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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.

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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.

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#Culture

Retire Aladdin To The Ends Of The Earth

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By Jinan Shbat

I grew up in an upper-middle-class suburb in Ohio, where I never felt different than the kids in my neighborhood. Sure, my siblings and I had odd-sounding names, and we spoke a second language. But to our neighbors and classmates, we were white, like them. However, that perception changed when I was 11-years-old, when a Disney cartoon movie named “Aladdin,” was released based off of a character created by a French orientalist at the height of Orientalism. At first, my siblings and I were excited because we thought Disney had made a movie that represented us. However, shortly after the movie came out, the questions began.

Are you from Agrabah?

Do you have a magic carpet? Are you going to be married off to someone your parents choose? Do you have outfits like Jasmine?” My head was swarming with all these questions, and I admit, I was intimidated. A little scared, too. I didn’t know how to answer them, and so I just shook my head and walked away.

My parents thought they were doing us a favor by buying the movie and have us watch it anytime other kids came over to play. This just created a larger divide between us, and soon my siblings and I were the “other.” It made me hyper-aware of my brown skin, my visiting foreign grandparents, and my weird-sounding name that no one could ever pronounce correctly. As I grew up, the movie and its racist, Orientalist tropes followed and haunted me. Anytime anyone found out I was Arab, they would ask, “oh, like Aladdin?” I didn’t know how to answer that. Was Aladdin Arab? South Asian, Persian? These were all different ethnicities, yet the movie seemed to be an amalgamation of them all, set in a fiction land I could not identify.

Why is Disney’s Aladdin Harmful?

It may not seem like a big deal to be misidentified in this way, but it is. And these stereotypes that have been present in Hollywood for decades are a huge disservice to our communities- all our communities- because when you misidentify a person’s culture, you are saying that all people of color are interchangeable— which is dehumanizing.

With the new release of the live action version, “Aladdin” is reinforcing the trauma and obstacles we have had to fight for the last 30+ years. The addition of a diversity consulting firm made Disney look good; it showed good faith on their part to receive feedback on the script to try and improve it.

However, issues remain with the original story itself, and no amount of consulting will change that.

Although the Aladdin remake was marked by controversy over Disney “brown-facing” its white cast, and despite original Aladdin’s racist history, last weekend Disney’s live-action version soared to $207.1 million globally. Money experts tell us that the remake success comes from the “power of nostalgia”- that is, the film’s ability to connect with feel-good memories.

The original production is the second highest grossing film project in Disney history. Last weekend, millions flocked to the remake in record numbers, despite critics’ negative and mixed reviews.

The accompanying Aladdin Jr. play is also a major concern, sales of which will skyrocket because of the film. Disney only recently removed the word ‘barbaric’ in its description of Arabs in the opening song. Many more problems abound, but Disney promises through its licensing company, Music Theatre International, to keep the concepts explored in the original production intact.

A Whole New World Needs Less Anti-Muslim Bigotry

From my perspective, as an organizer that fights a huge Islamophobia network in my daily work, it would be a disservice to my work and our community to sit by and allow racist, Islamophobic, orientalist tropes to make their way into our theaters, homes, and schools. What exactly is not a big deal in this movie? The depiction of Arabs and South Asians as one demographic, the storyline of forced marriage, power struggles, a black man playing a genie literally bound by chains to a lamp?

Hollywood’s history of Islamophobia needs to be rectified. There is a plethora of writers, actors and creative minds with alternative positive portrayals of Muslims, Arabs and South Asians. Our consumer appetite must shift to embrace authentic stories and images about people like me.

Aladdin is beyond repair; in its original form, it is problematic. No number of meetings with executives will fix the problems that are still prevalent. It should be retired, indefinitely, and put on the shelf with all the other racist caricatures from Hollywood history.

It’s our duty to speak out- and if you don’t believe we should, then you can choose to stay silent. I cannot.

Jinan Shbat is an organizer in Washington DC.

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#Culture

Making Eid Exciting for Kids

Lail Hossain

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Ramadan and Eid are the most important holidays of our religion, but are we as parents putting enough effort into them? For those of us who live in non-Muslim countries, Ramadan and Eid can look dull in comparison to Christmas, Halloween, Easter, etc. There is little to no recognition of Muslim holidays outside of our homes and masjids.

Unlike Muslim countries, where markets, streets, television and the general population all foster a sense of connection to the month of blessing, Ramadan and Eid pass by mostly unnoticed in the circle of our kid’s friends.

The reality is that our religious festivals are competing with the attention of other more glittery celebrations of the West. We want to make Islamic festivals a real part of our children’s lives. We want to create memories, want our kids to love our festivals and our deen, so how do we inspire our kids to love Ramadan and Eid?

While I don’t believe we need to compete with our Christian neighbors, I firmly believe we have a responsibility to make all of our religious obligations meaningful and as well as fun, exciting and educational for our kids.

As we get close to Eid, here’s how can you make it memorable for your children:

Welcome Eid in your Home by Decorating

Between the fabulous DIY Eid decorating projects out there on the internet and the wide range of home décor offered by Muslim owned businesses, you have a good number of options to decorate your home during Eid.

Gone are the days of tacky Eid décor. With the selection and quality Eid décor that are available, you are sure to find something that goes with your existing home décor. Whether your style is traditional or modern, glam or chic, you’ll find some Eid decoration in a variety of color and theme to match your taste.

You’ll be surprised how lights and a garland can add the Eid spirit to your home. Involve the kids in decorating your home for Eid to get them in the mood and inspire them to love Eid. It’s always a pleasure to see the sparkle in their eyes as you turn decorating the house a family activity.

Take your children to Eid Salah

Eid salah is a fundamental part of Eid festivities. Make sure you take your kids with you for the Eid prayer. If Eid falls on a weekday, get an excused absence for your child. Most schools have a religious celebration exemptions policy and you should be able to get the kids out for the Eid salah if not the entire day.

On route to the Eid prayer, make it a family tradition to say the Eid Takbeer –

‘Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar. La Ilaaha Illallahu Wallahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar wa Lillahil Hamd’

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

Surprise your kids with gifts

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

Only is it a Sunnah to give gifts, children are ecstatic when they receive presents. It’s a win-win situation. I like to give Islam inspired gifts during Eid. Books are great to present, especially when you pair them with the experience of reading them together or spending some quality time doing an activity together.

For smaller kids, check out these prayer rugs and these feeding sets. For older kids, puzzles are dua cards are my go-to gifts along with some toys and stationery that they may want. If you want to keep the tradition of giving money out on Eid morning, package your bills in these beautiful envelopes before giving them out.

Plan a party for their friends

While it’s traditional for families to visit one another, a little extra effort can mean that kids get to enjoy something geared towards them. Children love kid friendly parties, let them enjoy themselves by planning something different with them. With many Muslim families opting out of birthday parties, why not throw a party for your kids on the eve of Eid (a.k.a chand raat) or Eid Day? Plan a chance for them to make Eid crafts, and decorate Eid cookies.

Making Eid exciting for children isn’t just about lights and fun, it also about building a lasting Muslim identity. In a time when Islamophobia and discrimination are the norms, we can use our holidays as opportunities to engage and invite our communities and schools in active dialogue about Muslim holidays in a positive, relevant light. This, in turn, serves to teach our own children, not only spiritual acts but also how to be progressive and active members of our society.

Eid Mubarak

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

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When the month of Ramadan is approaching, the Ortiz-Matos family begins to prepare the only way they know how, Puerto Rican style. Julio Ortiz and his wife, Shinoa Matos, reside in Brooklyn, New York. They are both Puerto Rican converts to Islam and their native tongue is Spanish. They have been Muslim for two decades each and married for close to 14 years. The couple has three children, ages 9, 7, and 5. Although Shinoa is also half Greek, she identifies herself as part of the ever-growing Latino Muslim population, a community that is bringing its very own sazon, or Latin flavor, to spice up Islamic holiday traditions.

Preparations for Ramadan for this Muslim familia, or family, consists of planning together with their children to get them excited about the fasting season. They discuss how they will plan out the month in order to reap its many rewards, and the husband and wife decide on a schedule so they can alternate between attending the taraweeh prayers and babysitting. With the help of their children, Julio and Shinoa make a list of foods and ingredients they will need for their suhur, or pre-dawn meals, and iftar, their dinner after breaking the fast. These feasts will feature a variety of Puerto Rican dishes such as pollo guisado (stewed chicken), sorullos (corn dumplings stuffed with cheese), pasteles (meat-filled dumplings made out of root vegetables, green bananas, and plantains), tortilla española (Spanish omelets), empandas (meat-filled turnovers), and finger foods such as guava, cheese, and Spanish olives, coupled with the iconic Ramadan dates.

Right before Ramadan, the Ortiz-Matos home is decorated with typical fiesta décor, shining lights, pom poms, and banners in Spanish. One of their most unique Ramadan and Eid traditions is dressing up in Puerto Rican cultural attire. Shinoa explains, “My husband can usually be found wearing a guyabera (Caribbean dress) shirt in different colors along with a matching kufi. My sons will also wear tropical shirts with their own kufis. This year I am planning on dressing all my children in typical jibaro (Puerto Rican country) clothing, complete with my daughter in a bomba skirt and my sons with machetes and sombreros de paja (straw hats)!” To prepare for Eid, they redecorate the house with Feliz Eid (Happy Eid) signs and fill decorative bowls with traditional Puerto Rican sweets made with coconut, passion fruit, and pineapple.

As converts, Julio and Shinoa know the isolation that new Muslims can feel during the holidays, so they also make a habit out of spending the month with fellow Latinos and converts. Not only does Shinoa want to make sure that no one is spending Ramadan and Eid alone, she also wants her children to feel a sense of belonging. She said, “This helps to reinforce the (concept of a) Latino Muslim community in the eyes of our children because even though all Muslims are brethren, it is important for them to be able to see representation in others they associate with.”

Even though they live in Brooklyn, Julio and Shinoa often attend the North Hudson Islamic Educational Center, or NHIEC, in New Jersey. This mosque across the Hudson River caters to the predominately Hispanic population of Union City and its surrounding areas. Due to its location, NHIEC is the home of one of the largest Latino Muslim communities in the nation and has been catering to their growing needs by providing simultaneous Spanish interpreting of Friday sermons, an annual Hispanic Muslim Day for the past two decades, and continuous educational programs specially geared towards Spanish-speakers and new Muslims of Hispanic heritage. During Ramadan, NHIEC offers iftar events catered by local Latino restaurants, like the Peruvian eatery, Fruit Punch, or the Arab/Hispanic fusion buffet called Fiesta. They also host potlucks, in which Latino Muslim converts and veterans alike breakfast by sharing their country’s typical dishes. The mosque is decorated with streamers, balloons, and flags from all 21 majority Spanish-speaking countries.

Halal on the Hudson

Union City may be known as “Havana on the Hudson” because of its large Cuban population, however, South Americans like Ecuadorians and Peruvians are also plentiful. Nylka Vargas is a mixture of both; residing near NHIEC, this Latina conversa (convert) is a social worker by day and an active member of NHIEC’s dawah committee by night. She and her Syrian husband plan out their Ramadan by renewing their intentions, assessing their spiritual needs, crossing out to do items, cleaning, and clearing their schedules for the month. While subtle decorating is also part of the prep, Nylka prefers to set aside a quiet space at home for prayer and reflection.

It is in the mosque where she works passionately alongside other Latino Muslims to make the month of Ramadan memorable for fellow Latinos. Due to most Latin American Muslims converting to Islam, their relatives are usually non-Muslims who do not celebrate Ramadan or Eid. Nevertheless, NHIEC provides an inclusive atmosphere, where converts are invited to bring their families to break fast and enjoy the festivities. They host yearly dawah and converts Ramadan programs, an annual grand Iftar for converts with Latin dishes, converts get-together iftars, and a program called “Share Your Iftar with a Convert” to actively encourage the community to break their fast with new Muslims. They also teach Ramadan prep classes, arts & crafts for children, and organize a converts Eid extravaganza.

Nylka says, “We take much pride in bedazzling and giving our Eid Party a custom touch with all kinds of Eid decorating pieces and an entertainment combo. It is always about what the community wants.” One of Nylka’s fellow dawah committee members is Flor Maza. Flor is a Salvadorian convert and mother of three married to an Egyptian Muslim. Ramadan is an exciting and busy time for Flor, who is a full-time pastelera (baker); she caters to the NHIEC community, literally, decorating and preparing all kinds of postres (desserts), both Spanish and Arabic. She has learned how to prepare typical Egyptian dishes and sweets and alternates between these and Latin-inspired foods for iftar.

“I have not lost my culture, but I am learning from other cultures,” she joyfully explained, “All cultures are beautiful.” Flor believes that Ramadan is a time to learn tolerance, patience, compassion, and gratefulness, and to collaborate in doing good. She demonstrates this by sharing her delicious meals and confections with the community during the many NHIEC events. When asked if anything distinguishes her as a Latina Muslim, she said, “Anyone can recognize a Latino Muslim because we, Latinas, are helpful, we preserve our culture and are proud of our language.”

NHIEC is one of a few Islamic centers in the U.S. where guests can experience the festivities of Ramadan and Eid in Spanish. When the time for Eid prayer comes, the Muslim community in Union City and surrounding areas, pray outside either in a park or in a local school’s soccer field. Non-Muslim neighbors hear the Takbirat al Eid, witness the Eid prayer, and listen to the sermon that follows on the loudspeakers, while admiring huge green banners with golden letters that read, “Happy Eid, Eid Mubarak (in Arabic script), and Feliz Eid.”

A Mexican, Haitan, and Puerto Rican Ramadan

Eva Martineau-Ocasio was born in Mexico to a Mexican mother and Haitian father and she was brought up speaking Spanish at home. She is married to Ismail Ocasio, a Puerto Rican who was raised Muslim in New York by convert parents. They have three girls, ages 6, 3, and 6 months and reside in Brooklyn. While they have always practiced their faith, the couple has become more diligent about making Ramadan extra special and memorable for their children.

The focal point of their Ramadan décor is a table spread with Islamic and Ramadan-themed books (some in Spanish, others in English), arts and crafts, tools, calendars, and projects they will use to celebrate Ramadan. As with the Ortiz-Matos family, great care is given to set the mood for the commencement of the Month of Mercy. As Eva explained, “We prepare ahead of time by reading books and telling stories to remind ourselves about Ramadan. We use lights, banners, and homemade decorations to make Ramadan special in our home. In recent years, my sister and I even opened a small online shop to sell some of our decor.” With her girls, the young mother, nurse and midwife student weaves prayer mats for their dolls and paints small glass linternas (lanterns) to display on their holiday table.

While other Muslim families have similar routines to welcome Ramadan, what sets the Martineau-Ocasios and other Latino Muslims apart is the way they have tailored their cultural traditions to adapt to Islamic practices. “Food and language play the largest roles in shaping the way we experience Ramadan outside of the important religious-based practices,” Eva said, “I strive to make Ramadan as special and exciting for my children as Christmas was for me growing up.” The family enjoys fast-breaking meals representative of their unique mix of Mexican, Puerto Rican, and Haitian culture. Some of their staples include tacos, fajitas, frijoles refritos (refried beans), Haitian style beef BBQ ribs, Haitian black rice, Puerto Rican arroz con maíz (yellow rice with corn), and even American Mac and Cheese.

They also celebrate with the general community and enjoy breaking fast with Arab and South Asian cuisine, as well. As a family, they attend Ramadan gatherings at the Muslim Community Center (MCC) and the MAS Brooklyn mosque in New York, where they are recognized as being Latino Muslims because of their language, Spanish, which they use with their children.

Ramon F. Ocasio, Ismail’s father and Eva’s father-in-law, shares a deeper perspective about celebrating Ramadan as a Puerto Rican Muslim of well over four decades. Ocasio was born in the Bronx and raised in El Barrio, Spanish Harlem in Manhattan. He embraced Islam in 1973. For this father and grandfather, nothing identifies as uniquely Latino in his practice of Ramadan aside from the food. He says, “My family prepares iftars featuring Latin cuisine for some masjids, both suburban and in the inner city. Just food, no unique decor. Food is the common denominator. Aside from that, there is nothing I can point to that is uniquely Latino in our celebrations.” His personal favorites are pasteles, roasted leg of lamb (a halal substitute for pernil, a traditional pork dish), arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas), and flan (a custard dessert with caramel sauce).

When his children were young, he admits that things were a little different, with Eid gatherings in the park that drew thousands of Muslims, trips to Toys’R’Us for presents, movies, games, and outings. “Seasons change, families grow, our method of celebrating will change with it,” Ocasio reminisces, “During a span of forty plus years, it can change quite a bit. As parents, we’ve tried our best to make Ramadan and Eids special for our children. For the most part, we have been successful.”

Ramadan for the Latino Muslims of Chicago

Another Latino Ramadan legacy is being constructed west of the Tri-State area, in the Windy City. Rebecca Abuqaoud is the founder and director of Muslimahs of Chicago and a community organizer at Muslim Community Center at Elston Avenue (MCC), and at the Islamic Community Center of Illinois (ICCI). She hails from Lima, Peru, and she and her husband, Hasan Abuqaoud, have three children. Rebecca has been involved in organizing Ramadan events for the Latino community and for Muslim women and children for many years.

One of these is the annual, “Welcoming the Arrival of Ramadan,” where female speakers are invited to present, and babysitting is provided to ensure mothers are able to attend. The dinner consists of a potluck, and attendees share their cultural dishes. Guests can choose from a variety of ethnic foods, including arroz con gandules, arroz chaufa (Peruvian rice), salads, pollo rostisado (rotisserie chicken), chicken biryani, and other Pakistani and Arab delicacies. This event began as an initiative for Spanish-speakers only, at the request of Latino Muslim women, however, it has grown to become a bilingual affair and draws anywhere from 60-80 attendees.

Rebecca is known in her community for dedicating her time to sharing her years of experience, Islamic knowledge, and wisdom with others. She said, “I really love being with my Latino sisters, I understand the help and support they need in their journey to Islam. I’ve been blessed to have knowledgeable Islamic teachers in my life and now it’s time to pass that knowledge to my new sisters in Islam; I thank Allah for such an opportunity.” Among other social events during Ramadan, Rebecca holds a Halaqa Book Club for ladies in Spanish at the ICCI, and for Eid, she assists with the Eid Potluck Fiesta at MCC.

In the North of Chicago, Ramadan and Eid is a family affair, and this includes the children of Latino converts. During Ramadan, mothers are encouraged to decorate their homes and the masjid to make the season exciting for their children. In the mosque, Rebecca and other volunteers prepare fun activities for them related to Eid, such as a puppet show, decorating paper plates, creating Eid greeting cards for their families, and pretend “baking” cookies and cupcakes with play-dough. The children also enjoy listening to other kids recite the Qur’an and chatting over pizza, snacks, cake, and juice.

The Eid Potluck Fiesta at MCC, sponsored also by Ojalá Foundation, is an effort that began to create a safe space for converts to celebrate Eid together. Everyone is invited to attend and can bring dishes to share. The walls are decorated for the occasion and candy-filled piñatas are set up for the children. Not only do the Latino Muslims enjoy these festivities, but also diverse members of the community who join them in the unifying celebration that is the culmination of the Month of Mercy and Forgiveness.

Feliz Eid

All the Latino Muslims who participated in this interview mentioned that the most significant aspect of Ramadan is the same across the board: to gain the maximum benefit from the intense self-reflection, fasting, constant prayer, spiritual cleansing, and dedication to the Qur’an. Cultural practices and celebrations are secondary to the religious aspect of Ramadan. However, the collective sentiment of those who converted to Islam is that they feel a sense of loss when they are celebrating Eid without their extended non-Muslim family. There is always, “something missing.”

Latino culture is hugely family-centered, and thus, holidays are often a time to reunite with relatives. Eva Martineau summed it up as this: “For converts, missing out on the family aspect of any celebration can leave us with a sense of sadness and longing.” Her suggestion, and that of other Latino Muslims is that, like NHIEC, ICCI, and MCC (in NY and Chicago), Islamic centers across the U.S. should host Ramadan and Eid events catering to not only Latino Muslims but converts in general. As individuals, fellow Muslims can also host those who may otherwise not have anyone to break the fast with, in their iftars and Eid celebrations. This will provide those newer Muslims with that sense of brotherhood and sisterhood they long for, and maybe in return, they can taste some of those yummy ethnic dishes.

Feliz Ramadan!

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

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