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Enervation of Black Muslim Women

Margari Hill

Published

[dropcap size=small]W[/dropcap]hile all Muslim women face intense backlash when challenging authority, Black Muslim women’s intersecting identities make them even more vulnerable to marginalization when they speak up.  Black Muslim women’s Islamic values are called into question as they are depicted as being more loyal to feminism than to Islam, more loyal to Blackness than to the universal ummah, and more loyal to feminism than to Blackness.  Shutting out of Black women from public discourse or dismissing their grievances and realities  goes against the spirit where women in the Qur’an and during the Prophetic time did speak their mind. Even the Creator heard the one who complained:

Certainly has Allah heard the speech of the one who argues with you, [O Muhammad], concerning her husband and directs her complaint to Allah . And Allah hears your dialogue; indeed, Allah is Hearing and Seeing. (Qur’an 58:1)

Whether through microagressions or macroagressions that dismiss our sister-scholars-activists, marginalization of Black Muslim women depletes our spiritual resources. Often, the dismissals of legitimate complaints are based on explicit and implicit bias or internalized racism, combined with sexism.

While social media allows for a widening discourse on gender, race, and Islam, it can become a toxic place. I have tried to commit myself to level of civil discussion as I critically engage with issues that reflect my anti-racist anti-sexist commitments. One of the most unnerving discourses on social media, however, involves gendered racism–especially the gendered racism that reifies stereotypes about Black women. Gendered racism is an insidious form of racism that targets only one gender of a particular racial group (i.e. all if not most Black women have attitudes, white women are easy, Black men are thugs, Asian women are submissive, Brown men are oppressors, or Asian men are asexual). The dominant society can generate these stereotypes or they may arise from internalized racism (i.e. the colorism in the Black community, orientalist tropes in discussions about gender and Islam). Even in influential scholars have generalized about Black women. In Black Skin, White Masks Frantz Fanon writes, “‘It is because the Negress feels inferior that she aspires to win admittance into the white world’.”

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Black Muslim women have been accused of being more committed to Western paradigms than to the Qur’an and sunnah when addressing the real world consequences of spiritual abuse, domestic violence, and discrimination in our faith community. I’ve seen gendered racism perpetuated  with Black American Muslim men and women bashing each other on social media. What makes it even more troubling is that a number of non-Black Muslims have chimed in on the discussion to either challenge or reify stereotypes. Many of them lack the context to understand the history of how Black men and women have been pitted against each other. As long as we are battling each other, we are not uplifting or liberating each other.

While the majority of married Black men are married to Black women, there are still negative tropes that affect how we relate to one another, how we work together, and in turn affect how effective we are as a community. In many ways the comments on my earlier blog posts provided a forum to show how these issues are a real problem within both the Muslim American and Black American communities.   One typo laden comment on my blog proclaims:

black women are what you might call a lost woman and a weak woman
her problem is she has been trained to think like racist white america but the difference is white people atach(sic) their vAlue(sic) to
themselves while black women attach
value tomaterials(sic) titles and money
she cant(sic) seperate(sic) her personal life from these things.black women
in their current state of mind will
never on a large scale ever be a
good mate for anyone especially a
american black man the white male
has ingrained to(sic) much poison into her she is therefore a walking curse the bases(sic) of her problems is she hates herself and she has been taught to hate black men she is in
a useless struggle to be a woman
to a white man notice in all her
conversations is the pursuit of
men of other races this is what they want to do they just using
problems with black men as an excuse.

Another commenter writes:

Non-Muslim professional African American men are not opting out on Black women… Just AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN. These brothers will marry Caribbean, Afro latina, or anything but African American sisters. The problem is the attitude they feel they get from Black women in this country. I frankly understand the point. As a Black professional I find dealing with many professional African American women to be a pain because of the 10 pound chip on their shoulders. I was talking to a group of lawyers, Black and white, they all agreed on one thing: There was nothing worse than having to deal with a Black female judge in the courtroom. The feeling was UNIVERSAL. The annoying neck rolling sass, which is more refined with the addition of university degrees basically turns EVERYONE OFF. So frankly.. I have little sympathy for these women.

Sadly, a number of Black Muslim men express negative attitudes towards Black Muslim women for being “too independent,” bossy, and in power struggles. Black Muslim women have not yet been able to overcome negative racial stereotypes.

 

Some blame Black women for robbing Black men of their manhood, without taking into consideration the broader social and historical forces that have undermined Black men’s agency and sense of self and dignity. Black people have internalized the dominant narrative about Black cultural pathology.  More often than not, Black women are blamed for perpetuating the pathology. The Moynihan report conducted in the 1960s argued that assertive, intelligent, and independent Black women undermined the well being of Black men. Basically these traits emasculated Black men. In essence, it is easier to blame Black women for poor schools, inner city poverty, and crime, rather than historical legacy of segregated housing, discriminatory banking, post industrial economy, and neoliberal policies.

The tropes are harmful in that they effect how our girls grow up to see themselves. Two racial tropes shape the discourse on Black womanhood in the Black Muslim community, the sexually promiscuous Jezebel and the emasculating Sapphire. Legal scholars Marilyn Tarbrough and Crystal Bennett write:

in the stereotype of Sapphire, African American women are portrayed as evil, bitchy, stubborn and hateful. In other words, Sapphire is everything that Mammy is not. “The Sapphire image has no specific physical features other than the fact that her complexion is usually brown or dark brown.” Unlike other images that symbolize African American women, Sapphire necessitates the presence of an African American male. The African American male and female are engaged in an ongoing verbal duel. Sapphire was created to battle the corrupt African American male whose “lack of integrity, and use of cunning and trickery provides her with an opportunity to emasculate him through her use of verbal put-downs.”[3]

The Jim Crow of Racist Memorabilia concisely describes the relationship between the Sapphire stereotype and social control of Black women:

The Sapphire Caricature portrays Black women as rude, loud, malicious, stubborn, and overbearing.1 This is the Angry Black Woman (ABW) popularized in the cinema and on television. She is tart-tongued and emasculating, one hand on a hip the other pointing and jabbing (or arms akimbo), violently and rhythmically rocking her head, mocking African American men for offenses ranging from being unemployed to sexually pursuing White women. She is a shrill nagger with irrational states of anger and indignation — prone to being mean-spirited and abusive. Although African American men are her primary targets, she has venom for anyone who insults or disrespects her. The Sapphire’s desire to dominate and her hyper-sensitivity to injustices means that she is a perpetual complainer, but she does not criticize to improve things; rather, she criticizes because she is unendingly bitter and wishes that unhappiness on others. The Sapphire Caricature is a harsh portrayal of African American women, but it is more than that; it is a social control mechanism that is employed to punish Black women who violate the societal norms that encourage Black women to be passive, servile, non-threatening, and unseen.

500 words blogger Abagond describes Saaphire as follows:

Sapphire, named after a character in “Amos ‘n’ Andy”, always seems to have her hands on her hips while she is running her mouth – putting down her man, making everything into a fight, never taking anything lying down. She is an overbearing, hard and undesirable woman who drives men away. Think of Tichina Arnold’s character Pam in “Martin”.

The significance of the emasculating Sapphire is significant given the discourse on masculinity in Black Muslim communities. In most cultures, manhood is tied to being able to protect and provide for oneself and one’s family. Manhood is not just about being male, but linked with notions of maturity, efficacy, courage, virility, and honor. Manliness, like honor, is something that needs to be cultivated. And a blow to the manhood literally and figuratively really hurts. The definition for emasculate reads as follows:

Main Entry: emas·cu·late
Pronunciation: \i-ˈmas-kyə-ˌlāt\
Function: transitive verb
1 : to deprive of strength, vigor, or spirit : weaken
2 : to deprive of virility or procreative power : castrate
3 : to remove the androecium of (a flower) in the process of artificial cross-pollination

Emasculation is not about making a man into a woman, that is feminization. Rather, emasculation is about dehumanizing or making an adult male feel like a child, incapable of effecting change or acting as an agent for change. In addition to systems of oppression, poisonous relationships and negative life experiences can make a person feel less than human, or zapped of vigor. When it comes to the female gender, there is no equivalent term for dehumanization through emasculation. There is, however, a gender neutral term that has a corresponding meaning:

ENERVATE

Main Entry: en·er·vate
Pronunciation: \ˈe-nər-ˌvāt\
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): en·er·vat·ed; en·er·vat·ing
Etymology: Latin enervatus, past participle of enervare, from e- + nervus sinew — more at nerve
Date: 1605
1 : to reduce the mental or moral vigor of
2 : to lessen the vitality or strength of
synonyms see unnerve

In 2009, I wrote about the Enervation of Black American Women to address what many now call misogynoir, a special variety of sexism directed at Black women. Gendered racism denies Black women of their ability to define themselves and express their experiences as real and legitimate. Black Muslim women’s grievances aren’t real, because they are simply attempts at emasculating others or spreading her spitefulness. They not only render a Black woman invisble, but they camouflage her behind a coded racist caricature.  Gendered racism has detrimental effects on Black Muslim women in the the public sphere, in education settings, and in religious institutions.  It is especially troubling to see the silencing of legitimate critiques of spiritual abuse, representation, or power dynamics cloaked in religious discourse about piety and proper roles of Muslim women.

I have had the pleasure to know so many Black Muslim women from different walks of life, from professional women, stay at home mothers, community activists, public speakers, religious scholars, researchers, and thinkers. We want our communities to be embodiments of the Islamic ideals we all espouse. I’m finding women who are in the trenches working beside our men, raising sons and daughters, trying to live dignified lives.  When we make Black Muslim women, who are often carrying so much in our community,  the subject of our derision, we are only harming ourselves. Allah tells us in the Qur’an:

The believing men and believing women are allies of one another. They enjoin what is right and forbid what is wrong and establish prayer and give zakah and obey Allah and His Messenger. Those – Allah will have mercy upon them. Indeed, Allah is Exalted in Might and Wise. (9:71)

Being a good ally means that we must support each other, as well as hold each other accountable. When we refuse to listen or grant a person respect because of their station in life, we are being misguided by arrogance. Taking the time to reflect on our biases, to listen and amplify the voices of the most marginalized in our community, and to develop empathy is key. By doing so, we can restore the honored place that Islam has always given Black women, such as Sumayyah bint Khayyat or Umm Ayman.

 

 

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Margari Aziza Hill is co-founder and Programming Director of Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC), assistant editor at AltM, co-founder of Muslims Make it Plain, and columnist at MuslimMatters. She is on the Advisory Council of Islam, Social Justice & Interreligious Engagement Program at the Union Theological Seminary and winner of the 2015 MPAC Change Maker Award. She has nearly a decade of teaching experiences at all levels from elementary, secondary, college level, to adult education. She earned her master’s in History of the Middle East and Islamic Africa from Stanford University in 2006. Her research includes colonial surveillance in Northern Nigeria, anti-colonial resistance among West Africans in Sudan during the early 20th century, and race in Muslim communities. She is also a freelance writer with articles published in Time, SISTERS, Islamic Monthly, Al Jazeera English, Virtual Mosque (formerly Suhaibwebb.com), and Spice Digest. She has given talks and lectures in various universities and Muslim communities.

5 Comments

5 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Inqiyaad

    November 7, 2016 at 11:50 PM

    “As long as we are battling each other, we are not uplifting or liberating each other.” For all the sweet talk about helping each other and not pitting one (gender) against the other, feminism does exactly that. It is a tainted perspective that looks at society or its problems primarily through the binary of gender. Its unrelenting focus exclusively on rights of women (often at the expense of men’s rights), seeking uniformity with the male gender on every issue, (often in contradiction to gender roles and rights assigned by none other than Allah), contributes to social and familial strife. For example, male responsibility of earning a livelihood for the family is not merely a cultural thing, it is something ordained by Allah

    وَلَا تَتَمَنَّوۡاْ مَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بِهِۦ بَعۡضَكُمۡ عَلَىٰ بَعۡضٍ۬‌ۚ لِّلرِّجَالِ نَصِيبٌ۬ مِّمَّا ٱڪۡتَسَبُواْ‌ۖ وَلِلنِّسَآءِ نَصِيبٌ۬ مِّمَّا ٱكۡتَسَبۡنَ‌ۚ وَسۡـَٔلُواْ ٱللَّهَ مِن فَضۡلِهِۦۤ‌ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ ڪَانَ بِكُلِّ شَىۡءٍ عَلِيمً۬ا (٣٢)

    ٱلرِّجَالُ قَوَّٲمُونَ عَلَى ٱلنِّسَآءِ بِمَا فَضَّلَ ٱللَّهُ بَعۡضَهُمۡ عَلَىٰ بَعۡضٍ۬ وَبِمَآ أَنفَقُواْ مِنۡ أَمۡوَٲلِهِمۡ‌ۚ فَٱلصَّـٰلِحَـٰتُ قَـٰنِتَـٰتٌ حَـٰفِظَـٰتٌ۬ لِّلۡغَيۡبِ بِمَا حَفِظَ ٱللَّهُ‌ۚ وَٱلَّـٰتِى تَخَافُونَ نُشُوزَهُنَّ فَعِظُوهُنَّ وَٱهۡجُرُوهُنَّ فِى ٱلۡمَضَاجِعِ وَٱضۡرِبُوهُنَّ‌ۖ فَإِنۡ أَطَعۡنَڪُمۡ فَلَا تَبۡغُواْ عَلَيۡہِنَّ سَبِيلاً‌ۗ إِنَّ ٱللَّهَ كَانَ عَلِيًّ۬ا ڪَبِيرً۬ا (٣٤)
    سُوۡرَةُ النِّسَاء

    Allah has assigned ‘Naseeb’ i.e shares and duties due to/from either gender. Therefore, everyone has to look to the Qur’an and Sunnah to determine whether things qualify as ‘microagressions or macroagressions’ and not seek remedies beyond those dictated by Allah.

    True that, “when we refuse to listen or grant a person respect because of their station in life, we are being misguided by arrogance.” But, by refusing to point out that the person will stagnate if he/she doesn’t move on or remove oneself from the quagmire of commitment to alien ideologies (alien to Islam), we let the person succumb to wishful thinking.

    It is interesting also that you define ‘emasculation’ extensively without any discussion about specific factors that contribute to this phenomenon (for example, the role of scholars, Muslimahs, mothers, fathers, wives and current trends of subscribing to feminist ideology). While at the same time being very explicit about the causes for ‘enervation’, “It is especially troubling to see the silencing of legitimate critiques of spiritual abuse, representation, or power dynamics cloaked in religious discourse about piety and proper roles of Muslim women.” It will be interesting to see your critique of specific ‘aggressions’ within the above listed domains based solely on Qur’an and Sunnah. In the meanwhile, does feminism silence legitimate discussions about the refusal of woman to subscribe to gender roles/responsibilities assigned by Qur’an and Sunnah, and what effect does this have on male psychology and emasculation?

  2. Avatar

    GregAbdul

    November 8, 2016 at 8:58 AM

    Don’t like your headline. First: it’s a big word that almost no one knows. Second: black women in general are not enervated. black women are some of the hardest workers in the world. Are some mixed up? Tell me a group that does not have a few kooks running loose (ISIS anyone?). Black women in general go crazy in loving their kids more than most women I know. I don’t mean to bash, but often you see black underachieving boys and when you look, you see a black woman, working like a dog, eight hours a day and then maintaining a home so that underachieving boy has a soft place to lay down. Black Muslim women, in my opinion, sometimes fail to let Islam take them beyond the borders and boundaries of black culture. I would also add that when you say black Muslim women, you have to have a special section for African women. I think there’s a big difference between a black American woman and an African Muslim woman and there are big differences between East and West and a Somali and a Muslim woman from the Gambia. But not a one of them that I have seen, would I call “enervated.”

  3. Avatar

    Omer

    November 9, 2016 at 2:37 PM

    A day before election day and you guys publish a piece about black Muslim women?

  4. Avatar

    Ameerah

    February 10, 2017 at 3:27 PM

    I am tired of this. There is no racism in islam, Black people are always complaining. Seriously enough. Stop trying to bring race in to everything. I have met good and bad people of all races but black women and men do tend to come off as rude and loud to be honest. maybe change your ways and attitude and people would not think of you this way.

    • Avatar

      Ryan Williams

      February 10, 2017 at 5:39 PM

      You’re correct. There is no racism in Islam, but that does not mean Muslims are incapable of being racist. Allah didn’t make Muslims perfect and never claimed that they would be. Either people of color are making false claims as a whole, or they have a legitimate reason. I can assure you it’s the latter. You don’t have to look far either. The reactions to the hashtag #OurThreeWinners vs #OurThreeBoys/#OurThreeBrothers is a terrific example. When the black kids were killed, several Muslims questioned whether they were killed over drugs, gang activity, or some other illegal type of activity before details were released. The fact that they were stereotyped on the basis of their skin color says a lot.

      Even the statements you made are rooted in racist sentiment. You labeled a whole group, black women and men, as being rude and loud. And then went on to mention that black people should change their ways. Racism is rooted in stereotypes, much like the one you mentioned. Based on your statement, I can make a general assumption about you. The first is that you’re not black. The second is that you are not around black people regularly. I say this because this is how racial stereotypes develop. The less contact we have with a group, the more likely we will develop negative feelings about them. Also, our fears of a group pushes us to develop an us-vs-them mentality, something that we refer to as in-group out-group bias.

      Also, having these racial stereotypes that you exhibited are not only harmful, but demeaning. It devalues the people who are making the comments about. If you hold these views about black people and you’re supposed to be Muslim, what makes you think that they will feel welcomed around you? Hint: They will not. You may feel that you are justified in making your comments, but you’re doing yourself a disservice. Instead of making generalizations, try seeking out portrayals that are more realistic and positive, as opposed to seeking out the views which cater to your beliefs. At the end of the day, you’ll be a better person for it.

      Remember: The Prophet (salallaahu alayhi wa sallam) said, “He who believes in Allah and the Last Day must either speak good or remain silent.” And, “And adhere to truth, for truth leads to good deeds, and good deeds lead to paradise.” You cannot speak a lie and expect not to be held accountable for it.

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#Life

OpEd: Muslims Connect Over ImamConnect

Muddassar Ahmed, Guest Contributor

Published

How do you live a religious life when religion feels far away and inaccessible to you? For me, growing up in Britain, I came across plenty of Muslims like me. It wasn’t that we didn’t care about our faith or take Islam seriously. It’s that we had no idea how to integrate the Islam on offer with the realities of our lives. Many of my peers stopped attending the mosque not because they didn’t want to be Muslim, but because the Muslim life that existed around them was designed for another place and time.

While the picture has changed somewhat with a global pandemic, some of these original problems still remain.

I, for one, grew up within five minutes walk of a mosque, but felt unexpectedly disconnected when I moved to an area that didn’t have one. My desire to be connected to my faith traditions did not disappear – the gap just felt wider than ever before. And, I am not alone. For a variety of reasons, fewer than twenty per cent of British Muslims and fewer than ten per cent of American Muslims regularly attend a mosque. (That’s before the pandemic, by the way.)

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These lacklustre numbers, however, do not reflect a lack of religious enthusiasm or commitment on the part of many Muslims. It’s rather that mosques can often be unrelatable or inaccessible, whether physically, spiritually, or emotionally. In some cases, mosques can be downright unwelcoming.

The more I talk to family, friends, and fellow Muslims, the more I notice a worrying pattern. It’s not that Muslims don’t want their religion to be a vital part of their daily lives, but that their institutions don’t always work for them. And there’s apparently nowhere else to go for authentic, reliable, and trustworthy religious life services. And the modern reality is that, like many of you, I have friends and colleagues all over the world. When they ask me for help or a recommendation, sending them to a brick and mortar mosque down the road doesn’t even begin to cut it.

Meanwhile, the very people who can best provide the religious services Muslims long for don’t know how to reach the people they can serve.

The great crisis afflicting modern Muslim communities is one of connection.

Or rather, the lack of it.

I turned to technology to help solve this problem, creating a website that will be the “mosque” more Muslims wish they had. This simple gesture, of connecting Muslims looking for religious services with the Muslims who are best qualified to provide them, will revolutionize Muslim life across the world. It’s called ImamConnect. You might think of it as an ‘Uber for Imams’ but that doesn’t do justice to the service, the connection, or the vision we’re building.

“And help one another in goodness and piety”

– The Noble Qur’an (5:2)

ImamConnect is a digital platform that’s designed to be accessible to a wide range of users, with different backgrounds, needs, and priorities. It’s a one-stop-shop, a place where users can find qualified, vetted experts to meet their religious life needs, offering services like marriage ceremonies, advice on wills and guidance on inheritance laws, as well as religious classes, like Qur’an tutoring for the young and the old–and so much more.

Developed by a team of Muslim communications experts, entrepreneurs, technologists, and community leaders based in Brussels, London, Granada, Kuala Lumpur, and New York, ImamConnect launched with over 70 background-checked service providers offering their expertise from countries around the globe, like Australia, Canada, Malaysia, Singapore, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

It works very simply.

Religious service providers create profiles with their relevant information, which we carefully background check. They list out what services they can provide and how much they charge. Users visit the website and simply enter what they’re searching for. ImamConnect presents them with a list of the experts who offer requested services.

Maybe it’s Islam 101. Maybe it’s marriage counselling. Maybe it’s tajweed classes.

Maybe they’re a junior scholar looking for more senior scholars to help them advance in their studies. Maybe they’re a parent looking for pastoral guidance amidst a crumbling relationship with their teenager. (All examples of bookings so far made on Imam Connect).

Whoever they are, we hope to help provide them with exactly what they need.

When booking a service provider, users have access not only to a service provider’s biography, available services, and rates of service, but reviews from other users too. This helps ensure user safety and access to high quality, professional services. For the religious service providers, then, ImamConnect means a source of new clients and students. For the users, ImamConnect is a religious lifeline–the services they need designed to meet them where they are.

They can find scholars, specialists, and experts who know their context, their local customs (‘urf), their realities and circumstances—people who have religious authority and nuance, who would be the right pick to provide, say, premarital counseling to a mixed-race couple, or a pair of new Muslims negotiating relationships with families that maybe aren’t fully onboard with their life choices yet. The kinds of challenges that, unfortunately, a lot of communities don’t have the on-the-ground resources to provide.

For now, of course, all services have to be virtual, but when circumstances permit, users will be allowed to book in-person services, too.

What makes us different from many community institutions, however, isn’t just our global reach or intuitive accessibility.

It’s the vetting and the variety.

“And of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and colours. There truly are signs in this for those who know.”

– The Noble Qur’an (30:22) 

Background checks are critical components of the ImamConnect service, ensuring that the religious service providers on offer are free of any history of fraud and criminality. Vetting is intended to ensure users can feel physically, emotionally, and spiritually safe with their service provider.

On top of that, users have a menu of religious service options. We acknowledge and celebrate our communities’ diversities. Mindful of the amazing pluralism that characterizes modern Islam, ImamConnect welcomes religious service providers from a variety of backgrounds, from conservative to contemporary, liberal to traditional, and including Sunni and Shi’a Muslims, among others. This not only means that religious service providers from diverse traditions can connect to the individuals most in need of them, but also that users are no longer limited to the services available in their neighbourhoods.

“The whole Earth has been made a Mosque”

– Prophet Muhammad (Bukhari 335)

People have many questions, naturally. For one, people ask if we won’t just enable people to engage in fatwa-shopping, as opposed to the robust values they should aspire to. I think that’s an unfairly pessimistic characterization of our communities. People look for communities that help them grow and foster a sense of belonging. When they become disillusioned by institutions around them, it’s often because these institutions offer them no point of entry, no way to begin connecting. And a chief motivation of mine has been that I fear Muslims today are losing touch with our Islamic traditions due to this inaccessibility.

Indeed, as it turns out, ImamConnect is a valuable resource for scholars themselves, whether looking to increase their learning or find independent revenue streams, which would give them the autonomy and liberty to pursue research and studies they deem to be of value to the community. In the absence of well-endowed institutions that can offer research fellowships, ImamConnect has the ability not to undermine scholarship, but to enrich it and enable it.

Another concern people may have is whether we’re undermining mosques. The fact of the matter is, we haven’t received any pushbacks from mosques—because our model is not a combative or confrontational one. Where we can, we seek to be complementary and collaborative. Where there’s simply no alternative, then we present ourselves as the obvious choice, but by emphasizing what we can do, not what others do not.

It would be ideal, of course, if local mosques welcomed and embraced pluralism, and had the resources to meet the broad spiritual needs of their diverse communities, but this is not always or even frequently the case. Muslims should not be forced to go without religious life services because of no fault of their own. Excitingly, however, we have received offers of interest from community institutions like mosques, who see the potential in what it is we are trying to do.

Many mosques, for example, want to make themselves more accessible to their communities, but lack the know-how or the bandwidth. They recognise ImamConnect as a service that can bring their staff into better and easier contact with their local communities, and potentially, well beyond that in a tech-savvy way. During a time of pandemic, this is especially valuable.

The potential for applications is vast. And rightly so.

To those who argue that the failure of our communities to serve the needs of our people can be attributed to a fundamental flaw in our faith tradition, I beg to differ. This is a tempting and false narrative. I am an optimist. I believe that many of our problems can be solved by simple solutions, if only we have the wherewithal, wisdom and foresight to pursue them.

When the circumstances surrounding our religious life are holding us back, or holding us down, we need the tools to go around them. ImamConnect is that kind of technology. It’s an answer to an ongoing prayer, a way for Muslims of all backgrounds to connect with the resources they’ve been looking for but for too long have been unable to find–or avail themselves of. ImamConnect is like ‘Uber for Imams,’ yes. That’s an easy way to describe a service with transformative implications.

Instead of going to the mosque, which manifestly isn’t working for many Muslims in many parts of the world, why not bring the mosque or the imam to you?

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Beyond 2020: Grounding Our Politics in Community

Kyle Ismail, Guest Contributor

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As tense and agonizing as these unending election days have been, it pales in comparison to the last four years.  I plainly remember how it all began on the night of November 07, 2016. I watched as the political map of the US became increasingly red late into the night. All the social media banter, conspiracy theories and left-wing critiques of candidate Hillary Clinton, formed an amorphous blob of white noise as I heard Trump announced as the next president. Now that Trump has run for re-election, half the country was hoping for a repudiation but will have to settle for the fact that despite a small margin, Donald J. Trump will not have a second chance to erode our democratic institutions and divide us. But we can’t move forward until each of us acknowledges our own pathological role in what we’ve become as a deeply divided country. 

We need to grapple with how we can gradually improve the circus-like reality that has become our ordinary, daily politics. We’ll relive more and perhaps improved “Trumps” if we don’t accept our own responsibility in creating a divided America. This starts with being better members of local communities. Here are a few of Trump-induced realizations that I’ve come to accept:

  1. Caring about our immediate neighbors and listening to their challenges and concerns is the part of political engagement that we all have to embrace above and beyond actually voting if we hope to be more than a 50/50 nation.
  2. Social media and its profit-driven algorithms are actually eroding how we see each other but could also be altered to help better educate us about our local social/political landscape.
  3. Local Politics has direct impact on our lives and is also at the heart our religious obligations to our neighbors. It also sets the tone for where the federal level derives policies that prove to be best practices (some examples are included below).
  4. Agitation and protest are not the same as being politically organized on a local level. Protest is sometimes needed, but it will never replace consistent and patient work. We learned this lesson with the Arab Spring as that movement failed to transform into a movement that was able to govern effectively. And the same appears to be true about the Black Lives Matter movement.

The voting is over for now. But voting is really the smallest part of being committed to bettering our communities. It was Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) who gave the most specific definition of community/neighbor and encouraged his followers to guard the rights of the neighbor:

“Your neighbor is 40 houses ahead of you and 40 houses at your back, 40 houses to your left and 40 houses to your right” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

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Why does this relate to being politically organized?? The need for political organizing comes when any group of people want to create change in accordance with their values. We’ve all watched protest after protest that change little to nothing at the neighborhood level. This will continue to happen without organization, which span school boards, block clubs, nonprofits, and religious community outreach.  How can Muslims enjoin right and discourage wrong in any meaningful way? It comes through having authentic relationships with neighbors and turning that into organized and engaged communities.

Rosa Parks

Nothing illuminates the value of such relationships better than the story of Rosa Parks in her role in the Montgomery Bus Boycott. People often think that she was the first brave soul to defy the custom of allowing whites to sit before African-Americans could be seated on her city’s buses. Nothing could be further from the truth. The difference was that her sets of relationships were so interwoven into her local community that it forced a massive response. Park’s connections spanned socioeconomic circles as she had close friendships from professors to field hands. She held memberships in a dozen local organizations including her church and the local NAACP. She was a volunteer seamstress in poor communities and provided the same for profit in wealthy white circles. When someone with her relational positioning was able to leverage the political organizing ability of MLK and Dr. Ralph Abernathy, the Montgomery Bus Boycott was sparked.

When something happens to Muslims, who can we mobilize to respond? Who becomes angry? Who do we work with in our communities to create policies that reflect our values And what are our internal barriers to such cooperation?

“Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart—and that is the weakest of faith.” Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)

Our Predecessors Organized Locally

At some point in time voting became the sum total of political engagement in the minds of many and is now deemed by some as worthless. We quickly forget that the organizations that battled for voting rights were first locally organized to improve communities. SNCC, SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and the Urban League all formed to create change in various ways and the fight for voting rights was a component of these local agendas. So when we’re tempted to believe that voting doesn’t matter, it’s likely due to our lack of engagement in local issues that form the contours of our community life. If you’ve ever heard of Ella Baker or Fannie Lou Hamer (worth researching!), you probably never bought into this type of logic.

One of the many lessons we can pull from this rich history is that we cannot pursue policies, seek alliances, or negotiate a position with political parties (see Ice Cube’s debacle in negotiating with Trump) without first being organized from within. No set of friendships or outside philanthropic support can supplant the need for internal organization. This lack of organized political engagement has weakened Muslims in general but has fatally weakened African-American Muslims as voices within the larger Black community – a voice that gave Islam its first fully accepted and influential place in American society.

Immigrant-based Muslim communities could also benefit from a local approach because despite being several generations in America, their American bonafides are still not set in stone. Concerns about Islamophobia will not change outside of developing authentic relationships with non-Muslims.

This also pushes back against a culture shaped disproportionately by social media algorithms that promote isolation and division for the sake of profit. Our attention to the national news cycle also takes our attention away from local communities where our power is formed. In this type of political malaise, re-engagement in local politics and community relationships can bring us back to important principles that resonate with the values of Islam.

Local politics help shape federal policy

The final word on any law or policy rests with the federal government, but much of what becomes orthodoxy begins with a few concerned citizens in local communities. As with community policing, criminal justice reform, climate sustainability, or any issues that has not caught on, the federal government will often step back to see how a new law plays out at state and local levels. Illinois didn’t wait for Obamacare but has a well-established program to ensure that anyone 18 and younger in Illinois has health insurance through a program called All Kids . Colorado has, in the midst of protests against police brutality, altered their law of Qualified Immunity to make police more accountable. And California has advanced the conversation on reparations  by sanctioning a study to understand how the state could benefit by redressing the descendants of American slavery.

By advancing issues and electing representatives who support the causes we believe in, we insert ourselves into a narrative that would’ve otherwise been forged without us. There’s no shortcut in this process short of rolling up our sleeves to understand our local systems and existing organizations. Moneyed interests are prepare to control the narrative regardless of who the president is and we have to remake this system from the ground up. Our history provides us with a roadmap to do this and it goes far beyond being citizens who only argue over national issues while standing on the sidelines. Remembering our 40 neighbors as advised by the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is the best place to start.

Some helpful links:

Local Elections

State Legislatures

School Boards

County Prosecutors

Mayors

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Day of the Dogs, Part 9: All We Have To Do

The driver whistled. “Waow. You some big politico? So watchu gonna do about the foreigners snatchin’ our jobs? The Chinos?”

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Corredor Sur, Panama

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

This is chapter 6 in a multi-chapter novella.  Chapters:  Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8

“Policia Nacional!” – Omar

Broken Window

Tocumen International Airport
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Tocumen International Airport

Back in Panama, pulling his wheeled suitcase along behind him, Omar walked out to the long-term parking lot at Tocumen airport. It was a hair past noon, and the sun poured forth its fire as if the earth were a morsel of meat it wanted to cook for lunch. Knowing the weather in Panama, Omar had changed his clothes in advance in the airport bathroom, putting away the linen suit and slipping on a pair of knee-length basketball shorts and a t-shirt. He was glad he had. After the chilly skies of Bogota, being back in Panama was like stepping into a sauna.

When he came to his car, he found the driver’s side window shattered. He shook his head in disgust. Why would anyone break into his car? It was a five year old silver Toyota sedan with no frills. It didn’t even have a CD player, just a basic AM/FM radio. He could have afforded better, but he drove this old beater for exactly this reason: it didn’t look worth breaking into.

Searching the car, he found nothing missing. There hadn’t been anything worth stealing anyway. Just the manual in the glove box, a little LED flashlight, a pack of cinnamon chewing gum, and some napkins. Oh, wait – they’d taken the Quran CDs. Arabic recitation with Spanish translation. Maybe the thieves would listen and be guided.

When he inserted the key and turned it, he got nothing. Not even a click. Opening the hood, he discovered the reason: the thieves had stolen his car battery. So that was what they’d been after. Now he was angry. Where was airport security?

Car with shattered window

Drumming his fingers on the steering wheel, he considered who to call. He needed someone to bring him a battery. His wife didn’t drive. Fuad didn’t drive either, because he never knew when he might have an epileptic attack.

Fuad’s crazy wife Ivana did drive, but Omar didn’t want to deal with her. If Fuad somehow convinced her to come out here, she would either want to be paid, or would expect Omar to take her and Fuad to the most expensive restaurant in Panama. Ten times! Omar laughed at the thought.

He could call Nadia Muhammad, his old friend from IIAP. She was married and sometimes came to visit with her husband and two kids. She was a goofball, always telling jokes and making his son Nur laugh. But even though they were just buddies, and his wife thought nothing of it, he didn’t want to push the boundaries of trust by spending half a day driving all around Panama city with her.

It Burns!

Deciding that there was nothing left to steal, and that it wouldn’t hurt to leave the car alone for a while, he trudged back to the taxi stand in front of the terminal. Ignoring the touts who snatched at his sleeves, desperate to put him in a limo or town car, he found a 60ish, balding taxi driver with forearms like German sausages. The man sat disconsolately in his cab, filling out a crossword puzzle. The two of them negotiated a price of $40 for the whole business, and took off.

As they headed into the city with the windows open and hot air whipping through the car, Omar reclined his head against the seat and closed his eyes.

Apparently not noticing or caring that Omar was trying to rest, the driver called out, raising his voice to be heard. “Oye, jefe. You some kinda tuna fat foreigner?”

“I’m Panamanian.” Omar opened his eyes and studied the road, and was dismayed to see that the driver had taken the slow midtown route. Avenida Domingo Diaz was an interminable road lined with auto shops, plant nurseries and love motels – known as pushbuttons in Panama, because all you had to do was drive in and push a button. You never had to see any clerk or staff face to face. “Hey, why did you go this way? I would have paid the tolls on the Sur.”

“Well I din’ know that, no?” The man’s sped-up slang Spanish marked him as having been raised in Colon. Omar could barely understand him. “Just because you a tuna fat Colombian. You might be a biter. You ahuevao foreigners is welcome if you bring some flus. Otherwise we don’ need you.”

Ignoring the fact that the man had just called him stupid – he’d understood that much – Omar, repeated, “I’m Panamanian.”

“Then where the president live?”

“Palacio de Las Garzas. I’ve been there.”

The driver whistled. “Waow. You some big politico? So watchu gonna do about the foreigners snatchin’ our jobs? The Chinos?”

There were a lot of Chinese in Panama, true, but they didn’t take jobs. Just the opposite. They opened stores, restaurants, internet cafes and electronic shops, and employed Panamanians. Omar explained this.

“Then the mascabola Venezuelans! Ñangara Comunistas!” The driver hawked and spit on the floor of his own car. “They spray the word taxi onna side of a car and steal my fares, don’ even have licenses.” He pounded the dash with a meaty fist. “It burns!”

“I see how that’s bad for business, but they’re our neighbors. We have-” Omar stopped talking as the driver abruptly swerved across two lanes of traffic and pulled up beside a love motel called Lady Finger.

“Get out!” the driver demanded. “Ain’t drivin’ no mascabola Communist-lover. And I ain’t votin’ for you!”

Omar pursed his lips. It would be hard to find another taxi out here. He considered offering the driver more money, but the guy was a nasty piece of work. As much as the man wanted Omar out of his cab, Omar wanted to be done with him too.

He collected his luggage and paid the driver a quarter of the normal fare, which under the circumstances he felt was generous. The driver cursed at him and peeled out with a squeal of burning rubber.

Allah blessed him. Omar had only begun to contemplate his options when another taxi pulled up to the Lady Finger. A 60ish man in a business suit and a young woman in a skin-tight dress headed into the pushbutton. Omar called out to the driver and half-ran, pulling his bag behind him. A minute later he was on his way – again – with a driver who kept the windows rolled up, the AC on and a Cuban jazz CD playing softly. Alhamdulillah.

Do the Right Thing

Three hours later, with a new battery in his car, Omar navigated his way out of the airport parking lot. He noticed several other cars with shattered windows. Useless airport security officers walked around making notes, and two cars were being lifted onto tow trucks.

Corredor Sur, Panama

Corredor Sur, Panama

He headed home along the Corredor Sur, the express toll highway that led along the Pacific waterfront. The area bordering the highway had once been an expanse of impenetrable mangrove swamps, but now it was Costa del Este, the most expensive seaside neighborhood in all of Panama. Two-hundred meter skyscrapers glittered in the tropical sunshine, their glass sides reflecting sky and sea, while construction cranes marked the sites of future towers.

These million dollar apartments were occupied by business people, wealthy expatriates and even crime cartel bosses, mostly hailing from neighboring (and less stable) countries like Venezuela, Colombia, and Ecuador. And, of course, by Fuad, who – pushed by his Cuban beauty queen – had purchased an apartment he really could not afford.

The mangroves that had been drained and filled to make Costa del Este possible had been one of the richest wetland habitats in Panama, home to dozens of endemic species. Such was the way of his country. No one valued nature, nor even old things of human make. It was all about what was new and sleek.

At least people like Naris Muhammad were out there fighting to protect what was left. Naris, the serious-minded member of the Muhammad triplets, was one of the most prominent environmental activists in Panama.

He exited the freeway into the leafy district of San Francisco. It was an upper middle class neighborhood with tree-lined streets, mostly consisting of gated homes, all bordering Parque Omar, the largest urban park in Panama.

Passing by Parque Omar, he eyed the spot where, last year, he’d intervened to stop a man from beating a woman. He’d been out for a morning jog and had seen a tall, thin man with hollow eyes punching a young woman in the face.

For a good portion of his childhood he had been the one beaten while the person who should have protected him stood by helplessly. He’d always promised himself that he would not be that impotent bystander, allowing someone to be abused before his eyes.

So when he saw the man punching the woman, he instantly ran forward, wrapped the man’s neck from behind and pulled him off the woman. The woman, instead of thanking him, screamed, “Leave my boyfriend alone!” She picked up a broken tree branch and struck Omar on the head, and the pair of them dashed off. Omar went home with his scalp bleeding, expecting a tongue lashing from his wife. But she cleaned the wound, kissed him and made him one of his favorite foods: an apam balik pancake filled with banana slices, sesame and sugar.

He returned his eyes to the road. He couldn’t be responsible for the choices people made. But he could do the right thing.

As he approached a large, sky-blue home fronted by a high brick wall and a steel gate, he hit a remote control and the gate slid open. The house had a circular front driveway that curved around a bubbling Islamic style fountain shaped like an eight-pointed star, covered in green tiles. The crisp water sparkled as it poured out of an upper bowl and into the larger basin below.

Nur liked to play in this pool, while Omar’s wife enjoyed sitting beside it after sunset, listening to the Quran on a little cassette player. Omar had offered to buy her a portable CD player, but she said she couldn’t tell one side of a CD from the other.

Tall trees flanked the front yard, with a pair of mango trees anchoring east and west. Around them grew passionfruit trees, guava and berry bushes. Nur often came out here with his mother and ate the berries straight from the bushes, until his cheeks and chin were red from the juices.

Something For Everyone

When he opened the door, Nur came running. Omar dropped to one knee to catch the boy. He was a handsome tyke, with sturdy limbs, a strong nose and square face. His eyes were dark and his black hair was straight, like his mother’s. Omar’s love for him was a deep river that would never run dry.

He found his wife in the kitchen standing at the stove, garnishing a red snapper for the oven. The split AC in the corner hummed, its cool air circulating the scents of lemon and parsley. The space was large and comfortable, with a cooking island in the center, and teak cabinetry all around. A matching rustic teak table occupied one side, beside a low, molded concrete bench that extruded from the wall and was covered with cushions. The family spent a lot of time here.

His heart surged at seeing his wife again. Her face was dewed with perspiration from the heat of the stove. Even so, she looked beautiful, with a slender, strong form, and her long black hair tied back in a ponytail. He went to her and she turned to embrace him, saying, “Careful of the stove.”

Putting his arms around her, he could feel the muscles in her shoulders and arms. The two of them ran five kilometers every morning in Parque Omar, and two evenings a week he taught her karate in an upstairs bedroom they’d turned into a training studio.

Labrador retriever He felt something cold touch his hand and looked down to see the dog, Berlina, nuzzling him with her wet nose. She was a young labrador retriever, well trained as a guide dog. She was a gentle creature, intelligent and good with Nur as well.

He reached down to scratch Berlina’s head. Her tail thumped happily against the kitchen cabinet. Nur grabbed his other hand. “What did you bring me, Papá?”

Standing in the middle of the family mob, Omar laughed. “I have something for everyone, okay?”

They sat at the kitchen table and Omar parceled out the gifts: for his wife, a pair of silver earrings shaped like crescent moons and fashioned in the uniquely Colombian “momposina” style, with finely woven silver threads. For Nur, a set of coloring pencils with a small leather carrying case.

“What about Berlina?” Nur wanted to know.

In answer, Omar stood, grabbed the plastic jar of beef jerky sticks from the top of the refrigerator, and tossed one to the dog. Berlina caught it in mid-air, settled down and went to work, her wagging tail brushing the floor.

Drawings

Later that evening Omar sat at the kitchen table with his son, watching the boy draw. He could hear the shower running upstairs.

Papers were scattered across the table, covered with drawings of ocean waves, leaping dolphins, a squid brandishing a scepter, and a mermaid wearing a crown. Nur had always been fascinated by the ocean and all its creatures.

Nur held up a picture of a tsunami arching over a small town. He’d even drawn tiny cars on the roads and stick figures of people. “Do you like it, Papá?”

Omar raised his eyebrows. “It’s drawn very well.” He leaned close to his son’s ear. “But let’s not tell Mama that story. We don’t want her to be sad for the people.” Nur’s mother could not see the drawings, so normally Nur would describe them to her in detail, telling the drawing’s story.

Nodding, Nur tucked the sketch beneath a pile of others as his mother came down the steps, tying a towel around her hair. Omar was always amazed at how confidently she moved. A stranger would never guess she was blind, at least not here inside the house, where everything was laid out precisely in its place. Though her vision was not 100% gone. She could sometimes make out broad outlines and colors.

“Sad for what people?” she asked.

“Nothing, just drawings.”

Omar’s wife sat on his lap, resting an arm around his shoulders. She ran a hand through his hair, playing with the curls, taking care to stay away from his mangled ear, as he was sensitive about that. He kissed her on the cheek, happy to be home with the loveliest woman he knew. He was blessed, alhamdulillah.

A Scarcity of Friends

“I missed you,” his wife said. “But I’m glad you found your friend Hani. You don’t have many friends.”

It was true. He had Mahmood, Fuad, and Nadia. That was about it. Nadia’s sister Naris could have been a friend if she weren’t so engrossed in her work as an environmental activist. As for Nabila, she’d moved to Los Angeles to capitalize on her Youtube stardom, and ended up becoming a documentary filmmaker.

Was this scarcity of friends the reason he’d been so excited to see Hani again? And why he had overlooked the brother’s disconcerting negativity?

“What’s his wife’s name, by the way?”

“He never told me. She works as a house cleaner.”

“Do you think it’s wise to invest with him? He sounds unstable.”

Omar pulled her hand out of his hair. It was too close to his ear, and was making him nervous. “Does he?”

“The way you describe him.”

“Hmm.”

She ran a hand over his face – her way of reading his expression. “You’ve already decided to give him the money, haven’t you?”

“I guess.”

“Then why make him write a business plan?”

“For his own benefit. To help him succeed.”

“I think you just wanted a reason to see him again.”

As a reply, Omar pulled his wife close and kissed the side of her head. Her black hair smelled of the papaya shampoo she favored. She knew him too well, and never failed to let him know it.

He watched his son working on a new drawing of a squadron of flying fish. Each fish wore a beret and had a cigar in its mouth. As the boy drew, he chewed on his upper lip.

Nur was an intense child, but was he happy? Omar thought back to his own early childhood, training in martial arts with his father, watching football games, attending the masjid for Jumah prayer; and going on hikes with his mother, or visiting that amazing ice cream shop on Avenida Central that sold a giant scoop of mango sorbet for a quarter. They had been poor, but Omar had been happy because he was loved by his parents, and what more did a child need?

That’s all we have to do, he thought. Love him. He reached out and stroked the back of Nur’s neck. The boy did not even look up. “All we have to do,” Omar said out loud.

“Do what?” his wife asked.

“All we have to do is love each other.”

His wife settled into him, resting her back against his chest. “Yes. That’s all we have to do.”

Put Your Hand Down

Karate class “I KNOW YOU WANT TO EARN A BLACK BELT ONE DAY,” Omar said as he strode up and down in front of the line of kids. One girl – an especially enthusiastic eleven year old green belt named Tabina who was always asking when she’d get her next promotion – raised her hand frantically. Some of the kids nodded their heads.

“Put your hand down, Tabina. It wasn’t a question. Fix your stances.” His own son Nur was leaning too far forward in his horse stance, and Omar showed him by giving him a slight push, which nearly toppled him. Technically Nur was not old enough for this class; it was for kids aged six to twelve, but being the instructor’s son had privileges. Not that Omar went easy on the boy. Just the opposite. He demanded much from him.

Omar loved these kids at the Centro Islamico, which everyone called the Centro. He volunteered twice a week, teaching this class and another for teens.

“There are three things you must do,” he went on, “if you want a black belt. One, come to class. Two, practice at home. Three, don’t quit. If you do these things, week after week, month after month, year after year, I guarantee you will get your black belt eventually, inshaAllah.”

He cast a glance at the clock on the wall. It had been a month since his return from Bogotá. Hani and his wife were supposed to arrive today. In three hours, actually.

“Line up,” he ordered the class. “Respect Allah, your parents and yourselves.” With a command of, “Sensei ni rei!” he bowed the class out. “Domo arigato gozaimusu,” all the kids intoned in Japanese.

His own wife was teaching a Quran memorization class in one of the upstairs rooms. He called Nur over and kneeled to give the boy a hug. “Run upstairs and tell Mamá we have to go.”

Refugees

As the three of them exited into the audacious Panama sun, unmitigated by any trace of cloud, they saw a scene unfolding in the empty lot across the street. A group of refugees – Venezeuelans no doubt – were camped in a large weed-ridden field, which was muddy and spotted with litter.

One family hunkered in the shade of a patched-up tent, while a thin woman with frizzy hair in a ponytail sat beneath two pieces of corrugated metal that had been leaned against each other and covered first in cardboard, and then with a tarpaulin. Her two small children kicked a deflated soccer ball in front of the shelter. A toothless old man with a cane sat on a plastic milk crate, out in the open, with only a gray baseball cap to shield his face from the sun. There were about a dozen people altogether, mostly women and children. They were a doleful, dejected group. It broke Omar’s heart to see such scenes, but Venezuelan refugees were everywhere in Panama these days.

Now, however, a group of young Panamanian men and women – in their late teens or early twenties, perhaps – had pulled up to the lot in two tricked-out Japanese cars. They began shouting at the refugees, telling them to go home, and calling them leeches and scum. The well dressed youths, consisting of five boys and two girls, exited their cars and began throwing stones at the refugees.

Omar had witnessed scenes like this before. With over one hundred thousand Venezuelans in Panama, resentment was rising among those who chose to scapegoat the refugees for all of Panama’s problems – like the taxi driver.

The little boys who’d been kicking the soccer ball ran to their mother in the lean-to. The old man with the cane yelled at the youths, who shouted insults in return.

“Papá,” Nur said in alarm, “why are they doing that?”

“What?” Omar’s wife wanted to know. “What’s going on?”

Omar gave his wife’s shoulder a squeeze. “Kids misbehaving. Go back inside the Centro with Nur.” She did not have Berlina with her, as dogs were not welcome in the Centro, not even guide dogs. It was a bad policy, but one that Omar had not succeeded in changing. But she had her cane, and of course she had Nur.

He strode across the street, mindful that if these youths chose to fight he’d be badly outnumbered. An idea came to him. Taking out his wallet, he opened it and held it above his head. “Stop!” he commanded loudly. “Policia Nacional! You’re all under arrest.” He did not have a badge of course, but the kids were several meters away and probably would not notice.

Indeed, the youths scattered, dashing back to their cars, jumping in and peeling out, tires squealing.

Omar strode across the muddy field to the refugees, who all looked frightened. “Easy,” he told them, making a calming motion with his hand. “Are you okay?”

A woman in her forties, her brown face weatherbeaten and lined, stepped forward. “It’s nothing new,” she replied bitterly. “But thank you anyway.”

Omar looked the group over. He wanted to do something, say something, but what? In the end all he said was, “Do you have enough food?”

“No,” the woman replied bluntly.

Omar’s wallet was still in his hand. He took out $60, which was all the cash he had on hand, and held it out to the woman.

Her eyes flicked to the money, then to Omar’s face. Her mouth was a grim line. “We did not ask for anything.”

“I know. But you’re my neighbors. Maybe Panama will be in trouble one day, then I’ll come to your country and need your help.”

The woman’s mouth quirked upwards into a smile. “I don’t think so. You are rich, and you don’t know it.” But she took the money.

When Omar went back across the street, his wife and child were still there, to his consternation. “I told you to go inside,” he said.

“Excuse me?” She was annoyed. “Number one” – counting on her fingers – “Nur wanted to see. Number two, you don’t tell me to go inside like I’m a child.”

Omar wasn’t the type to give orders, and he knew it was her blindness that brought out the protectiveness in him. But sometimes his wife had to trust him to lead. He tried to explain this, and saw her growing angry. It might have turned into an argument, but Nur spoke up.

“Papá,” the boy said solemnly. “You lied.”

Omar twisted his mouth to one side in embarrassment. “Yeah,” he started to say, “I know, but-”

“It was cool!” Nur broke in. “Did you see how those bad kids ran away?” He held up one hand, pretending to be Omar holding up his wallet, then marched in a circle. “You went, ‘Policia!’ and they went, ‘Oh no!’”

“Okay, okay.” They walked to where their car was parked a half a block down the street. As they drove home, his wife patted his knee. “You did good, mashaAllah. I’m proud of you.”

Next: Day of the Dogs, Chapter 10:  The Girl With the Goldie Gum

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

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

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

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