See the Story Index for a chronological guide to the previous stories.
March 23, 2010. 1:30 am.
San Francisco, California
“You two can have this discussion later,” Layth broke in. “Hassan, your story was incredible and I feel privileged to have heard it, but we’re all exhausted. You haven’t slept since what, the night before last? Let’s get to the heart of it. What has happened in the last two days?”
Hassan nodded. “I made a mistake. Jamilah, do you remember the day before yesterday when we prayed and had lunch at the park? I had to take off because I was holding?”
Jamilah stewed, reluctant to let go of her resentment. She felt like everything Hassan had said or done, ever since she’d known him, had been a charade. She was sorry for all the suffering he’d been through. But that didn’t excuse his deceptions. At the same time, she was curious what he meant when he said, would you do it with me? What was that? Some kind of proposal? She wished Layth had not interrupted.
“Anyway, I was going to the Danish and Russian consulates, and just before I took off Jen gave me another yet another consulate tag going the same way.”
“Sure, I remember,” Muhammad said. “The Lebanese consu – ohhhh.”
“Yes. I should have passed on it, but there was no one else headed that way and it was a busy day. It was a personal delivery to the Lebanese consul.”
“Which was who?” Layth said.
“As I discovered when I entered his office, the consul is Sarkis Haddad.”
The group was stunned into silence.
“Oh my God,” said Jamilah finally.
“Did he recognize you?” Layth asked.
“He acted like he didn’t. But I saw fear in his eyes. He thought I was there to kill him. Hours later, I spotted someone in a car bearing diplomatic plates surveilling HC’s office. Shortly after that, an Armenian spy tried to kidnap me.”
“Armenian?” Layth said. “How are they involved?”
“Lebanese Armenian,” Hassan explained. “Working for Sarkis. I managed to overcome him, but barely. He’s the one who shot me.” Hassan pointed to his swollen cheek and arm.
“Did you…” Jamilah did not finish her question.
“I didn’t kill him. I tied him up and left him in the trunk. But he -”
Kadija put a hand to her forehead. “Left him in the trunk? Brother, this is crazy as all get out.”
“I know. Anyway, he told me something. He claimed that an expert assassin called the Crow is coming to kill me. The Armenian says the Crow is part of an elite squad of Lebanese assassins who are trained from childhood to torture and kill. Today – I guess it’s yesterday now – I went to see someone, an old friend who has contacts. He confirmed that these assassins do exist. They are called Kopis. And the Crow has a reputation for being particularly cruel in his methods.”
“Your old friend,” Layth said. “Is it B?”
Hassan nodded. “Yes.”
“Do you think it’s wise to continue your contact with him?”
Thank you, Jamilah thought. This same point bothered her as well, but she had not wanted to raise it for fear of how Hassan would react. Let Layth take the heat.
Hassan frowned. “What do you mean? I told you, I’ve known him all my life.”
“Yeah.” Layth made a conciliatory gesture, but pressed his point. “But when you first went to L.A., didn’t you find it odd that someone tried to break into the cottage just before you scouted it?”
Hassan looked puzzled. “No. It’s Los Angeles. Break-ins happen.”
“Why the cottage and not the main house?”
“Maybe they knew it wasn’t occupied. I don’t know.”
“Or maybe,” Layth said, “someone was looking for whatever your father hid.”
Hassan shook his head. “No one knew about that.”
“That’s what I’m saying, Hassan. Someone did know.”
Hassan’s expression became stony. “I don’t appreciate that. You’re talking about someone I trust. Even if it was him, he was only trying to help.”
Kadija pointed to the battered black briefcase that sat beside the sofa. “You mentioned that you took a briefcase from the safe in the floor. Is that it? The one you hauled off and hit my husband with?”
“You won’t tell us what’s in it?”
“No. Boulos has been trying for years to hunt me down, partly because in his twisted way he sees me as a rival, and partly because I witnessed his role in the Tel-Az-Zaytoon massacre. The materials in this case are even more damaging to him than that. So is it really knowledge you want to possess?”
Kadija nodded. “Alright. Does anyone have any other relevant questions? If not then I’ve a mind to do as Hassan says and skedaddle until this is resolved. I’m convinced that the danger is real.”
“My father and I have nowhere to go,” said Muhammad. “We’ll stay.”
“I could give you funds to hide out somewhere,” Hassan said. “Take your dad to the Big Sur for a while. Stay in one of those luxury lodges on the edge of the world, just mountains and sequoia trees and crashing surf. It might be therapeutic.”
“I want to help you.”
Hassan shook his head. “You have your father to take care of. That’s your jihad now, remember?”
Jamilah had more questions, more objections, more… she didn’t know what. This was all such a shock. But it was late and everyone was beat. “I could go home to Madera,” she said. “But what will you do, Hassan? Call the police?”
Hassan shook his head. “They’d never believe me, and if I told the whole story I’d be arrested for identity fraud, tax evasion, and I don’t know what. Besides which, Boulos is beyond the reach of the police. And Sarkis has diplomatic immunity. The cops are useless.”
“We’ll figure something out Insha’Allah,” Layth said.
Kadija rounded on him. “What do you mean, we? You and I are getting out of town.”
“Go with Kadija,” Hassan said. “I can deal with this.”
Layth’s face took on an iron cast. “‘O you who have believed,’” he recited, “‘when you meet those who disbelieve advancing for battle, do not turn to them your backs in flight.’ That’s what Allah said to the people of Badr. I’m not turning my back.”
Kadija slapped the arm of the sofa and stood facing her husband, hands on her hips. “This is not a history lesson!”
Layth lifted his chin. “I love you habibti, but there’s no way I’m leaving Hassan to face this danger alone. The believers are like a wall. They’re only strong together. Hassan supported me, once. Now it’s my turn.”
Kadija looked furious, but said nothing further. Jamilah had to admit that she felt less guilty about running out on Hassan, knowing that Layth was staying behind. At least Hassan would not be alone. She stood slowly, feeling the weariness in her muscles and joints, more from sitting in place for hours than from riding all day.
“I’m going now,” she said. “Hassan, text me daily with updates.”
“You can’t go alone,” Hassan said. “I’ll drive you home.”
Muhammad extended his arm like a traffic cop signalling a stop. “No way dude. You’re exhausted. You rest, or plan your caper, or whatever. I’ll get her home.”
“Nix to that too akhi,” Layth said. “You’re right that Hassan needs to get some rack time. Plus, he’s the one they’re looking for. But your place is here with your father. And brother Muhammad… Don’t take this the wrong way. You’re a brilliant and talented individual. I’d be lost if I tried to do your job. But I’m a tactically trained combat veteran. This is my arena.”
Muhammad nodded his head glumly.
Layth turned to Hassan. “Can we use your car?”
“Right. Kadija, Jamilah and I will leave here together. Jamilah, we’ll swing by your apartment so you can pack a bag. Then to our house so Kadija can pack, then the two of you take my car and drive to Madera. Hassan, once they’re off safely I’ll return here with your car and we’ll strategize. You’ll get a little rest at least. Sorry, Jamilah, I should have asked first – can Kadija stay with you until this is over?”
“Absolutely. I would love that.”
Hassan nodded wearily. “Sounds like a plan.”
Layth turned to his wife. “Habibti, are you okay with that?”
Jamilah expected Kadija to try again to talk Layth out of helping Hassan – in fact, if it had been her she would have been incensed at a man making plans for her without even consulting her. Kadijah, however, went to her husband and hugged him, then pulled back and stroked his cheek with her ebony skinned, well-manicured hand.
“Honey,” she said, “you know I think this whole business is crazier than a hoot owl. But you’re my man and I’m with you. I love you. I’ll go where you say and do what you say, and I’ll be making dua’ for you as hard as I can. Give ‘em hell, and come back to me safe, or I’ll tan your hide myself.”
Layth grinned. “Yes, ma’am.” The two embraced again.
Jamilah was surprised. Go where you say and do what you say? That didn’t sound like Kadija.
Layth went to use the restroom, and Muhammad took the dirty dishes and glasses to the kitchen and began to wash them. Jamilah approached him. “Muhammad,” she said. “I’m glad you found your dad. I hope you can work things out and get him help. I know this wasn’t easy.”
Muhammad smiled widely. “Thanks, Jams. That means a lot.”
Jamilah felt two hands grasp her shoulders from behind and begin to massage. She turned to see Kadijah.
“Relax,” Kadija said. “Your shoulders are so tense. I want you to know that I appreciate you letting me stay with you. If it’s an imposition I could get a hotel room.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. I would absolutely love to have you.” She made an effort to release the tension in her shoulders and neck as Kadija’s hands kneaded her muscles. The massage felt heavenly.
She glanced over her shoulder. “Can I ask you something personal?”
“If a man took that tone with me, I mean ordering me around, I’d… Pffff. I wouldn’t be happy, I can tell you that. I’ve always thought of you as a modern woman, I mean you’re a career woman and -”
“Hush,” Kadija was silent for a moment, still kneading Jamilah’s muscles. Muhammad seemed to understand that the women wanted to be alone. He hurriedly finished up the dishes and retreated to the living room.
“I’m not sure how to explain this,” Kadija said finally, keeping her voice low enough so that only Jamilah could hear. “A woman can be stronger than new rope – that’s a good thing, by the way – and even fierce. But when you’re married, if you want your marriage to be happy and survive, there are things you have to learn. There are times when a man will do what a man must do, no matter what his wife says. So do you oppose him and weaken him at his moment of greatest vulnerability, or do you send him into battle with the added strength of your love? Sometimes a wife simply must do what she’s told. I know that’s hard for a lot of modern women to hear, but that’s not just Islam, it’s human nature. Every organization needs a leader.”
Jamilah felt her face grow hot. “And does a man also have to do what he’s told?”
Kadija grinned. “I wouldn’t put it that way, but yes! Men can be stubborn as yearling bulls. Part of a wife’s job is to recognize when her man’s ego is putting the family at risk, and check that claptrap. One time a certain husband of mine – who shall remain unnamed – wanted to chase down another cabbie who cut him off on the freeway. I was riding with him. I let him know that if he didn’t stop, he’d be sleeping on the sofa.
“But there are times when a man will take the reins for all the right reasons, and you have to let him, because if you don’t then you’ll wound him worse than any enemy could.
“Not everything is about you and your expectations, Jamilah. Sometimes loving someone means putting away your own hurt feelings and seeing the other person’s suffering and their faults, and loving them anyway, because that’s what they need in that moment, and if you don’t give it to them you’ll crush them.”
“Let me ask you something,” Kadijah continued. “We know what we need from men, right? Love, kindness, good father, a good romp in the hay now and then -” Jamilah blushed at that, but Kadija continued without pause “- but what do you think is the number one thing a man needs from a woman?”
Jamilah considered. “Companionship. Uhh… intimacy. Children.”
“No.” Kadijah said. “The number one thing a man needs from his wife is respect. Seriously girl, respect is what men are all about. A husband needs to know that his wife admires him and is proud of him. He knows when he messes up. He knows when he’s inadequate. He doesn’t need me or you to point it out. Sister, as hard as it is being a woman, it’s rough being a man. He’s supposed to be the provider, not show emotion, be tough, be competitive… he needs someone he can come home to who’s on his side. An army could be pitted against him, but if you support him, he’ll triumph. But if he comes home and you cut him down with this – “ Kadija stopped massaging Jamilah’s shoulders and turned her so that she could see her pointing to to the tip of her outstretched tongue “- then he’s finished. I would never do that to Louis.”
Kadija uttered these last words with such intensity that Jamilah had to look down at the floor. She felt chastised, and could feel turbulent emotions swelling in her chest, as if Kadija’s words were a catalyst that had begun a chemical reaction inside her. She understood that Kadija was not just talking about herself and Layth. She’s talking about me and Hassan, Jamilah thought. She’s sending me a message.
Before Layth, Kadija and Jamilah departed, Hassan led everyone once more in a group recital of Surat-al-Asr. Jamilah felt very close to them all in that moment. In the past she’d thought of group prayers as somehow cultish – shades of Baptist tent revivals or Moonies holding hands and singing He’s Got the Whole World in His Hands – but this wasn’t like that. Standing together, reciting the words of Allah…it was a simple but powerful acknowledgment that they were all bound together in a brotherhood and sisterhood of the heart; a spiritual kinship that went beyond race, gender, language, and even beyond the bounds of the physical world.
At the front door, Jamilah turned to face Hassan. She did not want to leave without saying something to Hassan, but she did not know what to say. Kadija’s advice bounced around in her head like tennis balls in a dryer. Not everything is about you… put away your own hurt feelings… an army could be pitted against him, but if you support him, he’ll triumph. Hassan might not be facing an army, but from the sound of it he was dealing with a vicious and remorseless foe.
“I.. I’ll be praying for you, Hassan,” Jamilah said. “I believe in you. I’m sorry for what I did and said earlier. I know you never did anything except what you had to do. I’m on your side, all the way. And yes, I would do it with you. Work to change the world, I mean.”
Not giving Hassan a chance to respond, she turned away hurriedly, feeling deeply embarrassed. Lame, she thought. I sounded like an idiot.
Layth, Kadija and Jamilah rode the elevator down together. Layth had his hand inside his coat, and Jamilah was pretty sure he was gripping the butt of his pistol.
“That was sweet as a peach,” Kadija said. “What you said up there.”
Jamilah snorted. “Pff. I sounded ridiculous.”
“Not at all. Trust me. Those words will help him more than any gun or gold.”
The two men the Crow requested from the Los Angeles consulate had arrived an hour ago. He liked them. Clean-cut Maronite boys, both former Lebanese special ops. Good Phoenician stock. Not a drop of dirty Arab blood in them. He’d wasted no time designating them Team Four and sending them into the field.
He’d shuffled the other teams around. Team Two, consisting of Pierre and a junior operative named Maurice, had eyes on the front of Hassan’s building.
Team Three was parked on the Mission Street side, monitoring the entrance to the Palisade’s parking garage. The Crow did not care for this team and had little faith in their ability. The thin Maronite Obadias was twitchy and nervous; and the other one, Pashi – though certainly large enough, with a beefy back and shoulders – was a Shiite of Persian origin. According to the intelligence, neither Hassan Amir nor his friends were driving – they were all on foot or bicycle – so he’d given Team Three the location least likely to see action.
Team Four was a floater, circling the block and occasionally detouring to nearby key points such as the Hammerhead Courier offices and the Palestinian girl’s building on Sutter.
Team One, of course, manned the command post right here in the warehouse. In a nod to political necessity, the Crow had originally designated Sarkis Haddad leader of Team One. In his absence, however, he’d taken the top spot for himself, and made Emil Dadurian his number two.
At the thought of Sarkis, the corners of the Crow’s mouth turned down in contempt. The consul had claimed that he was tired and would return if anything developed, but the Crow had heard a few of the men talking. Apparently Sarkis had a fondness for young Russian prostitutes. It wasn’t the lack of morality that bothered the Crow – he himself had no use for conventional notions of right and wrong, and couldn’t care less if Sarkis murdered a whore every morning before breakfast. No, it was the lack of discipline. The man would rather satisfy his own desires than attend to important business.
Dadurian, on the other hand, impressed the Crow with his efficiency. For example, he’d put up what he called a link chart on the wall. It consisted of two cork boards on which he’d pinned a map of San Francisco and marked the addresses of all the targets with push-pins. He’d also tacked up photos of Hassan and his friends taken from social media websites (Hassan’s photo had come from a martial arts flyer), with lengths of white yarn connecting the various players, and sticky notes describing their relationships.
Furthermore, Dadurian was constantly on the radio, checking with the various teams, and using innocuous radio codes so as not to alert any listeners. The man had been wasted on surveillance. He was a natural commander.
On the whole, the Crow was confident that Hassan Amir would be captured before long. He couldn’t wait to torture the man and learn everything he could about this situation.
On the way down in the elevator, Jamilah thought about the hadith Hassan had mentioned. The one he’d read in Al-Bukhari years ago. Souls are troops collected together... Was that true for her and Hassan as well? Were they members of the same spiritual platoon? Were they entangled souls, meant to be a part of each other’s lives? Jamilah felt like there was still so much left unsaid between them, and here she was being hustled off to the Central Valley, not knowing when she would return.
Perhaps Kadija was thinking along the same lines, because she cleared her throat and spoke to her husband: “Honey, there’s something important I have to tell you..”
Layth reached for his wife and put an arm around her shoulders. “What is it, habibti?”
“I’m…” Kadija looked down with a frown and bit her lip, then gazed up at her husband with a smile. “I’m happy. I love you. You’re my lion. My lion of Allah.”
Jamilah had a feeling that Kadija had been about to say something different. But it wasn’t her place to interfere.
Layth drew Kadija into an embrace.
Jamilah studied the pattern in the elevator carpet, embarrassed to be intruding on this private moment. They were so in love, these two. She felt her eyes tear up, but couldn’t say why. She glanced up for just a second and met Kadija’s eyes, and was surprised to see the sober and almost frightened look there.
She felt as if events were unfolding too rapidly, as in a dream. She couldn’t ascertain, however, what path she was on. Was she racing down a predetermined route, like airport travelers on those moving walkways, ending either in her union with Hassan, enjoying a wonderful future she could not imagine; or in estrangement and death? Or was she in control (to whatever degree a human could be), making a series of choices that would take her where she wanted to go?
Either way, she was convinced that her life’s fate was bound to Hassan’s in some way.
Downstairs in the parking garage, Jamilah clambered into the back seat of Hassan’s Audi. It was a beautiful car, with clean lines and a pristine, white exterior. Kadija sat in back with her, and Layth took the driver’s seat. He started the car and headed up the ramp toward street level.
Jamilah noticed that Layth’s head was turning constantly, scanning every corner of the garage. He steered with his left hand only. In his right he held the wicked looking handgun that she had seen upstairs. He kept it low, resting on his leg.
“Do you think that cannon is necessary?” she asked. “What if someone sees it?”
“A precaution,” Layth replied. “Insha’Allah it won’t be needed. Hey, habibti,” he said, addressing his wife. “It’s like old times, huh? Me driving, you in the back. Remember that first time you hailed my cab? What did I say? ‘Did you know you can cook with sage?’” His tone was light, and Jamilah understood that he was trying to take their minds off the situation at hand.
Kadija smiled. “‘Tastes peppery.’”
Layth drove out of the garage and turned right on Mission. Jamilah rolled her window down a crack and breathed in the chilly night air. It smelled of rain and sea. At this time of night – almost two in the morning – there was little traffic on the road aside from a few cabs, though there were still plenty of cars parked alongside.
Hassan’s story had been so…so much. So much to process. Jamilah was too fatigued to sort it all out. More than anything she wished she could go back in time about half a day and erase her shameful behavior. She couldn’t believe she had hit him. He meant so much to her, and because of that she’d overreacted. You always hurt the people you love – wasn’t that what they said? She put her head back against the cool leather of the seat and released her breath in a sigh.
“You said I should text you for the next pick up, not call you,” Layth said, continuing his reminiscences with Kadija. “And I assumed it had something to do with honor killings.”
“I said you were wrong as a hog in a tree.” She chuckled. “You were such a blockhead.”
“I still am. But I’m your blockhead now.”
Kadija leaned forward and tousled her husband’s hair. “And I love your blockhead, blockhead.”
In the consulate’s Army street warehouse, the radio crackled. “Team Three, rush pickup.”
The Crow recognized the voice of Obadiah, the twitchy Maronite. Rush pickup was their code for “target spotted.” He listened as Dadurian’s keyed the radio and responded: “Team Three, elaborate.”
“We’ve got activity. White Audi exiting garage, westbound toward Fourth. Identify package PG and two others.”
Excellent. PG was the Palestinian girl.
The Crow took the radio from Dadurian. “Box the package. Team Three, secure the bottom. Team Two, get the top. Team Four, rendezvous ASAP. I want a quick, clean pickup of all three packages. In and out. Is that understood?”
The various teams radioed their acknowledgments. The Crow replaced the radio in the base unit and smoothed his hair back from his forehead. This was it! He had them. Well, not Hassan – not yet – but the Palestinian girl was the key. Get her, and the dominoes would fall. An Al-Husayni in his hands! There were not many of them left, and he would get to stamp one out himself, though he would make her suffer before the end, and would enjoy it.
Inspector Katrina Sanchez checked the dashboard clock. Two fifteen a.m. She’d only meant to check in on her husband Roberto and her daughter Cecilia, but she’d ended up having an argument with Roberto. She knew it was her fault. and she felt awful. In the past, things had been so good between them. Roberto’s touch had always felt so comforting and warm – such a contrast to the cold streets of the City.
The last few years, however, Katrina hadn’t been treating her husband well. Her sexual desire had vanished. She was easily annoyed, and too judgmental. She knew it, and she hated herself for it. There were times when she wanted to apologize, but the words wouldn’t come, and she couldn’t explain why.
And now it was the middle of the night. She made a dismissive motion with her hand. Está bien. She had no problem waking people up for questioning. They were often less guarded when groggy. She stuffed a wad of chewing tobacco into her mouth, put the car in gear and pulled onto the deserted expanse of Market Street. She’d be at the Palisade in five minutes. Time to find out what the mysterious Hassan Amir was really all about.
“We’ve got company,” Layth said over his shoulder.
Jamilah’s heart jumped. “What do you mean?” They’d barely pulled out of the parking garage onto Mission. They hadn’t even hit 4th Street yet.
“Could be nothing, but a white delivery van pulled out of a parking spot when we exited the garage.”
Kadija reached forward and grasped her husband’s shoulder from behind. “Do whatever you have to.”
“Don’t be hasty,” Jamilah protested. “Maybe it’s nothing.”
“We’ll know in a minute,” Layth said. “I’ll take a few turns.” As he neared the red light on 4th he stayed in the middle lane. Just before he reached the light he signaled right to indicate a lane change, but moved left to turn onto 4th.
Jamilah turned her head and glanced through the rear window at the van behind. It was still right on their tail.
“Don’t look,” Layth said in a stern voice. “We don’t want them to know we – “ He broke off as another van came careening down 4th Street, braked with a screech, and halted directly in front of their car, blocking their way. The van’s side door was thrown open, and Jamilah saw a man dressed in slacks and a dress shirt, wearing a black ski mask and pointing a rifle with some kind of long attachment on the end.
“Lord Almighty,” said Kadija under her breath. “Honey!”
“Hold on,” Layth called. He put the car in reverse, presumably to try to maneuver around the van. Before he could move more than a foot or two, however, the van behind them struck their rear fender, jolting them all. They were trapped.
Retire Aladdin To The Ends Of The Earth
By Jinan Shbat
I grew up in an upper-middle-class suburb in Ohio, where I never felt different than the kids in my neighborhood. Sure, my siblings and I had odd-sounding names, and we spoke a second language. But to our neighbors and classmates, we were white, like them. However, that perception changed when I was 11-years-old, when a Disney cartoon movie named “Aladdin,” was released based off of a character created by a French orientalist at the height of Orientalism. At first, my siblings and I were excited because we thought Disney had made a movie that represented us. However, shortly after the movie came out, the questions began.
Are you from Agrabah?
Do you have a magic carpet? Are you going to be married off to someone your parents choose? Do you have outfits like Jasmine?” My head was swarming with all these questions, and I admit, I was intimidated. A little scared, too. I didn’t know how to answer them, and so I just shook my head and walked away.
My parents thought they were doing us a favor by buying the movie and have us watch it anytime other kids came over to play. This just created a larger divide between us, and soon my siblings and I were the “other.” It made me hyper-aware of my brown skin, my visiting foreign grandparents, and my weird-sounding name that no one could ever pronounce correctly. As I grew up, the movie and its racist, Orientalist tropes followed and haunted me. Anytime anyone found out I was Arab, they would ask, “oh, like Aladdin?” I didn’t know how to answer that. Was Aladdin Arab? South Asian, Persian? These were all different ethnicities, yet the movie seemed to be an amalgamation of them all, set in a fiction land I could not identify.
Why is Disney’s Aladdin Harmful?
It may not seem like a big deal to be misidentified in this way, but it is. And these stereotypes that have been present in Hollywood for decades are a huge disservice to our communities- all our communities- because when you misidentify a person’s culture, you are saying that all people of color are interchangeable— which is dehumanizing.
With the new release of the live action version, “Aladdin” is reinforcing the trauma and obstacles we have had to fight for the last 30+ years. The addition of a diversity consulting firm made Disney look good; it showed good faith on their part to receive feedback on the script to try and improve it.
However, issues remain with the original story itself, and no amount of consulting will change that.
Although the Aladdin remake was marked by controversy over Disney “brown-facing” its white cast, and despite original Aladdin’s racist history, last weekend Disney’s live-action version soared to $207.1 million globally. Money experts tell us that the remake success comes from the “power of nostalgia”- that is, the film’s ability to connect with feel-good memories.
The original production is the second highest grossing film project in Disney history. Last weekend, millions flocked to the remake in record numbers, despite critics’ negative and mixed reviews.
The accompanying Aladdin Jr. play is also a major concern, sales of which will skyrocket because of the film. Disney only recently removed the word ‘barbaric’ in its description of Arabs in the opening song. Many more problems abound, but Disney promises through its licensing company, Music Theatre International, to keep the concepts explored in the original production intact.
A Whole New World Needs Less Anti-Muslim Bigotry
From my perspective, as an organizer that fights a huge Islamophobia network in my daily work, it would be a disservice to my work and our community to sit by and allow racist, Islamophobic, orientalist tropes to make their way into our theaters, homes, and schools. What exactly is not a big deal in this movie? The depiction of Arabs and South Asians as one demographic, the storyline of forced marriage, power struggles, a black man playing a genie literally bound by chains to a lamp?
Hollywood’s history of Islamophobia needs to be rectified. There is a plethora of writers, actors and creative minds with alternative positive portrayals of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians. Our consumer appetite must shift to embrace authentic stories and images about people like me.
Aladdin is beyond repair; in its original form, it is problematic. No number of meetings with executives will fix the problems that are still prevalent. It should be retired, indefinitely, and put on the shelf with all the other racist caricatures from Hollywood history.
It’s our duty to speak out- and if you don’t believe we should, then you can choose to stay silent. I cannot.
Jinan Shbat is an organizer in Washington DC.
Making Eid Exciting for Kids
Ramadan and Eid are the most important holidays of our religion, but are we as parents putting enough effort into them? For those of us who live in non-Muslim countries, Ramadan and Eid can look dull in comparison to Christmas, Halloween, Easter, etc. There is little to no recognition of Muslim holidays outside of our homes and masjids.
Unlike Muslim countries, where markets, streets, television and the general population all foster a sense of connection to the month of blessing, Ramadan and Eid pass by mostly unnoticed in the circle of our kid’s friends.
The reality is that our religious festivals are competing with the attention of other more glittery celebrations of the West. We want to make Islamic festivals a real part of our children’s lives. We want to create memories, want our kids to love our festivals and our deen, so how do we inspire our kids to love Ramadan and Eid?
While I don’t believe we need to compete with our Christian neighbors, I firmly believe we have a responsibility to make all of our religious obligations meaningful and as well as fun, exciting and educational for our kids.
As we get close to Eid, here’s how can you make it memorable for your children:
Welcome Eid in your Home by Decorating
Between the fabulous DIY Eid decorating projects out there on the internet and the wide range of home décor offered by Muslim owned businesses, you have a good number of options to decorate your home during Eid.
Gone are the days of tacky Eid décor. With the selection and quality Eid décor that are available, you are sure to find something that goes with your existing home décor. Whether your style is traditional or modern, glam or chic, you’ll find some Eid decoration in a variety of color and theme to match your taste.
You’ll be surprised how lights and a garland can add the Eid spirit to your home. Involve the kids in decorating your home for Eid to get them in the mood and inspire them to love Eid. It’s always a pleasure to see the sparkle in their eyes as you turn decorating the house a family activity.
Take your children to Eid Salah
Eid salah is a fundamental part of Eid festivities. Make sure you take your kids with you for the Eid prayer. If Eid falls on a weekday, get an excused absence for your child. Most schools have a religious celebration exemptions policy and you should be able to get the kids out for the Eid salah if not the entire day.
On route to the Eid prayer, make it a family tradition to say the Eid Takbeer –
‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar. La Ilaaha Illallahu Wallahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar wa Lillahil Hamd’
Surprise your kids with gifts
“Exchange gifts, as that will lead to increasing your love to one another.” Prophet Muhammad ﷺ [Al-Bukhari]
Only is it a Sunnah to give gifts, children are ecstatic when they receive presents. It’s a win-win situation. I like to give Islam inspired gifts during Eid. Books are great to present, especially when you pair them with the experience of reading them together or spending some quality time doing an activity together.
For smaller kids, check out these prayer rugs and these feeding sets. For older kids, puzzles are dua cards are my go-to gifts along with some toys and stationery that they may want. If you want to keep the tradition of giving money out on Eid morning, package your bills in these beautiful envelopes before giving them out.
Plan a party for their friends
While it’s traditional for families to visit one another, a little extra effort can mean that kids get to enjoy something geared towards them. Children love kid friendly parties, let them enjoy themselves by planning something different with them. With many Muslim families opting out of birthday parties, why not throw a party for your kids on the eve of Eid (a.k.a chand raat) or Eid Day? Plan a chance for them to make Eid crafts, and decorate Eid cookies.
Making Eid exciting for children isn’t just about lights and fun, it also about building a lasting Muslim identity. In a time when Islamophobia and discrimination are the norms, we can use our holidays as opportunities to engage and invite our communities and schools in active dialogue about Muslim holidays in a positive, relevant light. This, in turn, serves to teach our own children, not only spiritual acts but also how to be progressive and active members of our society.
The Fast and the ¡Fiesta!: How Latino Muslims Celebrate Ramadan
When the month of Ramadan is approaching, the Ortiz-Matos family begins to prepare the only way they know how, Puerto Rican style. Julio Ortiz and his wife, Shinoa Matos, reside in Brooklyn, New York. They are both Puerto Rican converts to Islam and their native tongue is Spanish. They have been Muslim for two decades each and married for close to 14 years. The couple has three children, ages 9, 7, and 5. Although Shinoa is also half Greek, she identifies herself as part of the ever-growing Latino Muslim population, a community that is bringing its very own sazon, or Latin flavor, to spice up Islamic holiday traditions.
Preparations for Ramadan for this Muslim familia, or family, consists of planning together with their children to get them excited about the fasting season. They discuss how they will plan out the month in order to reap its many rewards, and the husband and wife decide on a schedule so they can alternate between attending the taraweeh prayers and babysitting. With the help of their children, Julio and Shinoa make a list of foods and ingredients they will need for their suhur, or pre-dawn meals, and iftar, their dinner after breaking the fast. These feasts will feature a variety of Puerto Rican dishes such as pollo guisado (stewed chicken), sorullos (corn dumplings stuffed with cheese), pasteles (meat-filled dumplings made out of root vegetables, green bananas, and plantains), tortilla española (Spanish omelets), empandas (meat-filled turnovers), and finger foods such as guava, cheese, and Spanish olives, coupled with the iconic Ramadan dates.
Right before Ramadan, the Ortiz-Matos home is decorated with typical fiesta décor, shining lights, pom poms, and banners in Spanish. One of their most unique Ramadan and Eid traditions is dressing up in Puerto Rican cultural attire. Shinoa explains, “My husband can usually be found wearing a guyabera (Caribbean dress) shirt in different colors along with a matching kufi. My sons will also wear tropical shirts with their own kufis. This year I am planning on dressing all my children in typical jibaro (Puerto Rican country) clothing, complete with my daughter in a bomba skirt and my sons with machetes and sombreros de paja (straw hats)!” To prepare for Eid, they redecorate the house with Feliz Eid (Happy Eid) signs and fill decorative bowls with traditional Puerto Rican sweets made with coconut, passion fruit, and pineapple.
As converts, Julio and Shinoa know the isolation that new Muslims can feel during the holidays, so they also make a habit out of spending the month with fellow Latinos and converts. Not only does Shinoa want to make sure that no one is spending Ramadan and Eid alone, she also wants her children to feel a sense of belonging. She said, “This helps to reinforce the (concept of a) Latino Muslim community in the eyes of our children because even though all Muslims are brethren, it is important for them to be able to see representation in others they associate with.”
Even though they live in Brooklyn, Julio and Shinoa often attend the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center, or NHIEC, in New Jersey. This mosque across the Hudson River caters to the predominately Hispanic population of Union City and its surrounding areas. Due to its location, NHIEC is the home of one of the largest Latino Muslim communities in the nation and has been catering to their growing needs by providing simultaneous Spanish interpreting of Friday sermons, an annual Hispanic Muslim Day for the past two decades, and continuous educational programs specially geared towards Spanish-speakers and new Muslims of Hispanic heritage. During Ramadan, NHIEC offers iftar events catered by local Latino restaurants, like the Peruvian eatery, Fruit Punch, or the Arab/Hispanic fusion buffet called Fiesta. They also host potlucks, in which Latino Muslim converts and veterans alike breakfast by sharing their country’s typical dishes. The mosque is decorated with streamers, balloons, and flags from all 21 majority Spanish-speaking countries.
Halal on the Hudson
Union City may be known as “Havana on the Hudson” because of its large Cuban population, however, South Americans like Ecuadorians and Peruvians are also plentiful. Nylka Vargas is a mixture of both; residing near NHIEC, this Latina conversa (convert) is a social worker by day and an active member of NHIEC’s dawah committee by night. She and her Syrian husband plan out their Ramadan by renewing their intentions, assessing their spiritual needs, crossing out to do items, cleaning, and clearing their schedules for the month. While subtle decorating is also part of the prep, Nylka prefers to set aside a quiet space at home for prayer and reflection.
It is in the mosque where she works passionately alongside other Latino Muslims to make the month of Ramadan memorable for fellow Latinos. Due to most Latin American Muslims converting to Islam, their relatives are usually non-Muslims who do not celebrate Ramadan or Eid. Nevertheless, NHIEC provides an inclusive atmosphere, where converts are invited to bring their families to break fast and enjoy the festivities. They host yearly dawah and converts Ramadan programs, an annual grand Iftar for converts with Latin dishes, converts get-together iftars, and a program called “Share Your Iftar with a Convert” to actively encourage the community to break their fast with new Muslims. They also teach Ramadan prep classes, arts & crafts for children, and organize a converts Eid extravaganza.
Nylka says, “We take much pride in bedazzling and giving our Eid Party a custom touch with all kinds of Eid decorating pieces and an entertainment combo. It is always about what the community wants.” One of Nylka’s fellow dawah committee members is Flor Maza. Flor is a Salvadorian convert and mother of three married to an Egyptian Muslim. Ramadan is an exciting and busy time for Flor, who is a full-time pastelera (baker); she caters to the NHIEC community, literally, decorating and preparing all kinds of postres (desserts), both Spanish and Arabic. She has learned how to prepare typical Egyptian dishes and sweets and alternates between these and Latin-inspired foods for iftar.
“I have not lost my culture, but I am learning from other cultures,” she joyfully explained, “All cultures are beautiful.” Flor believes that Ramadan is a time to learn tolerance, patience, compassion, and gratefulness, and to collaborate in doing good. She demonstrates this by sharing her delicious meals and confections with the community during the many NHIEC events. When asked if anything distinguishes her as a Latina Muslim, she said, “Anyone can recognize a Latino Muslim because we, Latinas, are helpful, we preserve our culture and are proud of our language.”
NHIEC is one of a few Islamic centers in the U.S. where guests can experience the festivities of Ramadan and Eid in Spanish. When the time for Eid prayer comes, the Muslim community in Union City and surrounding areas, pray outside either in a park or in a local school’s soccer field. Non-Muslim neighbors hear the Takbirat al Eid, witness the Eid prayer, and listen to the sermon that follows on the loudspeakers, while admiring huge green banners with golden letters that read, “Happy Eid, Eid Mubarak (in Arabic script), and Feliz Eid.”
A Mexican, Haitan, and Puerto Rican Ramadan
Eva Martineau-Ocasio was born in Mexico to a Mexican mother and Haitian father and she was brought up speaking Spanish at home. She is married to Ismail Ocasio, a Puerto Rican who was raised Muslim in New York by convert parents. They have three girls, ages 6, 3, and 6 months and reside in Brooklyn. While they have always practiced their faith, the couple has become more diligent about making Ramadan extra special and memorable for their children.
The focal point of their Ramadan décor is a table spread with Islamic and Ramadan-themed books (some in Spanish, others in English), arts and crafts, tools, calendars, and projects they will use to celebrate Ramadan. As with the Ortiz-Matos family, great care is given to set the mood for the commencement of the Month of Mercy. As Eva explained, “We prepare ahead of time by reading books and telling stories to remind ourselves about Ramadan. We use lights, banners, and homemade decorations to make Ramadan special in our home. In recent years, my sister and I even opened a small online shop to sell some of our decor.” With her girls, the young mother, nurse and midwife student weaves prayer mats for their dolls and paints small glass linternas (lanterns) to display on their holiday table.
While other Muslim families have similar routines to welcome Ramadan, what sets the Martineau-Ocasios and other Latino Muslims apart is the way they have tailored their cultural traditions to adapt to Islamic practices. “Food and language play the largest roles in shaping the way we experience Ramadan outside of the important religious-based practices,” Eva said, “I strive to make Ramadan as special and exciting for my children as Christmas was for me growing up.” The family enjoys fast-breaking meals representative of their unique mix of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Haitian culture. Some of their staples include tacos, fajitas, frijoles refritos (refried beans), Haitian style beef BBQ ribs, Haitian black rice, Puerto Rican arroz con maíz (yellow rice with corn), and even American Mac and Cheese.
They also celebrate with the general community and enjoy breaking fast with Arab and South Asian cuisine, as well. As a family, they attend Ramadan gatherings at the Muslim Community Center (MCC) and the MAS Brooklyn mosque in New York, where they are recognized as being Latino Muslims because of their language, Spanish, which they use with their children.
Ramon F. Ocasio, Ismail’s father and Eva’s father-in-law, shares a deeper perspective about celebrating Ramadan as a Puerto Rican Muslim of well over four decades. Ocasio was born in the Bronx and raised in El Barrio, Spanish Harlem in Manhattan. He embraced Islam in 1973. For this father and grandfather, nothing identifies as uniquely Latino in his practice of Ramadan aside from the food. He says, “My family prepares iftars featuring Latin cuisine for some masjids, both suburban and in the inner city. Just food, no unique decor. Food is the common denominator. Aside from that, there is nothing I can point to that is uniquely Latino in our celebrations.” His personal favorites are pasteles, roasted leg of lamb (a halal substitute for pernil, a traditional pork dish), arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), and flan (a custard dessert with caramel sauce).
When his children were young, he admits that things were a little different, with Eid gatherings in the park that drew thousands of Muslims, trips to Toys’R’Us for presents, movies, games, and outings. “Seasons change, families grow, our method of celebrating will change with it,” Ocasio reminisces, “During a span of forty plus years, it can change quite a bit. As parents, we’ve tried our best to make Ramadan and Eids special for our children. For the most part, we have been successful.”
Ramadan for the Latino Muslims of Chicago
Another Latino Ramadan legacy is being constructed west of the Tri-State area, in the Windy City. Rebecca Abuqaoud is the founder and director of Muslimahs of Chicago and a community organizer at Muslim Community Center at Elston Avenue (MCC), and at the Islamic Community Center of Illinois (ICCI). She hails from Lima, Peru, and she and her husband, Hasan Abuqaoud, have three children. Rebecca has been involved in organizing Ramadan events for the Latino community and for Muslim women and children for many years.
One of these is the annual, “Welcoming the Arrival of Ramadan,” where female speakers are invited to present, and babysitting is provided to ensure mothers are able to attend. The dinner consists of a potluck, and attendees share their cultural dishes. Guests can choose from a variety of ethnic foods, including arroz con gandules, arroz chaufa (Peruvian rice), salads, pollo rostisado (rotisserie chicken), chicken biryani, and other Pakistani and Arab delicacies. This event began as an initiative for Spanish-speakers only, at the request of Latino Muslim women, however, it has grown to become a bilingual affair and draws anywhere from 60-80 attendees.
Rebecca is known in her community for dedicating her time to sharing her years of experience, Islamic knowledge, and wisdom with others. She said, “I really love being with my Latino sisters, I understand the help and support they need in their journey to Islam. I’ve been blessed to have knowledgeable Islamic teachers in my life and now it’s time to pass that knowledge to my new sisters in Islam; I thank Allah for such an opportunity.” Among other social events during Ramadan, Rebecca holds a Halaqa Book Club for ladies in Spanish at the ICCI, and for Eid, she assists with the Eid Potluck Fiesta at MCC.
In the North of Chicago, Ramadan and Eid is a family affair, and this includes the children of Latino converts. During Ramadan, mothers are encouraged to decorate their homes and the masjid to make the season exciting for their children. In the mosque, Rebecca and other volunteers prepare fun activities for them related to Eid, such as a puppet show, decorating paper plates, creating Eid greeting cards for their families, and pretend “baking” cookies and cupcakes with play-dough. The children also enjoy listening to other kids recite the Qur’an and chatting over pizza, snacks, cake, and juice.
The Eid Potluck Fiesta at MCC, sponsored also by Ojalá Foundation, is an effort that began to create a safe space for converts to celebrate Eid together. Everyone is invited to attend and can bring dishes to share. The walls are decorated for the occasion and candy-filled piñatas are set up for the children. Not only do the Latino Muslims enjoy these festivities, but also diverse members of the community who join them in the unifying celebration that is the culmination of the Month of Mercy and Forgiveness.
All the Latino Muslims who participated in this interview mentioned that the most significant aspect of Ramadan is the same across the board: to gain the maximum benefit from the intense self-reflection, fasting, constant prayer, spiritual cleansing, and dedication to the Qur’an. Cultural practices and celebrations are secondary to the religious aspect of Ramadan. However, the collective sentiment of those who converted to Islam is that they feel a sense of loss when they are celebrating Eid without their extended non-Muslim family. There is always, “something missing.”
Latino culture is hugely family-centered, and thus, holidays are often a time to reunite with relatives. Eva Martineau summed it up as this: “For converts, missing out on the family aspect of any celebration can leave us with a sense of sadness and longing.” Her suggestion, and that of other Latino Muslims is that, like NHIEC, ICCI, and MCC (in NY and Chicago), Islamic centers across the U.S. should host Ramadan and Eid events catering to not only Latino Muslims but converts in general. As individuals, fellow Muslims can also host those who may otherwise not have anyone to break the fast with, in their iftars and Eid celebrations. This will provide those newer Muslims with that sense of brotherhood and sisterhood they long for, and maybe in return, they can taste some of those yummy ethnic dishes.
Note: A modified version of this article appeared in Islamic Horizons Magazine May/June 2019 edition.
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