Connect with us

#Culture

Zaid Karim, Private Investigator, Part 9 – Stash House

I resolved to be done with Badger. Yes, Amiri was one of my oldest friends. But he was on an express highway to self-destruction, and I could not ride it with him, not if I hoped to stay sane.

Avatar

Published

on

Zaid Karim, Private Investigator

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

Previous chapters of this story: Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8

* * *

On the front porch I stumbled and almost fell when I stepped on something small and round. It was a white shotgun cartridge of a type I’d never seen before. I bent quickly to the big Samoan, who looked like a beached alien whale in his purple tracksuit, and pressed two fingers to the side of his neck. His eyes were closed and he made no movement. I was prepared to give him CPR if necessary, or to try to stop the bleeding from his wounds.

His pulse was steady. Nor was there any sign of blood or injury on him. I found this baffling – I’d seen Jelly fire into his gut at point blank range – until I spotted a small white packet on the ground nearby.

Bean bag shotgun shells

Bean bag shells and rounds.

A beanbag. Badger and Jelly were firing beanbag rounds. I’d heard of these but had never seen one before. They were non-lethal, non-penetrating shotgun rounds. Supposedly just one was enough to drop a man where he stood. I guess that didn’t apply to Samoan giants.

“Jelly!” someone shouted from inside, and I recognized Badger’s voice. “Report!”

“I’m hit!” That was Jelly, and there was a note of pain and panic in her voice.

Gunshots, loud and rapid, made me duck low and cover my head. I heard wood splintering, and ringing noises as bullets bounced off something metallic.

“I’m pinned down!” Badger called back.

Damn. I had to go in. I had to. I saw all my resolutions – my determination to leave prison in the rear view mirror and live a better and more peaceful life, to love my wife and daughter, to build a career and a future for myself – go up in smoke in an instant. Here I was, back in the game as Badger called it, back in a life of crime. How had I let this happen?

It was what it was. A purple bandana poked its way out of the Samoan’s pocket. I took it, sniffed it – it smelled clean enough – and tied it around my face, covering my mouth and nose. I couldn’t risk any of these gangsters remembering my face.

Moving to the door, holding my gun in front of me in a two-handed grip, I glanced quickly inside and pulled back. There were bodies everywhere, most of them duct taped at wrists, ankles and mouth, just like the whale at the door. There must have been at least ten, all Samoans it seemed, some hugely muscular, most heavily tattooed. Why on earth would Badger and co attack such a well manned house?

Several of the men stirred and uttered muffled groans. One thrashed in place helplessly.

The house looked a hurricane had whipped through. Guns of all kinds were scattered everywhere. I saw a gold-plated machine pistol and a shotgun with a shimmering abalone stock. Cartridges and beanbag rounds littered the floor. Bills of various denominations plastered every surface in green. There was a mangled money-counting machine that looked like it had taken a direct hit, as well as shattered beer bottles, smoldering cigarette butts and fluffs of furniture stuffing still drifting through the air. The walls were half destroyed by gunfire.

One of the men on the ground began to grunt and strain, uselessly trying to break his bonds.

I pulled my head back when a burst of machine gun fire split the air in two. My heart galloped like a horse on the final stretch. I took a shuddering breath and glanced inside again. There was a small lobby just inside the door. It opened onto a living room on the left, with the kitchen beyond that. On the right there was an office, then a short corridor leading to a bedroom. Two or three bodies sprawled in the office, and many more in the living room.

A female voice moaned from the direction of the kitchen. It sounded like Jelly.

Suddenly Badger stuck his head up from behind a nearly demolished sofa that stood against the left wall of the living room. Seeing me, he pointed to the hallway on the other side of the office.

I nodded and began tiptoeing through the office, moving around two unconscious men and trying not to give myself away by stepping on any of the discarded ammunition cartridges. One of the men, who must have been faking unconsciousness, seized my ankle. I stumbled and fell. The gangster – a muscular man wearing overalls, black gloves and no shirt, with his black hair tied in two long braids, glared silently at me and tried to belly crawl on top of me, where he could perhaps crush me with his weight. His wrists and ankles were bound, though, and he could not do much. I lashed out with the butt of my gun, striking him on the forehead, and he passed out. A nasty bruise instantly swelled up on his forehead. I hoped that I had not hit him hard enough to do any lasting damage.

Badger began to shout. “Yo busta in the can! Give up, dude. All your homeboys is down. It’s just you left. You got no flex.”

He was answered by a two-second roar of machine gun fire. Undaunted, Badger continued to shout, alternately insulting the man and exhorting him to surrender, two strategies that seemed mutually conflicting to me.

I realized that Badger was giving me the location of the shooter – the bathroom – and providing cover to mask my approach. I stood and moved quickly through the office, rounded the corner and stepped through the bathroom door before I could second guess myself.

A hulking Samoan crouched against the wall of the bathroom. He was naked. The entire surface of his body was covered in gang tattoos. His chest bore a grinning skull wearing a cardinal’s hat, while the word “Samoa” was scrawled in gothic script across his belly. Traditional Samoan tribal patterns sleeved his bulging arms. Even his face was not immune to the spreading ink, with a sun symbol on one cheek and a leering face on the other. His black hair was long and kinky, and his mouth was full of gold teeth.

He cradled a gun that was smaller than the .50 caliber belt-fed monster I’d imagined. This compact, wide-barreled thing was only as long as the Samoan’s forearm.

The gangster shouted in surprise when I appeared, and began to pivot toward me. I lashed out with a vicious front kick, catching him on the corner of the jaw with the toe of my shoe. His head snapped back and he collapsed, unconscious.

“All clear in here, Badge,” I called out.

“Yo Jelly!” Badger called out. “Pinkie. Move out.”

“Gonna need some help,” Jelly called back in a strained voice.

I turned away from the Samoan gangster to go in search of Jelly – and a metallic sound behind me froze my blood. It was the sound of shower curtain rings sliding on a metal rod. I turned in time to see a naked woman step out of the shower stall. I hadn’t thought to look there. She was a young white woman with red hair and freckles, no more than nineteen or twenty I thought. Her blue eyes were wide with terror. She screamed something I didn’t understand and raised a large blue handgun, a .357 from the looks of it.

I could not move. I could not bring myself to shoot this young woman. I saw my own death, standing there in that bathroom. I saw my body sprawled on the floor, a gaping hole in my forehead or chest. I saw the newspaper headlines – “local P.I. killed in drug robbery” – and the shame it would bring on my family.

The redhead pointed the gun at my face. As in a dream I saw her finger tighten on the trigger. My breath caught in my chest and my heart seemed to stop as I awaited my demise.

There was a terrible crack in my left ear and the redhead flew backward. Blood erupted from the center of her chest as she tumbled into the shower curtain, tearing it loose. She fell lifelessly into the shower, her eyes as wide and blue as a cloudless February sky.

Pearl handled revolver.

Pearl handled revolver.

I turned to my left to see Pinkie standing there, the big pearl-handled revolver extended in her left hand. She had a black eye and a cut on her scalp from which blood poured down the side of her head and neck. Her face was pink again – not with fear this time, but with excitement. She enjoyed this insanity.

The next few minutes will never be more than a hazy jumble. The four of us got out of that house and back to the car. Jelly had been shot in the calf, and Badger in the shoulder. My head rang from the shot Pinkie had fired. I took off the bandana and threw it out of the car.

I did not drive. Instead Pinkie took the wheel as I sat in the back seat, too stunned to speak. I had just killed a girl. I did not pull the trigger, but I was a part of it. I was responsible morally and legally.

Felony murder. I’d just committed felony murder. Under California law, a defendant could face a murder conviction even if he did not pull the trigger – in fact, even if the death was an accident – as long as the death occurred in the commission of a felony. Badger and crew went into the stash house to rob it; I went in to help; a murder resulted. Therefore we were all guilty of felony murder.

The penalty for felony murder in California was either life in prison without parole, or the death penalty.

That frightened me only in the abstract. What rocked me, what put me on my heels and made me feel like I’d just fallen into a yawning crevice in the middle of an earthquake, was the image of that young woman collapsing backward, the terror in her blue eyes frozen there as in ice. She might not have been a gangster. She could have been a prostitute or the girlfriend of the guy in the bathroom. She was someone’s daughter, maybe even some little kid’s mother. She would never fulfill the promise of the life that Allah had entrusted to her; and someone somewhere would surely mourn her death.

* * *

Pinkie drove us to the Q-Ball towing yard on the southern outskirts of town. It was a sprawling place with piles of junked cars everywhere, some in stacks five high, and the entire yard surrounded by a ten-foot wall topped with concertina wire. You’d think it was Fort Knox, not a weatherbeaten junkyard on the edge of an economically depressed farm town.

A tall black man wearing a blue jumpsuit and heavy black boots greeted Badger with a warm handshake. Badger and Pinkie pulled everything out of the yellow Corvette, Badger working with one arm only, still bleeding where he’d been shot in the shoulder. Jelly sat on the ground and began to bandage her calf, grimacing as she worked.

The junkyard operator, the eponymous Q-Ball, climbed into a large tractor on caterpillar treads, with a huge claw-tipped arm. He expertly maneuvered the tractor up to the Corvette, and seized it with the claw hand, lifting it into the air. He then wheeled the tractor over to a massive orange machine that looked like a dumpster on steroids. with a chute running out of each end. These chutes extended over smaller green dumpsters.

Car shredder.

Car shredder.

Q-Ball dropped the Corvette into the top of the orange machine. Massive iron wheels with cogs the size of a man’s arms began to spin. They bored into the Corvette and pulled it deeper into the machine, grinding it inexorably into rubble.

It was like watching another death. The car groaned and squealed as the wheels gripped it. The noise was terrible. The car bounced and twisted as if trying to escape, but piece by piece it was sucked in, the metal twisting and crumpling, the glass shattering.

As the car was seized and ground into the machine, its remains began to pour down the chutes. There must have been a sorter of some kind inside, because larger fragments – by which I mean the size of a hand or a bread loaf – poured down one chute, while the other chute carried away rubble that had been pummeled to the size of gravel.

I watched with grim fascination, wincing at times, wanting to look away but unable. I felt as if the day’s events had crushed me in the same way, grinding up my heart and spitting it out.

“Dat’s phat, huh?” Badger was at my side, his face impassive, showing no sign of the pain he must be feeling. He indicated the car that was now almost fully obliterated. “Badger posse leave no trace. First rule of the game is don’t get caught.”

“I don’t get it,” I said dully. “Wasn’t that car worth a lot of money?”

Badger shrugged. “Maybe thirty g’s. Ain’t nothin’ compared to the cheese we took off them Samoans.”

Q-Ball gave us an old Buick sedan. It was light brown and nondescript. Badger’s crew moved their belongings to this car and we all piled in, with me in the backseat. I didn’t know where we were going and hardly cared. My mind was still stuck in that bathroom, seeing the young woman collapsing as the bullet threw her backward, the look of shock in her blue eyes, the sound of the shot ringing in my ears like a fire alarm.

* * *

Abandoned fruit processing factory.

Abandoned fruit processing factory.

Jelly pulled up to an abandoned fig factory a few miles southwest on 41. She unlocked the rusted front gate, drove straight up a ramp into the loading bay, unlocked a rollup door, and drove the car right into the factory itself.

Inside, I sat on a wooden packing crate as the three members of Badger’s robbery squad set to work tending each other’s wounds. In a corner of the warehouse they had a makeshift clinic already set up. It contained everything a regular doctor’s office might have: anesthetic, scalpels, suturing tools, bandages, even an IV pole. Badger drank from a bottle of whiskey as Pinkie dug a round out of his shoulder and stitched him up. Then it was Jelly’s turn.

Jelly’s messenger bag rested on a low coffee table. It bulged with whatever they had taken from the stash house: money or drugs, I didn’t know which.

Badger limped over to me and placed a hand on my shoulder. “You represented, brother. You saved our butts back there. Wasn’t s’posed to be so many of ‘em. We was told there’d be three. They musta been havin’ a war council or su’m.”

I stared into his eyes and saw no trace of concern for the dead woman. It was as if we’d just returned from a picnic at the park. He’d been doing this for so long that human life had become meaningless to him. Was there anything I could say that would reach him? I didn’t think so.

“Let’s go find our boy Tarek,” Badger said.

I shook my head lifelessly. “I don’t want anything from you. I should never have come to you.”

“What you mean, Stick? How come?” Badger looked genuinely hurt and confused.

I held my hands out. “We killed a woman back there, Badge. She was barely out of her teens. A human being who never did anything to you or me. I don’t even know her name.”

“Crab had it comin’,” Pinkie muttered as she tended to Jelly. “Come out of the shower like psycho, ank ank ank!”

I ignored her.

Badger’s eyes on the other hand, showed a touch of genuine regret. “Yeah,” he said. “That’s unfortunate. But you know, ain’t no mercy in the game. Just by bein’ where she was, with the people she was with, she on the grind. Don’t put yo’ foot in the game if you can’t handle the consequences. Did I tell that chica to be in a stash house? Naw, man. She woulda killed you, Stick. The game is the game.”

“Really? Then why were you using bean bags? Don’t tell me you don’t have a heart!” My voice had risen to a shout.

Badger’s expression grew hard. “The gangs murdered my father. You know that. I could have massacred every one of those savages and I’d still sleep like a drunken baby. I don’t give a damn about them. They can rot in whatever underworld Samoans are destined for.”

I’d noticed this about Badger, that unlike some people whose speech degraded when they were upset, Badger reverted to proper English and even waxed poetic. I stared at him. There was something about the way he said, “you know that” that seemed to imply a deeper knowledge on his part than what he was saying. Did he know about the role I’d played in his father’s death? That was impossible. Badger had slaughtered dozens of men to avenge his father’s murder. I surely would have suffered the same fate.

“Then why the bean bags?” I demanded.

He waved this off. “Bodies bring investigations. That’s bad for business. Just playin’ the game, Stick.”

There was nothing else to say. I turned around and began to walk toward the door.

“Hold up.”

I looked over my shoulder at Badger, not turning my body.

“Su’m about yo’ case you ought to think on.”

“What?”

“The cheese, man. Follow the money. Where’d the forty five large come from? Did Angie steal it? If so, who from? Or did someone give it to her? If so, why? Forty five g’s don’t just appear outta thin air.”

I walked to the door and opened it.

“Don’t you want a ride back to your hooptie?” Badger called after me. “What about the dope? You want your share?”

I walked through the door and closed it behind me.

* * *

I don’t know why the death of that woman hit me so hard. After all, I’d stabbed a man in the belly just the night before and thought little of it. Was it because the redhead was young, and had her whole life ahead of her? Was it because she was white, and if so was that an unconscious expression of racism on my part, thinking that a white life was somehow more important than an Asian one? Was it because she was a woman? Was it because she was naked and therefore vulnerable, and somehow childlike in her vulnerability?

All these things, perhaps. After all, the Cambodian gangster I’d stabbed would live – I was fairly sure – whereas this young woman was as dead as a winter night. And the Cambodians had attacked me, whereas in this case we – Badger’s crew and myself – had been the aggressors.

There was no justification. I could not defend this young woman’s death before Allah subhanahu wa ta’ala. I could not defend it on Yawm Al-Qiyamah. And I could not defend it in a court of law.

It took me over an hour to walk back to my car. I passed through rough neighborhoods, receiving hard looks and the occasional catcall. I paid no mind. I walked on autopilot, my feet reckoning the path while my brain cycled through guilt, blame and recrimination, again and again. I saw the shower curtain tearing free. Dead eyes as blue as a glacier. A spray of freckles and blood on white shoulders.

Had I pulled the trigger? I couldn’t recall. It felt like I had. My fingers twitched, remembering.

At some point I could not take any more self-castigation. Like fog hitting a prison wall, my mind drifted sideways. Walking mile after mile, I found myself thinking about Salman Al-Farisi’s journey. I had read the story many times, and knew it by heart:

After his father chained him up, Salman sent word to the Christians through an intermediary to notify him the next time a caravan was going south to Ash-Sham (Syria). They did so, and Salman freed himself from the chains and signed on. He was a mere child traveling into the unknown, driven by a burning need to find the truth about the Creator.

When Salman arrived in Ash-Sham, he asked for the most religious among the people. They pointed him to the bishop, and Salman became the bishop’s assistant.

He soon learned that the bishop was corrupt. The man had hoarded charity donations into seven jars of gold and silver. When the bishop died, Salman revealed his corruption to the people, who reacted by crucifying and stoning the bishop’s body.

The people replaced the bishop with another, who turned out to be sincere and righteous. Salman would later say that he never met a better non-Muslim than that man, nor a man more detached from the dunya – the material world – and attached to the afterlife, nor a man more devoted to righteous work. “I loved him more than anything I loved before,” Salman said.

When that bishop’s death approached, Salman asked him to refer him to someone else. The bishop complained that the people had altered the true religion of Allah. “I do not know of anyone who is still holding to what I follow except a man in Al-Moosil (Iraq),” the bishop said.

So Salman traveled to Iraq, whereupon he met that priest and served him until once again the holy man’s death approached. The priest recommended Salman to another in a city called Nasiyebeen. The story repeated itself. Salman found the man in Nasiyebeen and served him until he in turn was on his deathbed. Salman asked him where he should go. The man referred Salman to a teacher in Ammooriyyah, a city of the Eastern Roman Empire. Salman found the man in Ammoriyyah and served him, and again the man grew elderly and his death neared.

Now Salman’s path changed, for when he asked where he should go, the teacher said, ‘O son! I don’t know of anyone who is on the same (religion) as we are. However, the time of emergence of a Prophet will shade you. This Prophet is on the same religion of Ibraaheem.’

The teacher had a deep understanding of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, and had seen within them the clear signs of the approach of a true Prophet.

“He comes from Arabia,” the teacher continued, “and migrates to a place located between landscapes of black stones. Palm trees spread between these stones. He has certain well known signs. He (accepts) and eats (from) a gift but does not eat from charity. The seal of Prophethood is between his shoulders. If you can move to that land, then do so.”

The holy man died. Salman stayed in Ammooriyyah until one day some merchants from the Arab tribe of Kalb passed by. Salman said, “Take me to Arabia and I will give you my cows and the only sheep I have.” The Arabs agreed. Salman gave them his possessions and they took him along. When they reached Wadee Al-Qura (close to Madinah), they betrayed him and sold him as a slave to a Jew.

Salman stayed with the Jew and worked as a slave, for he had seen the palm trees of Madinah and hoped this would be the place described by the holy man.

* * *

I thought about Salman’s willingness to completely sever himself from the misguided people of his past in order to serve Allah as purely as he could. Nothing motivated him but the truth. He traveled from one land to another, leaving behind whatever friends he had made, keeping no attachments to anything worldly, placing himself completely in Allah’s hands. When the time came he gave up everything he owned, all his animals, and consigned himself to an unknown fate, just to get closer to the Prophet he believed would soon appear.

Even when he was sold into slavery he did not rebel, did not run away, and why? Because he believed himself to be in the land of the coming Prophet, and that was all he cared about. The truth, the truth, the truth. That was his obsession and his dream, his mission and his sole care in this life.

I did not know how to apply the lessons of Salman’s life to my own. I did not know what I should do, or where I should go. I already had the truth that Salman had so desperately sought. I had the Quran and the Sunnah. I had Islam, and a good and kind-hearted teacher in Imam Saleh. So why was I such a mess? Why did I keep stumbling into these terrible situations? Why couldn’t I divorce myself from my misguided past as Salman had done?

I resolved to be done with Badger. Yes, I was responsible in a way for Malik Sulawesi’s death. Yes, Amiri was one of my oldest friends. But he was on an express highway to self-destruction – no rest stops and no detours – and I could not ride it with him, not if I hoped to stay sane. Not if I didn’t want to be altered into something I myself would not recognize.

Of course this was locking the hangar after the jet had taken off. A woman was dead. She was possibly innocent and possibly not, but she was dead and I had been a part of it.

Small Masjid

“I found myself in front of the masjid…”

Finally reaching my car, I drove. I wasn’t sure where I was going until I looked up to see that I had – completely without conscious thought – driven to Masjid Madinah. Furthermore, the parking lot was full.

Of course. Today was Jum’ah. I was late, but the salat was apparently not over. I parked a block away and walked to the masjid, where I weaved my way through the packed congregation. I was focused on finding an empty spot in the rear and was not yet paying attention to Imam Saleh’s khutbah, until a word penetrated my fogged brain and froze me in place as if I’d just stepped in cement. “Murder.”

I turned my head toward Imam Saleh, who stood atop a small minbar at the front of the masjid. I half expected him to be pointing at me in accusation. But he stood tall in a gray thobe and white kufi, his hands animated but not singling me out. He went on:

“Murder is wrong. Attributing such crimes to Islam is despicable. The slaughter of innocent people is barbaric.”

I was a marble statue. In my confusion and fear – and I was indeed afraid – even my breathing seemed to have stopped. Was Imam Saleh speaking directly to me? Did he somehow know what I had done? Was he exposing my sin to the world? Was everyone looking at me, and seeing the stain of blood on my hands? I took off my fedora and held it to my chest, as if I could use it to shield myself against his words.

“The Messenger of Allah” – the Imam continued – “peace and blessings of Allah upon him, said, ‘No one of you murders at the time that he murders and remains a believer. Therefore, beware, beware!’ Ibn Hibban, 5979. One version of this Hadith mentions, ‘Faith is stripped from him like his trousers. When he returns to faith, it returns to him.’ In other words, as long as he is engaged in murderous acts, he cannot claim to be a man of faith. If he were to die in such a condition, he would die a disbeliever.”

Still I stood. Someone tapped me on the leg, no doubt because I was blocking his way. The Imam went on:

“The Prophet (peace and blessing of Allah upon him) mentioned, ‘A Muslim is one from whose tongue and hand all of the people are safe.’ Ahmad, 6753; Tabarani, 3170. This hadith tells us that anyone who unleashes words of hate against people, or commits acts of violence against them, is not a true Muslim. Rather, such a person is a hypocrite, shaming himself through his actions.”

Again someone tugged on my pants leg. The pull seemed to draw the energy out of me, so that I suddenly felt weak and dizzy. My legs gave out, and I reached for the ground with one hand as I sank heavily. A middle aged brother with a black beard shuffled to the side with a grunt of displeasure. I managed not to fall right on him. I sat cross legged and covered my face in my hands, breathing hard. Someone touched my shoulder in concern but I paid no mind.

Imam Saleh continued to talk. At some point it dawned on me that he was not speaking specifically about me. He was referring to acts of terrorism committed by so-called Muslims.

“All these narrations,” the Imam went on, “make it unequivocally clear that the depraved murderers who have embarked on a campaign of terror and war against their hosts, neighbors, fellow citizens, the innocent public, and against guiltless men, women and children, have joined the ranks of the devils and betrayed everything Islam stands for. Faith has died in their hearts. They have abandoned their religion and forfeited their humanity. They do not act in the name of Islam. They have no honor, and deserve only contempt.

“Confronting the rising scourge of terrorism is one of the great challenges of our age. To defeat it may require sweeping changes within the Muslim world – social changes, economic changes, political changes, and most of all spiritual changes. We must return to an understanding of Islam as a religion of compassion, kindness, and civil discourse. We must honor our relationship with the Creator, worshiping Him sincerely, and we must then extend that sincerity to our interactions with all people. May Allah give us the strength to complete this task.”

When the khutbah was over I stood and prayed mechanically with the congregation. I wanted to break down and plead with Allah for forgiveness, but I feared to release my emotions, for doing so might lead me to a complete breakdown.

When salat was over, I sat again, my eyes fixed on the heavy carpet as men shook hands, chatted and filed out of the masjid. A few brothers greeted me and tried to speak to me but I did not respond.

At some point it sank into my awareness that someone had been repeating my name insistently. I raised my eyes to find Aziz Al-Qudsi crouching in front of me, dressed in a beautiful gray suit and yellow tie. Like me, he had straight black hair, though he kept his very short. He was a handsome man whose appearance was marred only by the prominent bend in the bridge of his nose, from when Amiri had broken it in a sparring session when we were kids. Martial arts had never come naturally to Aziz, and he’d been the first of us to give it up, which he did when I moved to Qatar.

I was surprised to see him, since Aziz lived in Menlo Park, about a half hour south of San Francisco, and I had not seen him in at least a year. Taller than me at about six feet even, Aziz seemed to have it all. One year older than me, he was the eldest of the Five Musketeers and by far the most successful. In school he’d been the one student whose grades I could never beat. He’d gone on to earn an MBA from Stanford and at the age of twenty five had created a messaging app similar to Skype, which he later sold to Microsoft for a large sum of money. He then started his own venture capital fund. I had no doubt he was a multi-millionaire.

He was also an Islamic scholar in his own right. He’d become fascinated by traditional Islamic scholarship when we were still in high school. When the rest of us wanted to go to a movie, or ride our dirt bikes in the foothills, or practice Kali at Roeding Park, Aziz wanted to sit at the masjid and read 12th century Islamic texts in Arabic. Later, between earning his Bachelor’s degree and his MBA, he managed to earn a distance degree in Islamic studies from IIUM in Malaysia.

On top of everything else, he was happily married with three children.

He grasped my shoulder, his eyes wide with alarm. “Zaid! Shu feek? What’s wrong?”

I gave him a weak smile, but I think it must have looked ghastly, because the worry on his face increased.

“Marhaba, Aziz,” I said finally.

He let out a sigh of relief. “I’ve been saying your name for five minutes, man! What’s going on?”

“Nothing. What are you doing here?”

“I’m here for the FIA fundraiser tomorrow.”

Of course, I thought wryly. Aziz and a sister named Kawthar had comprised the entire first graduating class of the Fresno Islamic Academy. Kawthar went on to earn simultaneous degrees in medicine and law. Unbelievable, right? Who does that? Aziz and Kawthar were both frequently invited to speak at FIA fundraisers. They were held up as shining success stories and proof of the school’s academic excellence.

I’d attended FIA as well in my youth, though not in high school. I wasn’t holding my breath waiting to be invited to a fundraiser. Not that I cared. I thought it was funny, actually. We’re not all success stories, folks! But never mind that, hand over your money and your gold…

“Are you sure you’re okay, Stick?”

“Don’t call me that,” I snapped. “I despise that name.”

He withdrew his hand from my shoulder. He looked dismayed. “I’m sorry, Zaid, I -”

“No, no,” I cut in. “I’m the one who’s sorry. I’m just tired. It’s good to see you Aziz, but I don’t feel like talking.”

I did not resent Aziz’s success. Truly, I was happy for him. But our lives had gone in such wildly divergent directions that he could never understand who I was now. How could I possibly tell him about the things I’d seen and done? Can a man who’s never been uncomfortable understand what it is to shiver in cold all night long, or to spend the entire night awake in the dark with a homemade knife in your hand, waiting for the attack you know is coming?

Aziz said something about me attending the fundraiser. I did not respond, and at some point he moved off. After a while the lights shut off in the masjid. My mind drifted. The shot that Pinkie had fired still echoed in my head. I saw the redhead falling, the look of disbelief in her wintry eyes, the freckles on her shoulders like a field of wheat… I kept thinking of the ayah from Surat Al-Baqarah where Allah says, “wa laa tulquw bi-aydeekum ilat-tahluka…” – and do not throw yourselves with your own hands into destruction… Again and again these words played in my head, as I saw myself being cast by two fierce and terrible hands – my own hands, magnified into clawed horrors – into the fires of Hell.

At some point my vision focused and I saw that Imam Saleh sat cross legged in front of me. He watched me, saying nothing. My fedora sat on the ground between us.

“I-” my voice came out in a croak. I cleared my throat and and tried again. “I’ve made bad choices. I have destroyed myself.”

The Imam was silent for some time. Finally he leaned forward and tapped my chest. “I believe in your heart, akh Zaid. I look at you and see a good man. If all the world were arrayed into three camps: the forces of good, the forces of evil, and those who merely stand and watch, I would look for you within the camp of the forces of good.”

“You wouldn’t find me there,” I said bitterly.

“Come now. If you approach Allah with repentance, He will come to you with forgiveness even greater than it, no matter what you have done. And you know what, akh Zaid?”

“What?”

“I still behold that light in your eyes. You have not completed your work. You’re in pain, I see that. Spiritual pain is a wake up call. It is a motivator to change. It is not there to cripple you, but to drive you toward Allah, and to stimulate you to act. Replace a bad deed with a good one. That is the way forward. Call upon Allah, dig deep within yourself, be courageous as I know you are, and act. I know no one else like you brother, but I know that the world needs more such men.”

I didn’t know what to say. For the second time in as many days, here was someone expressing faith in me – first Jamilah, and now the Imam. In the past I’d gone years without hearing such words. But they didn’t know. They didn’t know how many terrible mistakes I had made.

Fedora

“He rolled my fedora up his arm…”

Imam Saleh picked up my fedora, and, extending his arm, rolled it up his arm to his shoulder. It was just like a professional magic trick, and I was amazed that he could do that. Smiling, he placed the hat on my head and clapped me on the shoulder. “I’ll be in my office,” he said. “Stay as long as you need.” With that he departed.

I stood on shaky legs and prayed. I took my time, holding each position for long minutes and fighting not to break into tears, for though I was not ashamed to cry before Allah, I feared that if I allowed the tears to spring forth, they would never stop.

When I was done I stood and walked out of the masjid. No answers had spontaneously manifested in my heart. No voice whispered to me, no vision appeared. Had my prayer been answered? Was I forgiven? I did not know.

What I did know was that there was a child out there who was afraid and abused. I had been hired to find her, and that was exactly what I would do Insha’Allah. Come burning sun or raging river, bad men or bad blood, I would find this child. I could not resurrect the redhead who’d been shot in the shower. I could not change what had happened to Malik Sulawesi ten years ago. I could not save any of the millions around the world suffering from tyranny, torture, starvation, disease or drought. I could not reverse time and prevent the catastrophe that had befallen my Palestinian people.

But I could find one child, God help me.

Find Tarek, I told myself. Find the father first, then the daughter.

Thinking of Anna brought to mind my daughter Hajar. School at the FIA ended after Jum’ah prayer on Fridays, so Hajar would be home now. In the car, I took out my phone and called, only to get Safaa’s voicemail. Most likely she didn’t want to answer. Probably thought I was going to pester her again about our marriage. I texted her: “Please have Hajar call me when she’s free.

I drove down to Jamestown Street. Like I’d told Badger, I did not know this area. No matter. I would use my eyes, ears and shoe leather, like any gumshoe. I parked in a shaded spot and watched the life on the street through the binoculars. There were homeless people everywhere in this neighborhood, standing about in groups, wandering singly with shopping carts piled high with belongings, or coming and going. Men who were clearly drug dealers stood on the corners, selling their wares with impunity. I observed the patterns of movement, noting the buildings that attracted the most traffic.

I noted a shuttered four-story building a block from my location. It was a weathered wooden structure that might once have been painted red but was now a drab grayish-pink. Some windows were boarded up, while others simply gaped open, the glass long vanished. A faded sign painted on the side announced, “Sheya Gardens Hotel.” Piles of litter were strewn about on all sides. I’d seen many people slipping through a gap in a loose board that covered the door.

I locked up my car, walked to the Sheya Gardens Hotel, and squeezed my way through the boarded up doorway. What I found inside was a world unlike anything I’d ever imagined.

Next: Zaid Karim Private Investigator, Chapter 10 – Finding Tarek

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

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

50 Comments

50 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Amatullah

    April 4, 2017 at 9:02 AM

    Whoa! This chapter was full of events unforeseen. Zaid’s character is being refined by each passing episode. Zaid’s personality in my eyes was that of a not-so-mature middle aged man with full of emotions until the murder happened. He now looks more mature to understand his mistake, accept it and move on. Imam Saleh played an important role here-that which everyone needs in life, Emotional support.
    ” If all the world were arrayed into three camps: the forces of good, the forces of evil, and those who merely stand and watch, I would look for you within the camp of the forces of good” — This was beautiful and also Imam-istic :D.
    (My abba is an Imam and he talks like that too, always making up scenarios)

    And yeah, the Note at the end is depressing but nevertheless I hope the wait will be worth it.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      April 4, 2017 at 10:51 PM

      Amatullah, sounds like you have a wise abba / Imam.

  2. Avatar

    Bareerah

    April 4, 2017 at 5:02 PM

    As if we have to wait till JUNE for the next part…*sob*…the story is really coming together though masha Allah can’t wait to find out how it ends.

  3. Avatar

    Abdullah Ahmad

    April 4, 2017 at 10:18 PM

    Nooooooo! I can’t wait until June!!
    Subhanallah brother, what an interesting character development. Zaid is a complete mystery to figure. Keep up the good work. We will Eagerly await the next part in June inshallah

  4. Avatar

    Bint A

    April 4, 2017 at 11:20 PM

    That’s a long time. But we had our fair share of sabr-training with Ouroboros …. one year to be exact. And it was well worth the wait. So June shouldn’t be that bad hopefully …

    Cheers anyways at the book launching. Keep us updated and all the best with the rest.

    • Avatar

      Maryam Moeen

      April 10, 2017 at 3:25 PM

      I agree that the Ouroboros was the best I especially love the characters, I want them two to be back together as happy family. I didn’t have the training as you know what happened with me (Latest post), because it’s too amazing to resist form going on to the next chapter. I basically finished it in less than two weeks or less not sure but it’s possible.
      Jazk, for your great stories and taking the time out to write awesome stories for us and cooperation.
      PS: Yesterday was my birthday.

  5. Avatar

    Maryam

    April 4, 2017 at 11:44 PM

    So we aren’t going to have one every Tuesday. Aww, man.

    Brother, Wael there are a few mistakes, sorry but the word “or” is written twice, just want it to be good I guess.
    Jazk.

  6. Avatar

    SZH

    April 6, 2017 at 8:20 AM

    Another fascinating part of another beautiful story!
    And now we have to face the wait for same period which we had faced in Hassaan’s story. This time I will try to be patient. :-P
    When, do you think, the book will be available? If it is coming in two weeks, I will get it through my aunt (I assume that you will have it available for ICNA convention :-D). Otherwise I will have to find some other way to get it here in Pakistan.
    Anyway, I pray that you may be able to complete all your plans in the best way. JazakAllah Khair.

    • Avatar

      Maryam

      April 10, 2017 at 2:59 PM

      Br.Wael, I loved Hassan more and I wish you could write more about the Haddad’s and Charlie.

  7. Avatar

    Nasra Ban

    April 7, 2017 at 10:24 AM

    Deary sneary i have to wait till June. Oh my, how will i survive lol im sure it will be worth the wait.?

  8. Avatar

    Mohammed

    April 8, 2017 at 4:44 AM

    Being a gear head, I must point out that Corvettes were always 2 seater sports cars. You don’t have to publish this comment nor edit the story though if you don’t want to. It’s just an observation and I figured I should point it out.
    Very good read so far, MashaAllah. Thanks

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      April 8, 2017 at 5:50 AM

      Mohammed, would there be any space for two others to squeeze in behind the seat? Like a small cargo space or something? Or even just for a third person?

  9. Avatar

    Mutmainnah

    April 9, 2017 at 11:07 AM

    This is the first time I actually caught up, I’ve only started reading your books about two weeks ago, and I would be so thankful that I don’t have to wait to read the next chapter. Now this week I knew that I was catching up, so I tried to slow down, but I ended up coming to the end to see that karma turned around and bit me. Now I have to wait nine weeks!
    MashaAllah, this is amazing. I think I like Zaid better than Hassan. I don’t know, he seems more real to me.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      April 9, 2017 at 12:32 PM

      Mutmainnah, you read ALL of my online books in two weeks?

      • Avatar

        Mutmainnah

        April 9, 2017 at 8:55 PM

        What can I say? Your books are amazing. If it wasn’t for midterms, I would have even finished faster. I really liked your books. I was using it to reward myself for studying.
        MashaAllah tabarak Allah

  10. Avatar

    Maryam

    April 10, 2017 at 3:07 PM

    Me too Mutmainnah I read it less than two weeks, no joke and no sarcasm your books are amazing Br. Wael.
    SZH you’re in Pakistan?? Man I wish I could visit there.
    MA good going Br. Wael you have readers all way there.
    I was introduced to these series a whole website when I was in 8th grade, I completely forgot about it. I was just browsing around maybe and Allah (SWT) put it thorough my mind I was astonished that I recalled how the website looked I skipped the two chapters because we read them in our Islamic studies class.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      April 10, 2017 at 3:37 PM

      Maryam, what chapters are you referring to that you read in Islamic studies class?

      • Avatar

        Maryam

        April 10, 2017 at 8:48 PM

        Why? Oh the first three I haven’t checked but if I recall, it includes the one your about to publish where Layth and Khadija meet -> he is a taxi driver, and then Layth gets married in the masjid and we stopped where Khadija put a hijab on Jamilah.

    • Avatar

      SZH

      April 14, 2017 at 1:54 AM

      Yup, I live in Pakistan. A great country in not-so-great conditions. You can visit here, there is no visa ban or anything. :-)

  11. Avatar

    Suzy I.

    April 10, 2017 at 5:53 PM

    I can’t believe you left me hanging! Here I am at the airport, all settled in to read your story, and find out what happened. Patience was never one of my strong suits, so please hurry with the ending!

  12. Avatar

    Maryam

    April 11, 2017 at 9:01 AM

    Br.Wael, I loved Hassan more and I wish you could write more about the Haddad’s and Charlie. -Jazk.

    Why? Oh the first three I haven’t checked but if I recall, it includes the one your about to publish where Layth and Khadija meet -> he is a taxi driver, and then Layth gets married in the masjid and we stopped where Khadija put a hijab on Jamilah.
    Jazk

  13. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    April 14, 2017 at 2:02 AM

    As-salamu alaykum everyone. The new, novel-length version of Pieces of a Dream is now available on Amazon, in paperback and ebook formats:

    http://a.co/1YaPAaf

    It is triple the length of the story found here on MM, with added chapters exploring Louis’s relationship with his family, and the appearance of a troubling figure from his past. It is published in partnership with MM, with half the profit going to support the website.

  14. Avatar

    Maryam

    April 16, 2017 at 2:25 PM

    I just saw it but Br. what clicked in my mind was as soon as I read the intro you’re suspicious, just kidding are all the characters based on your life because it said that you worked as a cab driver in San Francisco and as a dispatcher, it’s fine but you made it totally non-relate-able I’m just guessing.

    How did your conference about writing??

    • Avatar

      Maryam

      April 19, 2017 at 4:27 PM

      How did your conference about writing go??

      • Avatar

        Wael Abdelgawad

        April 19, 2017 at 7:13 PM

        It was good Alhamdulillah. The audience had many questions about the process of writing. I think between myself and Umm Zakiyyah we gave them some good answers.

        • Avatar

          Maryam

          April 23, 2017 at 12:48 PM

          I just saw it but Br. what clicked in my mind was as soon as I read the intro you’re suspicious, just kidding are all the characters based on your life because it said that you worked as a cab driver in San Francisco and as a dispatcher, it’s fine but you made it totally non-relate-able I’m just guessing.

  15. Avatar

    SZH

    April 28, 2017 at 7:29 AM

    Salaam, brother Wael. I just visited MM to checkout on any update. I am glad the book has been published. Is it possible to ship books here? I want to buy at least 3 of them.

    • Avatar

      SZH

      April 28, 2017 at 7:32 AM

      By here I mean Pakistan. Karachi, to be exact.

      • Avatar

        Wael Abdelgawad

        April 28, 2017 at 10:18 AM

        Right. I will look into it Insha’Allah.

      • Avatar

        Wael Abdelgawad

        April 28, 2017 at 5:37 PM

        SZH, I don’t see a way to do this right now. Perhaps in the future, if the demand exists, I will do a print run in Pakistan with a Pakistani publisher, Insha’Allah.

        Of course, you could always buy the ebook. I know it’s not the same as holding an actual book in you hands.

        • Avatar

          SZH

          May 3, 2017 at 12:02 AM

          Ohk.. By the way, I had published few books when I was in a student organization in my university.
          Anyway, now I have to find a way to sneak it in. :-)

  16. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    May 25, 2017 at 7:17 PM

    UPDATE 5-25-2017: I know I said June 6th, but I’ll have to postpone the next chapter until the end of Ramadan. Sorry about that. I just completed some other projects I’ve been working on, and I’m turning my attention back to this story now. Also, I know MM prefers to focus on Ramadan topics during Ramadan. In the meantime, perhaps you could purchase and read Pieces of a Dream, if you haven’t done so already :-) I’m sure you’ll enjoy it Insha’Allah.

  17. Avatar

    Maryam

    June 6, 2017 at 7:46 AM

    Can’t wait till today oh aww man until I read the bottom I hope it’s worth the wait!!
    Jazk though!

  18. Avatar

    Sarah

    July 2, 2017 at 1:06 PM

    Assalamu alaykum,

    It’s been a while since I have read Ouroboros, and I went online to re-read some of your work, when I found that Pieces of a Dream was in print! I immediately bought it and loved it. Layth’s character development and the extra chapters made it a well rounded and awesome read. Jazak Allah khayr. After I finished it, I immediately went online hoping for something more, and I was surprised to find Zaid’s story!! Now having completed it, I am anxiously waiting the next part.

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      July 2, 2017 at 2:04 PM

      Wa alaykum as-salam Sarah. Thanks so much for your comments. The next two chapters of Zaid Karim are written, but I’m going to hold off for two weeks before publishing them because I’ve realized there are a number of internal issues that need to be addressed. The teacher/nurse contradiction is one. There are also some contradictions in the timeline of Zaid’s life. So I need to fix those, and I’m also rewriting some previous scenes altogether. Give me two weeks Insha’Allah and the next chapter of Zaid Karim should be out by mid July.

      By the way, if you wouldn’t mind leaving a quick review of Pieces of a Dream on Amazon, I’d be grateful, thanks.

      By the way, you’re not the Sarah I just talked to at the ISNA convention, are you?

      • Avatar

        Sarah

        July 2, 2017 at 2:23 PM

        No I am not, I wasn’t there :) Will the other parts be put out in print soon as well.
        One of the things I love about your stories that makes me enjoy rereading them is the real life connections the characters have with ayat or ahadith. I forgot which chapter it was in, but I loved when Zaid woke up and prayed salat ad Duha even though he didn’t all the time because he felt like it was a duha kind of morning based on what he was going through at the time. The characters inspire me to engage with the book of Allah even though I don’t feel like I’m at the place I want to be spiritually in my life.
        Yes inshaa Allah I will definitely leave a review on Amazon.

  19. Avatar

    Sarah

    July 2, 2017 at 2:30 PM

    By the way, I’m sorry to bring it up this point because it is already in print, but there were a few typos in Pieces of a Dream. Nothing major and I’m not sure if you’d want to address it, just thought I’d let you know.
    Jazak Allah khayr

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      July 2, 2017 at 2:35 PM

      You must have been an early buyer. I have since corrected the typos. The current copies available online are all good, Insha’Allah. So you have a colllector’s edition, ha ha.

  20. Avatar

    Dahlia

    July 4, 2017 at 4:33 PM

    Okay, I’m waiting for the next chapter! Please share the link if I’m missing it .

  21. Avatar

    AA

    July 5, 2017 at 11:33 PM

    Here, once again, searching for Zaid Karim. And although I appreciate things happen and life takes over, you have many readers who have been patiently waiting for the next chapter. Please could you let us know what is happening, and when? Also, to be even more demanding, we should be treated to not the 1 but the 2 chapters (you mentioned above), as we’ve been wonderfully patient, no? :)

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      July 7, 2017 at 9:26 PM

      AA, you have definitely been patient. Please continue to be and I promise you will see part 10 before the end of July Insha’Allah. I’m at the very end of a major writing project that I absolutely must finish first, then I have to rewrite some scenes from Zaid Karim. So hang in there. I have not forgotten my readers.

      • Avatar

        AA

        July 8, 2017 at 11:21 PM

        Thank you for your reply Wael. Can’t help being greedy. And can’t wait! Insha’Allah. Best of luck with your project in the meantime.

  22. Avatar

    Maryam

    July 12, 2017 at 4:43 PM

    Aoa, Brother when will you be writing again? I’ve checked a few times just returning to close the tab. As today, when i checked I decided to read the last portion of Zaid Karim again, it’s good you can take your time.
    – Jazk

  23. Avatar

    Wael Abdelgawad

    July 21, 2017 at 3:27 PM

    Working on it now. Finished my other project (a soon-to-be-released novel called The Repeaters, not Muslim fiction, just mainstream urban fantasy). So I’m back to this now. Won’t be long Insha’Allah.

  24. Avatar

    Maryam

    August 6, 2017 at 7:54 PM

    Jazk! For the response I’ve been checking every Tuesday I don’t want to lose interest in a great novel like this.

  25. Avatar

    Abdullah Ahmad

    August 8, 2017 at 8:02 PM

    Assalamu Alaikum Brother Wael,
    Any update on the next chapter? Eagerly waiting…
    :)

    • Avatar

      Wael Abdelgawad

      August 8, 2017 at 9:30 PM

      It was supposed to be published today. Most likely the editor is unavailable or traveling. I will look into it Insha’Allah.

      • Avatar

        Maryam Moeen

        August 13, 2017 at 1:45 AM

        Jazk Brother, I’ve been waiting just wanted to check by no waiting I’m reading it. Wait, why was hes taking four pills is it because of the stash house I don’t quite remember him getting hurt. I checked, might be wrong.

        • Avatar

          Wael Abdelgawad

          August 13, 2017 at 3:08 AM

          You mean in part 10? His arm was badly slashed by one of the robbers in the drug house.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Books

Grit and Resilience: The Self-Help vs. Islamic Perspective

Omar Usman

Published

on

grit

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.

Islamic Perspective

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 subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), 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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) 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 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), 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.

To stay up to date with more articles from Omar, sign up for his email list at http://ibnabeeomar.com/newsletter

Continue Reading

#Culture

To Kill a Muslim – Part 1

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

Avatar

Published

on

1. Ragheads

Rotting wooden porch steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Moving Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craftsman bungalow cottage

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

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

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

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

He smiled. ¨Nothing.¨

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cop with gun drawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Next: Part 2 – The Black Jesus

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

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

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

Continue Reading

#Culture

Go Visit Bosnia

Abu Reem

Published

on

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.

Travel Bosnia, Visit Bosnia

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.

Sarajevo

Sarajevo, capital of Bosnia and Herzegovina, is a compact city on the Miljacka River, surrounded by the Dinaric Alps. Its center has museums commemorating local history, including Sarajevo 1878–1918, which covers the 1914 assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, an event that sparked World War I. Landmarks of the old quarter, Baš?aršija, include the Ottoman-era Gazi Husrev-bey Mosque.

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.

Visit Bosnia

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.

Visit Bosnia, SarajevoOur trip coincided with the annual somber anniversary of the beginning of the siege, April 5, 1992. Bouquets of flowers adorned the remembrance area.

Visit Bosnia

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.

Visit Bosnia

A view from Hecco Deluxe Hotel, Bosnia

Visit Bosnia

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!

Watering hole structure for stray cats and dogs

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.

Vrelo Bosne:

 

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.

Visit Bosnia

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.

Blagaj

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.

Travnik

Visit Bosnia

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.

Jajce

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.

Mostar

Visit Bosnia

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.

Visit Bosnia

Mostar Old Bridge (1567) (UNESCO World Heritage List)

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.

Bosnia

Srebrenica

Visit Bosnia

Srebenica, Bosnia

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):

Woodcrafts in Konjic, Bosnia

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.

Visit Bosnia

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.

Visit Bosnia, Sunnyland

Our guide was The Bosnian Guide.

Continue Reading

Trending