See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.
Friday, February 5, 2010 – 9 am
I patrol the city. Eons ago, I am told, there were billions of human beings on Earth, until they destroyed each other in the Eruption. Now, a supercomputer the size of a city runs the planet. Its name is Ai. My orders are issued by Ai each morning at 6 L.T., transmitted in image form to my retinal implant.
People are so difficult. They do not want to follow the rules regarding disposal of off-world materials. Too expensive, they say. They carry swords openly in the city limits. Hardly a day passes that I do not have to arrest someone. I find myself frustrated much of the time, and tired. Still, I try hard not to employ force. I do not want to become like some of the other Ai-garda, abusing people wherever they go.
Today I am arguing with a massively muscular man, his chest and shoulders twice as wide as an earth-bred man. He is one of the chimeras genetically bred for high-g worlds. I am filled with rage because the chimera has tethered his android horse in the center of the city square, tying it to the statue commemorating Ai’s inception. I realize that my anger is disproportionate, but my frustration has reached an incineration point and I cannot seem to control myself. I know that if this chimera becomes violent, he’ll crush me. I draw my cohesion disruptor and hold it next to my thigh, pointed at the ground. My hand shakes.
The creature known as Safaa sees this from her high perch and feels a surge of compassion for me, or so she tells me later. I have heard of Safaa, of course, though her true nature is shrouded in myth. She is an angel, or so most people believe. She has wings and can fly. She is ancient, and may in fact be a construct. She may also be one of the original AI programmers. It is said that she communicates with the computer on a purely machine level.
Safaa rarely interacts with us humans. Mostly she watches from a distance. But on this day she chooses to intervene. She flies down, alights and embraces me, and I feel the anger drain away like helium from a punctured high-atmo township. When I calm down I thank her, as I might have killed the chimera.
She tells me that she must create a child in order to continue her work, and wishes to marry me so that I may become the father.
I begin to weep. This is more than I could have hoped for, but I am afraid. “What if I have the disease?” I say. The Eruption left a legacy of genetic chaos. Most men are sterile.
“We all have a disease of one kind or another,” she replies. “But I know you are pure.”
“Because your actions reflect your inner state. I see that you strive for understanding.”
She cuts me off with a gesture. “You must have faith in Allah.”
“In Ai, you mean?”
“No,” she says. “In Allah the Most High, Creator of all.”
As I am trying to decipher her meaning, the sun begins to grow brighter, until I must shade my eyes. What is happening? Still brighter it grows, until the light penetrates the flesh of my hand, shining pink into my closed eyes.
I woke for Fajr, feeling bruised and sore from head to foot. Forget practicing Kali. I prayed and collapsed back into the cot and slept. Hours later I awoke once again to a ray of sun slanting through the window blinds, shining full on my face. I sat up on the cot in my office, groggy and disoriented, the world of the dream dominating my mind. I was sore all over. My ribs were tender and throbbing, and I could feel my heartbeat in the bruise on the side of my head. Had I fought with the chimera after all?
I chided myself for being ridiculous. I wasn’t so far gone that I didn’t know the difference between dream and reality, at least not yet. That was a weird one. Maybe I’d managed to read some of that sci-fi novel last night after all, and it had seeped into my dreams.
Gradually the real world reasserted itself. The physical pain I felt was a result of the fight I’d had with the three Asian gangsters, not some fictional conflict in a crazy dream world.
I had followed my usual routine of praying Fajr and going back to sleep. I was buoyed now by the knowledge that I could afford – finally – to eat and to pay my bills. Alhamdulillah. If you trust in Allah, he will feed you as he feeds the birds. Indeed, and again alhamdulillah.
I wasn’t worried about the events of last night coming back on me, nor did I feel any shame over cutting and stabbing those thugs. Okay, I had a nagging concern that the leader who’d hit his head might be seriously injured. And maybe cutting the punk’s tendon at the end was excessive. But they attacked me without provocation. All things considered, they got what they deserved.
I made wudu’ and prayed Salat Ad-Duha. I rarely performed this prayer, but if there was ever a Duha moment, this was it. Hadn’t I walked through terrible darkness in my life? Hadn’t Allah found me lost and guided me? Hadn’t he found me poor and made me self-sufficient, at least for the moment? And now here I was, in the morning brightness – the Duha. Yeah baby. It was a Duha kind of day.
Now, to enter the fullness of the light, all I had to do was reunite with my wife and child, Insha’Allah.
It isn’t about me, I reminded myself. Before I became too giddy with my celebrations, I had someone else’s child to find. Anna.
I sent a text message to Jalal, a fellow-Palestinian American who I’d met only a few years ago at the local Muslim community center. He was the middle child of six brothers and sisters. His father had been killed several years ago in a freak highway accident when the branch of a tree that overlooked the highway broke off and fell through the windshield of his car. The family had been struggling ever since. Jalal was trying to put himself through city college – studying geology – and was permanently broke.
“I have work for you,” my message read. “Two hundred cash for the day. Interested? I need you at my office ASAP.”
The response came back almost immediately. “Peeling rubber! On my way.” I shook my head. In his enthusiasm, the fool would have an accident on the way here.
I peered out the window and saw that the burrito truck was already out there. I grabbed my wallet and went outside, tipping my head back and taking in the fresh morning air.
Along with the usual assortment of passers by and workers from local businesses, I spotted a homeless man – not Ghost Rider from yesterday, but someone else – standing on the traffic island out on Belmont, holding up a sign that said something about being a veteran, and eyeing the food truck wistfully. I whistled loudly and beckoned him over.
He was a lean, middle-aged Hispanic man with a watchcap pulled low over gray hair. His bearded face was weatherbeaten and tired.
“You want something?” I asked, gesturing to the food truck. “Quieres algo? It’s on me. Yo pago.” This was, after all, the other part of Surat ad-Duha. When Allah has found you, guided you and made you self-sufficient, then do not repel the orphan, and do not repel the petitioner. In other words, give. Be generous. That’s how you show your gratitude.
“Eh.. sí señor! Se puede un burrito pequeño? Esta bien?”
Having grown up in California I spoke enough Spanish to get by. He wanted a small burrito. I made an expansive gesture with my hand. “Sí, order whatever you want. Lo que quieres. Don’t hold back.”
“Eh.. okay.” He stepped up to the window of the food truck and in Spanish ordered a small breakfast burrito and a small coffee. I was sure he was hungrier than that, but he seemed afraid to infringe on my generosity.
I stepped to the window and instructed Miguelito, the food truck chef, to make the homeless man’s burrito large rather than small, and to add a Mexican apple bread to his order. For myself I ordered a large breakfast burrito with scrambled eggs, cheese, pinto gallo, sour cream and avocado. I also bought a Mexican apple bread and a large coffee.
When the food came the homeless man took his meal and thanked me again without meeting my eyes, then shambled off to squat in front of a shuttered gold trading shop two doors down. Some people were so beaten down by the circumstances of life that even kindness felt foreign. I knew what that felt like. I couldn’t do anything about that, but I could at least fill the man’s belly.
As I ate my own food, I mentally catalogued all the things I had to do. Today was Jum’ah. I needed to speak to Tarek to see if he could tell me where Angie had gone. To find Tarek, I had to find Badger.
Badger robbed drug dealers for a living. Not the street dealers, but the stash houses, where large amounts of drugs and guns were stored. In fact the last time I saw him, he told me he’d put together a crew and robbed a distribution center. This was the single hub in the entire city where a particular gang kept their raw product, which would be pure heroin or cocaine from South America. From there it was distributed to local stash houses. Distribution centers also typically held massive amounts of cash awaiting shipment back to L.A. or Mexico, or wherever the particular gang was headquartered.
I knew all this from discussions I’d had with drug dealers in prison. At one point I’d had a high-ranking Colombian drug lord as a cellmate. He liked to describe himself as a business executive, and would point out the parallels between his organization and any other consumer products provider. When I once asked him if he didn’t feel the drug business was immoral, his face turned red, and he ranted about how his company’s product was outlawed for purely political reasons, and how his government had caved to American political pressure in allowing him to be extradited. I was afraid he might have me killed for offending him. I slept with my eyes half open for some time after that, and never asked such questions again.
After Badger robbed the distribution center, I heard a bounty had been put on his head by the gangs. Not that he cared. Badger was a charcoal-hearted killer. He probably had more murders to his name than half the gangsters in south Fresno combined. His name inspired terror among the entire criminal class.
He was wanted by the police as well, but it wasn’t like they had a task force to go after him or anything. All of Badger’s victims had been drug dealers, pimps, sex traffickers, extortionists and the like. What the cops called “NHI” killings. No humans involved. Some cops even felt that Badger was doing their work for them. I knew this from Titus, my buddy and fellow Musketeer, who was now a detective for the FPD.
Titus, who was the most honest cop I ever knew, did not approve of the way Badger had been given an unofficial pass by other cops. “A killer is a killer,” he’d say. “One day he’ll mess up and gun down a civilian, and then the Hall will be falling over each other to cast blame.” He meant Mariposa Hall, where the FPD was headquartered.
What would Titus say, I wondered, if he knew Badger’s true identity? I was probably the only person in the world who knew that Badger was our old friend and fellow Musketeer, Amiri Sulawesi.
Titus would never learn this fact from me, that was sure. When it came to Badger, the old saying held true: “Them that knows don’t tell, and them that tells, don’t know.“ Anyone who started mouthing off about Badger – Muslim or not – was likely to wake up with the barrel of a sawed-off shotgun in his mouth.
I often wondered what Badger did with the bundles of cash he seized. It must have run to the millions. I knew he gave money to the poor and to neighborhood youth centers. He called it “redistribution of wealth from the criminal class, who are capitalist oppressors in disguise, to the proletariat.” That was his mother talking.
Even so, that would only account for a fraction of the money he’d stolen. I had no idea what he did with the rest.
The last time I saw him he asked me to join him. “You got nothing to lose but your self-imposed shackles, Stick,” he said, laughing through white teeth as he paraphrased Karl Marx. It was hard to know when Badger was serious. “Shed your past. It lies like a nightmare upon your present. Shed the heart of a heartless world.”
That was Badger. When he wasn’t talking like a street tough, he was spouting philosophy and quoting thinkers from Gabriel Garcia Marquez to Kierkegaard, though always returning to Marx.
Badger was nominally Muslim. His father had been a convert, and his mother too, though his mother was never really into it, I think. Not since childhood, however, had Badger performed any kind of Islamic ‘ibadah or worship – not a single salat, nor a fasted day that I knew of.
“Ain’t no sense in frontin’,” he’d say, slipping into ghetto speak as easily as putting on a pair of shades. “I’m out here rippin’ and runnin’, gunnin’ playas down, and I’m gon’ pray? Act all holy like a busta? Nah.” Thumping his chest. “I’ma keep it real, between me and Allah. He can do with me how He do.”
I never would have predicted this path for Amiri. He’d been a happy kid, a perpetual honor roll student, and the most gifted martial artist out of all of us. When his father was killed, though, everything changed. Though the police never caught the killers, they did find the gun discarded in a dumpster. They ran ballistics and determined that it was the same gun used in two past killings, both of which were attributed to a gang called the T-Town Mob.
Amiri became a different person overnight. A college freshman at the time, he dropped out, adopted the Badger persona and joined a Fresno gang called the Rolling Southside G’s. This made zero sense to me, and I tried to talk him out of it, but it was like talking to the cold steel of a bullet.
The rest I know only apocryphally, from tales told by brother Derby, who used to be a gangster himself. According to Derby, Badger rose to lead the gang, then led the Southside G’s in a war against the T-Town Mob. It was the bloodiest turf war in Central Valley history. When the dust cleared, both gangs were shattered and destroyed. Badger quit the G’s and went solo, preying on the gangs like a lion on wildebeest. I was in prison when all this happened.
When I was released and learned what Badger had done, I was surely the only one who understood the ruthless logic. Badger had used the G’s to eliminate the men responsible for his father’s death.
I chose to distance myself from my former friend. I had not the slightest desire to get caught up in his one-man war against the gangs, and I certainly didn’t need to attract the attention of the police. Badger’s lifestyle was suicidal.
If anyone knew the ins and outs of the drug trade in Fresno, however, it was Badger. Even if he didn’t know where Tarek Anwar was, he could probably locate him easily.
* * *
To find Badger – he continually moved from place to place – I’d have to see his mother Chausiku. I had no idea where she lived, so to find her I’d need to see Imam Saleh at Masjid Madinah.
Aside from that, I had to check in with the Anwars, deposit money in my bank account, pay my overdue bills, and see Safaa.
The warm food in my belly was provision for a long journey, while the coffee was rocket fuel. I was ready to explore the galaxy and crack any aliens right on their green heads.
Yes, I needed a therapist.
Jalal showed up just as I finished my burrito. He was a third year college student with a sunny disposition, except when he thought about his former girlfriend Cindy, at which point he would become morose and weepy. He’d fallen in love with a non-Muslim girl last year and had a brief love affair. She ultimately broke up with him because she couldn’t see herself marrying a Muslim. Of course everyone told him it was for the best, but when it came to that honeypot he couldn’t see straight.
Jalal had a crewcut, green eyes and an athletic frame that had once been quite heavy. Last year he got serious about fitness and began running laps and leaping hurdles at State. His limbs had grown lean and strong, but his belly still bulged slightly, as if he carried a few loaves of Arabic bread in a belly pouch.
He smiled as he came through the door, but the corners of his mouth were turned down.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
He shrugged one shoulder. “Oh, you know. Just feeling down about Cindy.”
“Brother,” I began in irritation, before taking a breath and calming myself. “You have to put that aside. I have a lot for you to do today.”
He nodded, straightening his shoulders. “Okay.” He nodded again, seconding his own motion. “Okay.”
Removing the envelope full of cash from my desk, I counted out two thousand dollars and gave it to him. He whistled, his eyes opening wide.
“First,” I instructed, “go to the bank and deposit a thousand in my account.” I handed him a slip of paper with the account number. “Then pay my bills. Go to the PG&E office in person and get my electricity turned on, then the phone company, then the waste management company. I want receipts for everything, not because I don’t trust you but because my office expenses are tax deductible.” I handed him a stack of bills. “Then a grocery trip.” I handed him another paper, on which I’d listed a variety of foodstuffs, including snacks for Hajar when she visited next.
I had a thought. “Hey, when’s the last time you saw Tarek Anwar?”
He frowned. “I mean, I know who he is. But we’re not friends. My mother wouldn’t like it, and anyway what do I need to hang around a junkie for?”
I didn’t like him calling Tarek a junkie. It settled heavily on my heart. “Your mother doesn’t like me either,” I pointed out.
“Yeah, but you pay me. And she’s wrong about you.”
Once Jalal was on his way, I packed up my stuff and headed out. Imam Saleh lived in a rented house a few blocks from Masjid Madinah, which itself was just across the street from Fresno City College. I called him first. I asked if I could come over and he said sure, he was reviewing his khutbah but could take a break.
Ten minutes later I parked in front of his home. This was an interesting neighborhood, with stately old homes that were among the first built in Fresno. Large trees shaded the streets. At the same time there was a thriving counterculture and no shortage of homeless people.
Imam Saleh answered the door right away. He was a tall, rangy African-American brother with skin so dark it was almost purple. He typically wore a long Arab shirt over blue jeans, and a colorful Kufi. He met me with a smile and shook my hand warmly.
We were so lucky to have Saleh here in Fresno. He was highly educated, with a degree in international relations from UCLA, and a masters in Islamic history from King Saud University in Saudi Arabia. He was currently working on a PhD in Quranic exegesis (tafsir) through a distance program with the Islamic university in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
I considered him a good friend, and had tremendous admiration for what he had done with Masjid Madinah. He’d originally been hired by the board of the Fresno Islamic Center, the biggest mosque in the city, to run their center and revive their flagging community. When he tried to implement reforms there, they decided he was too progressive and fired him.
Some of the community members supported what he’d been trying to do, and funded the creation of a new masjid, which became Masjid Madinah. At Masjid Madinah, Imam Saleh had created a community in which immigrants, African-Americans and other converts worked hand in hand. Half the board of directors were women, and women were active in planning events and programs. The masjid held regular “open house” days in which non-Muslims were invited for talks, meals and special events. It was a living community, full of enthusiastic young people. There was a sense that people were a part of something real, something that was changing lives.
Imam Saleh was also not afraid to address contemporary issues. On the one hand he denounced terrorism unequivocally and described it as a plague upon the Muslim world, one that must be eradicated through education, spirituality and social and political reform. On the other hand, he wasn’t afraid to call out the U.S. and other superpowers on their exploitation of the Muslim world and the disastrous consequences of their interventions and misadventures. Lastly, he took a public stand on social issues such as civil rights and violence against women.
The man was a hero to me.
Saleh invited me in for tea, but I told him I was on a tight schedule. “I’m here because I need to talk to Chausiku Sulawesi,” I explained. “I don’t have her contact info. Do you?”
He tipped his head to the side and regarded me. “I think,” he said, “you’d better come in for that tea after all.”
I shed my shoes at the door and took a seat in his living room, which was clean and sparsely decorated with family photos and a few Islamic wall hangings, along with a large framed photo of Masjid Al-Haram in Makkah.
The Imam went to the kitchen and came back a few minutes later with a tea serving on a platter. He poured my tea and his, and sat.
“You’re not on an insurance case this time, are you?” he asked. “It’s something more important.”
“Why do you say that?”
He raised his chin, studying me. “There’s a fire in your eyes I haven’t seen before. Whatever you’re pursuing, you’re committed. You remind me of Salman Al-Farisi on his search for the truth.”
His mention of Salman amazed me. The Persian sahabi had always been a personal hero of mine, which was why I’d called my summer camp kids the Salman Squad. I reviewed what I knew of Salman, trying to figure out why the Imam would say that.
Born in Persia to a doting father who was the town chief and a Zoroastrian priest, Salman was never satisfied with the fire worship of his people. One day he passed a Christian church and heard the sound of prayer. He was impressed, and told his father about it. His father, who considered his only son his greatest treasure in the world, locked him up inside the house to prevent him from learning about other religions.
Thinking of this, I said, “Salman’s father at least loved him.” As soon as the words were out of my mouth, I regretted them. It was a childish and petty thing to say.
Imam Saleh, however, took my words seriously. He nodded and sipped from his tea.
“Can that truly be called love?” he said eventually. “He chained his child in a room to prevent him from seeking the truth.”
“His father didn’t see Christianity as the truth. It was something foreign that he wanted to protect Salman from.”
“Perhaps. Or he was simply closed-minded. If you recall, what the father said to Salman was, ‘The religion of our father and forefathers is better.’ That is the classic fallback position of anyone who holds blindly to inherited falsehoods. And Salman, who up to that point had been an obedient and dutiful son, defied his father. He said, ‘No, By Allah, it (Christianity) is better than our religion.’ His thirst for the truth was such that he was willing to discard the traditions of his ancestors, challenge his father, and disrupt his entire life.”
“What are you trying to say?”
“Didn’t you tell me once that your father sent you books while you were in prison?”
“Yes,” I admitted.
“What kinds of books?”
“All kinds. The complete works of Dostoevsky and Solzhenitsyn. Poetry anthologies by Palestinian poets, and by American poets like Langston Hughes and Carl Sandburg. Philosophy books, a translation of Al-Ghazali’s Ihya’ Ulum al-Din, Maudoodi’s tafsir of the Quran, mainstream novels. A lot.”
“Do you think your father read those books himself?”
I’d never considered this. “I doubt it.”
“Then why did he send them to you?”
I sat back in the chair, thinking. “I guess he picked books he thought would help me. Or someone picked them for him.”
“And did the books help?”
I nodded grudgingly. “Yes. Tremendously, actually. Solzhenitsyn’s work made me realize that my suffering was miniscule. The Palestinian poetry gave me a language with which to frame my pain, and gave me perspective. Langston Hughes and Sandburg leavened my hardship with – what do you call it when you approach normally serious subjects with humor?”
“Yes. Irreverence. And Al-Ghazali changed how I saw Islam and opened my heart.”
“So what I see,” Imam Saleh said, “is a father who is willing to venture outside his comfort zone, and to reach into a realm he does not personally understand, in order to help his son. Doesn’t that sound like love?”
“But they hardly talk to me anymore!” I protested.
“Maybe they don’t know how. It could be they don’t know what to say. Maybe they look at you and no longer see the son they knew, and that’s not entirely their fault, is it? Maybe the road life has taken you down lies too far afield for them to understand. Maybe they interpret your past actions as a rejection of their teachings and love, and that causes them pain. Maybe you have to be the one who makes the effort to bridge the gap. Perhaps that’s a part of your penance, or a lesson you must learn. Parents do not simply stop loving their children. Maybe they are hurting as much as you are.”
I sat back and covered my face with my hands. I was nearly overwhelmed by these words. For so long I’d been internally devastated by the certainty that my parents no longer loved me, and that I was nothing but a shame to them, someone best avoided and forgotten. I liked to pretend – even to myself – that this did not affect me, but it had been like an oil slick covering my heart, affecting everything I did.
I lowered my hands and took a shaky breath. “That may all be true,” I said finally. “I don’t know. But I don’t have time to contemplate it right now.”
“Why do you need to talk to sister Chausiku?” Saleh asked. “She’s a very private person. Reclusive, even. She wouldn’t appreciate me giving out her contact information.”
“It’s personal,” I replied. “You don’t have to give me her info. Call her and tell her that Zaid Al-Husayni needs to see her.”
He nodded slowly. Imam Saleh had come to Fresno when I was in prison. He wouldn’t know about my history here, like the fact that the Sulawesis had been a second family to me all through my childhood.
“Hold on.” He disappeared into another room and came back a minute later with a small notepad. He looked surprised. “She’s very excited to see you. Here’s her address.” He tore a sheet off the notepad and handed it to me.
“Before you leave,” Saleh added, “there’s something I need to talk to you about.”
“Well.” He tapped the floor with one foot. “A brother showed up in our community about six months ago. Khalil Anderson. You may have met him.”
I looked up at the ceiling, thinking. “White guy? About thirty years old? Wears a thobe and a black kufi?”
“Yes. He’s been talking to some of the younger brothers about politics. That in itself is not a problem, but I heard from a few of the youth that Anderson’s been pushing this idea that the U.S. and Islam are waging an apocalyptic battle. I’m concerned that he’s radicalizing them. I want to know who he is. Where did he come from, is he employed, does he have criminal record? What’s his real agenda? If necessary I’ll go to the FBI, but first I want to know what I’m dealing with.”
“Have you asked him?”
“Of course. He says he’s from L.A. and that he converted to Islam five years ago. He says he gets SSI payments from the government because he injured his neck in a workplace accident, and he came to Fresno because his aunt died and left him a house.”
“But you don’t believe him.”
“I don’t know. I’m concerned. I’d like you to look into it. I’ll pay you of course.”
I shook my head. “I won’t take your money. Of course I’ll do it ya shaykh, but it will have to wait. I’m on a time-sensitive case.”
“Jazak Allah khayr ya akhi. When do you think you’ll be able to look into it?”
I stroked my beard. “Give me a week.”
Parking in a huge circular driveway, I stared at the house before me in amazement. This was Chausiku Sulawesi’s house? I doubled checked the address. Yup. It was a palatial home perched on the bluffs overlooking the San Joaquin river, at the far north edge of Fresno. The estate must have covered 15,000 square feet, with towering palm trees all about and wild grasses that grew up to a stone footpath. The footpath circumscribed a perfect expanse of green lawn.
The house itself was a massive modern style home, with stone walls supporting high slab roofs, and floor-to-ceiling picture windows. The path to the front door passed through a gap in a huge waterfall-style fountain, with a semi-opaque wall of water tumbling fifteen feet through the air.
I did not want to see Chausiku Sulawesi. Just thinking of it made my heart race with anxiety. I sat in the car, taking deep breaths, my hands clammy on the steering wheel.
* * *
The last time I saw Chausiku was at her husband’s janazah twelve years ago, before I went to prison. The police had investigated Red’s death, of course. They never caught his killers.
I attended the janazah because I was expected to. I was practically a member of the family. The July sun drummed down onto the mourners gathered at the dusty expanse of the Madera Islamic Cemetery. We gathered beneath a green canopy as Red’s body was lowered into the grave. Amiri and another brother – AbdulWali, the one whose leg was torn off in an accident not long after – lowered the body into the grave and positioned it on its right side. I heard the rattling of the gravel as they arranged it to support the body.
Amiri was one of my best friends and one of the Five Musketeers. I tried to imagine what he must be feeling in that moment but I could not think past the dark, churning foam of guilt and shame that felt like it would squeeze its way out of my very pores and manifest as red ink on my skin.
Chausiku – who wore a long-sleeved black dress and black turban – almost collapsed. A tall, strong-looking African-American sister – whose name I did not know – caught her and held her up.
“Why?” Chausiku cried to the assembled mourners. “Someone tell me why. I want to know why my husband is dead!”
From beneath lowered brows I glanced at Imam Abdus-Samad, who had given the janazah khutbah – the funeral sermon – and led the salat. He stood there like a paragon of leadership, a pillar of the community, supporting the widow in her grief. I hated him in that moment, as I hated myself. I was still overwhelmed – had never stopped being overwhelmed – by the memory of Malik Sulawesi dying in my arms. I remembered the heat of his blood as it soaked into my pants and shirt sleeves. I remembered the wheezing of his breath, the way it sounded like the whine of a failing machine. I remembered the bits of black fuzz from his ski mask caught in his red hair, and the fear in his wide green eyes, filled with the knowledge of his own death.
* * *
Would Chausiku see this memory in my eyes? Would she look through me, recognize my guilt, and know me for what I was – a liar and a hypocrite?
I passed a hand over my eyes and smoothed my beard. My cousin Jamilah’s words came back to me: “I believe in you. I always have.” Just the memory of those words made me sit up straighter and raise my chin. I could do this. No problem.
I got out of the car, walked up the driveway and through the fountain, and rang the doorbell.
The door was answered by a burly African-American man in a too-tight gray suit. He was maybe 6’3”, with a long head and an oversized jaw. He wore an earpiece, and his jacket bulged over what had to be a holstered gun. He looked ready to either give me a massage or break my back – whatever his employer commanded.
“Are you Zaid Al-Husayni?” he asked. When I said yes, he gestured to me to spread my arms. “Sorry chief,” he said. “Gotta search ya.” He patted me down and removed the knife clipped to my pocket. “You’ll get this back.” Then he removed my fedora, turned it upside down, ran a hand along the inside band, and placed it back on my head.
“Zaid, is that you?” Chausiku Sulawesi called from somewhere deeper inside the house.
“Yes ma’am,” I called back. “Just going through Checkpoint Charlie here.”
Chausiku strolled into view. She looked like she had not aged a day. Her milk chocolate skin appeared unlined. Her perfect ivories flashed as she smiled widely.
Aside from that, however, everything about her was different. She wore an olive pantsuit that looked like it cost more than I made in a month, and black high heels. Her hair, which in the past had always been combed out into a big Afro, was now straightened and cut into a short bob. All of this surprised me. The Chausiku I had known used to wear African dashikis exclusively, often paired with a turban, and used to preach at length about how black women should adopt natural hairstyles and not be ashamed of their heritage.
She came directly to me and threw her arms around me in a tight embrace. She smelled of floral perfume, and her arms were as strong as they’d always been. With her heels, she was exactly my height.
She pulled back and studied me. “Little Zaid Al-Husayni,” she said admiringly. “All grown up now. But still too thin! Are you getting enough to eat?”
I shrugged and began to formulate a reply, but she interrupted me.
“I know it’s early for lunch, but let’s get some food in you. Rosa!” she called out.
“Si señora,” someone replied from within the house.
“Bring lunch for two,” Chausiku called back. “Tuna sandwiches and whatnot. We’ll be on the back patio.”
Mrs. Sulawesi took my elbow and led me through an incredible home interior that included a soaring ceiling supported by square-cut timbers. In the main room, a series of ten-foot-tall paintings depicted birds in flight, and a stunning green leather sectional sofa that must have been twenty feet long wrapped around two walls.
The back patio, shaded by a slanted overhang, featured hardwood furniture arranged around a rectangular stone firepit. Beside the patio, a long swimming pool extended to the edge of the bluff, so that it gave the illusion of disappearing over the cliff. These were called, I knew, infinity pools. I’d seen photos of such pools in the Home and Garden magazines that Safaa subscribed to.
This was so strange. The Chausiku I recalled was a card-carrying member of the Communist party who used to espouse the principles of frugality. She’d converted to Islam nominally for the sake of her husband, but I’d never seen her pray, not even at Eid time, whereas I’d heard her quote Marx, Lenin and Mao a thousand times. She used to ridicule the acquisition of material luxuries as bourgeois corruption and capitalist waste.
Now here she was living in a virtual palace, and wearing costly designer clothes? Besides, how could she afford a home like this? She was a seamstress. She used to earn a meager income hand-sewing African outfits, doing alterations, and making prayer rugs that Amiri and Red would sell after Jum’ah prayer.
Malik, I corrected myself. Not Red. I must never refer to Chausiku’s late husband as Red, not even to myself. I’d gotten in the habit of calling him Red during our years on the robbery squad, but there was no valid reason for me to use that nickname. He must always be either Malik or Abu Amiri, as some of us used to call him when we were kids.
I was beginning to think that I now knew where much of Badger’s money had gone.
I sat on a chair with Chausiku opposite. The weather had warmed up a bit but was still cool. Goosebumps rose on my forearms.
She leaned forward with her hands on her knees, studying me. “I’m so happy you’re here,” she said. “You should visit more often. How’s your family?”
I told her about my separation. I spoke about my daughter, describing Hajar’s wit and penchant for arts and crafts. Chausiku listened, smiled, asked a few questions, but volunteered little about herself.
“So,” she said at length. “I hear you’re a private detective now, is that true?”
I shrugged and smiled. “It’s a living.”
“It’s so exciting.” She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “You’re not here on a case, are you? Investigating me, maybe?”
I lifted one eyebrow. What an odd question. “Should I be?” I replied jokingly. “No auntie, I’m not investigating you. But I am actually here on a case. I need to talk to Amiri.”
She nodded. “I thought that might be the case. It will be a few minutes before lunch is ready.” She waved at the pool. “Why don’t you take a swim? I have this beautiful pool and hardly anyone uses it.”
“No thanks,” I said. “I’m pressed for time, and anyway I don’t have anything to wear.”
Chausiku sat back in her chair. Her expression became hard. “I insist. Amiri has some swimming trunks. Rosa will show you.” She called, and Rosa appeared immediately.
The maid was short and dark skinned, with chiseled cheekbones and straight black hair tied in a pony tail. She wore jeans, a white blouse and leather sandals that looked handmade. Chausiku spoke to her in fluent Spanish, and the maid escorted me into the house. She pulled a pair of neatly folded red and yellow swimming trunks from a hall closet, then led me to a huge bathroom that was perhaps three times the size of my office. Sunlight streamed in from a skylight. The bathroom contained a large, glassed-in shower, a jacuzzi, and a sofa that sat beside a window with a view of the San Joaquin River. A stand of bamboo trees in a massive stone planter towered against one wall.
When Rosa left I took off my clothes and folded them neatly, then put on the swimming shorts. Amiri was shorter than me and his swimming trunks only came halfway down to my knees. How could I go out in front of the women in this? I wrapped a large towel around my waist to cover myself.
Before leaving the bathroom I plucked a single hair from my head and set it carefully atop my folded clothes.
I knew what Chausiku was doing with this whole swimming thing. She wanted to be sure I wasn’t wearing a wire. This precaution, along with the presence of the bodyguard, answered some questions and prompted others. It also stung. How could she think that I would betray her? She was like family to me. Why was there so little loyalty in this world? Why was I the only fool stumbling around, still believing in friendship, brotherhood and sisterhood, and love?
Chausiku wasn’t around when I came out. I dropped the towel at the edge of the pool and dove in. Thankfully the water was heated to perhaps 75 degrees of so. Still, the cool shock of it hit me and somehow washed away my anxiety. I swam hard, warming myself up and working the kinks out of my muscles. I completed a lap, somersaulted and pushed off the wall, and swam another. By the time I’d done ten laps my shoulders ached and I had a stitch in my side. I grabbed the edge of the pool and leaned my head against the tiled lip, gasping for breath.
“Come on out,” Chausiku called. “Lunch is ready.”
I climbed out, wrapped the towel around myself again, and squeezed the water out of my hair and beard. Rosa had prepared tuna sandwiches with sliced carrots, pickles, potato salad and what looked like sweet potato chips, along with tall glasses of iced lemonade.
The cold water had revved up my appetite. I ate with gusto. It didn’t hurt that the food was delicious. Rosa knew what she was doing in the kitchen.
“So,” Chausiku said when I’d finished my sandwich. “Is it really Amiri you need to talk to, or is it Badger?”
I paused in the act of biting a pickle spear and stared at her, feeling like a rabbit in the beam of a powerful spotlight.
She tipped her head to one side. “Did you think I didn’t know? My son tells me everything. Including the fact that you know his nom de guerre and what he does for a living.”
Nom de guerre? I thought. Was that what Chausiku told herself, that Badger was some kind of guerilla fighter? Everywhere I turned in life it seemed I was confronted by hypocrisy and self-deception. I was sick of it.
“What happened to you, auntie?” The words emerged from my mouth unbidden. “What happened to your principles? How many times did I hear you say that private property is based on the exploitation of the many by the few? That private ownership of the means of production represents the appropriation of the labor and wealth of the poor by the rich? And look at this.” I waved my pickle spear at the luxury surrounding me. My speech would not help me get the information I needed to solve the case, but the swim had energized me and washed away my self-restraint.
“Is this all from Badger?” I continued. “Where do you think that money comes from? From the poor. I know you know this. The drug industry sucks wealth out of the ghetto like a Hoover vacuum. It’s the greatest transfer of wealth from the poor to the rich in history. And what do the rich do with it? They cycle it among themselves. The poor get poorer and the rich get richer. It’s against everything you stand for.”
“You don’t know what I stand for!” Chausiku snapped. “You don’t know anything about me. You want to be honest? You want to drop the pretense? Tell me how my husband died!” She slammed a palm onto the glass table. The plates jumped. My sweet potato chips scattered, while Chausiku’s lemonade tipped over and poured across the tabletop, spilling over the side like a small waterfall.
I froze, staring at her. My tongue was a block of wood in my mouth.
“That’s right.” She glared at me as if her eyes could bore holes through my head. “My husband. Your uncle and teacher. Do you think I’m an idiot? His body is dumped on the sidewalk like a week old fish, and the police tell me they suspect he was part of a robbery crew. A year later you go to prison for robbery. You think I can’t put two and two together? And you come in here talking about hypocrisy and values, while you’re lying to my face?” She sneered. “I can see it in your eyes right now. You’re wondering if I told Badger. If I had, you’d be floating in pieces down the San Joaquin River.” She made a motion with her hand like a fish swimming.
“I don’t -” I began, intending to deny everything, but she snapped her fingers to cut me off.
“Don’t even try. You want Badger’s help? And my silence? This is the price. Tell me how my husband died.” Her tone softened. “You owe me that much, Zaid. If you still care.”
Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!
Grit and Resilience: The Self-Help vs. Islamic Perspective
I don’t really care about grit.
Persevering and persisting through difficulties to achieve a higher goal is awesome. High-five. We should all develop that. No one disagrees that resilience is an essential characteristic to have.
Somehow, this simple concept has ballooned into what feels like a self-help cottage industry of sorts. It has a Ted talk with tens of millions of views, podcasts, keynote speeches, a New York Times best-selling book, and finding ways to teach this in schools and workplaces.
What I do care about is critically analyzing if it is all that it’s cracked up to be (spoiler alert: I don’t think so), why the self-help industry aggressively promotes it, and how we understand it from an Islamic perspective. For me, this is about much more than just grit – it’s about understanding character development from a (mostly Americanized) secular perspective vis-a-vis the Islamic one.
The appeal of grit in a self-help context is that it provides a magic bullet that intuitively feels correct. It provides optimism. If I can master this one thing, it will unlock what I need to be successful. When I keep running into a roadblock, I can scapegoat my reason for failure – a lack of grit.
Grit encompasses several inspirational cliches – be satisfied with being unsatisfied, or love the chase as much as the capture, or that grit is falling in love and staying in love. It is to believe anyone can succeed if they work long and hard enough. In short, it is the one-word encapsulation of the ideal of the American Dream.
Self-help literature has an underlying theme of controlling what is within your control and letting go of the rest. Islamically, in general, we agree with this sentiment. We focus our actions where we are personally accountable and put our trust in Allah for what we cannot control.
The problem with this theme, specifically with grit, is that it necessitates believing the circumstances around you cannot be changed. Therefore, you must simply accept things the way that they are. Teaching people that they can overcome any situation by merely working hard enough is not only unrealistic but utterly devoid of compassion.
“The notion that kids in poverty can overcome hunger, lack of medical care, homelessness, and trauma by buckling down and persisting was always stupid and heartless, exactly what you would expect to hear from Scrooge or the Koch brothers or Betsy DeVos.” -Diane Ravitch, Forget Grit, Focus on Inequality
Focusing on the individual characteristics of grit and perseverance shifts attention away from structural or systemic issues that impact someone’s ability to succeed. The personal characteristics can be changed while structural inequalities are seen as ‘fixed.’
Alfie Kohn, in an article critical of Grit by Angela Duckworth, notes that Duckworth and her mentor while studying grit operated under a belief that,
[U]nderachievement isn’t explained by structural factors — social, economic, or even educational. Rather, they insisted it should be attributed to the students themselves and their “failure to exercise self-discipline.” The entire conceptual edifice of grit is constructed on that individualistic premise, one that remains popular for ideological reasons even though it’s been repeatedly debunked by research.
Duckworth admitted as much in an interview with EdSurge.
There was a student who introduced himself having written a critical essay about the narrative of grit. His major point was that when we talk about grit as a kind of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’ personal strength, it leaves in the shadows structural poverty and racism and other things that make it impossible, frankly, for some kids to do what we would expect them to do. When he sent me that essay, of course, I wanted to know more. I joined his [dissertation] committee because I don’t know much about sociology, and I don’t know much about this criticism.
I learned a lot from him over the years. I think the lesson for me is that when someone criticizes you, when someone criticized me, the natural thing is to be defensive and to reflexively make more clear your case and why you’re right, but I’ve always learned more from just listening. When I have the courage to just say, “Well, maybe there’s a point here that I hadn’t thought of,” and in this case the Grit narrative and what Grit has become is something that he really brought to me and my awareness in a way that I was oblivious to before.
It is mind-boggling that the person who popularized this research and wrote the book on the topic simply didn’t know that there was such a thing as structural inequality. It is quite disappointing that her response essentially amounted to “That’s interesting. I’d like to learn more.”
Duckworth provides a caveat – “My theory doesn’t address these outside forces, nor does it include luck. It’s about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn’t all that matters, it’s incomplete.” This is a cop-out we see consistently in the self-help industry and elsewhere. They won’t deny that those problems exist, they simply say that’s not the current focus.
It is intellectually dishonest to promote something as a key to success while outright ignoring the structures needed to enable success. That is not the only thing the theory of grit ignores. While marketing it as a necessary characteristic, it overlooks traits like honesty and kindness.
The grit narrative lionizes this superhero type of individual who breaks through all obstacles no matter how much the deck is stacked against them. It provides a sense of false hope. Instead of knowing when to cut your losses and see a failure for what it is, espousing a grit mentality will make a person stubbornly pursue a failing endeavor. It reminds me of those singers who comically fail the first round of auditions on American Idol, are rightly ridiculed by the judges, and then emotionally tell the whole world they’re going to come out on top (and then never do).
Overconfidence, obstinance, and naive optimism are the result of grit without context or boundaries. It fosters denial and a lack of self-awareness – the consequences of which are felt when horrible leaders keep rising to the top due, in part, to their grit and perseverance.
The entire idea of the psychology of achievement completely ignores the notion of morality and ethics. Grit in a vacuum may be amoral, but that is not how the real world works. This speaks powerfully to the need to understand the application of these types of concepts through a lens of faith.
The individual focus, however, is precisely what makes something like grit a prime candidate to become a popular self-help item. Schools and corporations alike will want to push it because it focuses on the individual instead of the reality of circumstances. There is a real amount of cognitive dissonance when a corporation can tell employees to focus on developing grit while not addressing toxic employment practices that increase turnover and destroy employees physically and emotionally (see: Dying for a Paycheck by Jeffrey Pfeffer).
Circumstances matter more than ever. You’ve probably heard the story (of course, in a Ted Talk) about the famous marshmallow test at some point. This popularizes the self-help version of delayed gratification. A bunch of kids are given a marshmallow and told that if they can avoid eating it for 5 minutes, they’ll get a second one. The children are then shown hilariously trying to resist eating it. These kids were then studied as they grew older, and lo and behold, those who had the self-discipline to hold out for the 2nd marshmallow were far more successful in life than those who gave in.
A new study found that a child’s ability to hold out for the second marshmallow had nothing to do with the ability to delay gratification. As The Atlantic points out, it had much more to do with the child’s social and economic background. When a child comes from a well to do household, the promise of a second marshmallow will be fulfilled. Their parents always deliver. When someone grows up in poverty, they are more attuned to take the short term reward because the guarantee does not exist that the marshmallow would still be there later. The circumstances matter much more than the psychological studies can account for. It is far easier to display grit with an entrepreneurial venture, for example, when you have the safety net of wealthy and supportive parents.
Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post that grit discourse is driven by middle and upper-class parents wanting their spoiled kids to appreciate the virtues of struggling against hardship. Unfortunately, this focus on character education means that poor students suffer because less money will then be spent on teaching disadvantaged students the skills they need to be successful. Sisyphus, she notes, had plenty of grit, but it didn’t get him very far.
Strauss asks us to imagine if a toxic dump was discovered near Beverly Hills, and our response was to teach kids how to lessen the effects of toxins instead of fixing the dump.
The grit discourse does not teach that poor children deserve poverty; it teaches that poverty itself is not so bad. In fact, hardship provides the very traits required to escape hardship. This logic is as seductive as it is circular. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is seen as a virtuous enterprise whether practiced by Horatio Alger’s urchins or Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs (bootstrapping is a common term in technology finance circles). And most importantly, it creates a purported path out of poverty that does not involve any sacrifice on the part of the privileged classes. -Valerie Strauss
This approach is a way to appear noble while perpetuating the status quo. It provides the illusion of upliftment while further entrenching the very systems that prevent it. We see this enacted most commonly with modern-day Silicon Valley style of philanthropy. Anand Giridharadas has an entire book dedicated to this ‘elite charade of changing the world’ entitled Winners Take All.
The media also does its fair share to push this narrative. Stories that should horrify us are passed along as inspirational stories of perseverance. It’s like celebrating a GoFundMe campaign that helps pay for surgery to save someone’s life instead of critically analyzing why healthcare is not seen as a human right in the first place.
Islamically, we are taught to find ways to address the individual as well as the system. Characteristics like grit and delayed gratification are not bad. They’re misapplied when the bigger picture is not taken into account. In the Islamic system, for example, a person is encouraged not to beg. At the same time, there is an encouragement for those who can give to seek out those in need. A person in debt is strongly advised to pay off their debts as quickly as possible. At the same time, the lender is encouraged to be easygoing and to forgive the debt if possible.
This provides a more realistic framework for applying these concepts. A person facing difficulty should be encouraged to be resilient and find ways to bounce back. At the same time, support structures must be established to help that person.
Beyond the framework, there is a much larger issue. Grit is oriented around success. Success is unquestionably assumed to be a personal success oriented around academic achievement, career, wealth, and status. When that is the end goal, it makes it much easier to keep the focus on the individual.
The Islamic definition of success is much broader. There is the obvious idea of success in the Hereafter, but that is separate from this discussion. Even in a worldly sense, a successful person may be the one who sacrifices attending a good school, or perhaps even a dream job type of career opportunity, to spend more time with their family. The emphasis on individual success at all costs has contributed to the breakdown of essential family and community support systems.
A misapplied sense of grit furthers this when a person thinks they don’t need anyone else, and they just need to persevere. It is part of a larger body of messaging that promotes freedom and autonomy. We celebrate people who are strong and independent. Self-help tells us we can achieve anything with the right mindset.
But what happens when we fail? What happens when we find loneliness and not fulfillment, when we lack the bonds of familial solidarity, and when money does not make us whole? Then it all falls on us. It is precisely this feeling of constriction that Allah , give good news to those who are steadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return.’ These will be given blessings and mercy from their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.” (2:155-157)
Resilience is a reflex. When a person faces hardship, they will fall back on the habits and values they have. It brings to mind the statement of the Prophet that patience is at the first strike. He taught us the mindset needed to have grit in the first place,
“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him” (Muslim).
He also taught us the habits we need to ensure that we have the reflex of grit when the situation warrants it –
“Whoever would be pleased for Allah to answer him during times of hardship and difficulty, let him supplicate often during times of ease” (Tirmidhi).
The institution of the masjid as a community center provides a massive opportunity to build infrastructure to support people. Resilience, as Michael Ungar writes, is not a DIY endeavor. Communities must find ways to provide the resources a person needs to persevere. Ungar explains, “What kind of resources? The kind that get you through the inevitable crises that life throws our way. A bank of sick days. Some savings or an extended family who can take you in. Neighbours or a congregation willing to bring over a casserole, shovel your driveway or help care for your children while you are doing whatever you need to do to get through the moment. Communities with police, social workers, home-care workers, fire departments, ambulances, and food banks. Employment insurance, pension plans or financial advisers to help you through a layoff.”
Ungar summarizes the appropriate application of grit, “The science of resilience is clear: The social, political and natural environments in which we live are far more important to our health, fitness, finances and time management than our individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. When it comes to maintaining well-being and finding success, environments matter. In fact, they may matter just as much, and likely much more, than individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. A positive attitude may be required to take advantage of opportunities as you find them, but no amount of positive thinking on its own is going to help you survive a natural disaster, a bad workplace or childhood abuse. Change your world first by finding the relationships that nurture you, the opportunities to use your talents and the places where you experience community and governmental support and social justice. Once you have these, your world will help you succeed more than you could ever help yourself.”
The one major missing ingredient here is tawakkul (trust in Allah). One of the events in the life of the Prophet that epitomized grit, resilience, and perseverance was the Battle of Badr. At this occasion, the Companions said, “God is enough for us: He is the best protector.“
“Those whose faith only increased when people said, ‘Fear your enemy: they have amassed a great army against you,’ and who replied, ‘God is enough for us: He is the best protector,’“ (3:173)
This is the same phrase that Ibrahim , while displaying the utmost level of resilience, said when he was thrown into the fire, and it was made cool.
There is a core belief in Islam about balancing between fear and hope. Scholars advise when a person feels despair, they should remind themselves of the traditions that reinforce hope in Allah’s forgiveness. When a person feels themselves sliding further and further into disobedience to Allah, then they should remind themselves of the traditions that warn against Allah’s punishment. The focus changes depending on the situation.
Grit itself is a praiseworthy characteristic
There is no doubt that it is a trait that makes people successful. The challenge comes in applying it and how we teach it. It needs a proper level of balance. Too much focus on grit as a singular predictor of success may lead to victim-blaming and false hope syndrome. Overlooking it on the other hand, enables a feeling of entitlement and a victim mentality.
One purpose of teaching grit was to help students from privileged backgrounds understand and appreciate the struggle needed to overcome difficulty. Misapplied, it can lead to overlooking systemic issues that prevent a person from succeeding even when they have grit.
Self-help literature often fails to make these types of distinctions. It fails to provide guidance for balancing adapting the advice based on circumstance. The criticisms here are not of the idea of grit, but rather the myopic way in which self-help literature promotes concepts like grit without real-world contextualization. We need to find a way to have the right proportionality of understanding individual effort, societal support, and our reliance on Allah.
Our ability to persevere, to be resilient, and to have grit, is linked directly to our relationship with Allah, and our true level of trust in Him.
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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.
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.
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.
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
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Go Visit Bosnia
I have been to 35 countries, from Japan and China in the Far East, to Mexico and Columbia in South America, to Egypt and Morocco in North Africa, and there has not been another trip that was as profound in so many ways as my last trip to Bosnia. Go Visit Bosnia.
Besides Bosnia’s natural beauty, affordability and hospitality, the enrichment that comes from learning about a different culture, its cuisines, its complicated politics, and a genocide not yet 25 years old, is one that turns tourism into an experience not easily forgotten.
To the last point, why do human beings travel? What is it about a new destination that is appealing to us? Fun can be achieved in your neck of the world, so why wander? There are those who live in picture-perfect Switzerland but love to travel to remote deserts of Africa or the beaches of Indonesia. That is because traveling through new lands is a human instinct—a yearning to experience different cultures, foods, and environments.
Moreover, there is nothing more precious in life than experiences. Those who have had a sudden onset of terminal disease at an early age have an important perspective from which we can all learn. Why? Because the knowledge that you are dying quickly ends any sense of immortality, and what truly matters is crystallized. When asked what is it that they cherished most in their lives, pretty much all of them mentioned how the satisfaction from experiences such as travel beats the enjoyment of material riches any day.
What is an experience? Is it a fun week at Disney? Is it an adventure-filled trek through mountains? Is it going to a place to learn a new language? Actually, all of them are experiences, and it is not just going to a new place, but it is what you make out of that travel. If it is just fun, games, and shopping, have you really enriched your own life? Or have you missed out?
So when we planned our trip to Bosnia, many in our circle were a bit surprised as Bosnia is not on most travelers’ bucket lists. Muslims generally have Turkey and Malaysia in their must-visits “halal trips”, but after my trip to Bosnia, I feel that all Muslim travelers should add Bosnia to their short-list. Bosnia is a Muslim majority country, but barely so with about 50% Muslims, 30% Serbian Orthodox Christian and 15% Croat Catholics. I know this concerns many people, so let me add that food is generally halal unless you are in a non-Muslim village. Your guide will ensure that.
However, let me add that Bosnia is not just good for Muslims (just as Turkey and Malaysia appeal to everyone); people of all faiths can enjoy from the enriching trip to Bosnia.
Our trip began with selecting a reliable tour operator. While people tend to skip operators, preferring to book directly, I firmly believe that a professional should organize your first trip to a relatively unknown destination. I can honestly say I would have missed 50% of the enrichment without the presence of Adi, a highly educated tour guide, who was such a pleasant and friendly person that we almost felt him part of the family. The tour company itself belongs to a friend who worked for a major international company, before moving to his motherland to become part of Bosnia’s success. At the end of this article, I am providing contacts with this tour company, which MuslimMatters is proud to have as its partner for any Balkan travel.
Coming to the trip, I am not going to describe it in the sequence of the itinerary, but just some of the wonderful places we visited and the memorable experiences. We had 10 days for the trip and I would say a minimum of one week is needed to barely enjoy what Bosnia has to offer. However, two weeks if available would make it less hectic and give more time to absorb most of what Bosnia has to offer.
Our trip started in Sarajevo, a beautiful city. Even though it’s Bosnia’s largest city, the population is around half a million. Remember Bosnia itself has a relatively small population of 3.5 million. An additional 2 million people in the Bosnian diaspora are spread throughout the world, mostly due to the Balkan wars of the 1990s. We walked through the old town and heard amazing stories from our guide. Although I have never been to Jerusalem, I have seen its pictures and can see why many people refer to Sarajevo as the “little Jerusalem”. We heard the interesting story about the assassination of the Archduke of Austria in 1914 (the Austria-Hungarian empire controlled Bosnia at the time) and the beginning of World War 1. We visited the Ottoman bazaar, the City Hall, the Emperor’s Mosque, and many other interesting areas.
Like most cities in Bosnia, a river flows right through the center of Sarajevo.
The magnificent building that houses Sarajevo City Hall is located in the city of Sarajevo. It was initially the largest and most representative building of the Austro-Hungarian period in Sarajevo and served as the city hall. During the siege of Sarajevo that lasted over 3 years, Serbs targeted this building, focusing on destroying a rich collection of books and manuscripts inside it, and it was essentially burned down. After years of reconstruction, the building was reopened on May 9, 2014.
As we were walking on the streets, I took a picture of a man sitting carefree on the bench near the garden. I found this man’s peaceful enjoyment of the weather fascinating. He was in his own world— eyes closed and smiling.
As you go into the Old Town, you will find many shops like this one in the picture of metal-crafts. Bosnians have been historically folks with mastery in metal and wood crafts. One historic shop that still functions and has some fabulous wood pieces is shown in the pictures.
As you go through the city, you will find many graveyards as well, reminding everyone of the longest modern age siege of Sarajevo. One particular grim reminder is a memorial near the city center dedicated to the children who were killed during the war.
Our trip coincided with the annual somber anniversary of the beginning of the siege, April 5, 1992. Bouquets of flowers adorned the remembrance area.
Another major graveyard (massive area) has graves of Bosnian Muslims, Bosnian Serbs (Orthodox Christians) and few Bosnian Croats (Catholics). They fought against each other with the oppressor by all accounts being the Serbs. Now they all lie together next to each other. The white tombstones are Muslims, the black ones Serbs. One pic shows a particular Serb person who lived 101 years, only to die in the first year of the war. Most of the tombstones indicated the year of death during 1992-95, the war years. Some of the white tombstones have “Sehid” written which means martyr. Interestingly, Serbs use Greek letters and other Bosnians Latin, so most signs are in both languages.
You can go up to a café in Hecco Deluxe Hotel, which is Sarajevo’s oldest “skyscraper” and just absorb a 360 view of the city. I was able to take one picture that captured the signs of all three major religious groups in Bosnia, as labeled in the photo. However, this is also a reflection of a country divided with 3 presidents, one from each religious group. Remember that the massacres were conducted by mostly Bosnian Serbs (not Serbian Serbs) and at some point, the Bosnian Croats also backstabbed the Bosnian Muslims (for example by destroying the vital ottoman old bridge in Mostar). Croatia and Serbia were planning to divide Bosnia between themselves but the Bosnian Muslims held their own until finally, NATO stepped in. It remains shocking how genocide could happen in the 90s in the heart of Europe. And it says a lot about the hypocrisy of the “West” in general. Many Bosnian Muslims remain bitter about it and I find it amazing that despite living among their potential killers, no revenge attacks have taken place. The political situation remains stable but tenuous— extremely safe but one political crisis away from going downhill. However, everyone is war fatigued and in case of a crisis, most people intend to just leave the country than to fight again.
In the old city, you will also find the famous Gazi Husrev-beg Mosque that was built in the 16th century; it is the largest historical mosque in Bosnia and Herzegovina and one of the most representative Ottoman structures in the Balkans. A very interesting facet of the mosque is the clock tower. This is probably the only clock in the world that starts at dawn and ends at dusk. Every day, a caretaker adjusts the time to reflect the actual hours. So whenever you look at it, you will know how many hours to Maghrib prayers!
Another interesting feature and a reflection of the concern for animals is the watering hole structure set up for stray cats and dogs. It kind of looks like a toilet seat, with the purpose that an animal like a cat may climb the seat and drink from the small water reservoir that is constantly filled by the caretakers.
If you want to shop for normal stuff, there is the Sarajevo City Center (SCC). It has all the popular international brands, but what I found interesting is that the prices were in many cases even lower than American prices, which if you have been around, is quite rare. So if you are coming from the Middle East or Europe, definitely check this mall out.
Just outside Sarajevo in the outskirts of the city, you a public park, featuring the spring of the River Bosna, at the foothills of the Mount Igman on the outskirts of Sarajevo. This beautiful park and the spring is a remarkable sight. It is a must see when you visit Bosnia. Crystal clear water allows you to see the entire waterbed. A beautiful white swan swam, followed by a couple of gorgeous ducks.
Museum Tunnel of War:
This small museum showcases the tunnel that was built underneath the airport tarmac by Bosnian Muslims in order to carry food, supplies and even arms. It was called “Tunnel of Hope” and constructed between March and June 1993 during the Siege of Sarajevo. While the Bosnian Serbs besieging the country were armed to the teeth with weapons from the ex-Yugoslavian army, an embargo of weapons was applied, essentially making Bosnian Muslims sitting ducks. Such was the treachery of the international community. This tunnel helped the Bosnian Muslims protect Sarajevo from total surrender. You can see the names of those killed here.
A truck driver on the “exit” side of the tunnel would then transport these supplies up and down some treacherous mountains. The driver’s wife is still alive and has a small shop that sells souvenirs—be sure to visit and buy some.
This is a village-town in the southeastern region of the Mostar basin. Here we relaxed and ate fresh fish at the source of the Buna River, right next to where the water sprung out from the mountains underneath a cave. This is one of those dining experiences where the scenery makes your food even more enjoyable than it would have otherwise been.
This is a town and municipality and the administrative center of Central Bosnia Canton. It is situated about 50 miles west of Sarajevo. Historically, it was the capital city of the governors of Bosnia from 1699 to 1850, and has a cultural heritage dating from that period. Here you see a pre-Ottoman Fort (1300s) is still in great shape. It stands on top of the hill with mountains behind it so no one could enter the city without being spotted. The scenery from the top is also fantastic as seen in the picture. The oldest mosque of the city was built here. There were 20 mosques were built in the city, of which 17 survived to date.
It is situated in the mountains; there is a beautiful countryside near the city, rivers such as the Vrbas and Pliva, lakes like Pliva Lake, which is also a popular destination for the local people and some tourists. This lake is called Brana in the local parlance. In 1527, Jajce became the last Bosnian town to fall to Ottoman rule, and you will see the gate to the city that fell to the Ottomans. The 17-meter high Pliva waterfall was named one of the 12 most beautiful waterfalls in the world.
It is situated on the Neretva River and is the fifth-largest city in the country. Mostar was named after the bridge keepers (mostari) who in the medieval times guarded the Stari Most (Old Bridge) over the Neretva. The Old Bridge, built by the Ottomans in the 16th century, is one of Bosnia and Herzegovina’s most visited landmarks and is considered an exemplary piece of Islamic architecture in the Balkans. The Old Bridge stood for 427 years until the Croatian army destroyed it in an act of treachery in November 1993. It was rebuilt and reopened in July 2004 with support from various nations.
Mostar is a beautiful city. You can also shop here and like all of Bosnia, you will not be haggled or conned (something that has become a feature of doing business in Turkey, unfortunately). There is one large shop that sells bed-sheets, table covers, etc. owned by a guy from Kosovo. You will not miss it if you are going through the bazaar. That is worth buying if you like such stuff.
Not far from the Old Bridge, you can climb up a narrow staircase to a top of a mosque minaret and have another breath-taking view of the city and of the Old Bridge itself. The climb is not terribly difficult but may be a stretch for the elder.
Olympic Mountains Bjelasnica
Bjelašnica is a mountain in central Bosnia and Herzegovina. It is found directly to the southwest of Sarajevo, bordering Mt. Igman. Bjelašnica’s tallest peak, by which the whole mountain group got its name, rises to an elevation of 2067 meters (6782 feet). This is one of the resorts that hosted the 1984 winter Olympics. The main hotel here serves delicious food. If you are a skier, then the many mountains of Bosnia make for perfect (and very cheap) skiing options.
Epicenter of the Bosnian genocide, where 8372 civilians were murdered as the world watched callously. This is a must when you visit Bosnia. The genocide museum houses stories and eyewitness accounts. It is in one part of a massive warehouse that used to be a factory for car batteries before it became the command post for the UN designated Dutch army, sent to protect the Bosnian Muslim civilians, but later turning into cowards who gave up thousands for slaughter.
We met a survivor whose to this date chokes as he recalls his escape, walking 60 miles sleepless, hungry to reach Bosnian territory. Shakes you to the core.
Till today, not all bodies have been found or identified. Some of the bodies were moved to secondary graves by the Serbs to hide evidence. The green posts are the discoveries between one July 11 anniversary to the next— to be converted to white tombstones.
This day trip by far was the most moving. A genocide that shook us 25 years ago, but that we only heard of, is brought to life here. The museum offers stories and footage of the genocide. The graveyard makes your heart sink.
Unfortunately, this genocide is mostly forgotten and is something that we must never forget. Just as visits to Auschwitz are important to remember the Holocaust, we must make Srebrenica a place to visit, such that it becomes a history that we must never forget.
Other places of interest (not all-inclusive by any means):
On the way back from Mostar to Sarajevo, be sure to stop by Konjic where you can stop by a very old woodcarving shop that to this date provides fabulous woodcrafts.
You can also stop by Sunny Land, a small park where you can ride an alpine roller coaster that kids (and adults) will definitely enjoy. A bit further from this location, you can see the remains of the bobsled structure, built for the 1984 Winter Olympics.
Our guide was The Bosnian Guide.
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