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Why I Walked Out Of The Film, Bilal

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By Umm Muhammad

As a mother of a preteen, who gets easily hooked on cartoon characters and conventional superheroes, I not only wanted, I needed the movie, Bilal: A New Breed of Hero, to work. I desperately wanted the hero in the film to replace his constant chattering about Superman, Dragon Ball Z, and Ninjago. I was looking forward to the lively discussions that this highly anticipated, animated masterpiece would spark. It would be magical. My son, who has been fixated on Captain Underpants and Lego characters in recent weeks, would finally have something more positive to obsess about.

Before you digress to judging my parenting, rather than understand my review, I want to offer some points for clarity:

No, we don’t allow TV at home. Whatever my children watch is limited and monitored.

No, my son does not play videogames.

No, my son does not own a smartphone, or any phone for that matter. Neither does he have a tablet nor any type of computer. His computer use is for school assignments only, with parental controls in place.

No, he does not spend days and nights at strangers’ houses or unsupervised where he has access to these things. Mostly, he has learned about mainstream cartoon characters at Islamic school.

We consider ourselves a moderately religious Muslim family; we believe in the Oneness of Almighty God, we pray, we fast Ramadan and some extra, we give in charity, and insha’Allah we will go for Hajj when we can afford it. When I say moderate, I mean we try our best, but we don’t consider ourselves perfect and acknowledge that there is always room for improvement.

Now, with all this in mind, let’s get back to the movie, Bilal: A New Breed of Hero. It filled me with excitement to think about watching it with my family. As soon as I saw the trailer, some time ago, it sparked my interest. I was only slightly skeptical about what I felt may have been the deliberate whitewashing of Bilal ibn Rabah, with his character’s soft, flowing cornrows of hair, light complexion, and honey brown eyes, he didn’t seem to be what I had envisioned Bilal to be; but admittedly, I don’t know how dark or light-skinned he really was. I only assumed because of previous portrayals of Bilal in films I had seen and ahadith that I had read.

I knew that there would be fictional elements in the film. This movie was made for a larger audience and with a more generally acceptable theme of racial equality, a lesson we all need now during these controversial times. However, I did not expect it to be completely disconnected from Islam or the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, as it would be impossible to highlight the historical value and status of Bilal ibn Rabah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) without speaking about the very person who helped raise him to that rank.

Before purchasing our tickets, we read other reviews which provided some insight and fair warnings about the absence of the Prophet in the movie, and the benefit of teaching our children about the real history prior to viewing the film. I also knew that the film was rated PG-13, and I honestly thought that it was just due to the battle scenes, which were nothing new to us, after having already learned about and seen countless portrayals of famous battles between the Muslims and their opponents. Regardless of all of this, we were still amped to watch the movie because, whether Bilal stayed true to historical facts or not, it was still about Bilal, an unconventional Muslim hero of color.

After hurrying to buy our popcorn, pretzels, candy and drinks, we rushed to grab our seats, expecting a full house, but luckily, there were only a handful of people in the theater room for the 2pm showing. The kids knew that they may see things in the movie that differed from what they saw in the cartoon, Muhammad: The Last Prophet (Badr International, 2002), the movie, The Message (Akkad, 1976), and others. They were just happy to be at the movie theater and ready to see the famous Bilal from a whole new perspective. After enduring some grueling previews of mostly British family films, with some odd comedy which seemed inappropriate for children, it finally began.

My excitement turned into anxiety with the first scene. Huge, dark, red-eyed horses glared through a black night galloping wildly and viciously towards some unknown target. Their riders, ominous figures, clad in heavy armor seemed to have ill-intentions. It was an opening that I had not expected. I became uneasy and glanced at my children. They seemed fine so far. Then suddenly we got a glimpse at a young Bilal, pretending to be a brave warrior on a wooden horse. He and his sister play happily and their mother steps in when they get into a squabble. “Masha’Allah, just like my kids,” I thought, and I shot another glance at them, smiling. But then the shadowy horses took over the screen again, and the bright day became gloomy. Bilal’s mother instinctively runs and hides her children and then, we are given the impression, through sounds of her shrieking and the children’s looks of horror, that she is violently killed. Bilal struggles and breaks free from his hiding place, only to be snatched by the irate soldiers.

After this disturbing scene, we find ourselves in Makkah, getting a glimpse of the Arabian city in pre-Islamic times. We come to understand that this is a new home to a slightly older Bilal and his sister, where they are now living as slaves. The depiction of Makkah is darker than in other films, with demonic looking characters, and one of the things I found most thought-provoking was that some of the characters use wooden tribal masks, which resemble those used in African religious ceremonies. These masks are often used to represent spirits and demons, and to my knowledge, they were not part of Arabian culture. One character, apparently some type of soothsayer, is shown using one of these costumes with an evil-looking wooden mask and matching sharp nails, surrounded by the people in the marketplace urging them to give their money to the idols. His mysterious nature and eerie voice made me feel uneasy, and both my husband and I were convinced it was a representation of none other than Satan, himself. That was a turn-off.

Nevertheless, we endured, watching as they zoomed in on the Kaabah and its surroundings. Not surprisingly, it was encircled by the familiar idols we have all learned were revered during that time, but one stood out. It was a peculiar sight, for it stood not around or near the Kaabah, but on top of it. It was the most offensive thing that I saw during this whole experience. A statue of a bearded man, of muscular build, with the horns of a ram twisted around the sides of his head, sitting menacingly on top of the Kaabah, overlooking the city. The statue is very similar to what is known as Baphomet, a deity that the Knights Templars, better known as the Crusaders, were accused of worshipping in the 14th Century. It was, to us, a blatant and very deliberate Satanic symbol on what is the holiest place on Earth, the House of Allah. It is an utterly disrespectful image that I would not expect to see from an enemy of Islam, much less in a film produced by Muslims. As distasteful as it was, I continued to watch, hoping for something better to come, so as to outweigh the bad.

The straw that broke the camel’s back came when we were introduced to the character of a young Safwan ibn Umayyah, the son of one of the staunchest opponents of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, and cruel slave master to Bilal ibn Rabah. Although he is a youngster, his appearance is sinister, and his personality is sadistic. His skin is pale and grayish and his eyes, black and full of malice. I found this to be offensive to the legacy of Safwan raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him), who becomes a Muslim after the conquest of Mecca, and later lives on to wholeheartedly support Islam. Depicting him in his earlier years as a repulsive sociopath as this film does is detrimental to his reputation and character as a defender of the faith and an insult to any Muslim who respects the companions and their contributions to Islam. This is why scholars have warned against depictions of the companions, but unfortunately, we stubbornly continue seeking this type of halal “edutainment.”

When the young, gothic-looking Safwan and some of his friends, one of which is also wearing one of the mysterious wooden tribal masks, begin attacking Bilal’s sister for no apparent reason, Bilal steps in to help. A fight ensues and news of this reaches Umayyah, the father, who decides to punish both his son and Bilal. His words are severe and abusive to both children, which I also found very distressing and unsuitable. However, it was the physical punishment that finally led me to lean over to my husband and ask him if we could leave. The character of Umayyah throws Bilal to the ground in a manner so vicious and unexpected, that I had to look away.

I had hoped that the violence in the beginning minutes of the film would be the worst of it until they showed the torture of Bilal, something we were more familiar with, but unfortunately, it was only the beginning of the disturbing imagery that we would be subjected to. I find that 3D computer animated characters are so humanlike that our response to them is different than if they were a more traditional cartoon. It was almost as if I was seeing a real adult male brutally beating a young child, without being able to react. I feel like someone who has suffered through physical or verbal abuse or any childhood trauma may be sensitive to some of the content in this film.

When I whispered to my husband, “Should we go?” He immediately said, “Yes,” as if he had been hoping I would ask for some time. I looked over at the kids, and they looked pained and confused. This is what I had feared; they saw too much already. It was time to go. I quickly grabbed our belongings and told them to step outside. They followed us out of the theater, and when they asked us why we were leaving, we explained that the movie was too violent and it was not a good depiction of the companions. They didn’t complain.

I immediately wanted to warn others on Islamic forums not to make the same mistake I had, but I was met with resistance from families that have sat through the whole film and enjoyed it. As with all things in life, people have their own opinions and reasoning. However, all I can say is walking out of the movie was my own personal, quiet protest. I felt a sense of pride when my family and I stood together, mid-film, and walked away while others sat bewildered. Despite spending our money on tickets and popcorn, despite taking time out of our Saturday and driving all the way to the theater, and despite what anyone says about how great it may be to them, we could not sit through a movie that, just within its first 15-20 minutes, insulted the legacy of the companions and our beloved holy site, thus disrespecting Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, and Islam, itself.

And as the legacy of Bilal ibn Rabah’s life teaches us to never back down and to be proud of who we are, thus we celebrate our hero and stand to protect his honor.

36 Comments

36 Comments

  1. Avatar

    Muhammad

    February 5, 2018 at 4:37 PM

    While I did not like the Bilal movie entirety either (I do overall think it’s a better movie for our kids to be watching then most movies out there now a days), I honestly can’t believe your gripe is with the violence of pre-Islamic Arabia. If anything, that was the most accurate part of the movie. We cannot sugar coat our history and claim that the same people who shoved a spear through the private area of Summayah (R), threw camel insides on the Prophet (SAW), and boycotted their own cousins to the point of starvation would not shove a child slave to the ground and beat him up. That is how it was for the companions of the Prophet (SAW), especially for the ones in the lower class standings. The times we’re times of war, with brother torturing and killing brother (Musab (R) was chained down in his own house by his own mother!). I think it only adds to our respect and admiration of the companions to see what they went through and how far they went for the sake of Allah (SWT), and that’s what we should be teaching our kids.

    And Allah (SWT) knows best

  2. Avatar

    Hina

    February 5, 2018 at 8:52 PM

    What bothered me the most was the essence of Tawheed was almost completely missing from the movie. If I recall correctly there were o Lya one or two scenes that talk about the oneness of Allah SWT. It’s obvious that this film was made to a secular audience.
    Sister, had you stayed and seen the entire movie you would have seen how they show the softness , mercy and change in Safwan bin Ummayah’s personality – it was one of the most touching and emotional scenes

  3. Avatar

    Ilikedthemovie

    February 5, 2018 at 9:36 PM

    Really? The movie was not intended for young children, hence the rating.

    The kaba was adorned with/surrounded by idols in pre-Islamic Arabia. Why would a depiction of something historical offend the author? Once Mecca was under Muslim rule, the kaba was shown as cleared of all such idols. As for, horns of rams vs. whatever idol the author would rather fancy–really? Let’s give some creative license. The shape and look of the idols aren’t central to the movie.

    She and her husband are not “moderate,” they sound rigid. I wish they’d loosen up for their kids’ sake.

    Only valid point: what’s up with the light brown skin of Bilal?

  4. Avatar

    مسعود یونس

    February 5, 2018 at 11:01 PM

    Why I Stayed and Actually Enjoyed the Movie with My Family

    I do not recall when was the last time my kids had watch an animated movie with this interest. All the stories we have been telling them, the narrative of Islamic history that they heard and watched in the Omer Series, played out in front of them yet again.

    My 10 year and 7 year old actually would like to share this movie with their friends as they found it inspiring. Yes, INSPIRING.

    The movie has a story that is very close to actual events, though sometimes dramatized extensively, still not come across as way too off from any actual narrative. For kids growing up in the west, this is one of the best video in their video library.

    The movie will connect will audience of all kinds. After all it is an animated movie and targeted towards broader population so the religious narrative is in the backdrop but still leaves a powerful impact as the story telling is all about the “impact” of the deen on Bilal and other muslims. It had that impact on my family.

    I chose to stay in the movie and thoroughly enjoyed the experience. I recommend others also take their families out and enjoy this masterpiece and show SUPPORT. We need more of these narratives and cannot afford to stereotype these efforts with dramatic article headlines like. Our kids need better stories to see and hear that Captain Underpants.

    BILAL: A NEW BREED OF HERO is the fresh air that our kids need today. Don;t demonize it. Appreciate it and provide constructive feedback so more of our brothers and sisters can take similar initiatives and help educate and inspire the next generation of ummah through creative story telling of stories that are still told in a very traditional manner.

  5. Avatar

    Gina Thunder

    February 6, 2018 at 11:38 AM

    Wait, Sister. I don’t understand. Why would you say “until they showed the torture of Bilal, something we were more familiar with”? You knew he was tortured, but it was so humanlike you connected with the pain of Bilal and that was too much for you and your children were distressed. That’s the point isn’t it? Aren’t we to connect with one another, to have empathy? Through that connection we make the case for justice, peace, solidarity and inalienable freedoms. That was a teachable moment.

    Why would you want the movie to leave out the idols, the beatings and Safwan’s hard heart? You mentioned white-washing of Bilal’s skin color, but what seems to offend you more is the creators didn’t “Walt Disney-ify” it. I’m Christian and even I know that lieing about historical truths is not haram. Safwan was evil, but look what God did for him to soften his heart and turned his face to worship Allah. That’s a teachable moment. Look at how the people and city were uplifted after they bent their knees not to idols but to God. Teachable moments.

    I’m looking forward to taking my family to see this movie. We’ve been connecting with another family who is Muslim to find additional resources to learn about Bilal. Every movie where people of color are the heroes and victors like Bilal and Marvel’s Black Panther we are grabbing on to them with dear life. There is no where else our children can go to see such diversity, courage and strength. I’m about sick of Doc McStuffins, Avatar the Last Airbender cartoon and Bino & Fino (the only cartoons my children are allowed to watch).

    Peace be unto you my dear Sister. Please forgive me if I said anything that was offensive to you or any other reader.

    • Avatar

      Rehana

      April 4, 2018 at 3:07 AM

      Sister if you wanted to shield your children from the brutality sahabas (companions) had to endure to lay the foundation of Islam then you should have taken them to a Walt dine movie. Don’t even bother reading to them the sirah because guess what, its the same brutality, hardship and suffering. The Kabah had 300 idols in it in the time of the prophet, and he (S.A.W) and his companions cleansed it from them on the day of fath makkah (when they conquered Makkah). As to the reason why Bilal was depicted lighter is because the muslim world is so racist that they would not be able to empathize with the character if he was any darker. sad but true. If he was depicted as a “black” person they would have said something along the lines of “oh its ok, those people are used to such a hard life”. so they made him lighter and luckily the effect has stuck. Next time check the PG rating and the advice at the start of the film and FOLLOW it instead of craping all over hard work of brilliant people to get people to read your post. If we put as much effort in supporting each other as we do in putting each other down to make ourselves look good as you and those with you then maybe our children could look up to us, the parents, for inspiration not a quick fix movie. May ALLAH guide us and you.

  6. Avatar

    Shafkat

    February 6, 2018 at 8:52 PM

    The movie was great.

  7. Avatar

    Siraj

    February 6, 2018 at 11:19 PM

    Sister, couldn’t you have watched the movie first before taking your kids?

  8. Avatar

    Sarah

    February 7, 2018 at 12:23 PM

    I don’t get why people are so upset about this movie. So what if he was white washed? So what if there was no message of Tawhid. This movie wasn’t made just for Muslims. The fact that a movie about Bilal came out and is playing in theaters all across America is a big deal. It takes baby steps to get the message of Islam across in the media. A message that isn’t just about terrorism. We should support the people who made this movie and show our kids that yes, they belong and can have relatable characters in the media. I wish I had movies like this and hijab wearing advertisements and barbie dolls when I was growing up. Our kids are lucky that even with all the hate, there is still the celebration of diversity that we lacked growing up in America.

  9. Avatar

    Yusuf Smith

    February 7, 2018 at 12:39 PM

    As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    I always thought it was haraam to depict or play-act the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) or the Sahaba. It’s not part of any Muslim tradition (it’s a strong tradition in Christianity) and none of us is worthy to be seen as one of them. Worse, this uses computerised images, and drawing images of humans or animals is haraam, yet Muslims think they are serving the Ummah by doing these things.

    I’ve seen The Message on video many years ago, and that film also cast as the villain Abu Sufyaan (radhi Allahu ‘anhu) who also later became Muslim and was a Sahabi. And although it did not depict the Prophet (sall’ Allahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) or the ‘inner’ Sahaba, it made the mistake of assuming that the people depicted, including Bilal (radhi Allahu ‘anhu), were also-rans which they certainly were not.

  10. Avatar

    Nadia

    February 8, 2018 at 6:01 AM

    Assalaamu’alaikum warahmatullah wabarakatuh.

    First of all I would like to congratulate you for setting up those rules for your children. Indeed, we live in a dangerous era that such restrictions are necessary to ensure the safety of our children, particularly their deen. Seriously I would rather have my kids lead a “miserable” life in this temporary world we live in, but they are steadfast upon the deen and uphold the Tawheed. I’m glad you and your family walked out from the film. The best source for us muslims to learn about our beloved Prophet sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam and his companions radhiyallaahu ‘anhum is by studying the authentic hadeeths and seerah. The film only focuses on the slavery. Nothing about Islam in it, let alone Tawheed as the foundation of Islam. The film was made by a secular for secular audience. Allaahu yubaarik feeki.

    Wassalaamu’alaikum warahmatullah wabarakatuh.

  11. Avatar

    Rizwan

    February 8, 2018 at 10:37 AM

    I wouldn’t lean on feature movies to learn about Islam, let alone try to teach kids about Islam as their young minds are very impressionable. From the trailer, it’s clear that it’s a movie for older teens and adults and only for entertainment purposes. Thanks

    • Avatar

      Usman

      February 9, 2018 at 7:08 PM

      Thoughtful comment. Agreed 100%

  12. Avatar

    Katie Capone

    February 9, 2018 at 11:40 AM

    The truth will always survive. And you don’t want that, do you? No human being that has ever been born is perfect. Perfection is god God GOD Allah whatever. Never shield your children from the truth. It weakens them. Let them see what the truth is and let them think on their own. Stop manipulating your children into believing some man-made testament about the glory of god. His glory is all around us. Use the truth to educate. Do not shield the young from the world they are our future.

  13. Avatar

    just think

    February 15, 2018 at 8:13 PM

    when major american theaters allowed this movie then you should be alarmed and know there is something wrong.

  14. Avatar

    Monique Hassan

    February 19, 2018 at 2:10 PM

    Assalamu alaikum.

    The violence that happened was real, he amongst others were tortured and killed.

    I don’t hide this reality from my kid, they need to know what the sahaba endured, what the Prophet (saws) endured.

    I respectfully disagree, if they understand how violently they were treated they will have greater respect for their ability to stand firm in their faith and the fact he yelled out “ONE GOD” while being tortured as an adult.

    I would let kids watch the Omar series that shows this torture more life like. That is the reality and that harsh reality needs to be honored and understood, not sugarcoated.

    Just my humble opinion.

  15. Avatar

    Monique Hassan

    February 19, 2018 at 2:14 PM

    astagfurallah.

    How dare anyone say that to a Mother in Islam?!

    “The Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hand the people are safe” You don’t know her situation and family, even I don’t agree with her post at all, but she is a believer, she is your sister!

  16. Avatar

    Arif

    February 20, 2018 at 11:49 AM

    Being brutally honest, this is the worst review one can read trying to get a sense of the pros and cons of this movie. I came here to see if there were some honest critique. After reading this, all I got was a personal insensitive reaction to a cartoon. And the fact that the reviewer did not even watch the entire film to come and comment on it. This is one of the worst reviews I have ever read.

  17. Avatar

    razzaq hamdani CEO

    March 25, 2018 at 12:12 AM

    Islam described great reward to free a slave , it was not possible in early islam to abandon slavery. but rewards and virtues are described if you free a slave.

  18. Avatar

    jo

    April 22, 2018 at 1:10 AM

    The film is just awesome. A piece of art on every level.
    p.s. If you walked out, then how come you give yourself the leave to write a “thoughtful” critique about it?!!

  19. Avatar

    What is wrong with you

    May 10, 2018 at 12:58 PM

    I’m sorry but how do you not let your children watch TV or play video games? Are they just boring husks of people!

  20. Avatar

    Bilal

    July 6, 2018 at 12:18 AM

    Salaam. I respectfully disagree with you. The movie was excellent and it’s hard to take the wickedness out of slavery and idolatry. And I feel like the movie did a good job in depicting those things. As for the statue, yes the arabs worshipped those, even the horned guy on top and even worse than that. It wasn’t until Imam Ali (Pbuh) climbed onto the roof of the Kabaa and destroyed them. As for safwan, he wasn’t the holiest guy on earth, and he did do some pretty bad things. Some may argue that the only reason he joined the Prophet (Pbuh) is because he had no other choice.

    • Avatar

      Zayna

      October 16, 2019 at 1:40 PM

      Assalaamu alaikum akhi, the correct terminology to refer to Ali ibn Abi Talib is Radhiallahu anhu, not Peace be upon him.

      Also please refrain from making such silly assumptions about Safwan radhiallahu anhu and his intentions at his conversion to Islam. Barakallhu feek :)

  21. Avatar

    Mahfuz

    July 9, 2018 at 10:59 AM

    This is based on true events, and before Islam Arabia was a violent place. I have watched the whole movie and I thought it was great. I really loved it. Surely it couldn’t bring every aspect of his life in 1 hr 40 minutes but nonetheless it was a great one. Way better than most animated movies I see which makes no sense at all…. Very well done

  22. Avatar

    Ammar

    July 11, 2018 at 5:22 PM

    Thank you for posting this sister.
    I think the movie was alright but as others have said you missed the rating PG-13; children should not watch it without parents which for us muslims mean children should not see this at all until they reach the age of teens atleast.
    Other than that I think you made great points.
    For those that are criticising her that she should not be reviewing because she did not watch the whole movie are missing the fact that she is not a professional critic.
    More importantly, it’s even in the title…”Why I walked out of the Film”
    It assumes that she walked out of it in middle.

  23. Avatar

    Mohammed

    July 12, 2018 at 7:08 PM

    It’s actually well done.
    The direction this film takes and it’s intent is definitely in the right place.
    While the film makes no explicit reference to Islam and Muhammad (pbuh), key word being explicit. It still contains enough of the core message of Islam and is still interesting and inspiring enough to non-Muslim audiences. Yes the Prophet (pbuh) part in the story was kinda not there or severely downplayed which is unfortunate but the non explicit mentioning of Islam will also aid non-Muslims is realising what Islam really is without first judging it on their preconceived notion of what Islam is. Thus will help people learn about the true Islam.

  24. Avatar

    Dewi

    July 13, 2018 at 1:28 AM

    I think its a good movie, if you watched it till the end. How people and mecca changed after moeslem wins, its so different with the begining of this movie. Its way better??

  25. Avatar

    Linda Smith

    July 17, 2018 at 10:41 AM

    What amazes me the most is the fact that people actually believe that “they” are all good. My belief is better for the world and we look for love and peace. Muslims matter is no different than christians matter. It is a religion. It is a belief. When you are born you are born as a human being. Anything added is what you as a human being has added. What the Creator of the ENTIRE UNIVERSE has created is male and female. When you force your belief and your culture on someone else, IT IS EVIL. It was evil of Bilal and his sisters to be taken unto slavery by the good ole muslims. Open your eyes. Perhaps this story was told from the eyes of an African. And by the way, learn your history about the “middle east”. You will be surprised to learn that your presence wasn’t always there. Evil flows down and that evil interrupted culture that was already there. If you think about it, both religions flowed down into other cultures.

  26. Avatar

    Maleka

    August 7, 2018 at 2:38 PM

    I feel so bad that you have posted this article on a website that is well known and so many people can actually read it. There is so much wrong in this article. Nowhere in the movie, they have mentioned that this is the Kaaba, or this is any specific prophet. They did not even use the names of any religion. It is free from any insults or hidden meanings towards Islam. Most of your article is based on what “you thought” of the movie. The movie shows how and what people went through those times. Makkah was once a place where idols were worshipped. Before Islam that is how slaves were treated, that is what they have shown in the movie. For me, whenever I listen to the stories of Islam, I always think how I wish I was able to see it in real life, how I wish I could see it as a movie and this movie has done justice to that wish of mine. I could literally feel the pain and hardships that people went through for our deen. And there is another message in the movie for a greater audience (message of equality and message about racism). If someone did something good out there (keeping it safe, not using any names or relating it in anyway to our deen directly), praise it so that people can get o see more of our stories instead of putting it down.

  27. Avatar

    Mehmet Kaan Ulker

    September 1, 2018 at 7:09 AM

    I find this article null & void.

  28. Avatar

    saqib

    October 27, 2018 at 12:01 PM

    I agree you um muhammad thanx for giving time to represent your feeling to others on this movie.
    I was on starting when I felt they want to drive our thoughts to somewhere other side from Islam’s core values.
    when a “wiseman” come to bilal in front of holy Kaba and told him that “this holy place were built to live all humans together with peace here”.
    Yes, we should live together with peace but all human cannot live in makkah but muslims, because Allah ordered( al tobah) the Prophet MUHAMMAD peace be upon Him
    to restrict nonmuslims in makkah.
    And that statue placed on the top of the holy kaba is very offensive.
    I recommend to not let your children to see this kind of things so that thier faith would not ridden by nonsense people.

  29. Avatar

    Yahya

    November 16, 2018 at 3:12 PM

    I would like to start by saying that I watched the entire movie. Was it worth the time and hype? I would have to say no. It has some interesting points to be taken as a fictitious story based loosely on the life of Bilal.
    To begin with, there is factual inaccuracies. Bilal was not born in africa, he was born in mecca to slaves that were brought over (his parents) after the attempt by invaders to destroy the kaaba, and was born a slave already.
    There is no mention of a sister as far as I have looked into the life of Bilal. However he was considered one of the best slaves, and given the keys to the idol alter. He was caught by ummayah practicing islam and was indeed dragged through the streets, and tied down with a heavy stone on him.
    It was the prophet, who when he heard about Bilal’s torture sent Abu Bakr to negotiate for his release which by some sources was 3 slaves in return for Bilal (A pagan family).
    It was islam that preached equality, tolerance, justice, and fairness which was completely missing from the film. So is the fact that Bilal was the first caller to prayer due to the prophets appreciation of Bilal’s position as a former slave in promoting equality among islam’s people and his voice.
    Sufyan was a trader by nature and not a bad man. Look up his history before and after his conversion. Mecca was never burned to the ground like the movie, the followers of islam had their property burned, and they were exiled to medina.
    Perhaps the biggest disrespect in the show was showing the prophets nephew, Ali’s face. He is revered in Islam and his face is never shown.
    To a muslim believer this movie is sacrilege, and I’m surprised muslims defend it. As a fictitious movie sure it was nice, as a story of Bilal it was an affront to my faith.

  30. Avatar

    Ibrahim Ahmed

    November 20, 2018 at 4:11 AM

    Very well written article and excellent points. I was hyped for this so much and having just watched it, I could say the last third I felt disconnected and started looking at my phone. Very shocked at the blatant satanic symbolism and portrayal of the baphomet. I was left wondering throughout the whole movie how historically accurate this actually was. If its a means to propagate the values of Islam to a secular audience, then don’t defeat the purpose by censoring it. So awkward. Very violent, so no way my little nephews would be able to watch without getting afraid.

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    DolceVita

    January 4, 2019 at 1:51 PM

    I don’t know what to say. All the historic accounts in the movie were fairly accurate. Why did u not stay until the end of the movie, it showed Safwan’s conversion to Islam and Bilal giving the Adhan for the first time. You are ok with ur kids watching all that violence with superman, batman, and all those other super heroes but u pull your kids out of the theater when it shows people fighting for equality and freedom. I seriously do not understand ur logic. It’s because of people like u, the movie went out of theater early when I was trying hard to find time to watch it in theaters with my kids. I had to wait till I could watch it on Amazon prime. How can u judge a movie when u haven’t watched the entire thing. It’s like judging a person without listening to the whole truth. Was extremely disappointed with ur review.

  32. Avatar

    Abdallah

    January 18, 2019 at 2:00 PM

    It seems that the people who made this movie where trying hard to appeal to western audience so they sacrificed the historical accuracy

  33. Avatar

    Logic works

    May 24, 2019 at 2:23 PM

    I don’t understand the point of this article or your style of parenting
    1. The movie is PG – 13, meaning, don’t bring your KIDS
    2. It’s extremely hard to sugar coat slavery and idolatry, you were offended that the kaba was adorned with idols? Are you offended by every history book you come across? These are facts, the kaba WAS adorned with idols. Why are you offended by facts
    3. Why leave a review on a movie you didn’t even watch?
    4. you stated you were already aware of violence about Bilals story but then were offended and offput when you saw the violence, but you expected it?! You sound dense and hypocritical.

    Also, please get a grip and have some real fun with your family and loosen up on your kids before they grow up feeling suffocated by their own mom

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#Culture

Prayers Beyond Borders Offers Hope to Separated Families

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border wall in tijuana

On the border of San Diego, California and Tijuana, Mexico, several families live their lives torn apart—they were born on the wrong side of a wall. Now, faith groups are joining together to give them hope through prayer. Since the Mexican-American War in 1848, the boundary that divided the two countries transformed from an imaginary line, to a monument, to a simple barb-wire fence where people on either side could meet, greet, hold hands, or exchange a warm smile, to a heavily monitored steel wall stretching across almost 15 miles between San Diego and Tijuana. 

In recent years, crime, drug trafficking, an influx of undocumented workers, and increasingly white nationalism created stricter immigration policies in the U.S., directly impacting those who live straddling both sides of the border. Included in these are families whose loved ones have been deported – parents, spouses, children, and other relatives – to Mexico, undocumented workers providing for their families, and relatives who have not made physical contact with each other in years, sometimes decades. They gather along the steel mesh barriers of the border wall at Friendship Park to touch each other’s fingertips and pray.

The documentary, “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” produced by CAIR California, MoveOn, and Beyond Borders Studios captured some of these emotive moments during a Sunday prayer service held by the Border Church in partnership with the Border Mosque. Christians and Muslims came together in solidarity at Friendship Park on September 30, 2019, and held a joint bilingual ceremony, led by Reverend John Fanestil, Pastor Guillermo Navarrete, Imam Taha Hassane, and Imam Wesley Lebrón.

Imam Lebrón, National Hispanic Outreach Coordinator for WhyIslam, witnessed the nightmare families separated at the border endure when he was invited to participate in this first meeting of the Border Church and Border Mosque. As a Puerto Rican, U.S. born citizen who never experienced the hardships of immigration, he was moved by what he witnessed. He said, 

“I entered Mexico and reached the border at Friendship Park and immediately noticed families speaking to each other through the tiny spaces of an enormous metal wall. They were not able to touch except for their fingers, which I later learned was the way they kissed each other.”

He described families discussing legal matters and children crying because they could not embrace a parent who traveled for days only to speak to them briefly behind the cold steel mesh partition. 

“Walls are meant to provide refuge and safety from the elements and they are not meant to prevent human beings from having a better life,” he explained, “As I stood behind that wall, I felt hopeless, angry, and had many other mixed emotions for our Mexican brethren who have been completely stripped of the opportunities many of us take for granted.” During the service he addressed the crowd gathered on the Mexican side of Friendship Park and recited the Adhan, the Muslim call to prayer. It was the first time the call was heard in Friendship Park, but not the last. 

The Border Church and Border Mosque will continue to provide a joint service on the last Sunday of every month and are calling for a binational day of prayer on Sunday, October 27th. They will be joined by Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and indigenous spiritual leaders to “Pray Beyond Borders.” The event will be filmed and possibly live-streamed to a global audience with the objective of raising awareness and requesting financial support to address issues related to family separation in the region. 

On October 7th CAIR California with MoveOn, Faith in Action, MPower Change, and a social media team and distribution partners released the film “A Prayer Beyond Borders,” With the digital launch of this film in English and Spanish they wish to reach millions of viewers in telling the story of the Border Church and the Border Mosque and bring more faith leaders and activists on board to protect families’ right to gather. Please join them at Pray Beyond Borders – A Binational Day of Prayer – Sunday, October 27th at Friendship Park. 

when the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles(Psalm 34:17 – NIV).

“And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly submissive [to Allah ]” (Qur’an 2:45)

Photo by Max Böhme on Unsplash

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

Omar Usman

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grit

I don’t really care about grit.

Persevering and persisting through difficulties to achieve a higher goal is awesome. High-five. We should all develop that. No one disagrees that resilience is an essential characteristic to have.

Somehow, this simple concept has ballooned into what feels like a self-help cottage industry of sorts. It has a Ted talk with tens of millions of views, podcasts, keynote speeches, a New York Times best-selling book, and finding ways to teach this in schools and workplaces.

What I do care about is critically analyzing if it is all that it’s cracked up to be (spoiler alert: I don’t think so), why the self-help industry aggressively promotes it, and how we understand it from an Islamic perspective. For me, this is about much more than just grit – it’s about understanding character development from a (mostly Americanized) secular perspective vis-a-vis the Islamic one.

The appeal of grit in a self-help context is that it provides a magic bullet that intuitively feels correct. It provides optimism. If I can master this one thing, it will unlock what I need to be successful. When I keep running into a roadblock, I can scapegoat my reason for failure – a lack of grit.

Grit encompasses several inspirational cliches – be satisfied with being unsatisfied, or love the chase as much as the capture, or that grit is falling in love and staying in love. It is to believe anyone can succeed if they work long and hard enough. In short, it is the one-word encapsulation of the ideal of the American Dream.

Self-help literature has an underlying theme of controlling what is within your control and letting go of the rest. Islamically, in general, we agree with this sentiment. We focus our actions where we are personally accountable and put our trust in Allah for what we cannot control.

The problem with this theme, specifically with grit, is that it necessitates believing the circumstances around you cannot be changed. Therefore, you must simply accept things the way that they are. Teaching people that they can overcome any situation by merely working hard enough is not only unrealistic but utterly devoid of compassion.

“The notion that kids in poverty can overcome hunger, lack of medical care, homelessness, and trauma by buckling down and persisting was always stupid and heartless, exactly what you would expect to hear from Scrooge or the Koch brothers or Betsy DeVos.” -Diane Ravitch, Forget Grit, Focus on Inequality

Focusing on the individual characteristics of grit and perseverance shifts attention away from structural or systemic issues that impact someone’s ability to succeed. The personal characteristics can be changed while structural inequalities are seen as ‘fixed.’

Alfie Kohn, in an article critical of Grit by Angela Duckworth, notes that Duckworth and her mentor while studying grit operated under a belief that,

[U]nderachievement isn’t explained by structural factors — social, economic, or even educational. Rather, they insisted it should be attributed to the students themselves and their “failure to exercise self-discipline.” The entire conceptual edifice of grit is constructed on that individualistic premise, one that remains popular for ideological reasons even though it’s been repeatedly debunked by research.

Duckworth admitted as much in an interview with EdSurge.

There was a student who introduced himself having written a critical essay about the narrative of grit. His major point was that when we talk about grit as a kind of ‘pull yourself up by your bootstraps,’ personal strength, it leaves in the shadows structural poverty and racism and other things that make it impossible, frankly, for some kids to do what we would expect them to do. When he sent me that essay, of course, I wanted to know more. I joined his [dissertation] committee because I don’t know much about sociology, and I don’t know much about this criticism.

I learned a lot from him over the years. I think the lesson for me is that when someone criticizes you, when someone criticized me, the natural thing is to be defensive and to reflexively make more clear your case and why you’re right, but I’ve always learned more from just listening. When I have the courage to just say, “Well, maybe there’s a point here that I hadn’t thought of,” and in this case the Grit narrative and what Grit has become is something that he really brought to me and my awareness in a way that I was oblivious to before.

It is mind-boggling that the person who popularized this research and wrote the book on the topic simply didn’t know that there was such a thing as structural inequality. It is quite disappointing that her response essentially amounted to “That’s interesting. I’d like to learn more.”

Duckworth provides a caveat – “My theory doesn’t address these outside ­forces, nor does it include luck. It’s about the psychology of achievement, but because psychology isn’t all that matters, it’s incomplete.” This is a cop-out we see consistently in the self-help industry and elsewhere. They won’t deny that those problems exist, they simply say that’s not the current focus.

It is intellectually dishonest to promote something as a key to success while outright ignoring the structures needed to enable success. That is not the only thing the theory of grit ignores. While marketing it as a necessary characteristic, it overlooks traits like honesty and kindness.

The grit narrative lionizes this superhero type of individual who breaks through all obstacles no matter how much the deck is stacked against them. It provides a sense of false hope. Instead of knowing when to cut your losses and see a failure for what it is, espousing a grit mentality will make a person stubbornly pursue a failing endeavor. It reminds me of those singers who comically fail the first round of auditions on American Idol, are rightly ridiculed by the judges, and then emotionally tell the whole world they’re going to come out on top (and then never do).

Overconfidence, obstinance, and naive optimism are the result of grit without context or boundaries. It fosters denial and a lack of self-awareness – the consequences of which are felt when horrible leaders keep rising to the top due, in part, to their grit and perseverance.

The entire idea of the psychology of achievement completely ignores the notion of morality and ethics. Grit in a vacuum may be amoral, but that is not how the real world works. This speaks powerfully to the need to understand the application of these types of concepts through a lens of faith.

The individual focus, however, is precisely what makes something like grit a prime candidate to become a popular self-help item. Schools and corporations alike will want to push it because it focuses on the individual instead of the reality of circumstances. There is a real amount of cognitive dissonance when a corporation can tell employees to focus on developing grit while not addressing toxic employment practices that increase turnover and destroy employees physically and emotionally (see: Dying for a Paycheck by Jeffrey Pfeffer).

Circumstances matter more than ever. You’ve probably heard the story (of course, in a Ted Talk) about the famous marshmallow test at some point. This popularizes the self-help version of delayed gratification. A bunch of kids are given a marshmallow and told that if they can avoid eating it for 5 minutes, they’ll get a second one. The children are then shown hilariously trying to resist eating it. These kids were then studied as they grew older, and lo and behold, those who had the self-discipline to hold out for the 2nd marshmallow were far more successful in life than those who gave in.

A new study found that a child’s ability to hold out for the second marshmallow had nothing to do with the ability to delay gratification. As The Atlantic points out, it had much more to do with the child’s social and economic background. When a child comes from a well to do household, the promise of a second marshmallow will be fulfilled. Their parents always deliver. When someone grows up in poverty, they are more attuned to take the short term reward because the guarantee does not exist that the marshmallow would still be there later. The circumstances matter much more than the psychological studies can account for. It is far easier to display grit with an entrepreneurial venture, for example, when you have the safety net of wealthy and supportive parents.

Valerie Strauss writes in the Washington Post that grit discourse is driven by middle and upper-class parents wanting their spoiled kids to appreciate the virtues of struggling against hardship. Unfortunately, this focus on character education means that poor students suffer because less money will then be spent on teaching disadvantaged students the skills they need to be successful. Sisyphus, she notes, had plenty of grit, but it didn’t get him very far.

Strauss asks us to imagine if a toxic dump was discovered near Beverly Hills, and our response was to teach kids how to lessen the effects of toxins instead of fixing the dump.

The grit discourse does not teach that poor children deserve poverty; it teaches that poverty itself is not so bad. In fact, hardship provides the very traits required to escape hardship. This logic is as seductive as it is circular. Pulling yourself up by the bootstraps is seen as a virtuous enterprise whether practiced by Horatio Alger’s urchins or Silicon Valley’s entrepreneurs (bootstrapping is a common term in technology finance circles). And most importantly, it creates a purported path out of poverty that does not involve any sacrifice on the part of the privileged classes. -Valerie Strauss

This approach is a way to appear noble while perpetuating the status quo. It provides the illusion of upliftment while further entrenching the very systems that prevent it. We see this enacted most commonly with modern-day Silicon Valley style of philanthropy. Anand Giridharadas has an entire book dedicated to this ‘elite charade of changing the world’ entitled Winners Take All.

The media also does its fair share to push this narrative. Stories that should horrify us are passed along as inspirational stories of perseverance. It’s like celebrating a GoFundMe campaign that helps pay for surgery to save someone’s life instead of critically analyzing why healthcare is not seen as a human right in the first place.

Islamic Perspective

Islamically, we are taught to find ways to address the individual as well as the system. Characteristics like grit and delayed gratification are not bad. They’re misapplied when the bigger picture is not taken into account. In the Islamic system, for example, a person is encouraged not to beg. At the same time, there is an encouragement for those who can give to seek out those in need. A person in debt is strongly advised to pay off their debts as quickly as possible. At the same time, the lender is encouraged to be easygoing and to forgive the debt if possible.

This provides a more realistic framework for applying these concepts. A person facing difficulty should be encouraged to be resilient and find ways to bounce back. At the same time, support structures must be established to help that person.

Beyond the framework, there is a much larger issue. Grit is oriented around success. Success is unquestionably assumed to be a personal success oriented around academic achievement, career, wealth, and status. When that is the end goal, it makes it much easier to keep the focus on the individual.

The Islamic definition of success is much broader. There is the obvious idea of success in the Hereafter, but that is separate from this discussion. Even in a worldly sense, a successful person may be the one who sacrifices attending a good school, or perhaps even a dream job type of career opportunity, to spend more time with their family. The emphasis on individual success at all costs has contributed to the breakdown of essential family and community support systems.

A misapplied sense of grit furthers this when a person thinks they don’t need anyone else, and they just need to persevere. It is part of a larger body of messaging that promotes freedom and autonomy. We celebrate people who are strong and independent. Self-help tells us we can achieve anything with the right mindset.

But what happens when we fail? What happens when we find loneliness and not fulfillment, when we lack the bonds of familial solidarity, and when money does not make us whole? Then it all falls on us. It is precisely this feeling of constriction that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He), give good news to those who are steadfast, those who say, when afflicted with a calamity, ‘We belong to God and to Him we shall return.’ These will be given blessings and mercy from their Lord, and it is they who are rightly guided.” (2:155-157)

Resilience is a reflex. When a person faces hardship, they will fall back on the habits and values they have. It brings to mind the statement of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that patience is at the first strike. He taught us the mindset needed to have grit in the first place,

“Wondrous is the affair of the believer for there is good for him in every matter and this is not the case with anyone except the believer. If he is happy, then he thanks Allah and thus there is good for him, and if he is harmed, then he shows patience and thus there is good for him” (Muslim).

He also taught us the habits we need to ensure that we have the reflex of grit when the situation warrants it –

“Whoever would be pleased for Allah to answer him during times of hardship and difficulty, let him supplicate often during times of ease” (Tirmidhi).

The institution of the masjid as a community center provides a massive opportunity to build infrastructure to support people. Resilience, as Michael Ungar writes, is not a DIY endeavor. Communities must find ways to provide the resources a person needs to persevere. Ungar explains, “What kind of resources? The kind that get you through the inevitable crises that life throws our way. A bank of sick days. Some savings or an extended family who can take you in. Neighbours or a congregation willing to bring over a casserole, shovel your driveway or help care for your children while you are doing whatever you need to do to get through the moment. Communities with police, social workers, home-care workers, fire departments, ambulances, and food banks. Employment insurance, pension plans or financial advisers to help you through a layoff.”

Ungar summarizes the appropriate application of grit, “The science of resilience is clear: The social, political and natural environments in which we live are far more important to our health, fitness, finances and time management than our individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. When it comes to maintaining well-being and finding success, environments matter. In fact, they may matter just as much, and likely much more, than individual thoughts, feelings or behaviours. A positive attitude may be required to take advantage of opportunities as you find them, but no amount of positive thinking on its own is going to help you survive a natural disaster, a bad workplace or childhood abuse. Change your world first by finding the relationships that nurture you, the opportunities to use your talents and the places where you experience community and governmental support and social justice. Once you have these, your world will help you succeed more than you could ever help yourself.”

The one major missing ingredient here is tawakkul (trust in Allah). One of the events in the life of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that epitomized grit, resilience, and perseverance was the Battle of Badr. At this occasion, the Companions said, “God is enough for us: He is the best protector.

“Those whose faith only increased when people said, ‘Fear your enemy: they have amassed a great army against you,’ and who replied, ‘God is enough for us: He is the best protector,’“ (3:173)

This is the same phrase that Ibrahim 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), while displaying the utmost level of resilience, said when he was thrown into the fire, and it was made cool.

There is a core belief in Islam about balancing between fear and hope. Scholars advise when a person feels despair, they should remind themselves of the traditions that reinforce hope in Allah’s forgiveness. When a person feels themselves sliding further and further into disobedience to Allah, then they should remind themselves of the traditions that warn against Allah’s punishment. The focus changes depending on the situation.

Grit itself is a praiseworthy characteristic

There is no doubt that it is a trait that makes people successful. The challenge comes in applying it and how we teach it. It needs a proper level of balance. Too much focus on grit as a singular predictor of success may lead to victim-blaming and false hope syndrome. Overlooking it on the other hand, enables a feeling of entitlement and a victim mentality.

One purpose of teaching grit was to help students from privileged backgrounds understand and appreciate the struggle needed to overcome difficulty. Misapplied, it can lead to overlooking systemic issues that prevent a person from succeeding even when they have grit.

Self-help literature often fails to make these types of distinctions. It fails to provide guidance for balancing adapting the advice based on circumstance. The criticisms here are not of the idea of grit, but rather the myopic way in which self-help literature promotes concepts like grit without real-world contextualization. We need to find a way to have the right proportionality of understanding individual effort, societal support, and our reliance on Allah.

Our ability to persevere, to be resilient, and to have grit, is linked directly to our relationship with Allah, and our true level of trust in Him.

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

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To Kill a Muslim – Part 1

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

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1. Ragheads

Rotting wooden porch steps

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Moving Day

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Craftsman bungalow cottage

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

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

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

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

He smiled. ¨Nothing.¨

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cop with gun drawn

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

Next: Part 2 – The Black Jesus

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

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

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