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10 Things Hasan Minhaj’s Homecoming King Invites Us To Do

Hasan Minhaj’s comedy special on Netflix, Homecoming King, is simply amazing.  His honesty, talent for telling stories and jokes, and integrity to himself create an important space for dialogue and action. I felt inspired by Homecoming King to do the following 10 things in my own life and hope that all of us will participate and allow this piece of art and culture to have a larger impact than just an hour’s worth of entertainment.

*Short disclaimer: The comedy show includes many profanities and some vulgarities. This is also not a family-friendly show due to the abundance of profanity and some sexual innuendo.

 1. Explore our own identity development and create our own stories about it.

All the laughs aside, the stories that Hasan Minhaj narrates about growing up and becoming the person he is today are deeply vulnerable and painfully honest.  He invites the audience into some of the most intimate moments of his existence, letting us relive his confusion, joy, anger, and hurt. It may be hard to notice, but the story that Hasan Minhaj tells is rooted in his socio-cultural autobiography. He’s not just talking about funny or strange things that happened to him as a kid, he’s talking about critical incidents in his life related to his understanding of race, ethnicity, language, socio-economic class, and religion.

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Here are a few examples of that.

  • The first time Minhaj realized that his skin was not white was when his elementary school crush yelled at him, “‘your skin is the color of poop!’”
  • He discusses who his parents were and what values he grew up with from childhood to adolescence, like his dad’s common sayings of  “‘no fun, no friends, no girlfriends’” and “‘log kya kehenge?’”
  • A moment of ridicule from culturally ignorant “Ryan Lochtes” at school making fun of his sister calling him “‘Hasan Bhai.’”
  • Falling in love with his “white princess,” the traumatizing rejection from her family, and his long road towards healing from that and better understanding race politics and good versus bad people.

While watching this, I felt as if this story was mine in so many ways and that I could relate to it on so many levels.  But that’s where Homecoming King might make fools of us all—this is not my story, this is not your story. Let’s not force the burden of representation on Hasan Minhaj and make him carry all of our stories on his back.  Let’s explore our own identity developments and create our own socio-cultural autobiographies.  The gist of doing this is to find critical moments from your childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, and adulthood that shaped who you are today in relation to one of your identities (black, second-generation Pakistani, poor, etc.)  Here’s a resource that explains how to do this.

You’re probably thinking, this is going to take a lot of time, and you’re right.  You’re also probably thinking, some of the stuff that Hasan Minhaj talked about was brutal to recall, and you’re right.  But what he also invites us to do is to laugh at ourselves, to cry with our past selves, and to truly relive our emotions.  I actually had to write a socio-cultural autobiography for an educational psychology class I took last semester and although I already knew many of the bits and pieces of how my identity formed as a kid, the assignment helped me understand all of the pieces together. I also discovered a new identity (that I started identifying with other racial minorities as “brown” in college).

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My suggestion is to definitely include these markers in your life:

  •  When did you first realize your skin was a certain color?
  •  What was your earliest birthday memory?
  •  What are your early memories of what Islam is? (Going to the masjid, Ramadan, Eid, etc.)
  •  What are the “cards” that you played with your parents?

2. Explore our parents’ histories and appreciate their life trajectories.

Part of the socio-cultural autobiography is to also explore the impacts of immediate family members in our lives.  But Hasan Minhaj goes beyond that and actually discusses his parents’ histories.  In a charmingly critical “arranged marriage” versus Tinder example, Minhaj manages to contextualize his parents’ marriage to examples of dating in mainstream American culture. Exploring our parents’ histories will give us much needed context as well as appreciation for their sacrifices to us and friendship founded on knowing a person.

I actually started a recording project of my eldest aunt telling me the history of her grandparents (my great-grandparents) earlier this summer and I hope to continue the project over the next few years.

Talk to your parents and find out who they are.  Hear their stories.

 3. Challenge our paradigms and viewpoints with those of our parents’.

One of the things that knowing and understanding our parents’ histories allows us to do is to challenge our paradigms with their paradigms.  Hasan Minhaj admits to not knowing who is right about an issue, his “zen brown Mr. Miagi” father or himself.  Should Minhaj put his head down and become a doctor and live in the suburbs and let racism slide off his back, or should he have the “audacity of equality?”  Should he forgive an old friend from high school, or should he hold on to that grudge?  When we get to know our parents, we can understand how to contextualize their paradigms and values.  When we humble ourselves and admit that we are not always right, we are able to see that our parents have been alive for 20 to 30 years longer than we have, and if they’ve made it that far they must have survived somehow.

Check your paradigm and values. Be open to others’ viewpoints, especially your parents, who may have not gotten a fair chance from you in the past.

4. Accept wisdoms/advice from our parents.

It’s only when we have humbled ourselves enough to challenge our own perspectives that we will have the ability to be open to accepting the wisdom and advice our parents have. Minhaj tells us how he internalized a piece of advice that his father gave him and how that changed his life.

What advice have your parents given you in the past that you ignored? In your life right now, what do you need advice on?

5. Talk about identity development and share our stories with others.

When Hasan Minhaj talks about “us,” it feels like a hit of dopamine each time to me. That’s right, us, born-and-raised in California to Muslim immigrant parents from the Indian Subcontinent. That’s me!  That’s us!  I felt as if I belonged to a community as I watched the comedy special, and can only imagine how desis in the audience must have felt a special camaraderie with Minhaj and each other.  What Homecoming King invites us to do is to share our stories with others, especially others who come from a similar background.  Although Minhaj did translate most of the Hindi/Urdu he used, some of the things he said simply rang more true to people from a similar background.  “Isn’t life like biryani, where you move the good [stuff] towards you and push the weird [stuff] to the side?”  That saying probably makes a lot more sense to me than it would the average American, simply because I grew up eating biryani.

I think it is incredibly important to share with people from different backgrounds from ourselves to build cultural humility, but perhaps unseasoned story-tellers have to work their way there.  In my class last semester, I managed to not cry for the first time when I told the story of how my white best friend told me she couldn’t be my friend anymore on September 12th, 2001.  I admitted to my professor and classmates that this was the first time I was able to get through the story without becoming emotionally overwhelmed, and my professor remarked that sharing the story about a traumatic experience can be a powerful way to heal and that each time a person tells the same story it gets easier to tell.  I guess it took the twentieth time to finally master my emotions enough to get through the story with dry eyes.

Let’s make this more tangible!  Eid ul Fitr may be over but Eid ul Adha is just around the corner, inshaAllah.  Send this article to a friend you know you will see during Eid.  Encourage that person to start thinking about their own socio-cultural autobriography.  At an Eid get-together, pull that close friend or family member to the side and invite them to listen to your stories and share their stories with you.

6. Appreciate the unsung heroes in our lives.

The only moment when it looks like Minhaj can’t keep it together is after telling us about his relationship with his sister, Ayesha.  He tracks their relationship from the moment a “fob in a frock” showed up in his home to the moment when she laid down “one of her cards” for him so that he could get married to a Hindu woman. Minhaj finally turns his back to the camera and pauses for a few moments after admitting he would never have got married to his wife if it weren’t for his sister’s intervention.  I don’t know if he’s just taking a break at that point, but to me it appeared as if he was overcome with very raw emotions and was unable to speak.  Although he goes after his sister, and even his father, in parts of his show, Minhaj does appreciate them for being heroes in their own ways in his life.

Who are the heroes in our lives?  Who are the people that we never appreciated but owe so much to?  In so many ways, this comedy show is a huge message of apology, thanks, and love to his sister and father. Who do we owe a sorry, a thank you, and some overdue love to?

7. Question how much we’ve stuck to “following our dreams” or “promises to ourselves.”

Minhaj takes us through the gruelling journey he experienced in following his dream of being a comedian.  From exposing himself to ridicule over his Pizza Hut sliders commercial to admitting that he nearly ruined his “Daily Show” audition, we got a taste of what it was like for Minhaj to reject a traditional career and follow his dreams. Towards the end of the show, he says, “This is new brown America, the dream is for you to take—so take [it]! Stop blaming it on other people.”  Although I think this statement could do with a little bit of nuance, like systemic racism perhaps, Minhaj himself is probably justified in saying this because he’s made it as far as he has in one of the most anti-diverse fields.

What promises did we make ourselves as kids and throughout high school?  Have we managed to follow our dreams in some way?  Did we give up on our dreams?

8. Come face to face with the demons in our past in a self-critical way.

Minhaj speaks of his father’s disappointment when he hears the prom story from him.  But his disappointment is for the lack of forgiveness that Minhaj has exhibited towards Bethany Reed, which Minhaj also equates with realizing that love is greater than fear.  Minhaj meets up with Bethany Reed to talk about prom and is humbled to hear her side of the story.  Minhaj admits that he just wanted the white “co-sign,” and that it wasn’t really about Bethany Reed and prom after all.

What demons do we have in our past that we need to tackle?  Is it limited to the experience or person, or does that experience or person represent something greater that we need to overcome?   

9. Look past the differences of “tribes.”

Homecoming King also invites us to look past the differences in race, class, color, and creed that divide us into “tribes.”  Hasan challenges us to not just talk about overcoming these differences “behind closed doors,” but to truly take action whenever life presents us with an opportunity to prove ourselves.  “For every Treyvon Martin or Ahmed the Clock Kid, there’s shades of bigotry that happen every day between all of us because we’re too afraid of letting go of this idea of ‘the other’.”

Another great benefit of undertaking the socio-cultural autobiography project is that in knowing ourselves, we are equipped to understand others.  Once we are self-aware of our own identities and how they were shaped, we can detect biases and prejudices that we may have and need to tackle.

How far do I have to go before I can be a member of my own “tribe” and still be open, tolerant, and accepting of people from other “tribes?

10. Look for the greater context of race problems in this country, and globally.

Lastly, Minhaj invites us to grapple with the race problems in this country, and globally by extension.  Although Minhaj does speak about his hardships and the idea of the “immigrant tax,” he does admit that it takes the loss of life for us to wake up the reality of a race problem existing in the United States.  One of the statements that personally touched me the most was when he talked about consoling himself and contextualizing paying his own taxes to Uncle Sam. “At least your spine isn’t getting shattered in the back of a police wagon,” Minhaj is telling himself, “the way that it’s happening to my African American brothers and sisters in this country to this day, so if this is the tax you have to pay for being here…Uncle Sam—take it!”

After re-watching Homecoming King for the third time, my husband got pulled over by a cop while I was on the phone with him.  He had to hang up, and I was overcome with fear and anxiety for his safety.  My feelings in that moment really tied together for me what it means to explore our stories while placing them in the context of the race problem in this country.  Although our stories make us all different from each other, we are tied together by the fact that we come from minority and marginalized groups.  The minority-on-minority prejudice and racism needs to end.

What are you doing in your life now that help combat racism and other forms of discrimination against others? What are we doing as a community?

 

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Meena is a high school English teacher, DIY enthusiast, wife, and new mom. She loves working with Muslim youth and is interested in literature, arts, and culture. She studied Comparative Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California, Irvine, briefly dabbled in Classical Arabic studies in the US, and has a Master’s in Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

6 Comments

6 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Muhammad

    June 30, 2017 at 10:16 AM

    So this is how low Mu slim matters Has fallen, recommending shows with vulgarity and sexual innuendo to practising Muslims? And straight after Ramadan as well.
    Before you dismiss me as a member of the haram police, I would seriously urge brothers and sisters to Think whether the profit would allow this filth.
    We only have one shot at paradise.

    • Avatar

      Meena Malik

      June 30, 2017 at 10:22 AM

      I’m sorry to offend you, brother, but have you watched the show or read the transcript to know exactly what the content of the show was?

      Also, Muslim Matters prides itself on allowing its authors to have their own opinions. In fact, my opinion about this show is quite different from some of the others involved with Muslim Matters. The responsibility is mine, please don’t drag MM as a whole into this.

      • Avatar

        Ismail Wadiwala

        July 3, 2017 at 12:11 PM

        Well the show isn’t much about the Muslim side of growing up in North America, it’s more about growing up brown or desi in NA.

  2. Avatar

    Abdullah

    July 11, 2017 at 3:36 PM

    Salam. While some of the content of Hasan Minhaj’s stand up may give a voice to minorities, I am not exactly sure how practicing Muslims can justify his stand up as appropriate and something to encourage others to watch (I was introduced to it by other practicing Muslims). There are issues with his comedy: sexual innuendo, profanity, mocking people, sharing sins, etc.

    At the same time, I don’t think we should campaign against him or shame him or exclude him from our community. I just think *it shouldn’t be promoted* among practicing Muslims who know better and wouldn’t watch this type of content if it wasn’t from a Muslim brother that had relate-able stories. I pray for the best for him and all of us and ask Allah to guide us all to what is correct. Ameen.

  3. Avatar

    Abdullah

    July 11, 2017 at 3:37 PM

    Btw, forgot the mention that the article was really good and the points made in it were awesome :)

  4. Avatar

    Nadia

    July 20, 2017 at 4:42 PM

    Loved your article! I watched Homecoming King twice and so much of it resonated with me having grown up as an Indian Muslim girl from California. I think there was a definite identity crisis I had growing up and there were so profound points you made as did Minhaj. Your article and Minhaj’s show are a great way for us to begin a dialogue with our own children on bias, culture, religion and identity.

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#Culture

No, My Son | A Short Story

It was pure happenstance that Payedar Olan was sitting near the entrance of the masjid on the day the gunman entered and shot him. He had forgotten that here in America they changed the time twice a year…

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

It was pure happenstance that Payedar Olan was sitting near the entrance of the masjid on the day the gunman entered and shot him. He had forgotten that in America they changed the time twice a year, so he was an hour early for Friday congregational prayer. The little masjid at the top of a hill was almost empty, with only a few brothers praying, and one washing up in the ablutions room. So he sat with his back against the wall to relax and wait.

Such a strange thing, this time changing. The sun rose and set. How could men change it? But in America they believed they had power over all things.

Life here was bewildering. People zipped around on electric scooters, in Uber cars and in trains that rumbled beneath the ground. Skyscrapers blocked the sun. People wore strange costumes, and one could often not tell a woman from a man. The markets contained more food than anyone could need, much of it artificial, tasting too salty or too sweet. People smiled for no reason, while crazy people wandered the streets, shouting at nothing.

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This city and country had taken him in and given him shelter when his own homeland was being devoured by evil men; so he was grateful. Still, it was perplexing, and so far removed from his experience that sometimes he felt he was on a different planet.

The Kurdish Heart

A Kurdish village

Kurdish village

Payedar had been born in 1953 in Iraqi Kurdistan, in a mountain village called Gur-e-Sofia, reachable by traveling first on the Ruwandiz road from Erbil, then by a three hour climb up a mule track. His bav was a duck hunter, and his dê a midwife.

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In his village, whitewashed homes were built into steep hillsides in tiers, facing the sun. The mud of the roofs had to be rolled anew every September, before the winter rains, because in summer it would crack. Sheep and goats dotted the slopes. Most people grew barley or bearded wheat, and tobacco in summer, using oxen to plow the fields. Every family knew precisely how much water they could take for irrigation, and no one took more than their share, for fairness was ingrained in the Kurdish heart.

Walnut trees grew everywhere, and Payedar would shake them to bring the walnuts down, then crack them between two stones. Because of this he was never hungry, alhamdulillah.

He remembered his bav, his father, sitting at the village coffee shop, smoking rich Kurdish tobacco from a hookah pipe, and shouting exultantly as he won a round of backgammon. At home his dê cooked spiced kofta meatballs, bulgur pilaf and flatbread, with figs and sweetened black tea for dessert. Payedar, his parents and six siblings ate on the floor, sitting around a clean cloth. At night Bev led them in prayer, reciting the Quran in his powerful voice.

It was life, and he was happy, until he was eight years old and the Kurdish-Iraqi war began. His three older brothers and one sister went to fight and never returned. The village was bombed. Many were killed and many homes were destroyed. Even the small masjid was reduced to rubble. His bav fell into despondency, and one day went out to hunt ducks and blew his own head off.

Payedar, the eldest remaining child, became the breadwinner. Twice a month he loaded up a mule with white grapes, tobacco and walnuts and traveled over the mountain to Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan, where he sold them at a good profit. It was hazardous work. More than once he was injured. Three times he was robbed.

These dangers were balanced by getting to see Erbil, a city of a million people. A million! Where ancient Assyrian and Roman monuments and citadels mixed with four-story buildings and a modern soccer stadium. Women went out with their forearms uncovered, people wore Western jeans and shirts, and music played from boomboxes sold in shops filled with electronic goods. At the same time, Erbil was a frequent target of Iraqi bombs, and it was not unusual to see bodies in the streets.

The Dying and the Dead

The war ended when he was seventeen, and began again when he was twenty one. This time he joined the Kurdish peshmerga and fought the Iraqi invaders, sending his salary home to his mother.

Female peshmerga fighters

Female peshmerga fighters

It was in the war that he met his wife, Letya. Her name, which meant tiny and womanly, matched her stature, if not her personality, for she too was a member of the peshmerga, and the first time he saw her she was in a soldier’s uniform with a Soviet rifle in her hands, her fierce black eyes promising death to the enemies of the Kurds, and her long black hair streaming in the hot southern wind.

He killed many men, and saw many die. Back home in Sofia-e-Gul one of his two younger sisters got married and moved away, while the other, out one day foraging for food, was kidnapped by Iraqi soldiers, raped and killed. Shortly afterward his mother died of loneliness and heartbreak. He returned home to bury her, his tears falling into the rich mountain soil atop her grave. Sofia-e-Gul was now populated only by old people waiting to die, and by the dead in the cemetery. The fields lay untended, many homes half-destroyed, the animals lost. He prayed, begging Allah’s forgiveness for leaving his mother alone. He did not ask for Allah’s mercy on his mother, for it was unnecessary. She was a saint, and if anyone in the world deserved Paradise it was her.

He left Sofia-e-Gul and never returned.

Payedar and Letya were married as the war raged, and when the Kurdish militias lost and the Kurdish region was overrun by Iraqi troops, they fled to the Kurdish border region in Iran. There Payedar worked as an assistant to a stone mason. He and Letya raised two boys and a girl.

San Francisco Islamic Society Mosque

These were the things Payedar was thinking about as he sat with his back against the wall in the little masjid. Lately it seemed his mind dwelled more in the past than the present. Sometimes he found himself standing on a street corner in this American city, thinking about the feel of his father’s bristly mustache when he kissed Payedar goodnight, or the smell of his wife’s hair, redolent with the day’s cooking – or, if she had bathed, with the scent of fermented rice-water shampoo. Then someone would interrupt his reverie, some Spanish girl with green hair, or a goateed man with earrings and a baby in a belly sling, and ask if he was alright. And he would smile and thank them.

He had no complaints about the way his life had turned out. He’d lost so much, yes. But he’d been a fighter all his life, and what more could any man do? Everything was in Allah’s hands. Whatever had happened was always going to happen, and whatever had passed him by was always going to pass him by. There was nothing he could say in the end but alhamdulillah. And if he was fortunate, he would meet his lost ones in Jannah, and all would be well.

Boots On

The gunman entered with his boots on. That was the first thing Payedar noticed, glancing to his left and seeing the military boots on the plush carpet of the prayer room. His eyes shot up to take the man in: tall, white, with a powerful frame. Green eyes and a scattering of freckles across his cheeks. Brown hair in a buzz cut. Dressed in green army fatigues, and carrying a semi-automatic rifle. The gun was pointed toward the mehrab as the man’s head swiveled, taking in the interior of the masjid.

The man seemed confused. Maybe he too had been fooled by the time change, and was expecting to find a full congregation. Maybe his eyes were adjusting to the gloom, for the interior lights had not yet been turned on, and the masjid was all cool shadows and lazily spinning ceiling fans.

The gunman’s hesitation gave Payedar the time he needed. He leaped up and embraced the man tightly, throwing his arms over the man’s arms, pinning them to his sides so that the rifle pointed at the ground. “No, my son,” Payedar said intensely, whispering in the man’s ear as if telling secrets to a confidante. “No.”

“Get off me you goddamn terrorist!” the man bellowed. He struggled, nearly falling. He was strong, but Payedar also was strong, for though he was sixty seven years old he had been a stone mason for decades, and the work had given him a broad back and muscular arms.

“No, my son,” he said again, his voice rising. “I will not allow it. I cannot, I cannot.” He heard other men shouting in panic and confusion, but he did not turn to look.

“I’ll kill you!” the man drove forward, but Payedar held on. The gun went off. The sound ricocheted off the walls like the roar of a cannon. Someone screamed. Payedar’s foot exploded with pain. Starbursts appeared before his eyes. Yet he kept his arms clasped. “No, my son,” he said again, desperately. ‘No, my son.” He was pleading, but not for his life. He and death were old friends or old enemies – he could not tell anymore. Sometimes you hated a man but admired him. So it was with Payedar and death. No, he was pleading for this man to understand, to stop before it was too late.

“GET OFF ME YOU CRAZY OLD MAN!”

Again the gun fired, and this time it was as if a sword had been driven into Payedar’s thigh. He closed his eyes and groaned in agony, but held on. Again he pleaded, his voice filled with something that might have been anger but might also have been love, and this time it was a shout, driven by pain and desperation. “No my son!”

The gunman stopped struggling. Payedar felt the man’s body go limp within the circle of his embrace. He opened his eyes to meet a gaze filled with hatred and rage, but also confusion and shame. Now that the man had stopped struggling, Payedar seemed to have lost his own ability to fight, as if he had drawn his energy from the other’s seething will. His arms grew slack and the world turned monochrome, as if he were seeing everything on the old television he and Letya had purchased when the children were still small and still alive. Pain filled his mind, and he could not stand.

Arms seized Payedar and the gunman. Both fell. Men were atop them, shouting in Arabic and English. Payedar’s mouth fell open as his eyelids came down like steel doors.

His Young Prince

Hospital IV bag

Two surgeries and a week in the hospital, and he was on his way to recovery. People said he was a hero. Visitors from the masjid were allowed in two at a time, but Payedar found their visits tiring. Reporters wanted to see him, but his son Ekrem shielded him. Payedar had no desire for fame. Police came as well. He told the story in halting English, and picked the gunman out of a selection of photos on a card.

Sometimes he did not know where he was. A hospital, but he had been in many clinics and field hospitals. He had been shot twice before, bombed, struck with grenade shrapnel, and tortured in an Iranian jail, where he was accused of being a Kurdish separatist.

When he became confused he remained silent and waited stiffly. Eventually Ekrem would appear, sometimes with his beautiful wife Amirah, and Payedar would relax, for even if he did not know where he was he knew that Ekrem was his young prince, his joy and legacy, and that if Ekrem was there then everything was fine.

Later, he awoke on the sofa in Ekrem’s living room. Usually he slept in a tiny upstairs room, but he had a titanium rod in his thigh and a cast from knee to toe. He let out a groan. His leg and foot ached as if a lion were gnawing on the bones. He’d experienced worse pain in life. But he was old now.

Amirah stood over him, speaking. “Apê. Tu dixwazî hin çay bi şekirê dixwazî? Dem dema dermanê we ye.” Uncle, would you like tea with sugar? It’s time for your medication.

Payedar smiled at this princess, this beautiful African-American Muslim woman who had given him two grandsons and had even learned Kurdish!

Trying not to show how much his leg hurt, he rubbed his eyes and yawned. “How about some mast-aw?” he replied in Kurdish. It was an old joke. Mast-aw was a Kurdish favorite: heated goat’s milk mixed with sour goat’s milk to curdle it, then with cold water. Of course it could not be found in America.

“Honey,” Amirah called in English. “He wants mast-aw.”

“Coming up.” Ekrem emerged from the kitchen carrying a tray with a single glass of milk perched in the center, and four pills beside it. The boys trooped at his heels, grinning. Payedar looked at his son, with his curly hair and long, proud nose. He was sturdy, for he too was a stonemason, having learned at Payedar’s side.

Payedar smiled at this prank. The pasteurized, homogenized milk sold in America was a far cry from mast-aw. But he took the glass without complaint, and downed a few pills. His eyes widened. The drink was thick and tangy, rich with the flavors of his homeland. It was mast-aw! He had not tasted it in many years, and for a moment the flavor took him back, so that he was a child, sitting on the floor with his parents and siblings after a long day of trooping over the mountains with his bav. The children enjoyed mast-aw and boiled wheat with sugar, and when his older brother tried to talk about the war Bav shushed him. His sister told a joke about a cat that tried to ride a bicycle, and Payedar laughed.

Remembering this, he laughed again, and witnessing this, Ekrem and his family laughed as well, and Payedar returned to the present. “This is miracle,” Payedar said in English, and his family grinned and told him how they had sourced all the ingredients.

Moments like this were a barakah, and Payedar was filled with gratitude to Allah. If only… he faltered, his hand shaking, nearly dropping the glass, so that Amirah took it quickly. A tear ran down his cheek. Ekrem was beside him, touching his shoulder. “What is it, Bav? Is something wrong?”

Payedar shook his head. “You are the spirit of my heart, Ekrem. All of you.” He reached a hand to his grandsons and they piled onto the sofa. “I wish…” He could not continue. He wished Letya, his wife, could have lived long enough to see this new land. And Sara, his daughter, gassed by Saddam Hussein along with her husband and children. And Baz, his firstborn, a lifelong soldier.

Ekrem rubbed his shoulder. “I know, Bav.”

“Can I try the mast-aw?” This was Ibrahim, his youngest grandson, a wide-faced boy with curly black hair and dark eyes, only four years old. His mother gave him the glass and he took a sip, then coughed and grimaced. “Eww!”

Payedar chuckled. “You are American boy. You better stick to apple juice.”

* * *

An assistant district attorney came to see him. A rail-thin blonde woman with spectacles like tea glasses. The gunman, whose name was Amundsen, had so far refused to speak to the police. He said he would only speak to, “the old man.”

“Meaning you, Mr. Olan,” the ADA said. “You’d be doing us a favor.”

Good Crazy or Bad Crazy

They met in a room in the county jail building. It was painted steel gray, with a thick window beyond which a tall black guard watched. There were no cameras or listening devices, as far as Payedar could tell.

The gunman, Amundsen, sat across from Payedar at a metal table that was bolted to the ground. The man wore orange jail coveralls with “JAIL INMATE” printed on the chest and back. He was handcuffed, his ankles shackled, another chain connecting hands and feet to a belly chain, and the whole mess chained to a steel eye loop welded to the table. The man was unmarked. No bruises or burns. Back home he would have been tortured until he confessed. Here they had to appeal to him, negotiate, reason. America was crazy. But good crazy or bad crazy? Both, Payedar supposed.

Payedar wore the traditional clothing of his homeland: a dark vest over a white robe, a black turban, and boots. He did not always dress thus. Sometimes he wore typical Western clothing. He was not sure why he had chosen to dress this way today.

The gunman eyed him. There was some hostility in that look, but not as much as Payedar had expected. The man seemed almost curious. “You speak English?”

“Yes. I learn.”

The chains rattled as Amundsen gestured to Payedar’s leg. “You gonna be alright?”

Payedar nodded.

“You really messed me up.”

“You mess up yourself.”

“Yeah.”

Neither of them said anything for a while. Payedar studied the gunman. The man’s eyes were intelligent, his jaw set tightly. A forearm tattoo peeked out beneath the sleeve of his coverall. His torso was as wide as a barrel. Payedar was amazed he’d been able to hold the man. In fact, he could not see how it was possible.

“Why did you say that?” the gunman wanted to know.

“Say what?” Though he knew.

“You know. You called me your son. You kept saying that. Even when I shot you. What the hell, man? I’m not your son.”

Payedar flushed with embarrassment. But he had agreed to talk to the man, so he answered. “Sometimes I get confused. At that time I thought you was my son, Baz.”

Amundsen stared, then shook his head and laughed. “Unbelievable. I got stopped by a senile old kook. Do I look like your son?”

“Little bit. Big and strong. He was soldier, fighting the Iraqis. Seven years ago, when ISIS start to invade our land, Baz come to me, say he going to fight them. I did not want. I lose so many people already. So I hug him, I tell him, no, my son. Do not go.”

Amundsen frowned. “Your son was going to fight against ISIS? I thought you Muslims supported ISIS.”

“You are fool!” Payedar snapped. “Never say this. Do you understand what ISIS did to my people? They attack the Yazidi villages because the Yazidis are Christian, not Muslim. So ISIS kill the men, take the women and rape them. My son cannot accept this, so he go to fight, to protect them.”

“So…” Amundsen’s mouth hung open as he took in what Payedar was telling him. “Your son fought to protect Christians?”

“Muslim, Christians, one people. They are Kurds.”

“What happened to him?”

“What you think?” Not wanting to speak it out loud.

The room fell silent. Payedar looked around absently, taking in the clean floor and walls, the even light from the fluorescents embedded in the ceiling. He looked at the jail guard on the other side of the window, who stood calmly, watching them both. Payedar’s mind wandered, traveling through time, crossing borders and eras in an instant, feeling the touch of his wife’s lips on his cheek, whispering her love. She had loved him like a fighter, fiercely, unreservedly. Then his mind swept forward like a flash flood in a mountain ravine, and he was once again in the present, in this tiny room in a foreign city far from home. His gaze returned to Amundsen, who in turn studied him silently. No one spoke.

The end

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

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

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The Conundrum | A Short Story

disaster

It was all over the news. The earthquake had wiped out whole towns. The entire country was in shock. Upcoming festivals were cancelled and citywide donation drives were springing up everywhere. Charity organizations were activating their networks and sending teams of volunteers to help in the rescue efforts.

“This is God’s punishment for all the evil things we do,” her uncle said mournfully.

She was confused. If they were doing bad things, then shouldn’t they be dead too? She looked at her father to see what he would say. He shook his head and countered, “That’s not true, you know. This is a trial from God. And it is a reminder for us to be conscious of Him and be aware of His power. So that we may worship Him more.”

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MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

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“So, you’re saying that bad things don’t happen because of our wicked deeds?” her uncle challenged his brother.

“No, they can, but we have no way of knowing for certain. After all, God also promises us that He will test us to see which of us is better in action. As a reminder of His presence and power.”

“So, you prefer to turn a blind eye to God’s punishment just because you’re not sure?” He asked incredulously.

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“Of course not. All I am saying is that I don’t know – and neither do you! So, instead of delving into God’s matters and condemning everyone, especially the victims, we should focus on rectifying our own selves! This is a time for astaghfar, for asking forgiveness,” her father shook his head again.

“Well, that’s precisely my point! If we see this as punishment, it will strike fear in our hearts and make us change our ways, so we can avert another disaster!”

“Yes, but the problem with that logic is that, in the process, you have denounced whole swaths of people who may be completely innocent. Only God knows,” he emphasized.

She was so proud of her father. His explanation made so much more sense, but she couldn’t resist asking, “Baba, why would God let such a terrible thing happen?”

“Because He is angry,” her uncle immediately responded. Apparently, he hadn’t changed his mind.

“My dear,” her father began, ignoring his brother.

“God’s plan and vision is much greater than what we see. Life and death are a reality of life. Every person must die. It is really sad what has happened to all of these people, but we must also remember that God gives us the reassurance that if believers die in such a state, they are martyrs. What a high station! Which is why it baffles me every time I hear that somehow this was a punishment,” he pointedly remarked, looking at his brother who stayed quiet.

He sighed and continued, “For those who are gone, we must pray for their souls. And take care of the survivors. As for us, we need to draw ourselves nearer to God and follow His guidance, so that when our turn comes, we are ready.”

He pulled her close to him and she felt safe.

-end-

“The author is grateful to Prof. Ovamir Anjum for his kind assistance during the writing of this story.”

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Launch of Zaid Karim Private Investigator!

Where did the idea for Zaid Karim come from, how much is based on real events, and what is next for Zaid?

Zaid Karim, Private Investigator

I’m so excited to share the release of Zaid Karim Private Investigator.

This novel has been three years in the making: from when I first began serializing it on MuslimMatters.org in early 2017, to its completion on MM nine months later, to the first wave of revisions based on comments by my editor Amy Estrada and the MM readers, to the final revision after further input from another editor, Rafael Lopez.

If you’ve already read it online, I encourage you to buy the new ebook or paperback. There’s nothing like holding a physical copy in your hands. And there have been some changes.

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One thing I’ve consistently noticed in the input I’ve received from MM readers is that a lot of you are doctors! My characters always seem to get injured, and apparently I often make mistakes when describing their treatment or symptoms. And the MM readers call me on it. I’m grateful for that, and I have always made changes to the story in response.

The final version is, in my opinion, tight as a drum. I added a few minor transitional scenes, and eliminated a lot of irrelevant musings by Zaid that tended to take the reader away from the action. Zaid has an irreverent and odd sense of humor, and that flavors the book, but Rafael Lopez pointed out that the inclusion of this humor during climactic moments sabotages the tension of the story, and he was right. So I ended up deleting some of those.

A key change from the MM version occurs during the climactic battle on Ouagadiri Island. I don’t want to give it away, but I’ll say that it was an important change, and had to do with how I see Zaid, and how he sees himself. Let me know if you read the book and catch the change, and what you think.

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Here are some answers to questions I often receive about Zaid Karim Private Investigator, and about my writing process in general:

Q: How much of this book is fact and how much is fiction?

A: Telling the true story of my life would be problematic. So I fictionalize. Every novel I’ve written has some autobiographical elements, with fictional events and invented characters mixed it. Lately, in my short stories, I’ve been trying to branch out more and create characters that are wholly fictional. Well, let me amend that. I create characters whose lives are based on real-world social dynamics and believable situations. I want emotional honesty above all. The particular circumstances of their lives, however, are invented.

Q: How did you get the idea for this book?

East Los Angeles

East Los Angeles

A: When I was twenty one years old I helped a friend track down and find his young missing daughter. But it was quite different from the narrative in Zaid Karim. For example, we started our search in East Los Angeles, first talking to people, then breaking down doors. Along the way we crashed our car in Mazatlan, had a nearly disastrous run-in with the Mexican police in Guadalajara, got in an argument with South African Tablighi Jamaat members at the Egyptian Club in Mexico City, were invited to a bizarre meeting of wealthy Mexican sufis, and ended up in the mountains of southern Mexico. That incident was the seed for Zaid Karim.

As for the setting in the latter half of the book, I lived in Panama for four years, and in fact I lived in El Valle de Anton, the idyllic little town where Yusuf Cruz lives. Though my house was not a mansion!

Q: Zaid’s kind of violent, isn’t he?

A: Yes, at times. He is young, and he’s been through a lot. He wants to change, but doesn’t know how. He needs some catalyst to transform his thinking. I suspect that novel that Alejandra gave him, On My Way to Paradise, will play a role. As he continues to grow, I believe we’ll see him evolve.

Q: So you plan to write more Zaid Karim mysteries?

A: Depends on how well this one sells. If you want to see more, buy ten copies: one for you, and nine for your friends, ha ha.

Q: What about a crossover between Zaid Karim and Hassan Amir?

A: It could happen. Zaid is Jamilah’s cousin, after all, and their stories happen around the same time.

Q: Who would win in a fight between Zaid and Hassan?

A: Lol, why would they be fighting? But here you go:

  • Gunfight: Hassan.
  • Sticks: Zaid.
  • Knives: Even match.
  • Empty hands: Hassan, by a mile.

Q: What’s next for Zaid Karim?

A: His body will need healing time and therapy, but knowing Zaid he will probably plow right ahead. He needs to investigate this so-called convert who is trying to radicalize the youth. We will learn more about the event that enabled him to be pardoned and released from prison early. We just might learn more about the strange comment made by Farah Anwar regarding Zaid’s mother, that she should have “aborted you and kept the lame one.” Zaid will almost certainly return to Panama, to find Angie and try to help her, especially now that he is a foster father to he daughter. Lastly, an important figure from Zaid’s past, a person of power and influence, might call upon him to investigate a crime he is uniquely qualified to handle. Stay tuned.

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

Wael Abdelgawad’s novels, Pieces of a Dream, The Repeaters, and Zaid Karim Private Investigator, are available on Amazon.com.

Support Our Dawah for Just $2 a Month

MuslimMatters has been a free service to the community since 2007. All it takes is a small gift from a reader like you to keep us going, for just $2 / month.

The Prophet (SAW) has taught us the best of deeds are those that done consistently, even if they are small. Click here to support MuslimMatters with a monthly donation of $2 per month. Set it and collect blessings from Allah (swt) for the khayr you're supporting without thinking about it.

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