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Junaid Jamshed: A Munshid Par Excellence

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Naath Khwaan, Munshid, Pop Singer, Entrepreneur, public figure, family man and devotee; Junaid Jamshed was a beautiful person with a beautiful voice who displayed some of the most melodious ensembles and works of art that the Muslim world has ever known.

Although born and raised in the United States, I grew up listening to the Sabri Brothers, Nusrat Ali Khan, Mehdi Hassan and the Vital Signs. My cousins (Muhammad Saadullah and Muhammad Saeedullah of the nasheed group 786) and I would spend countless hours listening, practicing, listening, practicing and honing our vocal/instrumental skills based upon the exceptional work of these icons. At that time the group Vital Signs was new. They were the trailblazers of their time. They were constantly booked and overbooked. Their popularity knew no bounds. This “Pakistani Boy Band” was the new face of resurgence for Pakistani youth. They had the support of some of the most powerful political and entrepreneurial figures not only in Pakistan, but also around the world.

Amidst all of that noise, Junaid Jamshed (May God give him peace, forgive his sins and raise him to the highest level in paradise) only heard one voice:

“So remember me; I will remember you. And be grateful to Me and do not deny Me.”

The Holy Quran: 2:152

It called to him, to his soul, which was a precursor to the biggest challenge in his life, making the transition! Keeping things in context: He was handsome, youthful, popular, influential. The world was at his fingertips, yet he still felt empty, he yearned for more…

A series of circumstance led him to abandon his iconic status in the realm of pop culture and to embrace a calling towards using his passion, his voice and his brand equity to spread the beautiful message of Islam. Junaid Jamshed had himself committed to a higher cause!

He was a trailblazer of his time. His was a perfect case study of a human being who presented us with a storyboard showcasing an individual who had the guts and the will to transition to a higher ground.

When one door closes another one opens —the bounties of God are endless and He showered his blessings upon Br. Junaid and all of his work. Envious am I of his devotion towards praising the Mercy to the worlds, Sayyidina Muhammad Mustafa ﷺ. Junaid Jamshed has performed Naat/Nasheed (Poetry praising the Prophet Muhammadﷺ) in thousands of gatherings across the world. He became one of the top reciters in his field.

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IUwYOpDcrYg[/youtube]

There is a tradition of the Prophet ﷺ that states that every gathering where Muhammad’sﷺ name is not mentioned becomes a liability on each person in that gathering. Think of how many gatherings were saved because he showered blessings upon the Prophet ﷺ in the most beautiful of ways.

As an entrepreneur, God Almighty opened a way for him to make Halal Rizq (Righteous provisions) by making several investments into businesses that would benefit the people. One of his more famous outfits was his clothing line. I myself would make it a point to always stop by his store in Houston and grab several sets of Shalwar/Khamees (Traditional Pakistani clothes) when I was in town for a speaking engagements not only to support his business, but because like his voice, he produced such a high quality products and made them affordable for everybody.

Like all humans he too made mistakes. I remember how people would ridicule him on various issues and try to demonize and defame his character when he stepped out of his lane (In terms of expertise). I also remember how he handled these challenges by publicly apologizing, emotional with tears in his eyes and begging people for forgiveness. I thought to myself that when a person is close to the Prophet ﷺ and the Kalamullah (The word of God), one cannot help but to have a soft heart guided by sincerity. I thought to myself, this is what it means to be a human being, these are the steps towards repentance and his was a true model of leadership owning up to his mistakes and empowering the people with the opportunity to forgive his transgressions.

I remembered hearing about how he was beaten publicly by an angry mob of people, how they humiliated him, caused him grief and harm. I also remember his silent response to this atrocious event and his patience in the wake of calamity. I thought to myself that these people have incurred crimes against a man that is favored, that has devoted himself to spreading the word of God and praising the Prophet ﷺ as a way of life.

As a Muaddhin, Qari, Munshid and Naat Khwan, I cannot help, but feel sorrow in my heart for the loss of this wonderful human being, peer and mentor. The story of this man was elevated, because of a brilliant decision that he made to choose Allah ﷻ above everything else. Another giant reclaimed by the Lord of the worlds and another void in the fabric of our global community. He will be missed, but the ambassadorship of his devotion must carry on. He was a devoted to the Prophet ﷺ not only through his speech, but also through his actions. He was given a lot and he turned around and gave it all back to glorify the religion of Al-Islam for the pleasure of Allah ﷻ.

May Allah ﷻ forgive all of his and his families’ sins. May they be raised to the highest pinnacle in the heavens without accountability and may he then reside by the fountain of Al-Kauthar in the blessed company of the beloved ﷺ. May our singers, vocalists, composers, musicians and producers use their talents in a similar manner to elevate themselves by serving humanity.

I may begin reciting naats and nasheeds again… I may do this in the privacy of my own home. I may continue to the famed Diyanet Center of Maryland or I may find myself in Madinah “The Radiant” as I walk barefoot in her alleyways, making my way into the heart of Masjid An-Nabawi…

“Everyone upon the earth will perish, and there will remain the Face of your Lord, Owner of Majesty and Honor. So which of the favors of your Lord will you deny”

– Holy Quran, 55: 26-28

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sEirbUAurFg[/youtube]

Jameel Syed, “The Muaddhin” is an international speaker, traveler, author and marketing executive based in Auburn Hills, Michigan. In 2015, he became the first person in the history of the world to make the Adhan - Islamic call to prayer across all 50 states in America: Record span of 35 days while reciting the last sermon of the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ. He is the brainchild behind the historical “50 Mosque Man Tour”. Jameel is a columnist for two of the most prestigious online Muslim Media sources in the world: The award winning blog, muslimmatters.org and the internationally famed ilmfeed.com. He is the feature of a podcast series under the banner of “Greed For Ilm” that airs bi-weekly about Muslims in America. Jameel attained his education from The University of Michigan School of Kinesiology and Ross School of Business. In 2004, he founded the Fluidvisions Marketing firm, specializing in strategy consulting, building brand equity and launching new ventures. Jameel’s focus in the traditional Islamic sciences center around the Fara’id and Sunnan of calling the Adhan, the rights/duties of the Muaddhin & the last sermon of the Prophet Muhamad ﷺ , knowledge which he attained and has the permission to disseminate from Sheikh Mohamad Mwafak Algalaieni PhD. He has Ijaza (license to teach) in Tajweed from his late father Qari/Dr. Salam A. Syed and teaches locally in his community. He is currently pursuing the memorization of the Qur’an under the guidance of Sheikh-ul-Hadith Qari Ilyas and Qari Nouman Ilyas. For information about booking speaking events, go to: www.jameelsyed.com.

34 Comments

34 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Hassan

    December 8, 2016 at 12:16 AM

    May Allah shower His mercy upon Junaid, and forgive his shortcomings.

    In retrospect. his death has made me realize why he was having trials for last year or so. Not to compare the status or work, but Imam Bukhari said something, that was misunderstood (about Quran being created versus Allah’s speech) and he had hard time in his own land before his death.

  2. Avatar

    Naomi Macklin-Carr

    December 8, 2016 at 5:18 AM

    May Allah show mercy and elevate his ranks. This was a great insight to his life, and a great example of someone that sacrificed the enjoyments of this world.

  3. Avatar

    Waz

    December 10, 2016 at 4:11 AM

    The man that Junaid Jamshed was died a long time ago. That man was an artist who spread joy and positivity through music. Then he became a ten-a-penny mullah, the kind that Pakistan is bursting at the seams with, spewing the usual misogynistic and bigoted crap. Still had a nice voice and sold some funky kurtas, though.

    • Avatar

      Anonymous

      December 10, 2016 at 9:07 PM

      It’s the trait of a good Muslim and a good person too, that he does not speak ill of the deceased, but instead speaks of the good they left behind in this world.

      • Avatar

        Waz

        December 14, 2016 at 5:54 AM

        Thank you. No doubt i could be both a better person and a better muslim, but Junaid Jamshed really meant something to me and my sadness at his passing brought all my disappointment and regret to the fore. I did allude to the good above, but my memories of him are bittersweet. I acknowledge i may have been a bit blunter than intended.

        On a related note, it is remarkable how this trait you mention is practiced so selectively by so many good muslims. While everyone is rushing to eulogise JJ, you should have heard the things people said (when they said anything at all) about Salman Taseer, Shahbaz Bhatti, Rashid Rehman and Sabeen Mahmud among others – these are people (nearly all Muslim!) who stood up for their fellow Pakistanis and for human rights at the cost of their lives. I guess this “speaking good” only applies to the hardcore sunni establishment, which lately seems to be the main segment of the Ummah that this site caters for. It is fortunate for JJ that he was a poster boy for this establishment.

    • Avatar

      Beats

      December 13, 2016 at 12:44 AM

      Typical Pakistani liberal slander. Your hatred of Islam is showing, degenerate. Nothing bigoted or misogynistic about Junaid Jamshed. He was a great Muslim role model. May Allah(swt)forgive his sins and grant him Jannah.

      • Avatar

        Waz

        December 13, 2016 at 8:41 AM

        It’s not slander for two reasons:

        1. It’s in writing;
        2. More importantly, it’s true. He had expressed sexist and regressive opinions in public, which made me very sad.

        You seem to suffer from the hair-trigger sensitivity that afflicts many of my compatriots regarding perceived “insults to islam”. I am frustrated by the mullah dominated culture that has taken over Pakistan (paid for by our Gulf overlords) that has made us a bigoted and intolerant society that denigrates anyone who does not conform to some austere sunni muslim ideal. I am frustrated that people are glorifying that JJ embraced this regressive mindset and abandoned his potential as an artist for the people. He was still a muslim before, you know, but he was for all Pakistanis.

        Has mullah now become a synonym for muslim, so that criticism of the former constitutes an attack on the latter? For me, Islam is very personal and not to be imposed on others. Is there no room for muslims like me in Pakistan anymore?

        Also, you seem to use “liberal” as an insult. Liberal properly means standing up for the rights and freedoms of all members of society, not just the ones that fit some privileged criteria. For example, in the west it is usually liberals that defend the rights of the muslim minorities. I am proud to be liberal, i think all Pakistanis deserve the same rights, freedoms and opportunities – our society and constitution are discriminatory and need to change, but that can only happen when people acknowledge these problems.

      • Avatar

        ZAI

        December 14, 2016 at 9:39 PM

        Mashallah Br. WAZ…

        Well said. May be people of Pakistan and its neighboring countries be freed from this malignant grotesque use of Islam that has overtaken the Pakistani state, military, media and too many in society. Ameen!

        An Afghan Brother.

      • Avatar

        Beats

        December 15, 2016 at 7:18 PM

        @Waz,

        You’re right about one thing, slander is spoken, you’re engaged in libel against Junaid Jamshed. The rest of your insipid diatribe just confirms how utterly inept and intellectually bankrupt Pakistani “liberals” are. Your tired references to “Mullahs” and “Gulf overlords”(a qasi-racist implication) that we Muslims worship Arabs further confirms you anti-Muslim caricature of practicing Muslims ala the notorious Islamophobe Tarek Fatah. Referring to Jamshed’s spiritual growth as “regression” is a transparent attack on Islam. We get it, you hate Islam, and Jamshed because no longer appealed to your “tastes.” The same degenerate Pakistani liberals also attacked the philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi when he died. He too was a practicing Muslim. And there’s NOTHING a Pakistani liberal types hates more then a practicing Muslim.
        I’ve lived in the West most of my life so don’t lecture me on how “great” liberals are. Your lack of education, critical thinking, and Pakistani inferiority complex is really showing, believing in false paradigms, poor fellow. Islam isn’t something “personal” but a faith and active way of life which we Muslims aspire to practice as best as we can. You’re welcome to languish in your vices and, but not to lecture Muslims in any way or form. Last time you lot were in power you looted the country blind so don’t pretend you have any moral high ground here. A cursory look at how the West’s liberals actually treats minorities would give any intelligent person pause. You don’t care about anyone’s rights but your own so spare us your posturing. No wonder Imran Khan referred to you “liberals” as “scum.” Your mindless worship of the West is really nothing less then Pavlovian style slavery. Today thousands of Pakistanis attended Junaid Jamshed’s funeral, he will be remembered for his music, but far more so for being a great role model for Muslims. The same can’t be said for those like you. You will not be missed.

      • Avatar

        Beats

        December 25, 2016 at 4:07 PM

        Asalamu Aliakum Br. Aly

        Jazakallah Khair for the reminder. I have better things to do with my time then “debate” trolls but I felt compelled to respond to “Waz’s” trolling. He is no brother of mine, he couldn’t even hide his contempt for JJ, even in death. Liberals like Waz are extremists of the lowest order and should be banned from this site.

        • Avatar

          Aly Balagamwala

          December 27, 2016 at 2:50 AM

          Dear Brother.

          I am deeply saddened by your words. Almost six years since I took over the moderation of this website and I have seen the ugly side of Muslims, non-Muslims, trolls, aliens, etc. And it has helped me become more tolerant of not only my fellow Muslims but also my fellow humans.

          May Allah allow us to learn tolerance, to discuss rather than debate, and to understand that sometimes our viewpoint may not be acceptable to others as much as theirs is not acceptable to us.

          WasSalamuAlaikum
          Aly

    • Avatar

      Anonymous

      December 14, 2016 at 8:37 PM

      You’re welcome. Junaid Jamshed meant a lot to all of us. The whole world felt his loss, and it just goes to show how many people he touched, Ma Sha’Allah.

      And as for your other statement, the truth is, although I am Pakistani, I do not live in Pakistan, so I had to research those names you listed. I had heard about some case, and the others, I didn’t know. But I can tell you straight out that I don’t agree with what happened to those people. No one should be treated that way, Muslim or no. And I do know that the sectarianism that some groups of religious people are promoting is destroying.

      Maulana Tariq Jameel, one of the closest friends of Junaid Jamshed, says that himself. He recognizes this problem and says, “I give you glad tidings in your beliefs; I don’t want to change them. But I want to say, live as one Ummah, and love one other.” He teaches this wherever he goes, so much so that the Shia Imam of Pakistan once welcomed him, and it was there that he addressed the Shia community. (It’s on YouTube, if that interests you). He prays behind leaders and people of other sects as well. He emphasizes Islam that has no relationship with politics, sectarianism, or violence. Junaid Jamshed was just like him in this way; Maulana Tariq Jameel was his beloved teacher, after all. If you listen to their lectures, you’ll find that they consistently preach love. When Maulana Tariq Jameel preaches to the students of religious schools, our future scholars, he begs them to preach love and teach their people to live with other sects of Muslims peacefully.

      I know that there has been a lot of negative consequences in Pakistan from the rhetoric these types of scholars preach. But I have hope that one day, through people like Maulana Tariq Jameel and Junaid Jamshed, and In Sha’Allah so many others, it will stop, and Muslims will begin to love each other. No one, absolutely no one, must be dehumanized just because they believe differently. This is the basic human right of a person, and it is also emphasized in Islam.

      Remember the Prophet SAW’s mercy at the incident of Taaif? He later said that it was the worst incident of his life, even after the battle of Uhud, where he was almost killed. He could have had those people, who had hurt him so much, crushed between the two mountains. But he rejected the offer, and he prayed for their guidance instead. He chose mercy over hatred. Truth be said, we Muslims have a lot to learn.

    • Avatar

      Beats

      December 15, 2016 at 7:19 PM

      @Waz,

      You’re right about one thing, slander is spoken, you’re engaged in libel against Junaid Jamshed. The rest of your insipid diatribe just confirms how utterly inept and intellectually bankrupt Pakistani “liberals” are. Your tired references to “Mullahs” and “Gulf overlords”(a qasi-racist implication) that we Muslims worship Arabs further confirms you anti-Muslim caricature of practicing Muslims ala the notorious Islamophobe Tarek Fatah. Referring to Jamshed’s spiritual growth as “regression” is a transparent attack on Islam. We get it, you hate Islam, and Jamshed because no longer appealed to your “tastes.” The same degenerate Pakistani liberals also attacked the philanthropist Abdul Sattar Edhi when he died. He too was a practicing Muslim. And there’s NOTHING a Pakistani liberal types hates more then a practicing Muslim.
      I’ve lived in the West most of my life so don’t lecture me on how “great” liberals are. Your lack of education, critical thinking, and Pakistani inferiority complex is really showing, believing in false paradigms, poor fellow. Islam isn’t something “personal” but a faith and active way of life which we Muslims aspire to practice as best as we can. You’re welcome to languish in your vices and, but not to lecture Muslims in any way or form. Last time you lot were in power you looted the country blind so don’t pretend you have any moral high ground here. A cursory look at how the West’s liberals actually treats minorities would give any intelligent person pause. You don’t care about anyone’s rights but your own so spare us your posturing. No wonder Imran Khan referred to you “liberals” as “scum.” Your mindless worship of the West is really nothing less then Pavlovian style slavery. Today thousands of Pakistanis attended Junaid Jamshed’s funeral, he will be remembered for his music, but far more so for being a great role model for Muslims. The same can’t be said for those like you. You will not be missed.

      • Avatar

        Waz

        December 16, 2016 at 3:17 AM

        @brother beats

        Your feathers are clearly ruffled enough to post the same comment twice, but i don’t get why you’re so angry. Clearly we disagree about Junaid Jamshed’s legacy, and many other issues. However there is really no need for such vicious and baseless attacks, i never attacked you personally.

        I am a muslim and have no inferiority about being a Pakistani. I have no idea what vices you refer to or why you keep calling me a degenerate. I have split my years between Pakistan and the west enough to have seen how things are in both places, and i don’t worship the west or consider it to have any absolute moral superiority, there’s good and bad everywhere. I’m not sure what you mean by “my lot” and i assure you that neither i nor any relatives of mine have held power or embezzled anything. I do not hate any group, my feelings depend on the individual in question. It is no secret about Gulf funding of madrassas in South Asia, spreading the rigid wahabi doctrine – why is it racist to point this out, or even to point out that most Pakistanis have a real complex when it comes to Arabs? I don’t hate Junaid Jamshed at all, as I explained before i was just disappointed.

        And mate, seriously NO ONE attacked Edhi that i saw at all. I’m not sure what you’re on about there. In any case Edhi, who i really admired, famously said religion is not above humanity, which is a decidedly liberal viewpoint and one i agree with.

        On the subject of “liberal” please consult a dictionary. I think you are conflating liberals with libertines. I am most certainly NOT the latter. Imran Khan is quite demonstrably a hypocrite and i attach no importance to his opinion, although i think you should pass him the dictionary once you’re done with it.

        I stated my opinion about Junaid Jamshed which is not libel. Your unwarranted personal attacks on me do constitute libel. Also, is that a threat at the end of your post?

      • Avatar

        Beats

        December 17, 2016 at 5:41 AM

        Duplicate posts = “ruffling my feathers,” Waz? Talk about desperately grasping for straws. I’ve thoroughly refuted your lies and misrepresentations, and you’re going to complain about being “personally attacked” after your filthy trolling? What a disingenuous hypocrite! You stated that Junaid Jamshed “DIED” when he left music as far you were concerned. That’s all he was to you, an entertainer. You didn’t respect him in life and you disrespected him in death calling him a “ten-a-penny Mullah.” And you wonder why this would upset anyone? What a callous and petty ba5tard. To us Muslims, he was a great and admirable brother. He was also an obedient son, he was a devoted husband and he was a good father. Above all he was an exemplary Muslim personality. Your “opinions” aka libel are garbage.
        You’re not a Muslim. Just a petty secular agnostic or atheist fool babbling nonsense. And yes, you do have an inferiority complex, your mindless worship of the west is crystal clear proof of this. Ran into plenty of you elitist buffoons in college, with that familiar slavish thinking worshiping at the altar of a US visa. And YES, Pakistani liberals smeared Edhi(why don’t you quote him about practicing islam?) many times claiming he was pocketing donations to his organization. They had no proof but made it up because they simply disliked him because he was a practicing Muslim, just like JJ, but I guess they were just graduates of some “wahabi” seminary right? You liberals think any practicing Muslim incorporating even the most simple Sunnah of the Prophet(pbuh) is an Arab wannabe. Note the racism. Stop playing games and come out and say you hate Islam and seek to undermine the Islamic character of the nation. Not only do you need a dictionary(look up hypocrite, and then go look in the mirror), but a course in critical thinking, and an introductionary course on Islam. Imran Khan(not a hypocrite) was dead right about you liberals when he labeled you “SCUM.” Threat? Guess you need a dictionary to look that as well. Quit posturing and playing victim, crybaby. You’re not even worth a threat. Do you why, Waz? Because you’re a nobody. An insignificant know nothing who will amount to nothing. Junaid Jamshed has returned to Allah(swt) and thousands attended his janaza. How many will attend yours? More importantly will anyone even care?

      • Avatar

        Waz

        December 17, 2016 at 6:59 AM

        Beats,

        I’m sorry but name calling, takfir and strawman arguments are not a refutation of anything. Have a great life.

      • Avatar

        Beats

        December 17, 2016 at 6:26 PM

        Drop the pretense, Waz. Name calling as in calling the recently diseased Junaid Jamshed a “ten-a-penny mullah”? Straw man arguments and distractors like Saudi funding of certain seminaries. And, but you sure know how to scream “takfeer” once I question your identity! Guess you do know something about Islam(when it suits your agenda) after all. It’s a fact that Pakistani liberals aren’t religious whatsoever, in fact the majority of you have disdain for Islam, most being closeted atheists. Your words and deeds are proof of this so why deny it?
        Don’t fool yourself, Waz, not only were you refuted, now you’re being humiliated, and deservedly so. JJ was a far better then I, he would have forgiven you, and made dua for you. . Reflect on this next time you feel the urge to disrespect the dead.

      • Avatar

        Waz

        December 18, 2016 at 3:01 AM

        Aggressive fools like you are all over the place in Pakistan – ready to lash out and attack people for having a different viewpoint and deciding who is and isn’t muslim according to your own criteria. Just because i am not displaying my dua for JJ on here, does not mean you need to try and “refute” and “humiliate” me just because you don’t accept my reasons for being disappointed about some of his choices (while still being sad at his passing and praying for him).

        From your comments, you seem the type of medieval witch-hunter that is quick to yell “blasphemy” and burn someone at the stake for not agreeing with you. But really your comments make no difference, only Allah is my judge and He knows all of what’s in my mind, not just the little bit on this webpage.

      • Avatar

        Beats

        December 18, 2016 at 10:12 PM

        @ Waz

        Childish name calling again? The irony of your hypocrisy is a delight to behold. You’re a broken record, like the typical Pakistani liberal munafiq. Your relentless misrepresentations indicate something very unhealthy about your mental life. Intellectually bankrupt buffoons like you are a dime-a-dozen in “upscale” coffee shops or defense colony parties in Pakistan. I know the stench of your type well, the product of the worst aspects of western culture internalized by wannabe brown sahibs aka sharabi/kebabi/harami types. A generation or so ago you extremists played Communists and Marxists, today you label yourself liberals and secularists. But it’s all for naught, you were failures then, you are failures now. I know the charade all too well, I went to western madrassas with losers like you and saw your inferiority complex and brainwashing up close and personal. Alhamdulilah that I made it out with my Islam intact and uncompromised. Understand this well, Waz, I have no interest in you, you’re less then nothing to me. I wouldn’t waste spit on you, let along “burn you at the stake.” I was compelled to respond to your filthy trolling on this site. That’s it. I sure as hell will take you to the cleaners based on your hateful words against my brother Junaid Jamshed, so playing victim won’t do you any good. Don’t think that I won’t respond and put you in your place. What’s even more laughable is your pathetic “Only Allah can judge me” defense when you yourself passed judgement against JJ. Since when did a rank hypocrite like you who disrespects the dead by calling them “ten-a-penny Mullahs” start believing in Allah(swt) or His judgement?

      • Avatar

        Beats

        December 19, 2016 at 10:43 PM

        Dear Moderator,

        Please publish my response to “Waz.” Jazakallah Khair.

      • Avatar

        Aly Balagamwala

        December 21, 2016 at 10:41 AM

        Dear Waz and Beats

        A moderator can’t take a few days off without someone going off the handle….. both you guys need to watch your comments please. Both are now on moderation on this site and frankly I would jut love to remove this whole thread gone wild but I feel it should stay up as an example of what you are not supposed to do…. both sides of the mindset divide so to say.

        Please apologize to each other and forgive each other. Junaid was a great singer and some of his friends and fans couldn’t understand his move to Islam or his new views on matters. And those on the other side couldn’t understand what irked that first lot about him. Frankly, it is not very easy to understand the other viewpoint and comments sections are definitely not a great place to build that up. So both of you as Muslims pray to Allah to help you understand His Deen and to help the other understand it too.

        Waz you started it by your comments and Beats took it a whole new level. Chill out dudes. At the end of the day, Junaid has to answer for his actions and both of y’all gotta answer to yours. So get some accountability for yourselves.

        Your Brother in Islam
        Aly

  4. Avatar

    James

    December 15, 2016 at 11:18 AM

    Women are selfish and only think about themselves. Women see men as wallets, ATMs, and bank accounts. A woman doesn’t feel any love or connection for you besides a fake bond her genetics create to keep her magnetized to the one providing for her. She’s just happy to be your “possession” and only “loves you” because you fulfill her criteria and nobody better has come along.

    If a better male comes along with more money and is famous etc she’ll ditch you, and she won’t feel bad about it WHATSOEVER. A woman’s level of care and consideration towards you exists on a “what have you done for me lately?” level rather than any true affection built up between two people from spending time together.

    A woman is your possession and a direct cause of the things you have. You have good looks, lots of money and fame? You will have a hot woman by your side as your possession. You are with her for 10 years, loving each other every day, then you lose EVERYTHING, your looks, your money, your fame? She’s gone, just like everything else you owned, just like your car. It’s only there as long as you have the resources to KEEP it there, because it’s just an object it feels no “bond” with you.

  5. Avatar

    James

    December 15, 2016 at 11:20 AM

    Women just want to copy men as much as they possibly can. #killallmen and the abortion of fetuses is what feminism stands for today. The concept of “ladies first”, women hitting men becoming a congratulatory source for women, false accusations of domestic abuse against men, women initiating the majority of divorces and walking out of marriages the moment they see a man with more money, women in the workforce with children left to grow in day care centres, women receiving legal and social privileges at the expense of men, more and more men trapped with women’s lies about rape – only foolish men spend time and money on women, or get in a relationship with them of any sort. Women are hypergamous. They want your money. Not you. Get that in your brain. Women know how to use men for their benefit. Instead of spending money on some women, spend it on your parents. Be grateful to them.

  6. Avatar

    James

    December 15, 2016 at 11:21 AM

    The fundamental fault in the character of women is that they have no “sense of justice.”

    This arises from their deficiency in the power of reasoning already referred to, and reflection, but is also partly due to the fact that God has not destined them, as the weaker sex, to be dependent on strength but on cunning; this is why they are instinctively crafty, and have an ineradicable tendency to lie.

    For as lions are furnished with claws and teeth, elephants with tusks, boars with fangs, bulls with horns, and the cuttlefish with its dark, inky fluid, so God has provided woman for her protection and defense with the faculty of dissimulation, and all the power which God has given to man in the form of bodily strength and reason has been conferred on woman in this form.

    Hence, dissimulation is innate in woman and almost as characteristic of the very stupid as of the clever. Accordingly, it is as natural for women to dissemble at every opportunity as it is for those animals to turn to their weapons when they are attacked; and they feel in doing so that in a certain measure they are only making use of their rights.

    Therefore a woman who is perfectly truthful and does not dissemble is perhaps an impossibility. This is why they see through dissimulation in others so easily; therefore it is not advisable to attempt it with them.

    From the fundamental defect that has been stated, and all that it involves, spring falseness, faithlessness, treachery, ungratefulness, and so on. In a court of justice women are more often found guilty of perjury than men. It is indeed to be generally questioned whether they should be allowed to take an oath at all.

  7. Avatar

    faheem nusrat

    December 16, 2016 at 9:29 PM

    JJ legacy is Tolerance,kind mannerism , dedication to Islam and being nonjudgmental.He disliked back biting and was against judging even prostitutes.He was very brave man who had the courage to face criticism.
    He was best human being I have ever known in my lifetime-off course he was not perfect.
    He was WALI of our time.
    We will miss u until we meet again inshAllah
    Dr Faheem

  8. Avatar

    Umm Noor

    December 19, 2016 at 12:44 AM

    Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi rajioon

  9. Avatar

    Waz

    December 21, 2016 at 12:32 PM

    Dear Aly

    You are right, i got carried away and I apologise to all that i may have offended. My feelings about JJ are complex but not hateful; the fact i admired him so made it hard to understand some of the positions he took.

    Reading my earlier posts again with a cool head i do think that i could have chosen my words better, they were needlessly bitter. I didn’t mean for things to get out of hand like this and i apologise to beats as he clearly cares a lot as well. I forgive his harsh words and pray that he can forgive my harsh words as well. End of the day i guess we need to try and understand each other’s views better, i will reflect on this. Sorry you had to come back to this after your holiday.

    May Allah guide us all and forgive us.

    • Avatar

      Aly Balagamwala

      December 27, 2016 at 2:49 AM

      Dear Brother.

      JazakAllahu Khairin for your words. Almost six years since I took over the moderation of this website and I have seen the ugly side of Muslims, non-Muslims, trolls, aliens, etc. And it has helped me become more tolerant of not only my fellow Muslims but also my fellow humans.

      May Allah allow us to learn tolerance, to discuss rather than debate, and to understand that sometimes our viewpoint may not be acceptable to others as much as theirs is not acceptable to us.

      WasSalamuAlaikum
      Aly

      • Avatar

        alex

        December 31, 2016 at 12:57 AM

        My muslim brothers,
        I have never followed this website before. I just happened to visit this page since I was trying to read about our brother JJ. When I read Waz’s first comment, my blood started boiling too. Then I read Beats comments and I felt a bit better even though I agree that the response could have been more gentle. But brother Aly, the first comment by Waz was extremely inflammatory especially at a time when our hearts have not even partially healed from the loss we are facing. JJ’s death is no ordinary death. It’s shahadat. And I have come across a few muslim brothers who are absolutely disrespectful just like Waz was in his comments. I agree that the argument should not go on like it was between Waz and Beats but the inflammatory remarks and calling JJ names needed to be stopped right away. May be if the moderator had stepped in sooner, it would have been nipped in the bud. But I can completely relate to Beats feelings (even if I don’t agree to the choice of his words). All of us should remain respectful to each other but as Muslims, we need to teach each other how not to be disrespectful of the ones who have already passed away. JJ himself would not have liked this debate and I agree with Beats that he would have forgiven Waz (not easy for us ordinary human beings but our dear brother JJ forgave many who tried to harm him). But I just wish that Waz had not started this debate with the inflammatory remarks against JJ. His death alone has given guidance to so many of us. It’s like he didn’t just spread the love of Islam in his life, his death is a turning point for many. May Allah give us hidayat and show us the right path. May Allah clear the confusion faced by some regarding the two phases of JJ’s life. I grew up listening to JJ’s songs and was a die hard fan but truly loved and respected him when he left everything and turned towards Islam. What he gave up was not very easy. Personally have tried to change my life many times and failed repeatedly. There shouldn’t be any debate regarding which phase of his life was better. If we claim to be Muslims then we have to do “Samaina wa ataana”. What JJ did with his life was not something any ordinary man could do. Even though I failed personally, I salute JJ for changing not just his own life but helping others realize what life is actually all about. May Allah SWT give us strength to follow in his footsteps. Ameen.

  10. Avatar

    Sidheek CS

    December 30, 2016 at 1:22 AM

    السلام عليكم و رحمة الله و بركاته

    i have read the article and have went through the comments. My mother tongue is Malayalam, not Urdu. I had read about Brother Junaid Jamshed years ago. I was proud of him. We shouldn’t fight over his death. Tongue cuts deeper than sword. Let’s try to become better human beings. Of course Muslims are best human beings, if they follow Islam perfectly. May Allah Bless ! Aameen.
    Sidheek CS
    Kerala
    India

  11. Avatar

    escaper/seeker of death?!

    December 31, 2016 at 10:33 AM

    O merciful have mercy on br. Junaid and those who tragedly lost their lives also….may their final vital signs been on kalimat haqq of la ilah ila Allah and br. Junaid be rewarded for all his efforts of the deen and may his and their families be comforted and looked after and may the departed be raised high into al firdaws al alaa. Allahom aameen.

    …since the Malaysian flights or just before, there has been unexpectedly falling planes…may Allah protect and safe guard all our flights in the future. ameen. and may He have mercy on all the departed and those of us who remain and especially on the day of reckoning and judgement. ameen

    [To the righteous it will be said], “O reassured soul,
    Return to your Lord, well-pleased and pleasing [to Him],
    And enter among My [righteous] servants
    And enter My Paradise.”

  12. Avatar

    mursi kembang

    January 4, 2017 at 4:16 PM

    Thank you very much for the information…

  13. Avatar

    03AJY2

    February 12, 2017 at 9:39 AM

    927574 789Woh I like your posts , saved to fav! . 152762

  14. Avatar

    M Haris

    October 4, 2017 at 12:39 PM

    This article glosses over and romanticizes Junaid Jamshed. I also grew up listening to his music and really did love him and his songs. I still sing them, on occasion. But that does not mean that we ignore who he became as a person and the things he said. Junaid Jamshed, was for many a great man, but his “preaching” in later years was highly problematic for many ways. You completely ignored the fact that he was a misogynist who -on more than one occasion- stated that women’s rights should be limited.

    When I heard he passed, I was sad but part of me was not sad. As terrible as that is to say. But I realized why part of me did not mourn his loss. It was because he had begun to embody the types of figures who are actually detrimental to progress in a society like Pakistan. His causes were focused on trivial things such as if women’s hair was covered. And in a religious sense, I suppose some people care about that. But what he was doing was harming Pakistani society and the economy. He was making it harder for women to accomplish things, to hold jobs, and to have a voice in society because he so thoroughly dismissed them.

    I can understand that you looked up to him as a musician and as a religious speaker. But I don’t understand how you can completely wipe away the bad things he said.

    I am not one for speaking ill of the dead. But I do not think that in mourning him we should ignore the darker side of him that were harmful. We should pray that god forgives his sins, but we can’t brush the bad things he did under the rug. We need to be better than that. He was not infallible, he was a very flawed person. In mourning him we should also remember that we should learn from his mistakes. \

    I am deeply disappointed by this article because it was in no way a nuanced look at his life.

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#Culture

To Kill a Muslim – Part 1

Yahya noticed the obscene gesture that the man across the street gave him, but he ignored it, and chose not to tell his wife Samira. He knew how deep racism ran in these small towns. He would just have to be patient.

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1. Ragheads

Rotting wooden porch steps

Nursing a warm beer, Chad sat on the ramshackle front porch with the rotting steps and peeling paint. His hand clenched tightly the beer can as he watched the filthy camel hugging family move in across the street. Liquid sloshed over his fist.

It was unbelievable. This was Alhambra, a white town in America. Trump’s America. Making America great again, putting the freaks and coloreds back in their places. Sure, there were wetbacks in Alhambra – you couldn’t escape them in California – but there were hardly any blacks, and there were certainly no terrorist camel huggers.

Until now. There they were across the street and two houses down, unloading a trailer hooked to a silver Honda Accord. It was a whole family of ragheads – a woman with her stupid oppressed scarf on her head, a little boy and girl, and the father. Chad studied the man with contempt. The guy was tall, maybe 6’1 or 6’2, and black. Well, maybe he was African or some such, ‘cause he wore one of those long, colorful African shirts. His skin was mud colored, and his hair was short under that stupid beanie. He was skinny though. Chad was pretty sure he could kick the guy’s ass. The man noticed Chad looking and waved. Chad flipped him the bird. The man frowned and went on moving his crap.

Chad spent a lot of time sitting on the porch nowadays, ever since he’d been fired from his loss prevention job at Walmart. That still made his jaw clench and his vision go red every time he thought about it. Some black dude – a gangbanger no doubt – had tried to shoplift box of tampons, of all things, and Chad stopped him. A scuffle ensued. Chad recovered the tampons, but the banger got away. And Walmart fired him. Said he’d violated the terms of service of his employment, which required no physical engagement of any kind. You were supposed to ask the thief to return the goods, but if they refused you were not supposed to stop them, follow them, or “engage” in any way, due to the liability to other customers if the encounter turned violent.

So the shade goes off scot-free, and Chad gets fired. A law abiding, hard working, white American gets fired for doing the right thing. It made him want to smash something. Actually it made him want to smash someone, ideally his Filipino woman boss at Walmart, but any foreigner would do.

So here he was, twenty two and unemployed, nothing but a high school diploma to his name, sitting on his mom’s porch. All his old high school friends had jobs and girlfriends. Some even had wives. A couple had gone to college.

It wasn’t right. His life wasn’t supposed to turn out like this. He’d been a track star in high school – hundred meters and hurdles – and was supposed to have gone to college on a scholarship, but he’d blown out his knee, and they’d all abandoned him. It was like, if you weren’t of use to people, they didn’t give a crap about you. You were disposable. Blood sucking leeches. They’d given his spot on the track team to a black kid, a sophomore. Kid probably couldn’t even read. Was that piece of crap out there now, living the life that should have been Chad’s? How could this happen in Trump’s America? That was the problem, that it hadn’t been Trump’s America back then. It had been Barack Hussein’s America, the Commie Muslim traitor, damn his terrorist soul.

He seethed with the unfairness of it. He was no genius, he knew that. But he’d been a good runner, talented. He’d had the opportunity to make something of himself, to be the first in his family to go to college. He could have been more than his parents. A teacher maybe, or even a lawyer. His mother survived on welfare and what she could beg, borrow or steal from her string of boyfriends.

As for his dad, sure, Chad admired him in some ways – the man had been a shot caller in the Aryan Nation prison gang, able to point a finger and have another man killed. He’d been looked up to and respected. And he’d taught Chad what it meant to be a proud white man, standing up for your race and not taking any crap from coloreds. But let’s face it, Dad had spent 90% of his adult life in prison, and in the end had died the way he lived, with a knife in his gut. That wasn’t what Chad wanted for himself.

Plus, if Chad was being honest, he’d evolved beyond this father’s way of thinking. His father always used to say that the coloreds – no matter the shade – were filthy and inferior and should all be eliminated, even if that meant a race war across the face of America. It was a certainty, according to him, that the race war was coming. RaHoWa, he used to call it – Racial Holy War. The coloreds were secretly plotting to wipe out white America. It was an assault on the white, Christian values that had built everything worldwide in the modern world.

But when Chad had worked at Walmart he’d been forced to work with people of all colors and even folks from other countries like Filipinos and Chinks. He´d asked a few of them about RaHoWa, trying to find out about their plans to destroy the white race, but they seemed genuinely clueless. Chad slowly realized that RaHoWa was a myth, and that the coloreds were ordinary people like himself. They liked the same sports teams he did, played the same video games, watched the same shows. Yeah, they ate some weird crap and some of them smelled different, and their music was garbage. And they weren’t as smart of course. That was a fact. White people were the smartest, they had invented everything. That was why they ran the world. But the point was that the coloreds weren’t evil.

He had come to the conclusion that what was needed was not a race war, but separation. Let the coloreds live in their own neighborhoods and go to their own schools. Let them marry their own women and breed their own brats. And Chad and the white people would do the same. Live and let live. Not the Filipino bitch who fired him of course, he still wanted to bust her head open. But the others, yeah.

But the Muzzies – the Islamics – that was a different story. They were terrorist, cult following traitors. Not normal people. Muzzies were evil and sick in the head. Everybody said so. Plus, they lied as part of their sicko religion. It was called takaya or some crap. What kind of twisted bullcrap was that? They beheaded people, for Christ’s sake. If you were Christian in their country they would cut off your head with a hunting knife. They were devil worshipers. They should all either be kicked out of the country or killed. Period. And then Mecca should be nuked, and that would be the end of it.

But instead of taking care of business, the government was letting them go around like normal people. Even Trump had wimped out. The evidence was right in front of Chad’s eyes. Ragheads in his neighborhood, on his street. It was insane. How could terrorists go around openly showing off their rags? Where was Homeland Security? That was a good idea, actually. See something, say something, right? He took his phone out of his pocket and called 911.

2. Moving Day

Yahya Mtondo noticed the young man across the street staring. He waved, and when the fellow gave him an obscene gesture in return he frowned. In the old days – that is to say, in his angry and lost years of his youth – he would have marched straight over there and punched the man in the face, and damn the consequences. But he wasn’t that man anymore. So here merely shook his head and turned back to the job of moving.

His wife Samira must have noticed his expression. “What’s wrong habibi?”

He forced a smile. “Nothing’s at all, mchumba wangu.” Usually he called her mpenzi wangu – my love. But when he wanted to tease her he called her mchumba wangu, my homemaker. It was actually a term of endearment in his native Kenya, or at least it was what his dad always used to call his mom, may Allah have mercy on them. But he knew it annoyed Samira. In any case, he wasn’t going to tell her about the young man across the street. Samira tended to worry – she even had anxiety attacks sometimes – and he didn’t want to give her anything more to stress over.

“Just tired from the fast,” he added. “But I love it. I feel so light and free. I’m a bird doing loop de loops. Oooh!” He spread his arms. “My feathers are as cool as ice.”

Samira rolled her eyes. “You’re such a nut.”

He had not been crazy about the idea of moving to this poor, mostly white enclave in Central California, about twenty miles northeast of Fresno. He knew from experience how deep racism often ran in such towns. And he had two strikes against him in these people’s eyes, since he was both African and Muslim. Not that he was ashamed. He was proud of his Kenyan heritage, and was grateful that Allah had guided him to Islam.

They were here because his wife had just completed her medical residency in Fort Worth, Texas, where they’d moved from, and Alhambra Community Hospital had unexpectedly offered her a fellowship in her specialty of oncology. The salary was not spectacular, but it was better than she’d earned as a resident. Between that and his income as a rideshare driver, plus the low property values here in Alhambra, they’d been able to buy a house for the first time, alhamdulillah – thanks to God for all His blessings.

Craftsman bungalow cottage

The best part of all was that there was no ribaa involved. No interest. They’d gone through a group called Central Valley Islamic Finance, which helped qualified Muslims to buy cars and homes without interest. Yahya was deeply relieved about that. He ́d made plenty of mistakes in life, but so far he’d managed to avoid the sin of ribaa, sometimes making great sacrifices in the process.

It felt like an achievement. He could see himself on Yawm Al-Qiyamah – the Day of Resurrection – standing before some great angel who held in his hand a parchment listing Yahya´s sins, each with a small checked box: anger, resentment, cursing, jealousy, ingratitude, and more. But then Yahya ́s eyes would settle on the one little unchecked box – Ribaa. He would point to it excitedly, saying, ̈Look, look!̈ And he ́d hope that it might perhaps, offer him a chance for safety on that Day.

It was pretty sad, he knew, when avoiding a major sin was your last chance for salvation. Welcome to the 21st century. Or maybe that was a cop-out. He sighed.

̈Come on babe, tell me. What is it?̈ His sweaty-faced wife touched his cheek. She was always so alert to any sign of inner turbulence on his part.

He smiled. ¨Nothing.¨

She slid her arm through his. ̈Look at our house. Our house. SubhanAllah.¨

He set down the box he had tucked under one arm and studied the house. 701 Minarets Avenue. They had taken the street name as a sign. Their own little homestead, their own piece of earth – of course it all belonged to Allah, but it was theirs to care for. He would import a few elephants and a lion and call it Little House on the Serengeti. He chuckled at his own joke.

The house was small for a family of four – only 1,100 square feet. But it was cute – a little Craftsman bungalow built in 1901, painted teal with white trim, and featuring a small covered veranda to relax on when the weather go too hot, as it often did here in Central California. The yard was planted with wildflowers and native shrubs, while an immense magnolia tree grew in the front yard, casting shade over most of the house, its thick, waxy leaves glowing deep emerald in the morning sun. Some sort of songbird trilled from deep in the tree, praising God in its own language. Yahya loved it.

As an added bonus, Samira’s family lived in Los Angeles, only a four hour drive from here.

Allah the Most High had opened a door for them, and they’d walked through, taking the path that the Most Wise chose for them. Yahya knew in his heart that there would be good in this path, or Allah would not have set them upon it. That was trust, tawakkul. Doing your best, then putting your life in Allah’s hands and trusting Him to bring you through whatever obstacles you faced. Tawakkul was not, as some thought, naivete. Yahya had not lived an easy life. He ́d experienced terrible tragedies, and had walked through trench and terror, metaphorically speaking, just to stay alive. No, tawakkul was a choice and a mindset. It was faith.

As for the young man across the street, Yahya would make an effort to reach out to the neighbors, get to know them. Weren’t Muslims commanded to be kind to their neighbors? Only through kindness could an enemy become a friend.

He kissed his wife on the temple and bent down wearily to pick up the box.This was Ramadan, and Yahya’s energy level was at rock bottom. He hadn’t taken any food or water in many hours. Fortunately, all the family’s possessions fit into a small U-Haul trailer, and the moving was nearly done. That was one advantage of being poor, he thought wryly. It made moving easier.

Ten minutes later, hefting a 6-foot bookshelf and turning, he almost tripped over Sulayman, his four-year-old son, who had picked up a table fan by the cord. Yahya resisted the temptation to chide the boy. The irritability he felt was a byproduct of his hunger and weariness from the fast. Part of the challenge of Ramadan was to overcome that irritability and replace it with compassion. Instead of anger, to give love. Instead of resentment, to exercise generosity. Instead of self-absorption, to expand your sphere of concern to include your family, neighbors, the community, the Muslim ummah, and finally the world. That was Ramadan, and that was Islam.

Sulayman and his three-year-old sister Amirah were only trying to help in their little way. But yeah, they were getting underfoot. He was about to suggest they go play inside the house when he heard sirens approaching. It sounded like there were a lot of them, and they were close. Curious, he set the bookshelf down in the driveway. The sirens kept getting louder, and a moment later a black-and-white Alhambra police cruiser careened around the corner, then another right behind it, tires squealing. Yahya didn’t know what was going on – a burglary in the neighborhood, or a domestic dispute maybe? – but he wanted his family out of harm’s way.

“Samira,” he said urgently. “Take the kids into the house, please. Right away.” His wife had also paused to see the source of the commotion. She stood near the front door of the house, her hands gripping tightly on the box of dinnerware she was carrying. Like him, she was tall – about 5’10” to his 6’1” – and though she was Palestinian, her skin was a beautiful shade of brown that fell somewhere between copper and mahogany. Her purple hijab concealed long black hair that she typically wore loose beneath her scarf.

While Yahya was quiet and contemplative, Samira could be loud. She had a laugh that rang out, and a smile that stretched a mile wide. People were drawn to her brash and bubbly personality. Only those who knew her best understood the insecurities and worries that she hid beneath that bright and happy laugh.

As the wailing sirens mounted Samira dropped the box. Whatever was inside shattered when it hit the ground. She scooped up the kids, lifting them bodily off the ground, and disappeared inside the house.

Cop with gun drawn

What on earth? What had gotten into her? Yahya was about to go after her when the police cars skidded to a halt in the street in front of his own home. Doors were thrown open, and officers kneeled behind them, pointing their guns at his house. Yahya looked around in confusion. Was a fugitive hiding in his yard?

“Put your hands on your head,” someone bellowed through a loudspeaker, “and get down on your knees!”

Again Yahya looked around. Surely they did not mean him?

“You with the hat and the beard! Put your hands on your head and get down on your knees! This is your last warning!”

SubhanAllah, they did mean him! He considered protesting or at least asking for clarification. Then he looked at the barrels of the firearms pointing at him, one of which was bright yellow for some reason – some kind of phaser pistol? he thought crazily – and realized this was not the time for anything less than obedience. Moving slowly so as not to alarm the cops, he put his hands on his head and went down to his knees. Two offers charged forward, their weapons trained on Yahya’s chest. One pulled his hands behind his back and handcuffed him, then shoved him forward. He fell, turning his face to the side at the last second and striking his cheek on the driveway. The impact made him grunt in pain. He thought he heard the muffled cries of his wife or children from inside the house. They were probably watching through the window.

This was not something he would have ever wanted them to see. He struggled to rise up, to say to the officers, “Come on now, what’s this all about?” He was not personally afraid. It was never his way to be afraid of people or the things people did. He was good with God and trusted in the path. He just didn’t want his children to see their father being treated this way.

The cops tased him. He didn’t understand at that moment what was happening. Every muscle in his body seized in a terrible cramp. His limbs thrashed uncontrollably and his torso flopped like a dying fish on the floor of a boat. His vision went red as agonizing pain blasted his consciousness. He still heard his family screaming, and in the distance he heard laughter as well – triumphant, mocking laughter. The agony seemed to go on forever, then vanished without a trace, leaving no remainder of pain.

He regained control of himself and turned his head to look at the officers. The one who’d tased him stood rigid, his arms in a classic firing pose, his muscles quivering. He was young and slender, pasty white with red hair and a prematurely receding hairline. What Yahya noticed most of all, however, was that the man was petrified. His eyes were wide with fear. SubhanAllah, what was he so afraid of? He was staring as if Yahya were some mythical monster laying in the driveway, like an abominable snowman. Except he wasn’t an abominable snowman. He was an abominable Muslim, apparently.

“Hey,” Yahya said in what he hoped was a soothing tone. “It’s alright. I’m not-”

“Shut up, faggot!” one of the officers bellowed, and once again the electricity coursed through him. He spasmed and fell hard, striking his mouth this time. Then he felt hard objects hitting him, striking his legs and back. A hammering blow clapped the side of his head, and darkness descended upon his mind.

* * *

Next: Part 2 – The Black Jesus

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.

Wael Abdelgawad’s novel, Pieces of a Dream, is available on Amazon.com.

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#Culture

Gravedigger: A Short Story

A fist crashed into Ghada Aziz’s eye, snapping her head back and turning her legs to straw. Pain exploded in her face and she wondered if her orbital socket had just shattered. Somehow she clung to consciousness, covering her head with her arms, then lashing out with a punch of her own.

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fight, life, death, grave

A fist crashed into Ghada Aziz’s eye, snapping her head back and turning her legs to straw. Pain exploded in her face and she wondered if her orbital socket had just shattered. Somehow she clung to consciousness, covering her head with her arms, then lashing out with a punch of her own. She couldn’t take much more. Her left leg was swollen and numb, her ribs deeply bruised, and blood poured into her eyes from a cut on her forehead.

MMA ringShe never saw the blow that knocked her out. She crashed to the blood-spattered canvas, mouth open and drooling, dimly aware of the referee shielding her. A roaring sound like an avalanche filled her ears, and knew it was the sound of the crowd cheering her opponent. This was her sixth loss in the last two years, and the fourth by knockout. She’d once been the seventh ranked female bantamweight fighter in the world, but she was done. Twenty seven years old and washed up, her MMA career was over.

Was it for this that Baba – her father – had fled Iraq with her when she was twelve, leaving behind the land where his wife and son – her mother and older brother – had been slaughtered? Was it for this that he gave up his work as a radiologist to work as a janitor in Los Angeles, somehow managing to pay for her English and karate lessons?

And how had she repaid him? Other Arab-American children became doctors and engineers, but Ghada dropped out of college, driven by her passion for martial arts. The fighting ring was the only place where she felt completely in control of her destiny. Life delivered one crushing blow after another – losing loved ones, loneliness, grief – but in the ring, standing over her opponent in triumph, life was powerless to harm her. Only in the ring did she feel in control, secure.

She wouldn’t have blamed Baba for being disappointed in her, but he’d been proud, even when the local Arab community criticized him for letting his daughter adopt immoral ways. He dropped in on her training sessions and hung news stories about her on the wall. Unlike many fighters Ghada had no nickname, and Baba used to teasingly say that she should call herself The Saracen, or The Arab Assassin. As if she needed to call attention to her heritage. She already received death threats from Americans and Arabs alike. The only thing Baba would not do was attend her fights. He couldn’t bear to see her getting hit. Baba also supported her financially until she began to win, at which point she bought him a little house in Eagle Rock with a garden that he tended lovingly.

Then he died, his heart giving out on a cold January morning as he raked the leaves in the yard, while Ghada was away at training camp. Her shame at having neglected him was a worse blow than any she’d ever taken in the ring.

Someone gripped her arm. Sibni, she thought in Arabic, her cheek glued to the canvas, her braided black hair soaking up blood. Let me be. But the coach pulled her up and mopped her face as the cut man pressed the freezing end-swell disc into her forehead to stanch the flow of blood. She hung her head, not wanting to see the faces of the leering crowd, many of them overjoyed to see the Arab bitch lose. So much hate she’d faced. All for nothing.

She remembered being surprised at how many people came to Baba’s funeral. Arabs and other members of the Muslim community – Pakistanis, Indians, African-Americans, and the odd Latino or white convert – stood in rows to pray.  Non-Muslims came as well, approaching her to offer their condolences. She didn’t know most of them. They spoke of her father’s generosity or his guidance. While she’d been focused on training, Baba had intertwined with many lives, touching many hearts. That should have been comforting, but it only reminded her that she hadn’t been there enough to truly know him. She hadn’t been involved. Her grief was a thunderstorm in her head and would not let up. She skipped training sessions, lived on instant noodles and delivery pizza, slept past noon every day and lost fight after fight, unable to win the outer battles while the inner ones raged.

Now that her career was finally over, she fell into a pit of despair. She stopped bathing, washing the dishes, and paying the bills. Late notices came. Sometimes the doorbell rang and people called to her. A few times she recognized the voices of Farah and Summer, two Muslim friends she’d had in high school. They’d drifted away after she became an MMA fighter. Or had she pushed them away, preempting the threat of their rejection? They’d attended a few of her fights as well – she’d seen them in the front rows, cheering. She’d always refused to acknowledge them, fearing that they were there to judge her. They both wore hijab after all, while she was out in front of the world wearing knee-length shorts and a lycra shirt, making a spectacle of herself. So she’d deliberately avoided them, not meeting their eyes when she left the ring after the fights.

Sometimes she thought about killing herself. She resisted the idea, knowing it was against her religion and everything her father had taught her. But… there was no way forward. She was an unemployed college drop-out, finished in her career, alone in the world, and – judging from the unopened late notices she was receiving from the state – about to lose her father’s house for non-payment of taxes.

One miserable night, unable to sleep and equally unable to bear her own thoughts, she walked into the kitchen. Roaches scattered. Filthy dishes stewed in the sink. In the middle of the room stood a small table and two folding chairs. Her father used to sit there when he read the newspaper and paid the bills. Why had he kept two chairs there? Perpetually waiting – hoping – for Ghada to return home and join him at that little table? Atop the table stood a glass vase filled with desiccated morning glories. Those same dead flowers had been there since Baba died.

Kitchen knifeShe went to the cutlery drawer and took out a large steel vegetable knife. Her father always kept the knives sharp. She placed the tip against the inside of her left wrist. She would make a long, deep cut, then she’d do the other arm. Then she’d lie down in bed and wait for it to be over.

She pressed the tip of the knife into her wrist. It broke the skin and blood welled up, running in a rivulet into her palm and dripping from her middle finger. It was time to die.

Except… she could not make her hand move. She could not go further. An inner voice said, “This isn’t right. There’s always another way, a better way. You’re a fighter. Don’t give up now.” She ignored that voice and cut a little further. Blood began to pour now, running down her wrist and hand and spattering onto the kitchen floor. Her arms trembled. One of her elbows bumped the vase on the table. It tipped over, rolled off the table and shattered into a hundred fragments.

A memory came to her in a flash. She was a child in Baghdad, in the small villa they’d called home. Mama was standing on a stepladder, removing a burnt-out fluorescent bulb – the long kind – from the ceiling fixture. She handed it down to Ghada, who was her assistant in everything, whether cooking, cleaning or home repair. “Pass me the new one,” Mama said.

“I’ll do it, I’ll do it!” exclaimed tousle-haired Ibrahim, her younger brother. Before Ghada could stop him he snatched up the new bulb from where it leaned against the wall – and dropped it. Slivers of glass exploded across the floor. Both children froze, expecting to be punished. Their cat, Halawa, came padding in to investigate the commotion. Mama sighed and instructed Ghada to put Halawa in the bathroom before she cut her paws. It was the only room with a door, since the others had only curtains in the doorways. As they all worked to clean the broken glass, Halawa kept crying to be let out. Ghada felt bad for the cat, but it was for the kitty’s own good. When they were finally finished and released the cat she trotted out with her tail high, giving them all an accusing look.

Later, Mama said, “What we did with Halawa is a metaphor for how Allah protects us.”

“What’s a metaphor?” Ibrahim wanted to know.

“An example. Sometimes we feel trapped in our situations. We can’t find a way out. We cry and complain, not understanding why Allah has closed the doors. Our vision is small, so we don’t see the broken glass all around. We don’t realize that we are exactly where we need to be in that moment, and that Allah is protecting us. But if we are patient, the door will open when the time is right.”

Remembering this now, remembering her dear, patient mother, and imagining what her mother would say if she could see her daughter in this moment, Ghada cried out and dropped the knife, which fell to the floor with a clatter. Her entire body trembled, with what emotion she could not say. She would wait. She would… try something. What, she did not know.

She left the house for the first time in two weeks and went to visit her father’s grave. It was located in a sprawling, hilly cemetery that belonged to the city of Los Angeles. She sat on the grass of his grave and wept, fingering the plaque set into the ground. Sami Daoud Aziz, beloved husband and father. She tried to speak to him or pray over him, but no words came.

On her way out she saw a sign on the gate: Help Wanted. She saved the number in her phone and called it the next morning. The cemetery was looking for a full-time gravedigger. The job paid $15 per hour plus benefits. It was no fortune, but it might allow her to pay the bills, and more importantly she’d be close to Baba. She applied and was accepted.

For the first six months there was hardly a day when she did not think about quitting. The work was grueling, even harder than MMA training. Even as a full time fighter she’d only trained four hours per day. The rest of it was just healthy eating, watching and analyzing training videos, and getting nine hours of sleep every night.

This job, on the other hand, was what she imagined when a convict was sentenced to “hard labor.” Not that the environment was forbidding – it was actually extraordinarily beautiful. But this was a green cemetery, which is why the graves were hand dug. There was no gas-powered machinery of any kind, and only two maintenance workers for this entire, sprawling cemetery – herself and Dave, the groundskeeper. No embalming chemicals – Ghada learned all this in time – were used in burials, nor any grave liners or vaults. Only shrouds or biodegradable wooden caskets. Wildflowers were allowed to proliferate freely. Songbirds, squirrels and deer could be seen roaming the grounds, and butterflies were everywhere. With oak and bay trees covering the slopes, it looked more like a natural woodland than a traditional cemetery.

On a typical day Ghada had to dig two or three graves, which meant a full eight or nine hours of digging. She’d wake up in the morning with her muscles still aching from the previous day. At first her hands blistered, then they bled. Finally they grew calloused.

The plus side to the job was that she was close to Baba. She’d sit on his grave every day at lunchtime, sometimes crying, sometimes praying, sometimes just talking to him. Was this morbid? Was she psychologically damaged, unable to let go of the past? She didn’t know. She only knew that being near her father comforted her.

Time passed. She paid off her bills. Her muscles stopped aching. Her almond colored skin darkened to cafe-au-lait from working in the sun every day. And she stopped crying. She began to pray again and to fast in the holy month of Ramadan, two things she hadn’t done since she was a teenager. Her own transformation amazed her at times. She thought back to the night she’d pressed the knife to her wrist. Was it Allah who’d put that memory in her head at that moment – the memory of her cat Halawa and the broken glass? Regardless, alhamdulillah – all praise to God.

* * *

baba, death, suicide,She tossed the last spadeful of dirt and mopped her brow. The sun was straight overhead, illuminating even the inside of the grave. Unhooking a tape measure from her belt, she checked the grave. One shovel deep, two and a half feet wide by seven long. Industry standard. Satisfied, she tossed the shovel out and leaped out of the grave, tucking and rolling as she cleared the top. Time for lunch.

The back east acre was screened by a row of pines. Management kept the maintenance equipment in a shed back here, but there was a narrow stretch of clear grass. Ghada always spent the first half of her break practicing martial arts here. It was something she’d come back to this year. She wasn’t training for anything. It was movement for the sake of movement. Running through footwork and strikes, angling in and out, the workout left her physically energized and as emotionally serene as a summer sky. She hadn’t been in a gym in two years, so she worked on fundamentals, sometimes combining the moves she already knew in inventive ways.

Later, sitting on the grass of Baba’s grave, she unwrapped the ‘eggah sandwich she’d prepared that morning. It was a dish her mother had taught her to make – a patty formed from a blend of eggs, broccoli and cheese, served in pita bread with a hummus spread. With it she had a cup of hasa al-khadr – vegetable soup spiced with ginger, garlic, cilantro and cumin. Eating these traditional foods made her feel that she was carrying on her cultural heritage in some way, and also kept her healthy for the extreme labor of this job.

The warm sunshine on her face felt pleasant. The air smelled of bay leaves and wild roses. Two squirrels chased each other around a tree and up and down the trunk. Watching them, Ghada smiled. Life was good. It amazed and pleased her that she could think this. The only thing lacking in her life was companionship. She had no family, no friends. She was all alone in the world.

As if disproving her assertion, Dave the groundskeeper sauntered over from where he’d been digging out a patch of invasive broom grass. He carried his lunch bag in one hand and thermos in the other. Ghada didn’t mind. Nearing forty, tall but stoop shouldered, Dave was harmless, not to mention married. He and his wife June were MMA fans. He’d been thrilled to meet her when she first started, as he’d seen her fight when she was in her prime. He kept telling her she should be coaching fighters, not digging graves. She always shrugged this off. Maybe someday. The fighting world felt too much like the bad old days – though, if she was honest with herself, there was still a part of her that wondered how far she could have gone as a fighter if Baba had not died.

They ate in silence for a while. This was one of the things she liked about Dave. The two of them were well attuned to each other’s moods.

“You don’t talk to your dad much anymore,” Dave said. He nodded to her father’s plaque.

Ghada remembered how she used to sit here and confess her sins, sometimes weeping, sometimes telling Baba haltingly about her life, as if she expected him to condemn her failings. Why had she thought that? He’d never condemned her in life, after all. He’d done nothing but love her. My shining star, he used to call her.

“I’ve said it all.”

“So you two are good?”

She smiled. “Yeah.”

“You’ve changed since you started here.”

“No kidding. I don’t wake up with my limbs aching like I just ran a marathon. I remember when digging a single grave was exhausting. Blisters everywhere, my back sore, everything.”

“Not just that. You’re peaceful.”

She nodded. “It’s this job.” She waved a hand at a bluejay that sat on the branch of a nearby oak tree, watching them and waiting for crumbs, no doubt. “Life amid death, you know? It’s a constant reminder to live in the moment.”

Her phone rang. That was odd. No one ever called her. She dug it out of her pocket and looked at it, then frowned. It was her coach. She hadn’t spoken to him in two years. For a moment she thought of not taking the call. But that was the old Ghada. The new Ghada had nothing to fear from the past. “You sure you have the right number?” she greeted him, then listened as he spoke. “I’ll get back to you,” she said when he was done. “I know. Give me a half hour.”

“What was that about?” Dave asked. “You look like you’ve seen a dead body.” He grinned at his own joke. Funerals were a part of daily life here.

She said nothing.

“You’re scaring me, kiddo.”

“Sorry. You know the WFC? The World Fighting Championship?”

“Of course. You know I’m a fan. There’s an event tonight. June and I are going.”

“Oh. Well, the woman who was supposed to fight against Viviani Silva had an injury. They want me to fight her.”

It was Dave’s turn to gape. “Viviani ‘The Monster’ Silva? That’s a title fight!”

“No one else wants it on such short notice. Or if they do, they’re too far away.”

“Man! Wait ‘til I tell June. She’ll freak out.”

Ghada put up a hand. “I haven’t said I’ll do it. Listen, do you mind leaving me alone for a bit?”

“Sure.” He scooped up his lunch and hurried off, no doubt to call his wife.

She ran a hand through the grass of her father’s grave. She was not afraid. Where once the storm had raged inside her, now she was the eye. “But Baba,” she said aloud. “That’s not my life anymore.”

Does the dream still live inside you? came his reply. If so then seize it, habibti, my love, my shining star.

* * *

“I owe you big time for taking this.” Her coach hustled her into the arena. “No one expects you to win, okay? All you have to do is put on a show. Flash that Aziz spirit, try to make it through the first round. Even if you lose you make fifty grand. You look fit at least. Better than the last time I saw you.”

Not much of a pep talk, Ghada thought. To hell with him if that was all he thought of her. She’d fight, but for herself, not for her coach or anyone else. Oddly, the thought of the fight itself excited her more than the $50,000 purse. What did she need $50K for anyway? She had everything she needed in life. What thrilled her was the opportunity to plunge into combat once again, to hit and be hit in a battle that was mental and emotional even more than physical. Those electric, brutal, and vivid minutes in which she was more fully alive than 99.99% of human beings.

Five minutes later she stood on the scale at the weigh-in, fight officials all around and press bulbs flashing. Viviani ‘The Monster’ Silva had already weighed in, but was there to check out the competition. The thick-jawed, heavily tattooed woman postured and called out insults. She looked exotic and mean in her skin-tight short-shorts and halter top.

Ghada, on the other hand, wore her usual knee-length shorts and a form fitting long sleeved shirt. It was her concession to Islamic modesty and she knew it was insufficient, but it was the best she could do in the ring. Her jet black hair was braided in cornrows, close to the scalp. She ignored The Monster and let out a slow breath, unperturbed. She saw surprise on the faces of the officials. Did they remember the out of shape, emotionally depressed wreck of a fighter from two years ago? Her eyes flicked to the wall mirror, curious to see herself as they saw her. Standing 5’7”, she weighed in at 133 pounds. That was near the upper weight limit for a bantamweight, but there was not an ounce of fat on her. Her legs were rock solid and rippling with muscle, her arms powerful and well defined even through the shirt, her shoulders like two small boulders. She looked like a granite statue. The gravedigging, she realized. Digging graves was the most physically taxing thing she’d ever done. When she’d first started she couldn’t dig a single grave without resting multiple times. Now she could dig for ten hours, wake up the next day and do it again, as easy as babaganoush. She’d never been stronger in her life, both physically and emotionally.

She looked to The Monster and saw a flicker of doubt on the woman’s face. The hair stood up on Ghada’s arms. I’m going to win this fight. The premonition hit her like the light of the summer sun, leaving no room for doubt. She was going to win. She was going to become the next women’s bantamweight champion of the world.

What would she do after that? Would she continue to fight, or become a coach as Dave was always telling her to do? Or would she go back to digging graves? She didn’t know. But she was sure she was going to win. She could feel it in her bones, as surely as her ancestors had been able to feel the approach of a sandstorm or the coming of the rain.

Someone called out her name. She looked over the crowd and spotted Farah and Summer at the back of the crowd of spectators. They grinned and waved. How had they known she would be here? In the past she would have looked away, not wanting to acknowledge them. But this time she smiled and waved, genuinely happy to see them. Their faces lit up and they shrieked as if they’d just met a celebrity.

The fight announcer approached, shook her hand. “Do you have a nickname you want me to use when I announce you?” he asked.

Ghada’s smile spread into a grin. Then she laughed out loud. “Sure. Call me Gravedigger.”

THE END

* * *

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories. Wael’s novel, Pieces of a Dream, is available on Amazon.com.

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The Fast and the ¡Fiesta!: How Latino Muslims Celebrate Ramadan

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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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