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Hassan’s Tale, Part 14 – Positive Assumptions

“A’aight,” Rashid said. “Just throw down like you do. They probly gon’ come at us on the mainline, so keep yo’ back to the wall. When it go off, don’ half step.”

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Part 8 | Part 9 | Part 10 | Part 11 | Part 12 | Part 13

See the Story Index for a chronological guide to all the stories.

 

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Jamil and a stocky African-American brother came to my cell hardly ten minutes after I was released from the hole and admitted back into the general population.

Jamil had a stack of magazines that he set down on the writing desk in my cell. As soon as Tuna – my Samoan cellie – saw that, he stood up and walked out, saying, “Ia manuia,” which means “good luck” in Samoan.

Jamil nodded to the stocky brother, who was short and barrel chested, but had a baby face. “This is Rashid,” Jamil said. “Some folks call him Big Wheel.”

Rashid nodded at me and said salam, and this time I responded in kind.

“Take your shirt off,” Jamil said. “We’re going to armor you.”

“Excuse me?” I was incredulous. “I told you before I don’t need your help.”

“Akhi, we’re way past that now. We’ve been battling the AB for the last six months over what they did to you. We have one dead on our side and three on theirs.”

“La ilaha il-Allah!” I exclaimed. “I never asked anyone to do that.”

“We didn’t do it, brotha,” Rashid said. His voice was incongruously deep for his size. “AB decided that if they couldn’t get to you, they’d come after us. Half the Muslim brothers been transferred out, and a mess o’ the AB too, but it’s still on. We tried parylayin’ a truce but the AB ain’t havin’ it. We down to twenty men, and they thirty strong. But they used to have sixty. After you clowned ‘em, they had a bunch of walkouts. It’s wild. They hate you, Hassan. Plus, we in talks with the BGF. They might come in on our side. They got thirty men.”

The BGF, I later learned, was the Black Guerilla Family – another powerful prison gang.

I was stunned. A Muslim had died because of me! Laa hawla wa laa quwwata il-la billah. I felt numb. Jamil pulled up my shirt and I cooperated passively. He held a magazine against my chest and Rashid used a large roll of duct tape to secure the magazine in place by wrapping the tape all the way around my body. They repeated the process with the other magazines, covering my entire torso.

“It may not seem like much,” Jamil said. “But it’s effective.”

“Who was the brother who died?” I asked.

“Older brotha from New York,” Rashid said. “Khalid. They bum rushed him in the shower.”

“It’s not your fault, akhi,” Jamil said. “It’s the nature of the beast. He’s a shaheed and he’s alive with Allah. Wa la tahsab annal-latheena qutiloo fee sabeel-illahi amwaata.”

And do not think that those who are killed in the way of Allah are dead. I’d heard the ayah before, but somehow it was like I was understanding it for the first time. What was I so afraid of? Why had I feared Sarkis and Mr. Black? Why had I allowed Cutter to intimidate me? And do not think that those who are killed in the way of Allah are dead.

I completed the ayah. “Bal ahya’un ‘enda Rabbihim yurzaqoon. No, they are alive with their Lord, enjoying His provision.”

Jamil nodded at me and spoke to Rashid. “The brother has some knowledge.”

“What about you?” I said, pointing to Jamil’s stomach. He lifted his shirt, revealing one plastic dinner tray taped to his flat stomach and another to his back. Taped to the front tray was a long, sharp piece of steel wrapped with duct tape at the base. A shank, as these homemade weapons were called.

Rashid took something from his pocket and extended it toward me. Another shank.

“I can’t… I don’t believe in killing,” I said.

“That was you that waxed Cutter out by the gap, right?” Rashid said. “And the other three the day after?”

“Yes, but I didn’t kill them.”

“A’aight,” Rashid said. “Just throw down like you do. They probly gon’ come at us on the mainline, so keep yo’ back to the wall. When it go off, don’ half step.”

I looked at Jamil, who grinned. “He means don’t hold back.”

Rashid slid the blade up into his shirtsleeve, and we moved out. Just three ordinary inmates, going to breakfast. Except that all the inmates in El Reno seemed to know what was going down. Everyone gave us a wide berth.

I wondered how it was that the Muslims had suffered only one casualty, while the AB, with their greater numbers, had lost three men. I was to learn the answer before long.

We made our way out of the cellblock wing and onto the mainline, which is a wide corridor down the middle of the cellblock on the way to the chow hall. Jamil walked in front of me and Rashid to my side. The tension in the air was palpable. There was a heavy guard presence in the hallway, Was all this because of me? It was unreal.

“Stay close to the wall,” Jamil said.

There was a commotion at the far end of the hall, behind us. A white con was scuffling with a Mexican. The prison guards on duty hustled in that direction, while the many prisoners in the hall seemed to vanish. Suddenly the three of us were alone, still moving toward the chow hall.

“This is it,” Jamil said.

A door opened in front of us – a maintenance closet – and twelve members of the Aryan Brotherhood streamed out of the room, not even bothering to hide the shanks, clubs and other assorted weapons in their hands. I recognized the bald man from the first attack a year ago – the one whose elbow I had broken – and two of the men from the second attack. Among them was a one-eyed man with a tattoo of a spider on his face. I later learned that he was the leader of the AB in El Reno and was known as – naturally – Spider. Cutter was not among them. It turned out he’d been in a wheelchair ever since I whiplashed him.

Viking was also not among them. I’ll tell you more about him later. I think you’ll be surprised.

A chaotic melee ensued. Rashid shouted, “Allahu Akbar!” in a booming voice that rang off the walls and seemed to freeze everyone in their places for a split second. For an instant it seemed that his shout alone would drive the ABs back. Then one of them let out a wordless yell and hurled himself at Rashid, swinging a short steel pipe. Rashid moved into the attack, slipped inside the radius of the pipe’s arc, and drove his own shank into the man’s chest. I heard the distinctive sound of breaking bone and knew that Rashid’s knife had either pierced the man’s sternum or broken a rib. I’d heard that sound many times in war.

The ABs mobbed us, weapons slashing and swinging everywhere. I threw a man into the wall head first and his teeth snapped shut on his tongue, severing the tip, which flew through the air like a bit of sausage. Then I launched a kick into the knee of an AB who was about to stab Rashid in the back. Men grunted, cursed and screamed. The metallic tang of blood filled the air. I almost slipped on the blood and that might have saved my life, as a skinny white con swung a knife through the empty air where my neck had been. I recovered my footing, ducked low and snaked an arm between the man’s legs, then lifted him onto my shoulders and threw him into the other ABs.

I shot a look at Jamil and saw something that stunned me. He was ghosting. That was the name I had given to the elusive style of movement that I had seen Mr. Black perform, and had spent years learning to emulate. It was not the typical bob and weave you saw in boxing, or the irimi-style movement of Aikido and Jujitsu. A man would come at him and he would seem to disappear, reappearing behind the man. It was unmistakable, and in all my martial arts and combat experience, I had never seen anyone do it except Mr. Black, in the Tel-Az-Zaytoon camp the night he’d murdered Daniel.

Where could Jamil have learned it? No wonder the AB had lost so many men.

In that moment of distraction I felt an impact to my back. I launched a back kick without looking and heard a grunt. I spun into the man behind me, palming his face and digging my fingers into his eyes. He fell and I moved closer to Rashid, putting my back to his and fighting like a machine.

It was over in seconds. Nine men lay around us, three dead and the rest badly injured. Three of the ABs were limping away, one being supported by the other two. Rashid had a cut somewhere in his scalp and the blood poured down his face. Jamil clutched his throat. “Not a stab,” he said hoarsely. “I got punched in the throat is all.”

As for me, I was gasping for breath and felt light headed. I felt like I was about to pass out. I fell to one knee, fighting for consciousness. I couldn’t understand why I was so out of breath.

Jamil and Rashid wiped their weapons clean and dropped them, then helped me to my feet. We began to walk toward the chow hall, but I stumbled. Rashid caught me, then looked me over and said, “SubhanAllah.” He indicated my back. Only then did I see that I had two weapons embedded in my body. A screwdriver had somehow slipped between the magazines and was stuck in my upper back, and a shank made from a sharpened toothbrush was buried in my hip. I later learned that the screwdriver had punctured my lung.”

***

Inspector Katrina Sanchez sat in her car, sipping coffee. It was one in the morning.  No doubt her husband had given up waiting for her hours ago, and gone to sleep. She hoped they would not have an argument the next day.

She looked over the flyer the young Indian man had given her. Silvertip Hapkido, it said. Hassan Amir, head instructor. She had actually heard of this instructor. One of the inspectors in her division attended his class.

She studied the image of Mr. Amir throwing another man over his hip. He was a handsome man. Broad shouldered and strong, though his hair was a tad long for her taste. Men should be men. That was one of the problems with the world today. Too many effeminate man, metrosexuals, and hipsters in skinny jeans… and the masculine men were either self-centered or irresponsible.

She thought of her husband Roberto. He was a blessing. Tall, a good earner, willing to lead, but also willing to let Katrina follow her passion. Yes, he complained about her hours, but who could blame him? She hoped fervently that she would never have to choose between her husband and the job. Doing work that made a difference in the world was vital. But her husband was her rock. Es cosa de dos, her mother would say. It’s a matter for two. Meaning life itself.

She brought her mind back to the case and considered the facts. One: Alice claimed she was stabbed by a man named Mr. Saleh, father of her co-worker Muhammad Saleh. Two: Muhammad Saleh was absent from his home. Three: he was possibly staying with his friend, Hassan Amir.

Sanchez turned on her dashboard computer and keyed in Hassan Amir’s name, checking for felony arrests or convictions in the last five years. Nothing came up. She accessed the DMV database and checked his license. The address given was down on Third Street, in an area that she could have sworn was entirely commercial. She ran a reverse check on the address, and learned that it belonged to Hammerhead Courier, the same messenger company that Muhammad Saleh worked for.

She had Muhammad’s telephone number, but if he were harboring his father then calling him would alert him and send him fleeing.

Returning to the SFPD database, she broadened her search to include misdemeanors, and got two hits. Hassan Amir had played a role in catching a purse snatcher four years ago. And last year he’d called 911 to report a woman screaming in an apartment on his floor. It had turned out to be a case of domestic abuse.

So Hassan Amir was a do-gooder. Perhaps the kind of man who would take in a friend in need, and his father as well?

The address given in the domestic abuse complaint was 640 Mission. The Palisade. Well. Someone was living in style. A martial arts instructor living in one of the priciest luxury towers in town? Another mystery. And it just so happened that solving mysteries was her forte.

Katrina Sanchez set her coffee in the cup holder, and started the car.

***

“Before we could make another move,” Hassan said, “the hall was filled with the sound of pounding boots. We were surrounded by the Special Tactics Squad, looking like futuristic soldiers in their body armor, helmets and shields.

“Lay down on your stomachs and put your hands on your head!” one of them shouted.

Jamil said, “We’re not resisting.” He laid down, and Rashid and I followed suit. We were all handcuffed, searched, and led away. The officers who took me away had to hold me up, as I couldn’t walk on my own.

I was taken by ambulance to Parkview Hospital in El Reno, Oklahoma. The wound in my hip was not serious, but the collapsed lung required surgery. I spent only two days at the hospital recovering, handcuffed to the bed with an officer outside my door as usual, then was transported back to El Reno and put in the hole. My back wound wasn’t healed and it bled through the bandages. I spent the first two weeks in the hole resting on my bunk, trying to ignore the pain. I used t-shirts as bandages. I’d wash them in my little steel sink and hang them on my bunk to dry.

I was sentenced to a year in the hole that time. Every day I thought about Khalid, the older brother who had been killed fighting my battle. I would not let his sacrifice be in vain. I would not wallow in self-pity and despair. I repeated Jamil’s words like verses of poetry: “Allah is still with you. He cares. You are here for a reason.”

Solitary confinement can be brutal. The federal government has tens of thousands of prisoners living in solitary confinement and many of them become permanently psychologically disabled. They become paranoid, they hallucinate and they harm themselves.

The ironic thing is that the guys who survive employ strategies that seen insane. I knew one guy who used his own blood to write complex math problems on the walls and solve them. Another guy composed plays in his head and acted out all the parts.

In my case, it was the Quran and martial arts that kept me sane. I memorized five Juz in that one year, and I developed many new fighting techniques, just practicing on my own on the cement floor, shuffling around barefoot so as not to make any noise, imagining my opponents and their reactions.

Also, Chaplain AbdulQadeer came to see me from time to time, and he was a lifeline. Those brothers who work in the prisons, they are my heroes forever, I’m telling you.

I will admit, however, that in the last three months I developed a habit of talking to a cricket.

***

Kadija laughed, then covered her mouth with her hand. “I’m sorry brother,” she said. “Your story is serious. The bit about the cricket caught me by surprise.”

“You mean an imaginary cricket?” Muhammad said. “Like Pinocchio’s cricket?”

“Pinocchio’s cricket was real, not imaginary,” Jamilah corrected automatically, then wondered why she was participating in such a ridiculous conversation.

“But he was Pinocchio’s conscience,” Muhammad pointed out.

Layth spoke up. “Actually he was a Christ metaphor. Jiminy Cricket – Jesus Christ. Get it?”

Kadija shook her head. “The Prophet Isa depicted as a cricket. Astaghfirullah. American pop culture trivializes everything. But how do you even know that about the metaphor, honey?”

“I do a lot of reading in the cab, between fares,” Layth said. “Oh, no I remember now. I got that bit of trivia from a Disney writer that I drove once. Sorry, Hassan. Please go on. What about your cricket friend?”

Everyone laughed and Hassan rolled his eyes. “I never said he was my friend.”

“Oh, it was a boy cricket?” Muhammad said, grinning.

Hassan gave him a mock glare. “Yes. His name was Napoleon. Can I go on now? Somehow the cricket got into the walls of my cell. At first it drove me crazy, chirping all night when I was trying to sleep. At the same time it was comforting to have a living thing keeping me company. I began talking to it. I’d carry on a conversation, pretending that the cricket was answering. Then I began to worry that I was going insane, so I stopped. Then I felt guilty that i was ignoring the cricket and hurting its feelings, so I began making up haikus for it. I’m not much of a poet but I studied haikus in third grade. Five syllables, seven syllables, five.

Cricket in my cell:
On whom do you call? I know
you praise in your way.

I composed them in my mind and memorized them, one after another. Until one day the chirping stopped and I cried. I worried that he had died of starvation, or maybe had deserted me. All that was after only nine months in the hole. Imagine spending years in there.”

“I can’t imagine,” Kadija said, shaking her head.

“I know,” Hassan said. “I can’t either, and I’ve been there.”

“I came out of the hole to find that the war was over. The Aryan Brotherhood in El Reno was virtually finished. That battle on the mainline had been the final straw. Some members had been transferred out, and others had abandoned the organization. Meanwhile, the Muslims had received several converts. Most surprising of all was that Viking had become Muslim. SubhanAllah. Allah guides whom He wills. Viking actually became quite devoted. I learned years later that after his release he went to Mauritania to learn Arabic and study Islam. He’s quite well known now. His name is Lars AbdulHadi.”

***

“SubhanAllah!” Layth said. “I know him. He’s an Imam in Minneapolis. I watch his lectures on Youtube. That’s incredible, akhi. Why did he become Muslim? ”

“You’d have to ask him. But your story is no less amazing, Layth. So yes, that was good news. And Jamil was fine. He was actually the Amir or leader of the Muslim jama’ah in El Reno, as I learned. The one bit of sad news was that Big Wheel – Rashid – had been transferred to the new supermax facility in Colorado. The BOP knew that we Muslims didn’t start the conflict, but there were seven men dead and someone had to be blamed. Cutter and Spider were charged with first degree murder, and Rashid with second degree.

The evening I was released from the hole I sat on the outdoor bandstand with Jamil. We had just prayed Maghreb in a jama’at of thirty brothers. The wind was blowing as usual, but a few hardy mosquitos braved the breeze to try to bite me through my army greens.

I swatted at them. “Where did you learn to move like that?” I asked Jamil, echoing a question that I had been asked many times.

He looked away. “Like what?”

“You know what I mean. I call it ghosting.”

He nodded. “I learned that from an African-American brother in the Leavenworth pen,” he said. “He said he learned it from a Chechen named Abu Kareem. But I don’t know anything about him.”

This is not an important part of the story, but in the years since then I’ve met two other men – both Muslims – who could ghost. One in prison, and one out. Their stories were identical to Jamil’s. They learned it from someone who learned it from Abu Kareem the Chechen. But none of them ever met Abu Kareem in person. So, just a little mystery there.

Jamil was a practitioner of a style of Jujitsu called Danzan-Ryu. I would say that Jamil knew a lot that I didn’t know, but what I knew, I knew better than him. So he became my Sensei, and I became his. It’s not allowed to practice martial arts in prison, but I put in a request to share a cell with Jamil, and it was granted. So Jamil and I would practice in the cell after lockdown. He also taught me to breathe zazen – to meditate, basically – in order to calm my mind before battle.

I’m sure Tuna was glad to see me transferred out. I had nightmares almost every night, and sometimes woke up screaming. He’d complained about it more than once, but what could I do?

A side effect of my sharing a cell with Jamil was that he too became aware of my nightmares.

“What is it you’re afraid of?” he asked me one day.

I thought about it. I usually didn’t remember the nightmares in the morning. But I knew what I feared. I began to tell Jamil about my past, and how everyone I loved had been killed. I spoke of my shame at being unable to protect them, as well as my confusion as to the reasons for their deaths. I told him about the slaughter I had witnessed in Tel-Az-Zaytoon. Was I being punished? Were they? If Allah loved us – the Muslims I mean – and we were His people, then why did we suffer this way? I told him about the horrors of Karanlik, which I have never discussed with anyone else, before or since, and about the despair that had led me to become a drug mule.

Worst of all was Lena’s death, and the fact that she had died in fear, murdered in cold blood. Did she call out for me in her final moments? Did she wonder why I wasn’t there to protect her? And where had I been, in fact? I’d gone out because we had an argument. I had abandoned her, just as she always accused me of doing.

Jamil was a good listener. He let me get it all out of my system, then he put his arm around my shoulders.

“You have a lot of questions, Hassan, and they’re good questions. And I’m not a scholar. But I have a question for you in return:  Do you believe that Allah is the Most Just, and the Most Wise, and the Most Merciful?”

I nodded my head. “Sure.”

“Then you have to trust Him. You have to trust that His choices for us are not arbitrary or capricious. If you look at these issues through the narrow, periscopic view of this dunya, then the answers are elusive. But Allah’s view is vast and incomprehensible to us. His view includes Al-Ghayb and the aakhirah. His view includes not only what happened, but what would have happened and could have happened. You have to trust that Allah will give everyone perfect justice in the end. Not only Charlie, Gala, Daniel and Lena, and all those victims in the camp, but you as well. No one will be cheated or wronged. And on the other side of the scale, your uncle, your cousin, Mr. Black, and that drug dealer, what was his name?”

“Anton.”

“Right. They will receive justice as well. They won’t get away with anything. Allah sees and counts everything. Nothing slips through the cracks. Allah’s reward is huge, and His punishment is terrible.”

“Tell me,” Jamil continued, “What happened to the son of Nuh?”

“He refused to follow his father and was drowned,” I replied.

“How do you think Nuh felt about that?”

“I’m sure he grieved,” I said.

“Yes, but do you think he despaired? Do you think he doubted Allah?”

“No… Of course not.”

“What about Khadija, the beloved wife of the Prophet, peace be upon him? The woman who he loved above all others, and who believed in him and supported him when others stood against him, and shared everything with him? How did she die?”

I thought to what I had read of the Seerah. “She died of illness or malnutrition as a result of the boycott against the Muslims.”

“Uh huh. Do you think that was a punishment?”

“No, not at all. She was a shaheedah.”

“And what about Ibrahim, the Prophet’s son? Do you think that either the Prophet or Ibrahim himself were being punished through his death?”

“No, of course not.”

“Then why did he die? He was even younger than your brother Charlie.”

“I don’t know,” I said.

“He died because it was the decree of Allah, for reasons that we can’t understand. Some things are beyond our ken. Everyone dies, Hassan. Some young, some old, some peacefully, some violently, but that’s only part of the story. We live on beyond the veil, and Allah gives us perfect justice and reward in the aakhirah.”

“Okay… but Lena was not Muslim. How can I accept that she’s being punished in the aakhirah, when she was a kind soul? And that she died in fear?”

“You don’t know any of that, akhi. Maybe she died courageously. She understood Islam, right? Maybe Allah opened her heart in that final moment and she went to Allah believing in him.”

“But tawbah at the time of death is not accepted. Fir’awn – “

“Fir’awn was insincere. He would have returned to corruption if he had lived, because he was taghoot, a false god. Do you know about the Jewish boy who used to serve the Prophet, sal-Allahu alayhi wa sallam? He became ill, and the Prophet went to visit him on his deathbed, and told him to accept Islam. The boy looked to his father who said, ‘Listen to Abul-Qasim.’ That was the Prophet’s kunya. So the boy accepted Islam and died, and the Prophet said, ‘Praise be to Allah who has saved him from the Hellfire.’… That was a deathbed conversion. It’s a matter of sincerity.

“The thing is brother,” Jamil continued, “You’re making negative assumptions:-  Allah is punishing me. Allah is punishing them. I’ve lost everyone. She died a disbeliever. She died in fear. It’s unfair…

“Instead, you need to make positive assumptions, because we begin from the understanding that Allah wants good for us, and that He is Merciful and Just. So we say, Allah is strengthening me. Allah is testing me.

“As for the Palestinians, Allah took shuhadaa from among them, in order to honor them. Allah is purifying them in the dunya, in order to reward them in the aakhirah. And they have a role to play. If you help Allah He will help you, and make your feet firm. Events play out, until circumstances are right for Allah to bring about a change. And He will. Allah will not allow transgressors to continue forever. The Palestinians will have their homeland one day, Insha’Allah.

“About Lena,” Jamil continued, “she died bravely. She died with faith on her tongue. Positive assumptions. And if not, Allah will take into account the fact that she was a good soul, with a kind heart. The fact that such an unlikely match as you and her fell in love during a war, and that you found each other years later and thousands of miles away, that’s a miracle, akh. Allah doesn’t hand out miracles blithely. You have to believe there was a purpose behind it – one that transcends death itself.”

“What kind of purpose?” I asked. “She’s gone.”

“I don’t know, akhi,” Jamil said. “Allah knows. Maybe the purpose was to transform you. To soften your heart, to make your spirit strong, to bring you to your knees so that you’d be in a position to serve Allah. Or maybe for Lena, to take her out of that terrible state she was in when you found her in Turkey. Yes, she died, but there are things worse than death.

“Make positive assumptions about yourself, your loved ones, and Allah the Most High. It’s the only way to be a believer, and the only way to survive this darkling plain, swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight. That’s how  Matthew Arnold described this world.”

“SubhanAllah, brother,” I said. I was stunned by Jamil’s eloquence, and by the truth that he was shining on me like a solar flare. “You’re very articulate.”

Jamil grinned. “Thank you. But I wasn’t always. I’ve been locked up since I was nineteen, and now I’m thirty five. I got my GED in here, then a bachelor’s degree in comparative religion and a master’s degree in anthropology. All by correspondence.”

“Wow. Ma-sha-Allah. What are you going to do with it?”

Jamil shrugged. “I don’t know. Write a book, maybe.”

I looked at him. “it’s not right that you’re still locked up.”

Jamil shook his head. “Tell me,” he said. “Who would you say is more successful in the sight of Allah, me or your uncle? Your uncle is rich and powerful, right? I’m not saying I’m any great believer, but what would you say?”

“Obviously you,” I acknowledged. “My uncle is corrupt and evil. I get it. I have to alter the way I measure failure and success, in life and in death.”

***

There were other incidents of violence down the road, but there’s no need to describe them here. Men killed and men died, but I stayed true to my intention never to kill again, and I never did, even when a few of the Muslim brothers accused me of being weak as a result. Jamil always supported me.

We had some good news a year later when we heard that the charges against Rashid were dropped for lack of evidence.

I lifted weights, practiced martial arts, memorized Quran, and began reading the books in the library. My English reading ability was rusty, but I improved. I taught an Arabic class for the Muslim brothers. Jamil and I had many long conversations about Allah, Islam, the suffering of the Muslim Ummah, and the hardships of life itself, and my understanding of Islam deepened and matured.

I grew into the name Hassan Amir. It was as if all my previous identities and masks fell away, and I discovered that Hassan Amir was who I truly was. I became myself, this man who inhabits my skin, who knows himself, who is still burdened by regrets – I think that’s obvious – but is at least real. There’s no despair in me now. I know that Allah is on my side. I know that He nurtures us, and I know that whatever befalls us or the people we love, Allah is just. He oppresses no one. Every man, woman and child is given his due, in the dunya or the aakhirah. These are things that I only came to understand when I became Hassan Amir.

With good time credits – and I know that might seem comical considering the battles I was in, but in the federal system up to sixty days of good time are awarded on an annual basis and cannot be revoked – and I was awarded ten months good time total – so I served just over seven years. I was released from prison on March 1st, 2002. I was twenty six years old. I was given a plane ticket back to San Francisco – they always release you to your sentencing district – and nothing else. I had a hundred and fifty dollars that I had saved up in my commissary account from my eleven cents per hour prison salary.

I’d been thinking a lot about what my father might have hidden for me, and that was foremost in my mind. I couldn’t imagine what it might be. An unpublished book? Maybe an autobiography or book of poetry? A letter for me, like a message from beyond? Some information about our family? Maybe even something about Boulos? Family photos? Whatever it was, I wanted to find out.

Somehow I had to get to Los Angeles, find my old house – which was undoubtedly inhabited by strangers – and dig up the cement floor in the garage. How I would accomplish that, I did not know.

Next: Hassan’s Tale, Part 15 – Buried Treasure

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Wael Abdelgawad's novels can be purchased at his author page at Amazon.com: https://www.amazon.com/Wael-Abdelgawad/e/B071CYWVDM?ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1&qid=1579756718&sr=8-1Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including IslamicAnswers.com and IslamicSunrays.com, and various financial websites. Heteaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at WaelAbdelgawad.com.For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.

23 Comments

23 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Umm bilal

    September 3, 2014 at 2:18 AM

    Subhaanallah brother, very interesting piece indeed. I especially loved the conversation btw Jamil and Hassan. There is a lesson for all in that, I think.

    • Avatar

      Safa

      September 4, 2014 at 11:59 PM

      Agree with Um Bilal and ditto to the rest of the comments left by the readers.

      This piece was uplifting and unique. Jazakumuallahu khayran for taking time & thought to make it so

  2. Avatar

    Hassan Zawahir

    September 3, 2014 at 5:12 AM

    Jamil the Jujitsu Fighter.

    • Avatar

      Abdullah

      September 3, 2014 at 8:14 AM

      Shbahanallah brother such inspiring words

  3. Avatar

    J K

    September 3, 2014 at 9:47 AM

    I would definitely buy your novel once it’s released just to reread everything all over again!

  4. Avatar

    Omrie

    September 3, 2014 at 10:23 AM

    Mash’Allah!!! The conversation between Jamil and Hassan uplifted my dampened spirits and Iman this morning. Great work brother Wael!!!

  5. Avatar

    Omer

    September 3, 2014 at 2:38 PM

    Salam Aliakom brother Wael,
    I have to admit when you started Hassan’s tale,I was pretty impatient and did not expect it to go on this long. With the impending danger posed by Mr Green literally sitting outside his building on the sidewalk, I got really anxious to see how the Hassan/Green confrontation would evolve. However you did win me over with the amazing intricate details and drama in Hassan’s life. Hassan’s tale in itself is an easily stand alone story and I am excited to see the next chapter.

    That being said it did go longer then I expected , and perhaps longer then you yourself expected, so I am just curious to know what your current plot plan is-if you are allowed to reveal it-. How many more chapters do you think Hassan’s tale will take and do you still need a few months before you start the next story?

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 3, 2014 at 5:17 PM

      Omer, you’re right, Hassan’s Tale came out longer than I expected. When the story is done I will restructure it for the text and e-book versions, Insha’Allah. Maybe as an autobiography or journal by Hassan.

      I believe the next installment of Hassan’s Tale will be the last. After that we will focus on the present-day action in the final story, Ouroboros. However, I might need a month or so to plot that story before writing it.

  6. Avatar

    sameera

    September 3, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    Subanallah I wait for Wednesday very eagerly to read the next chp. I loved the conversation between hassan and jamil. It sure made me reflect about my life.

  7. Avatar

    Humaira Khan

    September 3, 2014 at 8:46 PM

    Very nicely done! I didn’t realize I’d missed this many chapters and just finished catching up. Some passages really spoke to me like the one about positive expectations.

  8. Avatar

    M

    September 4, 2014 at 3:58 AM

    Jazak Allah khair brother, I really needed the Hassan-Jamil conversation, it helped a lot. I wasn’t expecting it. It’s really interesting how Allah helps you from unexpected places. Jazak Allah Khair once again. May Allah bless you.

  9. Avatar

    Amatullah

    September 4, 2014 at 6:26 AM

    “Positive Assumptions” indeed gave me positive vibes !! :) Allahumma Baarik Laka.

  10. Avatar

    Iman

    September 5, 2014 at 4:19 PM

    mashaAllah. that conversation was a homerun, Brother! thank you for serving Allah in this way.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 5, 2014 at 5:22 PM

      Thank you, Iman. I’m afraid the next chapter will be a walk to first base by comparison. But not every chapter can be a spiritual high note. Sometimes you just have to advance the plot :-)

  11. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    September 9, 2014 at 8:09 PM

    As-salamu alaykum guys and gals. I’m sorry, but I’ll need one more week for the final chapter of Hassan’s Tale. It’s two thirds complete but is turning out to be a long chapter. See you in a week, Insha’Allah!

    • Avatar

      H

      September 12, 2014 at 12:47 PM

      May Allah ease it for you iA. I must say, it’s well worth the wait! :)

  12. Avatar

    Omrie

    September 10, 2014 at 12:50 PM

    ohhhh yikes brother Wael. I was eagerly awaiting today’s read. However, i do understand that it takes time to produce such a masterpiece. I’ll be waiting for the conclusion insh’Allah and may Allah bless you abundantly.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 10, 2014 at 4:11 PM

      Yes, I’m sorry about that Omrie. I’m working on it as we speak.

      • Avatar

        Hafsa

        September 17, 2014 at 12:44 AM

        Can we expect an update tonight?

  13. Avatar

    Wazeed

    September 11, 2014 at 12:28 AM

    This was very unique! I know some basic intricacies in the US horrible Prison system but the Brotherhood, Iman and Jihad from the bothers in jail is truly inspiring. Muslim in Prison have NO LUXERY of being divided. The idea of a ummah really seems to connect now. These brothers barley knew each other and were willing to give there lives up for each other.

    PS: I know this is a fictional story but I’m 99% sure this would apply to our brothers in prison. May Allah SWT free our brothers and sisters who have been false imprisoned.

    bi-yadikal khayr. ‘Innaka ‘alaa kulli shay-‘in qadeer.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      September 11, 2014 at 12:31 AM

      The Muslim brothers in prison can be inspiring. They are among the strongest, most dedicated Muslims I know. Some say that it’s easy to practice Islam in prison, where you have no distractions, but that’s not true. You’re battling a hostile administration, the sense of powerlessness that comes with being incarcerated, and the daily challenges of loneliness and danger. It’s no accident that some of our greatest Muslim leaders spent time in prison.

      Oh, and although this story is fictional, Jamil and Rashid are both real people. I changed a few minor details but they are both described almost exactly as they are.

      • Avatar

        Wazeed

        September 23, 2014 at 7:47 PM

        the funniest part is that I only read the first page LOL. I finally noticed there was 3 other pages. SubahanAllah.

  14. Avatar

    um abdelrahman

    September 11, 2014 at 3:21 PM

    Great addition, mashaa Allah!

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#Culture

Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas | Book Review

In the second decade of the 21st century in America, Muslims consider themselves “as American as apple pie,” don American-flag hijabs, and consider their presence and participation in American politics as a crowning achievement. There is little to no resemblance between the majority of the American Muslim population today, and the very first Muslims who landed in America – not as privileged individuals, but as enslaved people at the hands of vicious white colonizers who had already decimated the Indigenous population and who had no qualms about destroying the lives of their slaves. Dr Sylviane A. Diouf’s book “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” tracks the journeys and experiences of African Muslims who found themselves shipped aboard slave-trafficking vessels and taken to the other side of their known world. From their induction into the Transatlantic slave trade, to their determination to uphold the five pillars of Islam – regardless of their circumstances – to the structure of the enslaved Muslim community, their prized (and dangerous) literacy, and their never-ending resistance against slavery, Diouf illustrates in incredible detail the powerful and painful experiences of enslaved African Muslims, and the legacy that they left behind in the Americas.

This review of “Servants of Allah: African Muslims Enslaved in the Americas” will focus on the unique qualities and formidable faith of the very first Muslims in the Americas, and the legacy that they left for Muslims in the Americas today.

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In Chapter One, Diouf begins by answering the very first question that arises when considering the path of enslaved African Muslims: how did they end up enslaved in the first place? Slavery already existed as an institution in Africa, though vastly different from the horrifying standards of the European slavers. Between the existing slave trade, military conflicts that created prisoners-of-wars who were then sold as slaves, and the European propensity for kidnapping innocent people, many Muslims found themselves swept into the Transatlantic slave trade. These same Muslims were the ones who provided us with much of the knowledge that we have today regarding the American slave experience. Most African Muslims were literate, due to the religious and cultural importance of education; of those enslaved, many were religious scholars or students of knowledge. They described how they were captured, the torturous journey of the slave caravans across the continent, and the even more horrific experience of the slave ships themselves. These men also documented their lives as slaves, and indirectly, provided deep insight into their own inner nature. 

Despite the intense pressure and demands on African enslaved people to renounce their ‘heathen faith’ and be inducted as Christians, African Muslims demonstrated a commitment to Islam that should cause modern Muslims today to feel deeply ashamed in comparison. The very first words that Job ben Solomon (Ayuba Suleyman Diallo) uttered, after running away and then being discovered in Pennsylvania, were the shahaadah; Omar ibn Sa’id wrote numerous Arabic manuscripts, in which the shahaadah was always found (Diouf, 2013, p. 72-73). When Catholic priests tried hard to educate slaves about Christianity as part of the conversion process, the African Muslims were both resistant and unimpressed; they were already familiar with many Biblical stories, thanks to their Qur’anic education. Of those who seemed to have accepted Christianity, many did so only outwardly, while confirming their belief in Allah and His Messenger in every aspect of their lives. Indeed, in Brazil and other areas where there were large concentrations of Muslim slaves, the Muslims established underground madaaris to maintain and pass on their Islamic knowledge and education. Muhammad Kaba Saghanughu was a man whom the missionaries had thought was successfully converted when he provided all the right answers to their pre-baptismal questions – eleven years later, in a Baptist Missionary Society notebook, he wrote a 50-page fiqh manual in Arabic that encompassed the rulings of salaah, marriage, and other topics. 

Slavery did not stop the African Muslims from maintaining their salaah in whatever manner they could manage, considering their circumstances. Some did so in secret, while others insisted on upholding their salaah in public, to the extent that these incidents were recorded by the descendants of slaves and slaveholders alike. In Brazil, the African Muslim community – both enslaved and freed – held together so strongly that they were able to secretly establish Salatul Jumu’ah and attend gatherings of dhikr, even in the face of intense scrutiny (Diouf, 2013, p. 88-89). 

Perhaps one of the most greatly moving examples of enslaved African Muslims’ dedication to their Islam was that even in the midst of the utter poverty of slavery, they found a way to uphold zakaah, sawm, and Hajj. In Brazil, it was recorded that the Muslims would end Ramadan with the exchanging of gifts, no matter how simple they were; in truth, these gifts were zakaatul fitr and zakaatul maal.

In other areas, the descendants of Muslim slaves recalled that their parents and grandparents would make rice cakes called saraka at least once a year – saraka was a corruption of the Arabic word sadaqah, and the rice cakes were a Jumu’ah tradition in West Africa. (Diouf, 2013, p. 92-94) In Ramadan, many Muslims sought to fast; indeed, despite the incredible hardship and lack of nutritious food that the slaves already endured, there were those who fasted voluntarily outside of Ramadan as well, often by pretending to be ill. They knew that their situation meant that fasting – in Ramadan and outside of it – was not obligatory on them, and yet, to them, no circumstance was bad enough to warrant not even attempting to observe Ramadan. Hajj was another pillar of Islam that was both impossible and no longer obligatory on the enslaved Muslims; yet in Brazil, in a house that was used as a masjid, there were illustrated depictions of the Ka’bah – demonstrating the emotional bond that the African Muslims had with the Sacred House. 

Throughout Diouf’s book, the overwhelming theme that arises is the fierce commitment that enslaved African Muslims had to Islam. It was not superficial, shallow, or easily shrugged away in the face of difficulty. Instead, the African Muslims held onto their belief in Allah and their daily, lived practise of Islam, even when they had every excuse to relax their obligations. They upheld their Islamic and cultural dress code, not just at its minimum standard of modesty, but in a way that clearly demonstrated their religious identity (Diouf, 2013, p. 101-110). They found ways to make prayer mats and dhikr beads; they gave their children Muslim names in secret, when they were expected to present themselves as Christians; they even strove to observe whatever they could of the Islamic dietary code, by refusing to drink alcohol or eat pork – Ayuba Diallo went so far as to only eat dhabiha meat that he himself slaughtered (Diouf, 2013, p. 119-122). The enslaved African Muslims valued their Islamic identity above all. Even in slavery, they knew that their ‘izzah came from their Deen – and so did those around them, who noted their unique bearing in the face of the horrors of slavery. 

The story of the African Muslims who were enslaved and brought to the Americas is not merely a history lesson, or a token homage in honour of Black History Month. It is a story that echoes the persecution of the earliest Muslims in Makkah, and applicable to Muslims today. Muslim minorities in the West are often all too eager to complain of our difficulties and to seek religious exemptions for our minor inconveniences. Yet who are we in comparison to the earliest African-American Muslims, who endurable the unspeakable? Who are we, with our privileges, with our very freedom, in comparison to those Muslims who were stripped of everything and everyone they knew and loved, and who still held ever tighter to the Rope of Allah? One may say that it is unfair to compare us and them; that to recognize their struggles should not mean invalidating the challenges we face today. Certainly, we face numerous different fitan that are very different from what they experienced, but the truth is that we should compare our attitudes with those of our predecessors. We should be ashamed of our own weaknesses in times of privilege compared to their strength in times of oppression. More importantly, we must learn from them what it means to have such a relationship with our Creator and our Deen that we are capable of surviving and thriving in even the worst of circumstances. 

May Allah have mercy on the enslaved African Muslims who endured one of this Ummah’s historic tragedies, and may He make us of those who demonstrate their strength of love for Him through every tragedy of our own.

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#Culture

Searching for Signs of Spring: A Short Story

At the party she stood near the front door, as if she might attempt escape. No one talked to her, though she saw plenty of glances cast her way. At least the food was good.

Golden Gate Bridge at night

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

The Smoker

Cigarette butt

“I’m going to kill her,” the man in the back seat growled. A moment earlier his phone had beeped, indicating a text message.

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Randa ignored him. She could already smell him – he reeked of cigarette smoke and Drakkar, a syrupy yet rancid combination, like a rotting fruit – and didn’t care to expend the energy to turn her head.

Exhausted from a nine hour shift slinging overloaded plates of food to hordes of Japanese and German tourists, she sat in the front seat of the UberPOOL car, staring out the window at the passing nightlife of San Francisco. Taxis and buses jostling for space, restaurants with lines down the block. Cable cars, street cars, tourists with their expensive cameras like baby candy for Tenderloin junkie thieves. Chinese women heading home from SOMA sweatshops, elbowing their way onto packed buses. Local hipsters, bike messengers and pimply faced tech millionaires. They were all jammed into this city on seven hills, mesmerized by the lights and endless cash, or imprisoned by them. Free to go where they would; free to ruin themselves.

She reached into the shopping bag between her knees and fingered the silk scarf she’d purchased. She’d spent half her weekly paycheck on it. A gift for Nawal. SubhanAllah, its exquisite softness was unreal. What she would have given during the last three years to feel something so yielding. She released the scarf and settled back into the seat. Quick stop at the halfway house to shower and change, then on to Nawal’s party. She could do this. After all she’d been through, why should a party make her nervous?

“Bitches lie,” the smoker went on. “That’s all women do, they lie. I’m going to kill the sl*t.”

“Sir,” the driver said, glancing in the rear view mirror. He was a tiny man with a thick moustache and a flat cap. His name was Ali, according to the Uber app. European looking, maybe Kurdish, maybe Arab. “Calm down or I will put you out.”

“Screw you,” Smoker said. “I paid for this ride, I’m not going any-”

Ali swerved to the curb and hit the brakes, screeching to a stop beside Union Square. “Out.”

It was almost Christmastime, and the square was packed. Randa saw people ice skating on the little rink they set up every December. The compressor that cooled the ice was very loud. Tourists were crowded into the Starbucks beside the rink. On every side of the square, monuments to consumerism rose. Macy’s, the Westin St. Francis, Nike, Apple, Louis Vuitton, Bul93gari, Tiffany & Co… Idols of wealth and third world labor. After spending three years owning nothing but a few sets of clothing and a few books, this was all foreign. As if some great beast had eaten every valuable thing in the world and regurgitated it in one place. She wasn’t quite sure if she wanted it all, or was revolted by it all.

“Drive the damn car,” Smoker said.

Randa had had enough. She turned and scanned the back seat. Directly behind her, a teenaged blonde girl in denim looked very uncomfortable – almost frightened but not quite there. Randa focused on the smoker. He was brown skinned and barrel chested, with thinning black hair. Middle Eastern. He looked familiar, actually. His eyes were bloodshot. It was like a set up for a joke: three Arabs and a white girl get into an Uber… Except there was nothing funny about this guy. He was big and looked quite capable of violence.

Randa, on the other hand, was physically unimposing. Short, skinny, long black hair tied in a ponytail, she was a typical Yemeni girl, as light as one of the reeds that grew in the Aden wetlands, where her parents had grown up. That didn’t matter. Anyone could hurt anyone, she knew this. Her eyes were lasers drilling into the smoker. Her jaw was a steel trap. Liquid nitrogen flowed through her veins. If this guy wanted to mix it up, she would tear him to pieces.

The man’s eyes met hers, he opened his mouth to speak, then thought better of it. He exited the car, slamming the door.

The driver smiled at Randa. He looked very relieved. “MashaAllah alayki,” he praised her in Arabic. “I don’t know what you did, but thanks. Maybe you should be a rideshare driver.”

Randa did not reply.

The Threat

Prison visitors window

She checked into the halfway house on Turk Street with ten minutes to spare before her work period expired. The staff member on duty was her own case manager, a thin, bald man with a pasty complexion and a scar on his lip.

“I’ll need a recreation block later,” Randa told him. “Starting at seven.”

The man smirked. “Hot date?”

Randa gazed at him impassively, her face as ungiving as a concrete wall.

“I need to know where you’re going,” the case manager said, annoyed.

“Bachelorette party.”

“Better not be any drugs there.”

“Muslim party. No drugs, no alcohol, no men. Just women dancing and eating.”

“You only have one rec block left this month.” He nodded toward the door that led to his private office. “Come back here, we’ll have a little fun, I’ll give you five more blocks. You’ll have a good time.” He punctuated this assurance with a wink.

“Eat poison and die.”

The man flinched as if he’d been slapped, then snarled. “Take your block. But if you’re one minute late I will write a violation on you faster than you can say, ‘Allah help me.’”

Up in her tiny second floor room with the two-woman bunk bed, changing out of her waitressing uniform, she considered not going. She hadn’t been to a social event since her release. She knew they’d all be talking about her.

While locked up she’d earned a correspondence bachelor’s degree in business administration. She was still trying to figure out what to do with it. Education wise she’d already surpassed 90% of the Yemeni community. But that didn’t matter. To them she was a shame and a wreck, a disgrace to her family.

And she wasn’t sure it was safe. What if her brother Motaz showed up? Did he still have it in for her? She had not seen him since her arrest, when he came to see her in the county jail. They sat across from each other in small cubbies, separated by thick plexiglass into which someone had scratched the words, “LOVE YOU FOREVER.”

Leaning forward to talk through a perforated panel, she explained that she hadn’t known there were drugs in the backpack. Her boyfriend had told her it was a game console he’d sold, and asked her to deliver it on her way to school. She’d been in love with Lucas, and never imagined he would manipulate her that way.

Her brother’s cheeks were purple with rage. “I don’t care about the drugs,” he seethed. “That only proves how stupid you are. You had a boyfriend. An American.” He struck the plexiglass and Randa reeled, nearly falling over in her seat. “If we were back in Yemen,” her brother went on, “I would kill you myself. It would be best for the family if you hang yourself from your bunk.”

She didn’t try to tell him that she’d never been intimate with Lucas and that she was, in fact, still a virgin. It wouldn’t make any difference, she knew that. It was public perception that mattered, and the shame it would bring. And she wasn’t saying her brother was totally wrong on that score. She hadn’t represented herself or her faith well. But that didn’t give him the right to threaten her.

She had not spoken to her brother since that day. She had no idea what his intentions for her might be. But she didn’t intend to give him the chance to make good on his threats.

The Phone Call

The phone rang. It was her mom, reading her mind. Randa told her she was going to skip the party.

Her mom clucked her tongue. “Nawal is your friend. She’s getting married, she wants you to celebrate with her.”

“She didn’t invite me.”

“She invited me. That means you as well.”

“What if Motaz shows up?”

“Why would he? It is a ladies party. And if he did, so what?”

“You know what. He threatened to kill me.”

“Ah, Randa! Astaghfirullah. That was in the past. All is forgiven. Anyway he never meant it. It was only his anger talking.”

Randa was not sure. Islam taught compassion and mercy, but in her native Yemen, feuds could carry on for generations. People did not forget. She voiced another of her fears: “They’ll all be judging me. The ladies.”

“Eh?” Her mother sounded genuinely perplexed. “Why should they?”

“Because I just spent the last three years-”

“No,” her mother interrupted. “We don’t speak about that. It never happened.”

“I don’t know how to talk to those people.”

“Those people?” Her mother sounded outraged. “They are your people, Randa!”

Randa sighed and shook her head. She could fight off people trying to kill her, and had done so, but she was powerless against her mother. Why was that, still?

Her mom switched to Arabic. “Give your tribe your money and blood, but give outsiders the point of a sword.”

Her mom and her proverbs. And she never used them right. “That doesn’t even fit.”

“It means do not justify yourself. The past is the past.”

“I don’t think it means that.”

“And wear something colorful. No more black like you’re going to a funeral.”

Prayer

All she had was black. What else? After three years of state-issued denim, she’d sworn she’d never wear any shade of blue again. What, then? Orange was jail jumpsuits. Red, pink, yellow, purple? What was she, a clown? Or white, like a nun, a nurse, or a virgin bride? She would laugh at that if she remembered how.

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

She donned a long black skirt over black stockings, walking shoes, a long-sleeved blouse and a black sweater, and set out on foot. Her first stop was the Islamic Society masjid on Jones at Market. In the elevator she took a light black abayah from her purse and draped it over herself, covering everything but her face and hands. The masjid was on the third floor, a wide open space in which Randa could forget her problems for a time. She had rediscovered her faith in prison, and sometimes it was the only thing that kept her going.

She knew that was a cliche, but it was true. When every door was made of solid steel, double locked and remote controlled – Allah’s door was open. When every road was not only blocked but taken away altogether, because you were sealed in a tiny room – the road to Allah was still there. When there were no windows, and the light bulbs were turned off so that you sat in utter darkness, Allah’s light was still there.

She smiled imperceptibly, remembering the first of Ruby’s rules. Ruby, her cellmate and mentor, had developed a set of rules to survive and thrive in prison. Rule number one: only God can get you out.

Well here, she was, out, and just in time for ‘ishaa. A handful of other women were in attendance and she prayed beside them. As the Imam recited Surat Ar-Rahman, Randa searched her own heart for some sign of spring. A bit of softness, a warm breeze stirring, a melting of the ice. She found little to give her hope. Too soon, she thought. Her great fear was that her past self, the Randa who cried at the recital of the Quran, hung out with friends and gossiped or laughed about boys, or just walked down the street with a bounce in her step, happy to be alive, was gone.

The Party

Yemeni food mutabaq sandwich

Mutabaq

She took another Uber to Nawal’s house, out in the Richmond district, near the ocean. At the party she stood against the wall near the front door, as if she might attempt escape. No one talked to her, though she saw plenty of glances cast her way. She drank guava juice from a small glass and ate a mutabaq. At least the food was good. She hadn’t eaten anything so delicious in years.

Her mom had hugged her when she arrived, chastised her for her grim sartorial choices, then wandered off to sit and gossip with her friends.

There were at least forty women present. The younger ones danced to the sounds of A-Wa, with the occasional Ahmed Fathi song thrown in to appease the aunties. Others sat at a table around a henna artist, taking turns getting their hands and arms tattooed. A woman in an orange scarf sat on a sofa crying, while two other women flanked her, comforting her.

Nawal sauntered over to Randa and embraced her. She looked radiant in a sequined blue gown, her long black hair flowing freely, her arms hennaed up to the elbows with intricate designs. “Thanks again for the scarf. It’s lovely. You didn’t have to do that.”

“My pleasure.” Randa nodded to the crying woman. “What’s going on there?”

Nawal looked. “Oh. That’s my Tant Ruqayyah. Her husband’s been cheating on her. But she’s finally done with him. She sent him a message today, asking for a divorce. Hey.” Nawal grinned at Randa. “What’s up with the black outfit? You planning a burglary later?”

Randa bristled, pulling back. “What do you mean?”

Nawal faltered. “No. Nothing. Just a joke, Randa. What happened to you? You lost your sense of humor.” Nawal squeezed Randa’s shoulder and turned away to rejoin her friends.

Randa wanted to shrink into a corner of the room and draw the darkness around her like a cloak. Nawal’s comment stung like chili in a cut, all the more for its truth. She knew she wasn’t the fun person she’d once been. She wasn’t someone people wanted to be around. She wasn’t someone people loved.

A commotion from the direction of the entrance made her turn. The door was just around the corner and she couldn’t see what was happening. She heard a man shouting, and a woman protesting. For a second she had the irrational thought that it was her brother, come to murder her as he’d threatened to do three years ago. Then she smelled it. The stench of cigarette smoke and Drakkar. It was the man from the Uber. Suddenly she knew why the man had seemed familiar. She’d seen him with his wife at parties in the past. His name was Momo, she remembered now, and he was Ruqayyah’s husband. She remembered the text message Momo had received in the car, and his saying, “I’ll kill her.”

A woman shrieked from the doorway and the man pushed his way in. He passed by Randa, not noticing her. Her eyes shot to the man’s hands, just as Ruby had taught her. Rule thirty: watch people’s hands, not their faces.

Momo held a long butcher knife tucked low against the back of his leg. No one else in the room seemed to have noticed it. The other women were too busy scrambling to put their scarves on, now that there was a man in the room. Some were retreating quickly, heading for the bedrooms. Some of the younger ones were still dancing, oblivious. Meanwhile, Momo was making a beeline for Ruqayyah.

Ruqayyah had spotted the knife. Her eyes were locked on it as she backed up, her hands held to her mouth in horror, her face pale as the moon.

Randa moved. Dropping her plate and glass, she walked rapidly toward the food table, slipping off her sweater as she did so. Rule thirty two: anything can be a weapon. Without breaking stride she snatched up the pepper shaker and pocketed it, then grabbed two unopened soda cans. She wrapped the cans with her sweater and twisted it, gripping it by the sleeves.

Momo had almost reached Ruqayyah. He brought the knife up, aiming it at her heart. Ruqayyah stepped back, stumbled into a chair leg, and fell to the ground. It probably saved her life.

Randa was only a few feet behind Momo now. He still had not seen her. Rule thirty five: hit first and hit hard. She gripped the sweater sleeves with both hands and swung, turning her hips, putting everything she had into it. All her frustration, fury and shame, her loneliness and self doubt. The soda cans in the sweater connected with the side of Momo’s head. There was a loud thudding sound, and Momo dropped as if a djinn had snatched his heart out of his chest. His hand opened and the knife clattered to the ground beside him. Some of the women screamed, and someone finally turned off the music.

Still clutching the sweater in one hand, Randa reached down and took Ruqayyah’s hand, helping the older woman to her feet, and helping her adjust her scarf, which had slid forward over her eyes. The auntie was stunned speechless.

Momo groaned. Randa turned to see him reach for the knife, find it, and begin to climb back to his feet. Damn. Hard-headed bastard. Reaching into her pocket, she calmly unscrewed the pepper shaker and flung the contents into Momo’s eyes. He hollered in pain and dropped the knife once more, and this time Randa kicked it away so that it skittered under the table. Once again she gripped the sweater sleeves with both hands and swung. The cans smashed Momo square in the face. He fell backwards with a cry, blood spurting from his nose. He rolled about on the floor, clutching his face, all the fight gone out of him.

Someone seized Randa’s arm and she turned to see her mother. The woman was literally quaking with rage. “Get out of here,” she hissed. “You crazy person. Why did I think you changed? You are a majnoonah.”

Nawal was there too, her face set in stone. “You should leave,” she said. “I won’t tell the police what you did, but you should go.”

Randa didn’t argue. What did it matter? These women had their minds made up about her, as did her mother. Fine. She turned to leave. Again someone gripped her arm, but this time it was Tant Ruqayyah. The auntie pulled Randa into an embrace, then kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you,” she said, her lower lip trembling. “You saved my life, habibti. May Allah give you life. I don’t know how I can ever repay you.”

Nawal frowned. “What are you saying, Tant? Randa, what does she mean?”

Randa looked at her former friend. “He came here to kill her. He had a knife.” She gestured with her chin to the table. “It’s under there.”

“To kill her?” her mother said. “What nonsense is this?”

Randa smoothed Ruqayyah’s orange scarf. “Don’t worry, Tant. You’ll be fine.” She turned away, replacing the pepper shaker and dented soda cans on the table on her way out. One of the cans had punctured and was spraying soda in a fine stream. She put her sweater on and found it wet.

At the doorway, a woman was rising from where Momo had pushed her over on his way in. Thank God he hadn’t stabbed her.

Bridges

Her mother called out to her, but she let herself out. The night breeze instantly penetrated her wet sweater and raised goosebumps on her skin. Her hands were shaking badly, so she thrust them into her pockets, violating one of Ruby’s rules. In fact her entire body shook. She told herself it was just the cold.

Nawal emerged from the house and called to her, then hurried to catch up. Her friend was flustered, her cheeks red. “I’m sorry,” she said, taking Randa’s hand. “I misunderstood. You… You are a hero.”

Golden Gate Bridge at night

Randa looked away. In the distance she could see the Golden Gate Bridge glowing red in the night, and the dark hills of Marin County silhouetted against the sky. Bridges took you from one reality to another then back again, but what if you never wanted to go back? What if you wanted to put the past behind you forever? Was there such a thing as a one way bridge?

They said she was a villain, then a hero. Which label applied? Ex-con? Disgrace? Waitress? Yemeni, American, daughter, friend?

She returned her gaze to Nawal’s face. “No,” she said. “I’m not.”

She turned away. A light drizzle began to fall, chilling her, but somehow she’d stopped shivering. She was miles from the halfway house, but there was plenty of time left on her rec block. She would walk. The city stretched out before her like a jeweled wedding veil, the wet sidewalks shining beneath the street lamps. Appreciate the moment. Another of Ruby’s rules.

Randa walked.

THE END

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.

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Wael Abdelgawad’s novels – including Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, Zaid Karim Private Investigator, and Uber Tales – are available in ebook and print form on his author page at Amazon.com.

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The Beginnings Of The Darul Islam Movement In America

I was raised in the Darul Islam movement; my father Shaykh Abdu-Karim Ahmad, was one of their Imams for a time in Philly. So was my cousin Shaykh Ali Ahmad. Both who are still alive today. There are many narrations yet to be told, that shed a little light and context, about Muslim America today.

Much of the history about Islam in United States of America and of the pioneering Muslims upon who’s shoulders we stand, has never been told. Some of them unfortunately may never be told and may die with the death of those who were there. When it comes to American Muslim history, the narratives of those who lived it is more poignant than that of those who only heard about it. As in the hadith of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), “He who is told is not like he who has seen”.

Much of what is written about Black American Muslim Sunni pioneers is written about us but not by us. 

One story that has remained largely unchronicled is that of the Darul Islam movement. Darul Islam was an early indigenous Sunni Muslim community made up of Black American Muslims and converts to Islam. At its height, it comprised 25-30 Muslim communities and masaajid across the country. It was started by Rajab Mahmood and Yahya Abdul-Karim, who were formally attendees of the famous State Street Mosque in Brooklyn, New York in the Atlantic Ave area west of Flatbush. The State St, Mosque which was started by was Dawud Faisal, a Black man who came to the United States from the Caribbean to pursue a career in jazz music, became a beacon for early Muslim immigrants as there was already a spate of Arab businesses along Atlantic Ave near third street, not far from the Mosque. My father used to take us to Malko Brothers bakery on Atlantic Ave in the early sixties where we would buy pita bread and halal meat from one of the other stores. It was one of the few places you could buy pita bread on the East Coast and there was no such thing as a halal store in America then.  

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Partially because Shaykh Dawud was black, and perhaps because of his jazz background and affiliation, the Masjid also attracted Black American converts to Sunni Islam. Many early Sunni Muslims were associated with and came from jazz musicians.  The Legendary John Coltrane was reported to have been a Muslim, he was married to a sister named Amina and his daughter was named Na’eema. My father performed her marriage in New York in the 1980’s. It’s rumored that he never publicized his Islam because it would have damaged his career as it had done to so many others. Hajj Talib Dawud, who started a masjid in Philadelphia (not related to the Darul Islam movement), used to be a trumpet player for Dizzy Gillespie. 

Meanwhile, , there was a chasm between immigrant Muslims who were new to the country. Converts to Islam, who were overwhelmingly Black, were new to Islam.  In 1960, Shaykh Dawud hired a teacher who was Hafiz al-Quran named Hafiz Mah’boob — he was associated with the Tabligh Jamaa’ah movement— but he was Black or looked black. The young African American converts, Rajab Mah’mood, Yahya Abdulkarim, Suleiman Abdul-Hadi (my uncle and one of the founding members of The Last Poets), Muhammad Salahuddin, and others. were drawn to him, He was “down” with educating the brothers from America and he used to teach them Arabic and Islam. It was a different time then and the immigrant, mainly Arab Muslims, and the Black American converts to Islam were from two different worlds. There was an unspoken uneasiness. Eventually Hafiz Mah’boob suggested that the African American brothers go and start their own masjid.

Rajab Mah’mood and Yahya AbdulKarim eventually left the State Street Mosque and started their own Masjid in Brownsville, one of Brooklyn’s toughest neighborhoods, they named it Yasin Mosque, and that was the beginning of the Darul Islam Movement in the United States. That’s also just the beginning of the story.

I was born and raised a Sunni Muslim in Philadelphia, PA; my parents converted to Islam in the 1950’s.

I was raised in the Darul Islam movement; my father Shaykh Abdu-Karim Ahmad, was one of their Imams for a time in Philly. So was my cousin Shaykh Ali Ahmad. Both who are still alive today. There are many narrations yet to be told, that shed a little light and context, about Muslim America today.

History matters. 

Taken from the Upcoming Book. “The History of the Darul Islam Movement in America” 

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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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