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Ouroboros, Part 10 – A Western Sky

Now here they were, she and Hassan, beneath the western sky after all – you couldn’t get any more west than this, at the sharp edge of the world with nothing beyond but immeasurable water and sky. Here at Salsabil was the protective wall, the garden, and the sun like the personification of love. But Hassan would not wake up.




The California coast

Ouroboros, by Wael Abdelgawad

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

Previous chapters of this story: Ouroboros Introduction | Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Part 7 | Parts 8 and 9

March 2012 (almost two years later)
Northern California’s Banana Coast

I think I might be in the grave. It’s as dark here as a prison cell without windows or lights. It’s almost suffocating at times, but it’s also comforting, because when I’m here, especially when I’m deep down in the pitch silence, I don’t have to think. I don’t have to be hurt by the memory of the people I’ve lost. I don’t have to feel guilty for not protecting them, and worse, for putting them in harm’s way. I don’t have to think about how much better off the world would be without me.

Am I drifting in circles? Does time pass? Or does something pass for time? Can pure thought, or even the primitive awareness that exists below thought – the slow passage of electrons from one hemisphere of the brain to another – be used to measure time? I’m sure I have been here for several nights at least, but it might just as easily be several years. I cannot tell.

Language has become an alien thing. Instead I see images. Perhaps I am sleeping, because these images are what, in life, I would have called dreams. Only in these dreams am I able speak. The rest of the time I am mute – in fact, my throat feels as if a snake has crawled into it and died.

My dreams take me around the world, from the city of Beirut as it burns and stumbles toward an untimely death, to the snowy Syrian countryside, to the sprawling capital of the ancient world – Istanbul. In the beginning – if there ever was one – I never knew that I was dreaming, and that was terrifying. More and more often, however, I do.

This time I dream that I am a small boy again, sitting cross-legged in front of my aquarium, gazing up in fascination at the blue streak wrasse as it zips through the hole in the coral, around the plants at the back, then beneath the filter, looping the tank as if training for a race. In contrast, the mandarin dragonet, with its round fins and stunning patterns of aqua and maroon, drifts slowly through the tank like a king.

It’s a fifty gallon tank, large and beautiful, and I have fifteen fish in all. Each is as unique and beautiful as a gem. Then I hear my mother’s voice calling me, saying, “Your gun… your gun is your only friend… your gun is your life.” I look away, and when I return my gaze to the tank, all the fish are dead, bloated and floating on their backs.

I used to flee from such dreams in terror. I used to run wildly down a circular staircase that spiraled deep into the ground. All around me was the silence of stone and a million tons of earth. The staircase would grow dark, but I went deeper and deeper. I did not stop until all thought ceased to exist, and even my anima was extinguished.

This time I retreat, but not in panic. A tiny light has entered the darkness of my grave, and it lessens my fear. I cannot identify the light or even see it, but I feel it. It gives me a miniscule measure of strength, so that I only step back into shadow, where the dream cannot hurt me, and I can find a measure of rest.


The Death of Abu Talib

When Abu Talib became ill and was near death, the nobles of Quraysh were worried. They feared that now that Hamza and ‘Umar had accepted Islam and Muhammad’s reputation was known among all the Quraysh clans, they would be robbed of their authority altogether. They decided that they had better go to Abu Talib before he died, and convince him to bring his nephew to to a compromise.

Several nobles of Quraysh – including ‘Utba and Shayba (sons of Rabi’a), Abu Jahl, Umayya bin Khalaf and Abu Sufyan – went to Abu Talib and said: “You are highly ranked among us; now that you are at the point of death we are deeply concerned. You know that trouble exists between us and your nephew, so call him and let us make an agreement that he will leave us alone and we will leave him alone. Let him have his religion and we will have ours.”

When the Apostle came, Abu Talib said, “Nephew, these notables have come to you that they may give you something and take something from you.” (In other words, they would give him wealth or power, and he would in return promise to stop preaching Islam).

“Yes,” the Apostle answered, “You may give me one word (i.e. you may speak one phrase) by which you can rule the Arabs and subject the Persians to you.”

“Yes,” Abu Jahl said, “and ten words!” (I.e. we will say whatever words are necessary for such an achievement).

The Apostle said: “You must say, ‘There is no God but Allah’, and you must repudiate what you worship beside Him.”

They clapped their hands (in annoyance or anger) and said, “Do you want to make all the gods into One God, Muhammad? That would be an extraordinary thing.” Then they said to one another, “This fellow is not going to give you anything you want.” So saying they departed.

Abu Talib said, “Nephew, I don’t think that you asked them anything extraordinary.” On hearing this the Apostle had hopes that his uncle would accept Islam, and he said at once, “You say it, uncle, and then I shall be able to intercede for you on Resurrection Day!” Seeing the Apostle’s eagerness he replied, “Were it not that I fear that Quraysh would think that I had only said it in fear of death, I would say it. I should only say it to give you pleasure.”

As his death was near, Al-’Abbas looked at him as he was moving his lips and put his ear close to him and said, “Nephew, by Allah, my brother has spoken the word you gave him to say.” The Apostle replied, “I did not hear it.”


Quran on a shelfJamilah closed the book and set it on the small, wheeled table. The paper dust jacket was tattered, but the morning sun streamed in through the tall window and illuminated the golden lettering on a black background: The Sealed Nectar: Biography of the Noble Prophet. (Paraphrased and abbreviated here, and combined with excerpts from The Life of Muhammad: A Translation of Ibn Ishaq’s Sirat Rasul Allah, by A. Guillaume. – Author).

She took a sip of water to soothe her dry throat. She’d been reading out loud, for Hassan’s sake.

This was her second time reading this book. She was always reading something in between her law studies. She’d developed a taste for Islamic classics – starting with the Quran itself and simple books like 40 Hadith, and moving on to include everything from traditional texts like Riyadh us-Saliheen and the works of Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyyah, to twentieth century authors such as Sayyid Qutb and Maudoodi.

Among current thinkers, she loved Imam Zaid Shakir of the Zaytuna Institute, right here in California. He was a classically educated scholar who nevertheless had his pulse on modern trends. He spoke up strongly for justice, both within the U.S. and internationally, yet somehow managed to bring a spiritual perspective to bear. That resonated perfectly with Jamilah’s own desire to work for justice with compassion, not anger.

Most of all, she’d fallen in love with the Prophet – not romantically of course, but in the sense of feeling deep gratitude to him for his tremendous sacrifices in the cause of his mission. She loved his humility, his persistence in the face of seemingly hopeless opposition, and his generosity.

She could almost picture his face when he said, “I did not hear it.” His expression might have held many emotions: sadness at the death of his beloved uncle; disappointment that Abu Talib had refused the guidance of Islam to the end; and hope that perhaps Al-’Abbas had heard correctly, and that Abu Talib truly did say the kalimah before death.

Now, thinking about this, she spoke to Hassan. She often talked out loud to him when no one was around.

“You know, I’m not sure what I used to think about the Prophet when I was young. I guess I imagined this fiery, righteous figure, preaching to the people, condemning their sins. But when you read the seerah you begin to see that yeah, there’s some of that, but he was also a deeply loving person. He cared about humanity to the core of his being. You know that hadith where he compares himself to a man waving his hands at moths, trying to keep them from flying into a fire, while we are the moths, determined to destroy ourselves? That’s a very vulnerable image. It’s like a parent who wants desperately to save his kids from doing something disastrous, but the foolish children won’t listen, and all the parent can do is watch, heartbroken. It’s love, you know? It’s not anger.

“That’s what I see in this story about Abu Talib’s death. This great love and vulnerability, where he’s practically pleading with his uncle to just say this word, this earth-shaking phrase, so that he can intercede for him and save him. It almost makes me want to cry. Is that silly? It reminds me of when I was a child and I used to flush my father’s cigarettes down the toilet because I knew they caused cancer and I wanted to save him, even if I got in trouble for it. I’m just saying that I see now that he didn’t act only out of a sense of duty, or some abstract Prophetic mission. It was a personal thing for him, you know? To save humanity. That’s a very loving motivation.

“I wonder, did Al-’Abbas really hear Abu Talib say the kalimah? Or did he only say that to spare the feelings of the Prophet, because he saw how much it meant to him? Or did he mishear? I wish that he did truly hear it. What do you think?”

Hassan did not reply, of course. Tomorrow it would be exactly two years since she had heard his voice. Two years since the night she was kidnapped and Hassan rescued her. Two years since she’d seen men killed, and shot a man herself. Two years since Hassan’s brother shot himself, so close to Jamilah that she could still feel the heat of his blood on her face. Two years since Hassan collapsed on the floor of the subway train, never to awaken or speak again. She remembered his last words: “It’s not too late.” She prayed, as she had many times, that his words were prescient, and that they applied to Hassan himself.

How many thousands of hours had she spent watching him lie here unmoving? How many days, weeks and months reading to him, talking to him, encouraging him, and waiting? Not that she was weary of it. Her hope was not nearly exhausted. But Shamsi said that the more time passed, the less likely it was that Hassan would come out of the coma. She said there was no way to know how much brain damage Hassan had suffered from the loss of blood when he was shot. His heart had actually stopped on the subway train, but the doctors at SF General managed to revive him. They’d given him a full four pints, which was a tremendous amount of blood. There was also no way to know how much oxygen deprivation he’d suffered when that miserable assassin tried to smother him.

Shamsi said that even if Hassan did regain consciousness – which was unlikely – his cognitive and motor functions might be severely impaired. He might not recognize anyone, and might even be unable to speak and move.

Jamilah didn’t believe any of it. Hassan was in there. She knew it. Three times, Jamilah thought. Hassan has died three times and come back. He’s a fighter. He’s the toughest man I’ve ever known. He’ll pull through.

His breathing never changed of course – he’d been hooked up to an artificial respirator ever since he stopped breathing on his own three months ago. Still, Jamilah’s eyes flicked regularly to the life signs monitor. There were times when Hassan’s pulse sped up ever so slightly. At these times, Jamilah sensed that he was rising to the surface from a deep, dark place, and that he was close, so close. If she could only reach down and seize him, and pull him up by sheer force, she would. But then his heartbeat would slow, and he was gone again.

She wanted to shake him, or whisper in his ear, “Hassan, we’re here. Don’t forget us. Don’t give up. Come back. We’re waiting. We love you. We’re here, Hassan, we have not abandoned you. Wake up.”

For two years she’d sat beside him, watching his chest rise and fall. Even as his body grew ever thinner and weaker, Jamilah’s feelings for him grew stronger.

Jamilah remembered the night – it seemed like a hundred years ago now – when they’d all sat in Hassan’s apartment, listening to the story of his life. Mo had asked him about love, and he’d talked at length about his soul connection with Lena, as he called it. How he stayed awake at nights thinking about her, how she dominated his inner horizon. That had been a night of such roller coaster emotions for Jamilah: anger at some of Hassan’s deceptions, sympathy for the hardship he’d endured, jealousy over his “monumental” love for Lena.

And then – she remembered the moment with crystal clarity – he’d looked her straight in the eyes and said that Lena was the past, and that maybe he could have another soul connection, and that his heart was ready for it. At the time she had blushed and turned away, wanting to pull her hijab down over her face. But inside she’d been thrilled, in spite of everything.

And now, here it was. The soul connection. Even with Hassan lying there unmoving, a perpetual dreamer lost in some other dimension, she could feel it. She could feel the love between them and the future they would share, Insha’Allah. It was as real as the sunlight beaming through the window.

A worm of doubt wriggled through the rich earth of her optimism. She remembered Sarkis Haddad telling Hassan that Lena was still alive, and her child as well… Could that be true? Could Hassan and Lena still be considered husband and wife, after all this time? Surely Hassan would not abandon Jamilah for a woman he had not seen in half a lifetime.

Jamilah terminated this line of thought. She’d followed it many times, and it went nowhere.

Shamsi said that Jamilah was wasting her life. “You can’t live your life in this clinic,” she’d say. “You’re young. Find a living man, get married, have kids. Move on!” But Jamilah believed what she believed.

Two nurses entered the room. One was Sandra Dempsey, the senior nurse. She’d been with them almost from the beginning. In fact, she’d been Alice’s choice, because she’d taken such good care of Alice when she was hospitalized after the stabbing. The clinic had offered her twice what she earned at SF General and she’d accepted happily, even though it meant moving to this relatively isolated area up north. This morning her dreadlocked hair swung free, and her rich mahogany skin glowed in the morning sunlight.

Jamilah liked Sandra because she always treated the patients with respect. She spoke to Hassan as if he were awake, addressing him by his first name and making conversation as she cleaned him or changed his bedsheets.

Another thing Jamilah loved about Sandra is that she never seemed to notice the scar on Jamilah’s cheek. She obviously knew it was there, but she had never asked about it and didn’t seem to care. That was perfect.

The other nurse was new.. Jim, or Tim, maybe. He’d been hired a few months ago to replace a female nurse named Kristy who was fired at Jamilah’s request. That nurse – a young white woman fresh out of nursing school – rubbed Jamilah the wrong way with her comments and questions about Hassan: “I wonder what that tattoo means,” and, “How long have you known him?” Jamilah reported her concerns to Mo, and to his credit he had Kristy escorted out of the building the same day.

A strange thing happened about a month later. The police came around, asking about Kristy’s employment record and any friends she might have. Apparently her parents had filed a missing person report. As far as Jamilah knew, the girl was never found. Just one of those weird things.

“Time for PT, Mr. Mirza,” the male nurse said heartily.

“Call him Hassan,” Sandra said, shooting Jamilah a quick smile. Hassan was registered under a fake name as Hassan Mirza, but Jamilah had instructed the nurses to always call him by his first name. The name Mirza would not mean anything to Hassan and would not help his recovery –  though Jamilah hadn’t explained this to the nurses. They did not know Hassan’s true identity.

“I’ll leave you to it.” Jamilah stood and made her way outside. The nurses would give Hassan an hour of physical therapy and massage. They gave him three sessions of PT per day to prevent his muscles and tendons from atrophying. That was an extraordinary level of care – but then, that was part of why they’d set up Salsabil in the first place, and it was what made its care so coveted.

Outside the clinic, Jamilah walked downhill through the naturally landscaped and terraced back garden, much of which she had planted herself. Her mother had always been an avid gardener, and Jamilah had grown up helping her mother in the garden every day after school. It was one of the few activities she and her mother had been able to do without fighting. She still remembered the peaceful feeling of kneeling in the soil beside her mother, broad-brimmed straw hats shielding them from the brutal Central Valley sun, working together to bring life and food out of the earth. She hardly noticed the sweat in the backs of her knees, or the dirt beneath her fingernails.

So here at the clinic she’d claimed a large plot behind the north wing, and gone to work. She planted tomatoes, artichokes, lettuce, and peas, and in the sunniest part of the garden she cultivated culinary herbs. Finally she bordered the area with lovely rhododendrons and sabrina adlers, until the garden became a quilt of bright colors. The herbs attracted bees and butterflies, and the flowers brought hummingbirds, so that the garden was busy with life.

Jamilah noticed that many of the residents – the ones who were ambulatory – liked to sit outside by the garden in the mornings and late afternoons. Not only that, but the vegetables and herbs found their way into the clinic’s cafeteria, where their resident chef – a gifted young Mexican named Samuel – incorporated them into his cooking.

It made Jamilah feel like she was genuinely contributing to the clinic – not just being a drain on resources. In fact, Muhammad had put her on salary as a gardener. He didn’t have to do that, especially since Jamilah only spent two hours a day in the garden. But she was grateful. She had free room and board, but the small salary enabled her to go into town occasionally to buy clothing, books, stamps, gifts for friends, falafel at Hamdi’s place, or – her favorite indulgence – chocolate ice cream.

This morning she wanted to be alone with her thoughts, so she passed by the garden and exited through a gate in the outer wall. The gate had a combination lock on the outside that was changed regularly, as well as a security camera. They’d installed the camera six months ago after a strange incident in the woods just east of the clinic. A hiker reported seeing one man choking another to death; however, when the police searched the area, they found nothing.

That incident, and the odd disappearance of nurse Kristy, worried Jamilah. Mo argued that any area, whether urban or rural, would have incidents of unsolved crimes, and that getting paranoid would only cause unnecessary stress. He had a point.

Jamilah winced as she stepped down a foot or so to the path outside. Two years ago, after the Crow – she preferred not to think of him as Charlie – had shot her in that awful warehouse, she’d spent hours in surgery as the doctors repaired the damage to her large intestine and removed the bullet from the muscles of her back. The doctors told her she’d been lucky – the bullet missed her vital organs and failed to exit her body, which would have caused significantly more trauma. They told her she would recover fully.

Yet she continued to experience twinges of pain in her belly. She’d been examined twice more by Shamsi, who concluded that there was nothing physically wrong with her. Shamsi suggested that the pain was a symptom of PTSD. Jamilah didn’t buy it. What did she have to be stressed about? She’d stood up to that psycho and survived. She was fine.

California coastline

“…a phenomenal view of the Pacific.”

Outside the wall, the path meandered through waving coastal grasses toward a cliff. A metal bench had been placed strategically about ten feet from the cliff edge, with a phenomenal view of the Pacific.

Actually, the entire clinic had astounding views. It was built in the shape of a shallow V that pointed away from the sea. The side that faced the road and the mountains – the point of the V – was painted in pastel colors and was completely non-descript, without even a sign indicating the building’s name or function. The ocean-facing side was all glass, with windows. Every room featured tall windows, sliding glass doors and patios that looked out over the sea.

On the roof was a large terrace that was used for special events such as holiday dinners and memorial services. And at the very tip of the north wing an atrium was being added that would house an indoor pool and jacuzzi, to be used for physical therapy and fitness. Jamilah was looking forward to the day when she could visit the pool late at night, lock the door, strip down to a swimsuit and glide through the water like a fish. She had always loved swimming, and the exercise would be good for her.

She sat on the bench on the headland and closed her eyes, enjoying the morning sunshine and the breeze that swept in off the Pacific. Most of the Northern California coast was foggy and cold, but this stretch was known as the Banana Coast because of the atypically warm ocean currents. The climate here was almost balmy. Hassan had always talked about the California coast as if it were paradise on earth. He would love it here. Correction, she thought: he loves it here.

She recalled a poem by Hassan’s father that Hassan had recited to her once. She wasn’t sure she had it 100% right, but fairly close, she thought:

Shrugging off doubts.
Wishing for a house
I’ve seen in dreams.
A green garden for my child.
A woman with kind eyes.
A western sky, and a bell of brass.
A wall that evil cannot pass,
a patch of sunlight on the grass,
a place to live and laugh.

That poem represented Kamal Haddad’s deepest desire, Jamilah imagined. A peaceful new country where the violence of his homeland could not harm his children, whose inheritance would consist of love, rather than hatred and the shadows of the past.

Instead, his dream had been hammered into pieces. His wife, who should have been his trusted partner, had undermined his dream from the start by secretly teaching his child to kill. Then the past came for them all like a demon.

Now here they were, she and Hassan, beneath the western sky after all – you couldn’t get any more west than this, at the sharp edge of the world with nothing beyond but immeasurable water and sky. Here at Salsabil was the protective wall, the garden, and the sun like the personification of love. But Hassan would not wake up.

As for the Crow, his attempted suicide – according to an article Jamilah had read in the Chronicle last year – had left him brain damaged. He was ambulatory, but mute. Whether he would regain his wits was unknown. He had to be fed, changed, bathed, and led from one place to another. It served him right. At one time he’d been sought by multiple law enforcement agencies, but now that he was a walking zucchini – and yes, she knew it was cruel to think of him that way, but she didn’t care – now that he was a mental salad, no one wanted him. He was being held at the Butner Federal Medical Center on an immigration hold that allowed him to be detained indefinitely. Jamilah could not care less what happened to him.

How could Kamal Haddad’s dream have gone so awry? Didn’t sincerity count for anything? Didn’t the human heart contain the secrets of power, inasmuch as was given to man by Allah?

Yes, she thought. Yes it does, and I will not surrender to entropy and decay. She would see to it that Kamal Haddad’s dream came true one day – at least for Hassan. Sitting here now, above the vast and living sea, with the steady wind bringing the scents of driftwood and salt, she felt a sense of peace fill her chest. It would work out, Insha’Allah. Hassan would come back to her, and the future would be bright.

“Jams, we need to talk.”

Jamilah let out a small shriek and almost leaped off the bench. Mo sat on the bench beside her. She punched him in the shoulder, hard. “Don’t sneak up on me like that!”

“Ow!” Mo rubbed his shoulder. “You’re kiling me, Smalls.”

“Hey! You want another? Call me that again.”

“Sorry!” Mo looked as professional as always in a charcoal gray suit, red tie and professional haircut. And he was professional. Jamilah had to hand it to him. He’d been the driving force behind the creation and success of the Salsabil Clinic.

From the beginning, they had agreed that all decisions regarding Hassan’s care would decided by the triumvirate of Shamsi, Mo and Jamilah herself. Shamsi hadn’t liked that – “highly irregular” she called it – but she’d gone along in the end. After all, much about the clinic was irregular. Mo had paid someone to set it up as a subsidiary of a holding company, which in turn was owned by a trust…or something  like that. The bottom line was that anyone searching through employment or hospitalization records to try to locate Mo, Jamilah or Hassan, would run into a dead end.

It had been Mo’s vision again that opened the clinic to other patients. He pointed out that Hassan’s money was not endless, and that if the clinic didn’t turn a profit it would bankrupt them. So they sent out feelers, using some of Shamsi’s contacts. Their selling point was the highest level of care possible, and total anonymity.

Salsabil had eighteen patients now, three doctors including Shamsi, and a dedicated nurse for every patient. Seven of the patients were long-term coma or brain-injury cases and occupied the south wing. The rest were either Alzheimer’s or hospice patients. All came from extremely wealthy families who valued their privacy. The result was that Salsabil turned a tidy profit.

None of it would have happened without Mo’s shrewdness and management abilities. I shouldn’t have been surprised, Jamilah thought. He was the dispatch wizard, after all. Running Salsabil is probably a piece of cake compared to that.

“Earth to Triple Nine?”

Jamilah rolled her eyes and looked at Mo. After all this time he still insisted on calling her by her messenger number. Or this “Smalls” moniker, which was even worse. Jamilah had the vague idea that it was a movie reference.

Overall, though, Mo seemed much more mature in his new role, though he still kept a few toys on his desk. The only thing that marred his aura of professionalism was his mashed nose. It had not healed properly after being broken by the assassin in black. In profile, Mo looked like a retired boxer.

We all have our scars, Jamilah thought. Mo, at least, seems to have come out better for it.

Now, however, he seemed worried.

“How’s Alice?” Jamilah asked. “Everything okay with the baby?”

Mo rolled his eyes. “Do you know the three stages of pregnancy?”

“You mean trimesters?”

“No. The first stage is ‘Yay, Alhamdulillah!’, the second stage is, ‘barf,’ and the third stage is, ‘make me some onion rings right now or I’ll cut you.’ Seriously, the woman eats chocolate and cheese sandwiches at 3 am. Yesterday she made horseradish ice cream. Her breath is like a collision between a pickle truck and a fish factory.”

“That’s your wife you’re talking about!”

He shrugged. “And I love her. But this pregnancy stuff is a trip.”

“Is she still running the shop?” Alice owned a gift shop in town, selling homemade soap,  local art, handmade jewelry, stuff like that. The shop had some phenomenal driftwood sculptures that Jamilah loved, but there was no space in her room for such things.

“Yup. She’s only at seven months. Dude, you should come for dinner tonight.”

In the early days of the clinic, Jamilah used to see Alice often. The tall redhead would drop by after closing the shop and they’d hang out in Hassan’s room and talk, or play cards with a few of the hospice patients.

As Alice’s pregnancy advanced, however, she didn’t drop by the clinic anymore, and Mo went straight home after work. Jamilah had no one to talk to. Oh, Mo and Alice sometimes invited Jamilah for dinner, but she didn’t like to be away from Hassan.

While most of the staff lived in homes nearby or rented apartments in town, Jamilah had converted one of the clinic’s storage rooms into quarters for herself. The room was small, with little more than a bed, a desk, and a bathroom. She hung her bicycle from a hook in the ceiling. Jamilah didn’t mind the small space, but sometimes at night the loneliness felt like a heavy blanket weighing her down.

Jamilah’s mother and brother came to visit every few months, but she and her mother inevitably reverted to arguing about how Jamilah was wasting her life, while her brother spent his time on the beach, pretending to be a surfer.

“No,” she said. “Thanks, but not tonight. How’s your dad?” Jamilah knew that Mo’s father had been moved to a low security mental facility. Now that he was properly medicated and cared for, his mental problems had ebbed, though not disappeared.

“Dad’s fine. I’m going to visit him next week. Would you listen, please? I have two things to tell you. Sort of a good news, bad news thing.”

Jamilah frowned. “Give me the good news.”

“Okay.” Mo nodded slowly. “Kadija’s coming tomorrow.”

Jamilah sat upright. “Kadija? She’s not in Indonesia anymore?” After Layth’s death, Kadija needed time away. She went to visit Hassan’s Bait As-Salam orphanage in Indonesia and fell in love with the kids. She took a job teaching English, her salary paid by the trust that Hassan had endowed. She had not stayed in touch, nor replied to Jamilah’s occasional emails. The little that Jamilah knew she got from Mo.

Kadija had never said so outright, but Jamilah had the impression that she blamed Hassan for her husband’s death. Now, although Jamilah was tremendously excited at the thought of seeing her again, she felt anxious. The last thing she needed was Kadija’s judgment. Judgments of herself she could handle. She didn’t react to things the way she used to. She felt calmer inside, as if the fire that previously burned in her soul had diminished to a single burning coal. A coal was okay with her. A person needed a little anger in this world.

Judgments of Hassan, though – that was off limits.

“I don’t want her seeing Hassan.”

“Come on, Jams.” Mo’s voice was gentle. “This is Kadija. She’s our sister. Give her a chance.”

Out in the ocean a pair of massive humpback whales surfaced. One spouted, blowing a stream of water high in the air. Jamilah pointed.

“SubhanAllah!” Mo exclaimed. He grinned. “You see? That’s a sign.”

Jamilah snorted. “Of what? That I need to lose weight? But yeah, okay. Point taken. Still, I want to see her before she sees Hassan. What’s the bad news?” As she spoke, her gaze followed the whales. It wasn’t the first time she’d seen humpbacks out here, and she’d learned to recognize the magnificent creatures, with their knobby heads and long pectoral fins. Suddenly they disappeared, diving beneath the water.

Mo’s face became solemn. “You know what tomorrow is, right?”

“Two years.” She said it quietly, almost to herself.

Humpback whales breaching

“The whales breached.”

The whales breached. They came up together, breaking the surface of the water and soaring into the air, each creature bigger than a schoolbus but more elegant than a ballet dancer. Water streamed from their gigantic bodies in sheets as they spun in synchrony then crashed onto their backs, disappearing again beneath the surface. Jamilah found herself on her feet with tears in her eyes. It was the most spectacular thing she had ever seen in her life.

“My God!” Mo exclaimed. “That was… whoa!”

Jamilah sat back down, still stunned, wiping her tears and reminding herself to breathe. “The bad news,” she said finally.

Mo nodded. “Yeah… Thing is… Shamsi wants a meeting. She wants to talk about turning off Hassan’s respirator. She says it’s time to let him die in peace.”

Jamilah felt the old anger stir, but she controlled it. She could not afford to alienate Mo. She needed him on her side. She kept her eyes on the ocean, thinking of the whales, imagining the cool water filling her, making her as resolute and invulnerable as the sea itself. “She can’t take Hassan off life support,” she said firmly. “She doesn’t have the authority.”

“She wants to discuss it.”

“And you? Where do you stand?”

“I’m not a doctor. That’s why we should hear Shamsi’s opinion. The meeting is tomorrow at one in the conference room.” He rose stiffly – too much time in an office chair, Jamilah thought – and walked up the path to the clinic.

Jamilah felt betrayed. It hadn’t been her choice to bring Shamsi into this affair – the two of them had never been that close, in spite of being roommates, and Jamilah never felt that Shamsi respected her decisions. But it had been a logical move.

Lately, however, Shamsi – and even Mo to some degree – seemed to have lost sight of the intention behind this facility, which was to care for Hassan and protect him. All this other stuff – caring for dying tech wizards and robber barons – was beside the point. And now – pull the plug? The idea was insane.

Jamilah’s earlier feelings of inner certitude and peacefulness were gone, dashed like the waves on the rocks below. She went back to her room, triple-locked the door – she’d had a key lock, a latch and a deadbolt installed, as well as a peephole, not because of any specific threat but because she felt safer that way – and snatched a glass from her single small table.

She was about to fling the glass against the wall when she stopped mid-motion and set it down. This isn’t me anymore, she thought. When her breathing stilled, she performed wudu’ and prayed. In the deepest part of her prayer, with her forehead pressed to the ground, she recited a dua’ that she’d learned from Hassan a long time ago:

‘O Allah, I am Your servant, daughter of Your servant, daughter of Your maidservant; my forelock is in Your hand, Your command over me is forever executed and Your decree over me is just…”

After her prayer she sat on her musalla, thinking. Since the events of two years ago, she had done some research into her family’s history. The Al-Husayni clan were descendants of Hussain, grandson of the Prophet, sal-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. They had migrated to Al-Quds – Jerusalem – in the twelfth century, after Salahuddin liberated it from the crusaders. Later, they sided with the Ottoman khilafah against the nationalist movements that opposed it, and in the 1920’s and 30’s they led opposition to the British Mandate government and the Zionists. Posts such as mayor of Al-Quds, grand mufti of Al-Quds, director of Muslim Waqf, and president of Al-Quds University were all held by Al-Husaynis.

During the 1948 war, the Al-Husaynis formed their own militia and fought ferociously against the Israelis. They died in combat by the scores. After the war, the fortunate members of the clan migrated to the Gulf states, while the less fortunate ended up in refugee camps in Jordan and Lebanon. Daoud Al-Husayni co-founded the PLO, while others founded charitable organizations or schools. Today, Al-Husaynis held important posts in the diaspora and in the Palestinian territories.

I come from a nation of mujahideen, Jamilah thought. I come from a tribe of scholars and leaders, and from the Prophet himself. I come from a people who do not surrender to despair.

She thought again of the whales. Mo had asked her if she knew what tomorrow was, and she said two years, and right at that moment, as if her words had called them into existence, the two whales came soaring into the air like magic, defying gravity, celebrating life. What was that if not a sign?

She would find a way to help Hassan, Insha’Allah. She would find the key to his soul. She would speak the word he needed to hear, whatever it might be. She would find a way.

Next: Ouroboros, Part 11 – The Year of Sorrow

Wael Abdelgawad's latest novel is Pieces of a Dream. It is available for purchase on Wael is an Egyptian-American living in California. He is the founder of several Islamic websites, including and, and various financial websites. Heteaches martial arts, and loves Islamic books, science fiction, and ice cream. Learn more about him at For a guide to all of Wael's online stories in chronological order, check out this handy Story Index.



  1. Avatar


    November 25, 2015 at 3:08 AM

    very emotional…brother is there more to come u did not metion next story??

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    November 25, 2015 at 3:40 AM

    SubhanAllah, 2 years in the future! Thats a great leap in the story.
    I would like to know what happened in both years.
    Apart from spellbound narration of the scenery and other things, I am deeply sorrowed that “you” have killed Layth, (or atleast let him die). His shahadah is a thing which was eminent but I wanted him alive. Layth was a very strong and interesting character….
    May Allah give you more Barakah.

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      Wael Abdelgawad

      November 25, 2015 at 11:46 PM

      I understand your feelings about Layth. At some point Insha’Allah I plan to go back and write another story about him, probably during the two months between Jamilah’s visit to his home and the start of Kill the Courier.

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    November 25, 2015 at 5:18 AM

    Subhanallah brother that was very emotional, but the way your wrote, I have no words other than Subhanallah. Just Subhanallah, you truly are a lot experienced writer.

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    November 25, 2015 at 5:52 AM

    Mo seems to be little selfish but its seems realistic .everything cant go on smooth . “a year of sorrow “guess it will be from khadijahs point of view

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    November 25, 2015 at 6:35 AM

    Wowzers! What a change of pace … but well deserved, you’ve certainly put our heroes and heroines through enough lol. MashaAllah I am still as gripped as I was when I read part 1, now another whole week until ‘A Year of Sorrow’ … in which I desperately hope I will not end up weeping about Khajida and Layth. They were supposed to have a happily ever after! In light of that news, I implore you to keep Hassan alive :)
    JazakAllah khair. You truly have a gift mashaAllah.

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      November 25, 2015 at 12:12 PM

      I agree with Hena.

      Change of pace was certainly a nice breath of fresh air like that of the seaside Jamilah’s been taking in :)

      Although obviously still lots of loose ends. I have accepted Layths death or martyrdom but its definitely hard to cope with the characters human perspective such as Mo’s ability to want to move on or Khadija’s feelings of indignation towards Jamilah.

      The chapter of a Year of Sorrow is ironic. It seems to me that Khadija’s mourning after her husbands tragic death is juxtaposed to that of the Prophet alayhi salam when he mourned the deaths of his uncle & wife (whose name was also Khadijah).

      Khayr inshallah. Another week of patience …I just wish and make dua you’re generous enough to give us another combined part! Ya rab

      • Avatar

        Wael Abdelgawad

        November 26, 2015 at 12:05 AM

        Safa, I’m glad you enjoyed the change of pace. That’s a good insight you had about the Year of Sorrow.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      November 26, 2015 at 12:04 AM

      Thanks for your comments, Hena. To tell you the truth, I’m not a naturally gifted writer. I just put in the time. I do a lot of research, constantly weigh and discard plot lines, write detailed character sketches, put together timelines, etc. I recently listened to a novel by Michael Chabon titled The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. Here’s a quote:

      “He has the memory of a convict, the balls of a fireman, and the eyesight of a housebreaker. When there is crime to fight, Landsman tears around Sitka like a man with his pant leg caught on a rocket. It’s like there’s a film score playing behind him, heavy on the castanets. The problem comes in the hours when he isn’t working, when his thoughts start blowing out the open window of his brain like pages from the blotter. Sometimes it takes a heavy paperweight to pin them down.”

      Now that is writing! Chabon’s writing is like a death bell and a comedy routine blended into one, full of pathos and deep introspection about religion, happiness and the human condition, all delivered in stunningly original language. Here’s another quote:

      “Landsman recognizes the expression on Dick’s face…The face of a man who feels he was born into the wrong world. A mistake has been made; he is not where he belongs. Every so often he feels his heart catch, like a kite on a telephone wire, on something that seems to promise him a home in the world or a means of getting there. An American car manufactured in his far-off boyhood, say, or a motorcycle that once belonged to the future king of England, or the face of a woman worthier than himself of being loved.”

      Reading that novel was inspiring, but it was also discouraging because I realized that I will never write that well.

      It’s the same in my martial arts. My Jujitsu instructor, a 30-ish fellow named James, is naturally gifted. He can see a new technique performed once or twice, and he’s got it. His every movement is liquid with grace and balance. Me, on the other hand, I have to work at it. I’m quite good – I have three black belts and I’m a walking encyclopedia of martial knowledge – but that’s only because I work so hard. Rather than a lion that can crush a bone with one bite, I’m like a dog, working at it constantly with my jaws until I break it to dust.

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        November 26, 2015 at 7:33 PM

        “To tell you the truth, I’m not a naturally gifted writer. I just put in the time.” Well, the latter isn’t easy either as I’ve been finding out.

        Thank you for quoting the text you did. It really is such original writing! There were some very inspirational words in Hassan’s Tale too, ma sha Allah :) I pray that Allah ta’ala gives you barakah in everything. Also, your writing makes me want to visit California! Some day in sha Allah!

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        January 4, 2016 at 4:33 PM

        Assalamualaikum. ..I just want to say you are an amazing writer. Don’t ever doubt that. The way you formed different characters with their own stories and connected them all is amazing. Also the character Hassan…What a character! His story is really one of a kind, the way you narrated it kept me hooked. It was almost as if i was there seeing it all unfold before my eyes. You are an amazing writer and May Allah increase you in your talent.

        • Avatar

          Wael Abdelgawad

          January 4, 2016 at 4:48 PM

          Wa alaykum as-salam, thank you Antonia. These stories have been a three-year project. I’m glad they hooked you :-)

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    dr farah

    November 25, 2015 at 8:30 AM

    beautiful mashaallah

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    November 26, 2015 at 12:36 AM

    brother you mentioned sealed nectar i have that but its not descriptive like that.Did u combine it urself from different books or do u know a book that has detailed seerah like sheikh yasir qadhi’s lectures .

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      November 26, 2015 at 1:09 AM

      I combined some bits from Seerat ibn Ishaq. That is the oldest and most detailed seerah – Ibn Ishaq was a tabi’i who lived in Madinah – but it’s not completely authentic. You can find it in English under the title, “The Life of Muhammad”, translated by Alfred Guillaumme, which is actually a translation of Ibn Hisham’s abridgment of Ibn Ishaq’s work:

      A more easily readable, and still very detailed seerah, is Martin Ling’s excellent translation, titled, “Muhammad: His Life Based on the Earliest Sources.” It’s available at many outlets, such as:

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    November 26, 2015 at 2:41 AM

    jazaakAllah khair

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    November 26, 2015 at 10:37 AM

    “the death of Abu Talib” “As his death was near, Al-‘Abbas looked at him as he was moving his lips and put his ear close to him and said, “Nephew, by Allah, my brother has spoken the word you gave ……………………..”
    Please provide some reference from where u got it.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      November 26, 2015 at 12:57 PM

      From Seerat ibn Ishaq. However, we know that Al-Abbas was wrong. Either he misheard, or he said it only to please the Prophet (sws). There is a saheeh hadith mentioning that Abu Talib is in Hell, but receiving the lightest punishment of anyone there.

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        November 28, 2015 at 11:56 AM

        thanks for the answer–can you think of changing this part as people may not understand it or get wrong ideas.

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    November 26, 2015 at 11:54 PM

    the state of coma of hassan was beautifully described.It looks like he is not willing to come out of it .nd that mention of light in the dark deep place that made me cry.Nd how jamilah also felt that hassan is in a dark place .Now this is wat the sole connection is.It has changed jamilah to such an extent that even hassan when he wakes up will be surprised to see her.According to me the description of coma was the best part of story…very very intense

    • Avatar


      November 27, 2015 at 12:59 PM

      Yes, the details of the state was beautiful.
      Brother Wael, have you read Dan Brown’s novel “The Lost Symbol”? He also sketched a very astounding details of Hero’s (Dr Robert Langdon’s) state of something-like-death.

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    November 27, 2015 at 1:00 PM

    assalam alaykum Brother,
    this was a shock. It’s good writing, but it’s like you had us running a marathon and then suddenly we are walking at a snail’s pace. Just hard to adjust, and so many unanswered questions that I think could be better answered at a high pace, rather than in a looking-back-on-it way.
    But you know better! you know what you have coming down the line….

    i wanted to know what happened to Mr. Black’s body……
    also, i felt a little like: show us don,t tell us when it came to Jamila’s new way of being – rather than her saying: This isn’t me anymore, she thought.
    It would have been nice to just see her shift her actions. We’d get it.
    Missing the high pace – you do it so so well, and i feel it’s far harder than any other type of writing – and longing for more !
    thank you for your generousity with us.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      November 27, 2015 at 1:43 PM

      Good point about showing, not telling. I have to disagree with you that writing the fast-paced stuff is harder. Actually the action scenes are easy for me. It’s these slow, introspective scenes that are the challenge.

      Thank you for your kind comments.

      • Avatar


        November 27, 2015 at 6:59 PM

        mashAllah, if they are easier for you, then alhamdulilah. we have a long-term treasure in you as an author, in sha Allah, for many more good reads to come. May you be blessed infinitely. I wonder if you’d be willing to do coaching, workshops or master classes for would-be writers. That might be a neat way to help others and also raise new writers.

  12. Avatar

    Bint A

    November 28, 2015 at 5:23 PM

    Depressing …
    the Year of Sorrow does not seem to be boding well for me…
    For some reason this chapter almost seemed out of place with its realism….the reference to current thinkers etc. made it seem like our world yet the previous incidents with characters like the Crow and Mr. Black kept it at a more of a distant fantasy…. cant imagine these two things occupying the same dimension. Maybe consider removing direct references?

    Also the coma writing was unique but in comparison to the realism you’re wishing to portray… there’s a bit of an imbalance.

    I dont know how the story could have turned out any other way, but perhaps you can reduce the depressing realism a little bit by adding or taking away or easing into this chapter from the fantastical nature of the last one…

    Also needs a bit more of a logical flow from the incident of the earthquake to the present.

    The passing reference to Layth’s dead also felt a bit offhand… and i agree with a previous commenter about the inner character changes of Mo and so forth which is creating distance to the character…as if we’re looking at them from the outside and their imner realities are not important any longer. Kind of depressing since we came such a long way with them…

  13. Avatar


    November 29, 2015 at 5:49 AM

    just a correction.hassan had recited that peom to himself not to jamilah ..

  14. Avatar

    Bint M

    November 29, 2015 at 11:47 PM


    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      November 29, 2015 at 11:49 PM

      Oh my goodness, what is it? Lol.

      • Avatar

        Bint M

        December 5, 2015 at 12:04 PM

        PART 11 IS EVEN MORE SAD.??????

  15. Avatar


    December 6, 2015 at 3:12 AM

    Lol dont worry end will be better in sha Allah

  16. Avatar


    December 18, 2015 at 10:10 PM

    For me, the growth of Jamila’s understanding of herself, starting with that piece of widom Khadija imparted on her before they left, resulting in Jamila seeing Hassan in different perspective was truly amazing. Her growth continued during the whole ordeal of the ambush, kidnapping and nearly losing her own life and Hassan’s. She become stronger, resilient and resolute. And it’s that strength that is now shaping her outlook on life, religion and relationships. She became an extraordinary woman in these last parts.
    I can understand Khadija’so pain and resentment. I love both her and Layth. That a heartbreaking loss. Khadija has always been a very strong woman.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      December 20, 2015 at 4:41 AM

      Halima, thank you for this wonderful comment. I think Jamilah’s transformation really began with her shame at striking Hassan, and Layth’s comment to her about not being a person of hate. But yes, Kadijah played a key role as well. I know that she was an unpopular character at one time, and I hoped that readers would see how far she has come.

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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.

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Making Eid Exciting for Kids

Lail Hossain



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’

Teach them the spirit of giving by handing out candy or small gifts such as Eid pencils, Eid wrist bands, small favors to the kids they meet during Eid Salah.

Surprise your kids with gifts

“Exchange gifts, as that will lead to increasing your love to one another.”  Prophet Muhammad [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.

Eid Mubarak

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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.

Feliz Eid

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.

Feliz Ramadan!

Note: A modified version of this article appeared in Islamic Horizons Magazine May/June 2019 edition.

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