim Private Investigator!

Where did the idea for Zaid Karim come from, how much is based on real events, and what is next for Zaid?

Zaid Karim, Private Investigator

I’m so excited to share the release of Zaid Karim Private Investigator.

This novel has been three years in the making: from when I first began serializing it on in early 2017, to its completion on MM nine months later, to the first wave of revisions based on comments by my editor Amy Estrada and the MM readers, to the final revision after further input from another editor, Rafael Lopez.

If you’ve already read it online, I encourage you to buy the new ebook or paperback. There’s nothing like holding a physical copy in your hands. And there have been some changes.

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One thing I’ve consistently noticed in the input I’ve received from MM readers is that a lot of you are doctors! My characters always seem to get injured, and apparently I often make mistakes when describing their treatment or symptoms. And the MM readers call me on it. I’m grateful for that, and I have always made changes to the story in response.

The final version is, in my opinion, tight as a drum. I added a few minor transitional scenes, and eliminated a lot of irrelevant musings by Zaid that tended to take the reader away from the action. Zaid has an irreverent and odd sense of humor, and that flavors the book, but Rafael Lopez pointed out that the inclusion of this humor during climactic moments sabotages the tension of the story, and he was right. So I ended up deleting some of those.

A key change from the MM version occurs during the climactic battle on Ouagadiri Island. I don’t want to give it away, but I’ll say that it was an important change, and had to do with how I see Zaid, and how he sees himself. Let me know if you read the book and catch the change, and what you think.

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Here are some answers to questions I often receive about Zaid Karim Private Investigator, and about my writing process in general:

Q: How much of this book is fact and how much is fiction?

A: Telling the true story of my life would be problematic. So I fictionalize. Every novel I’ve written has some autobiographical elements, with fictional events and invented characters mixed it. Lately, in my short stories, I’ve been trying to branch out more and create characters that are wholly fictional. Well, let me amend that. I create characters whose lives are based on real-world social dynamics and believable situations. I want emotional honesty above all. The particular circumstances of their lives, however, are invented.

Q: How did you get the idea for this book?

East Los Angeles

East Los Angeles

A: When I was twenty one years old I helped a friend track down and find his young missing daughter. But it was quite different from the narrative in Zaid Karim. For example, we started our search in East Los Angeles, first talking to people, then breaking down doors. Along the way we crashed our car in Mazatlan, had a nearly disastrous run-in with the Mexican police in Guadalajara, got in an argument with South African Tablighi Jamaat members at the Egyptian Club in Mexico City, were invited to a bizarre meeting of wealthy Mexican sufis, and ended up in the mountains of southern Mexico. That incident was the seed for Zaid Karim.

As for the setting in the latter half of the book, I lived in Panama for four years, and in fact I lived in El Valle de Anton, the idyllic little town where Yusuf Cruz lives. Though my house was not a mansion!

Q: Zaid’s kind of violent, isn’t he?

A: Yes, at times. He is young, and he’s been through a lot. He wants to change, but doesn’t know how. He needs some catalyst to transform his thinking. I suspect that novel that Alejandra gave him, On My Way to Paradise, will play a role. As he continues to grow, I believe we’ll see him evolve.

Q: So you plan to write more Zaid Karim mysteries?

A: Depends on how well this one sells. If you want to see more, buy ten copies: one for you, and nine for your friends, ha ha.

Q: What about a crossover between Zaid Karim and Hassan Amir?

A: It could happen. Zaid is Jamilah’s cousin, after all, and their stories happen around the same time.

Q: Who would win in a fight between Zaid and Hassan?

A: Lol, why would they be fighting? But here you go:

  • Gunfight: Hassan.
  • Sticks: Zaid.
  • Knives: Even match.
  • Empty hands: Hassan, by a mile.

Q: What’s next for Zaid Karim?

A: His body will need healing time and therapy, but knowing Zaid he will probably plow right ahead. He needs to investigate this so-called convert who is trying to radicalize the youth. We will learn more about the event that enabled him to be pardoned and released from prison early. We just might learn more about the strange comment made by Farah Anwar regarding Zaid’s mother, that she should have “aborted you and kept the lame one.” Zaid will almost certainly return to Panama, to find Angie and try to help her, especially now that he is a foster father to he daughter. Lastly, an important figure from Zaid’s past, a person of power and influence, might call upon him to investigate a crime he is uniquely qualified to handle. Stay tuned.

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

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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

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