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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.

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37 Comments

37 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.

  31. Avatar

    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

  34. Avatar

    Hinton

    January 14, 2020 at 8:29 PM

    I just what to say that, I am glad this film was made. I had no clue about these individuals in history or their religious connection to Islam. I decided to play this movie for my two boys (8 and 4) and they REALLY liked it. Even my 8 year old was upset at how the characters were being treated and was asking me so many questions about slavery. We are not a religious family, but have a christian background. I hope to see more films (animated or with actors) about Islam history and even other religions. We really enjoyed it.

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#Culture

Muslim Literature: The Pros, The Progress, And The Pitfalls

The burgeoning field of Muslim literature, and Muslim fiction, in particular, is an exciting development for the English-speaking Muslim community. However, it is necessary for Muslim writers to seriously consider the quality of their work.

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Once upon a time, it was extremely difficult for English-speaking Muslims to find good books – fiction and non-fiction alike – that was catered to their demographic. Fiction, in particular, was scarce, for both young children as well as teens. Much of it was poorly written, filled with atrocious spelling and grammar, and stilted from beginning to end.

It was not an enjoyable reading experience.

Alhamdulillah, the Muslim literary scene has evolved significantly since the early 90s. Today, we have award-winning Muslim authors such as Na’ima B. Robert, whose excellent YA novels have been published through mainstream publishers and numerous emerging writers whose debut novels are wonderful contributions to the existing body of modern Muslim literature.

Muslim publishers such as Kube Publishing, Daybreak Press, and Ruqaya’s Bookshelf are taking the lead in producing and distributing stories by and for Muslims. In addition, the publishing company Simon and Schuster launched an entire division dedicated to books by Muslim writers. Hena Khan, S. K. Ali, Karuna Riazi, and Mark Gonzales are just some of the authors whose Muslim-centered stories have been published through Salaam Reads and made accessible to schools, libraries, and the general public. The We Need Diverse Books movement has also played a significant role in promoting multicultural and marginalized voices within mainstream publishing, and the results are wonderful. 

Elevating Standards in Muslim Literature

Within the Muslim community, however, work still needs to be done. Unfortunately, as ever, the tendency to fall short of professional continues to make itself clear, in both self-published works as well as work that is published through Muslim publishers. It is common to find children’s stories that are riddled with typos, run-on sentences, poor plot structure, and nonexistent character development. In the pursuit of promoting Islamic values, too many fall into being overtly preachy and moralizing, with no regard for the fine art of storytelling.

The result is that time, effort, and money are wasted; having a plethora of “Islamic books” does us very little good when the final product is of little benefit and serves to turn children and young adults away from Muslim-focused stories. Parents and educators also find themselves frustrated with these poorly developed books, especially when they are seeking stories more representative of religiously observant Muslims rather than those who take Islam as a cultural identity marker. 

While it is certainly encouraging to see more Muslims actively contributing to the field of Muslim literature, we must recognize the difference between quality and quantity – and the importance of the former over the latter. It is true that traditional publishing is a difficult niche to get into, especially for those with no previous experience with writing or the publishing industry. This is often a motivating factor for many Muslim writers to either go with a Muslim publisher or turn to self-publishing as a means of making their work available.

However, the push to keep costs low comes at a price of its own. The vast majority of the time, it is clear that a qualified, professional editor was not hired to look over the manuscript. While some people may think that it is not a serious issue, especially for children’s books, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.

Children’s books actually require extra attention; one must be clear on the targeted demographic and tailor the story and language appropriately, and the illustrations and the words alike need to be engaging and lively, regardless of the intended age group. In particular, when the subject matter is religion-focused, it is important that the approach taken is not dry, academic, or presented in a way that young readers cannot connect with personally.

The quality of a book should never be sacrificed in order to keep costs low; as Muslims, we should be even more particular about producing high-quality work that will be a valuable resource to be used both within our own communities as well as to the non-Muslim public. 

Self Publishing Woes

Self-publishing is particularly dangerous when the aspiring author has done little to no research on writing and publishing and has even less experience with writing well. Unfortunately, too many Muslim writers over-estimate their own abilities and rush headlong into self-publishing… with painful, often cringe-inducing results. It is particularly distressing when certain over-confident and under-qualified Muslim writers then exult over unearned praise from readers who, unfortunately, are not always as discerning as they should be – leading said writers to feel secure in their writing abilities and going on to produce even more subpar work.

The importance of having a strong editor cannot be overstated; having a “friend of a friend” with no qualifications to review and ‘edit’ the story simply does not cut it. Choosing the professional way to write and publish will inevitably take more time and effort – and yes, financial cost – to produce a final result, but that investment of energy will be much, much more worth it in the long run (and will also spare readers the agony of seeing “there,” “their,” and “they’re” constantly used the wrong way).

Having higher standards and holding Muslim writers (and publishers) accountable for their work is not meant to be discouraging. Rather, our intention is to encourage their success – in a way that is meaningful, not blindly supportive. We all wish to see our brothers and sisters in Islam succeed and to continue to contribute to an extremely important field. Addressing these weaknesses from the very beginning will ultimately result in long-term success and benefit the writers and the readers alike. 

The burgeoning field of Muslim literature, and Muslim fiction in particular, is an exciting development for the English-speaking Muslim community. However, it is necessary for Muslim writers to seriously consider the quality of their work, and to seek professional and qualified editors and publishers with whom to work and produce their books. The current substandard quality of many Muslim-produced books is counter-productive to the intended goal of providing beneficial resources for Muslim and non-Muslim audiences. It makes parents and educators reluctant to use and share those works with their children and students.

Investing time and energy into improving the quality of our literature will only result in success, for the writers and their readership alike – so let us truly take our work seriously, and be committed to undertaking our efforts with Ihsaan.

Credit to MuslimKidsBookNook for her valuable contributions.

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#Culture

Messiah, A Fitnaflix Production

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Netflix released Season 1 of a new thriller series called “Messiah”. The series imagines the emergence of a character claiming to be sent by God, the Messiah, or Al-masih (messiah in Arabic) as he is referred to in the television series. 

This so-called Al-masih first emerges in Damascus at a time when ISIS is about to storm the city. He then appears in Palestine, Jordan and ultimately America. Along the way, he performs miracles and dumbfounds the Israeli and American intelligence officers charged with tracking him and figuring out who is enabling him. The season ends with a suggestion that he is truly a divine man, with the ultimate miracle of reviving the dead.

The entertainment value here is quite limited. Some stretches of the series are just flat or straight out boring, and the acting is not all that great. However, the series does create an opportunity for discussion about Muslim eschatology (the knowledge of the end of times), response to fitnah (faith testing tribulations) and Muslims portrayal in and consumption of entertainment media. 

The series shows some sophistication in the portrayal of Muslim characters relative to what people have been accustomed to with Hollywood. Characters that are situated in the Middle East are performed by actors from that region who speak authentic regional Arabic (including Levantine and North African dialects). The scenes appear authentic. While this is progress, it is limited, and the series falls into oversimplification and caters to typical stereotypes. While several Muslim characters draw the viewers’ empathy, they are not used to provide context or nuance for issues that the series touches on: ISIS, refugees, the Israeli occupation and suicide bombings. The two American Muslim characters are never really developed. In fact, all Muslim characters tend to be “flat” and one dimensional. This is in contrast, for example, to American and Israeli characters which appear multi-dimensional and complex, often dealing with personal challenges that a Western audience is likely to identify with (caring for an aging parent, mourning the loss of a spouse, balancing career and life, dealing with family separation, abortion, etc.). While Muslim characters are shown as hapless refugees, terrorists, religious followers, political activists, a university professor and student, their stories are never developed.

The show repeatedly refers to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. There is also consistent normalization of Israeli occupation and glorification of the occupying forces.  

Islamic eschatology 

Orthodox Muslims affirm a belief in “the signs of the End of Times, including the appearance of the Antichrist, and the Descent of Jesus 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) the son of Mary 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him), from the celestial realm. We also believe in the sun’s rising from the west and the appearance of the “Beast of the Earth from its appointed place” [1]. Dr. Omar Al-Ashqar gives a detailed review of the authentic narrations regarding the signs of the end of times in his book Al-Qiyamah Al-Sughra [2]. When it comes to actual figures who will emerge in the end of times, Sunni scholars generally affirm the following:

  • Imam Mahdi, who is a just ruler who will share the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) name. 
  • The False Messiah (Antichrist), or Al-Masjih Al-Dajjal, who will be the greatest fitna to ever to afflict this Ummah. 
  • The True Messiah, Isa ibn Maryam, who returns in the end of days, kills the Antichrist and rules for 40 years and establishes justice and prosperity – close to the time of the day of judgement. 

The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) warned that the fitna of Al-Dajjal will be the most severe ever. In a hadith narrated by Ibn Majah and others, the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is reported to have said, “Oh people, there has not been a fitna on the face of the earth, since God dispersed the progeny of Adam, greater than the fitna of Al-Dajjal. Every prophet of God warned his people from Al-Dajjal. I am the last prophet. You are the last Ummah. He will appear amongst you no doubt!”

Al-Dajjal comes after a period of famine and drought. He will be one-eyed and will claim to be God. Believers will recognized a mark or word of disbelief on his forehead. He will perform many miracles. He will endow those who follow him with material prosperity and luxury, and those who deny him will be inflicted with deprivation and suffering. He will travel at high speeds, and  roam the whole world, except Makkah and Madinah, which he will not be able to enter. He will create a heaven and hell, command rain, the earth, animals, and resurrect the dead – all supernatural occurrences that he has been afforded as a trial and test for others. The Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) went as far as encouraging us to flee from confronting him, because it will be a test of faith like no other.

Reflections on the series and lessons to be learned

The Prophets and the righteous are not tricksters and riddlers.

The Netflix series portrays the character ‘al-masih’ as someone who speaks cryptically; it is never clear what he is teaching and why. He leads his followers on long physical journeys without telling them where they are going or why. He speaks in riddles and tortures his followers with mental gymnastics and rhetorical questions.

On the other hand, a true prophet of God offers real guidance and brings clear teachings and instructions – the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) spoke clearly to his followers, he taught them how to worship Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) alone, to be just, to uphold the ties of kinship, to look after one’s neighbour, and so on. He did not abandon them in a state of confusion to fend for themselves. Moreover, “al-masih” deceives his followers by concealing his true name (“Payam Golshiri”) and background – something a righteous person would never do, let alone a prophet.

What Netflix got right and what it got wrong

The Al-masih character initially emerges in Damascus (and the Islamic tradition mentions Isa ibn Mariam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will descend in Damascus). However, the character is eventually revealed to hail from Iran. A number of ahadith refer to Al-Dajjal first appearing in Khurasan, which is part of modern-day Iran. He poses as a righteous person, but it is revealed that he doesn’t pray at all. He quotes religious scripture, but only to service his cryptic speeches. That Al-Dajjal would pose as a religious person would not surprise Muslims, since some hadith mention he will emerge from the remnants of the Khawarij, a heterodox group known for overzealousness and fanaticism [3]. Al-Dajjal travels the world at fast speeds, disappearing from one land and appearing in another, just as the character in the series does. 

messiah

photo credit: IMDb

However, numerous features of Dajjal would make his identity obvious to believers, not the least of which is that the word ‘disbeliever’ will be written – whether literally or metaphorically (scholars differ) – on his forehead in such a manner which even those unlettered would be able to read. Physically, Dajjal is a short man, with a deformity of his legs, and one of his eyes is likened to a “floating grape”, sightless, and “green like glass”. The Prophet is said to have focused on these physical features because they are so manifest and eliminate any confusion.

Al-Dajjal’s time overlaps with that of two other eschatological figures – Imam Mahdi and Esa ibn Maryam 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him). Imam Mahdi is prophesized to fill the world with justice and rule for seven years, after which Dajjal will emerge. While the Muslims following al-Mahdi are taking shelter in Damascus, Prophet Esa 'alayhi'l-salām (peace be upon him) will descend and eventually slay the Dajjal. Therefore, according to the Islamic eschatological tradition, things will get better before they get worse before they get better again – Imam Mahdi precedes Dajjal and Dajjal precedes Prophet Esa [2].

Safeguarding against tribulations

The best safeguard is to have sound knowledge of theology and law, and to have our iman rooted in revelation and reason. For example, the most basic understanding of Islamic theology would lead us to reject any man who claims to be God, as Al-Dajjal will claim. With basic Islamic knowledge and reasoning, we would know that Allah does not manifest in human-like form, much less one that is deformed, as Allah is the all Powerful and Perfect. Could it be that at the end of times even such essential Islamic knowledge is lacking? 

walking on water

Al-Dajjal deceives people by his miracles and supernatural abilities. Our iman should not be swayed by supernatural events and miracles. We should measure people and ideas according to their standing with the Shari’ah. We must keep our heads level and not be manipulated because we cannot explain an occurrence. 

Al-Dajjal also lures people by his miracles and by his ability to give them material prosperity, comfort and luxury. We must tie our happiness and sense of satisfaction to eternal spiritual truths, not to the comforts of this life, and be willing to give up what we have for what we believe. We should live simply and not follow into the path of excessive consumerism and materialism.  

Another important consideration is not to base our connection to Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) on another human being (except the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). Scholars, celebrity preachers, imams and teachers are all prone to error and sin. We must use the Shariah and the Prophet Muhamamd’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) character and teaching as the filter by which we evaluate them, not the other way around. Despite his obvious deformities, the Antichrist will be a mesmerizing blinding celebrity, but whose falsehood will be uncovered by believers who make judgements based on loyalty to principle, not personality. 

Is it time to live on a remote mountain?

The clearest indication of the nearness of the Day of Judgement is the prophethood of Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him). The Prophet likened the difference between his time and the Day of Judgement as the difference in length between the index and middle fingers. However, before we sell everything and move to a remote mountain, let’s exercise care in projecting Islamic eschatology on the political events of our times. The reality is that no one knows when these things will happen. Explaining the current phase in our history away by end of times theories or conspiracy theories, are simpleton intellectual copouts that lead our Ummah away from actively working towards its destiny. Anyone who has claimed that this event (remember Y2K) or that event is a major sign of the Day of Judgement has been wrong, so far. There were scholarly guesses in the early centuries of Muslims that expected the Hour 500 years after the Prophet’s ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) death. Yet, here we are. No one knows.

The best you can do is stay calm and make salat!

Muslims and the entertainment media

This increased sophistication and the apparent familiarity with Islamic sources exhibited by Messiah producers should lead us to value the importance of producing accurate, authentic and polished material and content about Islam and Muslims and our community’s role as a source of information. 

It is also important for Muslims to produce works for the mass media and entertainment industries. This is no longer the era of the sole MSA Da’wah table. Sophisticated, entertaining and authentic media production is an imperative for modern Muslims.  When we don’t tell the story, someone else will. 

Make it a Netflix Night?

We may refer to it as Fitnaflix, but let’s all admit that we cannot avoid television and the entertainment industry, for better or for worse. We can however moderate, guide and channel its use. Start breaking the isolation in which many of our children and young adults consume media. Families should watch TV together and use it as an opportunity to model how we select appropriate material and to create teaching and discussion moments. Parents should know what is influencing their kids even if they don’t like it. 

Some parts of the series Messiah, despite its flaws (and an explicit sexual scene in episode 9, not to mention profanity), could be used as a teaching moment about trials and tribulations, the end of times and the importance of Muslims engaging in the entertainment industry in a principled and professional manner. 

Ed’s note: Much of the series’ content is R-rated. Besides depictions of terrorism and other mayhem, sexual activity and brief rear nudity are shown. Mature themes include abortion, adultery, infertility and alcoholism.

Works Cited

[1] T. C. o. I. Al-Tahawi, Hamza Yusuf (trans), Zaytuna Institute, 2007. 
[2] O. Al-Ashqar, Al-Qiyamah Al-Sughra, Dar Al-Nafa’is, 1991. 
[3] [Online]. Available: https://abuaminaelias.com/dailyhadithonline/2014/06/23/dajjal-emerges-khawarij/.

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Death In A Valley Town, Part 4 – The Psychology of Forgiveness

He let the vision go, feeling a moment of dizziness as he did so. He stood stock still until the dizziness passed and the world resolved before him.

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

Previous Chapters of Death in a Valley Town1. Moving Day2. The Black Jesus. 3. A Fighter and a Thief.

Jinx

Moroccan teapotThe hot tea stung Yahya’s bruised mouth and swollen lip, but he did his best to drink as he sat in Imam Saleh’s living room, sipping from a small ornate glass, and eating a bit of baklawa. It had been two days since his release from the hospital. The Imam tried to refill his glass from an old-fashioned looking Moroccan teapot, but Yahya waved him off.

He’d spent the previous day recuperating in bed. Yusra had tried again to talk to him about their father, but he’d told her he was too tired. Tired and unwired. This morning he left while the sky was still dark and the household was still asleep. He went to Masjid Madeenah in Fresno for Fajr prayer, and exchanged a few words with Imam Saleh, making an appointment to see him later that day.

He knew his wife would be angry that he had not spent more recovery time in bed. She’d taken time off work to help him recuperate. He was being ungrateful by going back to work so soon. But he needed to get out. Hit the road for a bit, open his window and let the crisp night air rush over his face. Work the city like a speed skater on ice. Downshift his mind and let his hands and feet take over. Or hand and foot, more like it, since his left leg and arm were still incapacitated.

So yeah, he’d done a handful of Uber rides in the morning. If anyone minded him driving one-handed, they did not complain. People going to work, college students going to school. He always crossed into neighboring Fresno to work, as it was a big city. At one point he arrived at a drugstore to pick up a woman named Caridad. Spanish for Charity, he knew. There was no one in the parking lot but a rail-thin, middle-aged white woman carrying a frayed duffel bag, and a young Latina hanging out near the bus stop, examining her phone. He rolled down his window, called out, “Caridad?”

The middle aged woman took a step toward him.

Yahya frowned. “Are you Caridad?”

“Uh-huh.” The woman came around to the passenger side, opened the door and dropped in, her duffle bag resting on her lap. Yahya studied her. She didn’t seem to have a phone. Her blonde hair was disheveled, and she smelled bad. Her arms were as thin as curtain rods, and the skin on her face was pulled tight across her cheekbones. An old tattoo of a swastika defaced the side of her neck.

At the same time he noticed the young Latina approaching, looking at her phone then up at him quizzically. Hmm.

“You sure you’re Caridad?” he asked the middle aged woman.

“Uh-huh.”

“And you’re going to…” he checked the Uber app. “Hoover High School?”

“Uh-huh.”

“You’re a high school student?”

“Uh-huh.”

The young Latina was now a few steps away. Yahya nodded a greeting to her. “I’m guessing you’re Caridad?”

She nodded earnestly. “Yes.”

Yahya gave his would-be passenger a reproachful look. “You’re not Caridad. You have to get out.”

She glared at him. “I am so.”

Uber stickers“You’re not.” He looked at his phone. “I can see her picture right here.” That was a lie – Uber did not display photos of passengers – but this woman would not know that.

“You mean this picture?” The woman threw her hands up, opened her mouth wide and stuck out her tongue. Then she took her duffle and exited the car.

“Hey lady!” Yahya called the homeless woman back and handed her a twenty dollar bill, which was half of what he’d made thus far that morning, along with his business card, which provided his name, contact info and Uber referral code. Anytime someone signed up for Uber with his code, he got paid. Not that he imagined this woman would be signing up for Uber. “Get yourself something to eat,” he told her. “Some meat.” He wanted to add, “would be neat,” but restrained himself. People didn’t always appreciate his rhymes and alliteration. “My number is on there. If you’re ever hungry, call me and I’ll bring you some food.”

“Thank you,” the woman said solemnly, her demeanor becoming saner, as if the craziness was a tattered garment she could shuck off at will. “My real name is Jinx. But my really for reals name is Barbara.”

He did a few more rides after that, and was now here at the Imam’s stately, tree-shaded home near Fresno City College. The Imam sat before him, a tall man with midnight black skin and a trace of an African accent. Yahya had heard he was highly educated. He had also, from what people said, shaken the community up a bit. He’d founded his own masjid and stipulated that half of the board of directors must be women. Converts too were well represented. The mosque was open to walk-ins by non-Muslims any day of the week. And the Imam was not afraid to address controversial topics. He was a strong advocate for combatting violence against women, mobilizing the Muslim vote, and ending FGM. But this was Yahya’s first time meeting him one-on-one.

“My wife says I should sue the boy,” Yahya said after explaining the situation. “But it doesn’t feel right. Doesn’t the Quran say, ‘Repel [evil] by that which is better; and thereupon the one whom between you and him is enmity [will become] as though he was a devoted friend.’”

The Imam nodded. “Are you hoping this young man will become a devoted friend?”
“Ehm,” Yahya stammered. “Not really. I just don’t believe in taking personal vengeance. Didn’t the Prophet forgive the woman who used to throw garbage in his path every day? When he went out one day and there was no garbage, he went to see her to check if she was alright.”

“That’s true.”

“And when he conquered Mecca and all the Meccans were afraid he would take revenge for their abusing him, he forgave them all.”

The Imam smiled. “That’s true, but you’re all over the map, akh Yahya.”

“What do you mean?”

“You are conflating incidents from the Meccan period with those from the Madinan period. That’s a mistake, especially from a psychological standpoint.”

“What do you mean psychological?”

“It’s very popular these days to speak of forgiveness. New Age spiritual thinkers and pop psychologists love to talk about the power of forgiveness, and how those who forgive live happier lives. There’s a brother who lives right here in Fresno who writes a blog called Islamic Sunrays. He penned an article titled, “When you forgive, you live.”

“Catchy.”

“And true, to a degree. The brother says that forgiveness is a gift you give to yourself, regardless of whether the perpetrator deserves it. But here’s the problem. When the perpetrator holds the power in the relationship, forgiving them is pointless and dangerous. It gives them permission to continue abusing. And with narcissists, forgiving them merely signals that what they did was not so bad. Look at it this way. Say a woman comes into my office. She’s being beaten by her husband on a regular basis. She looks like you.” The Imam gestured to Yahya’s body. “Bruised and bloody. She’s afraid her husband will kill her. Do you think it would be right to counsel her to forgive her husband and remain in the relationship?”

“No, of course not.”

“Right. The question of forgiveness must be tied to the power dynamic between oppressed and oppressor. On the other hand, if she were to escape her husband, divorce him and start a new life, there might come a time when she could forgive him. Not reunite with him – she might never speak to him again – but let go of her hurt and anger, for the sake of her own soul. That brother with the blog, he points out that holding onto resentment ties us to the abuser, but forgiving liberates us. He’s right. But security first, then forgiveness. Can we tell the Palestinians to forgive the occupiers who gun down their children, torture their fathers, and beat their women at checkpoints? Can we say, ‘Never mind, go about your business and pretend it isn’t happening, and we will do the same.’”

“Well, no.”

“That is the example of the Meccan period.”

“But,” Yahya objected, “the Prophet forgave his tormentors even then, like the old woman with the garbage.”

“She was no threat. When the Prophet went to see her she was bedridden. Forgiving her was an act of compassion. But when the family of Yasir was being tortured by Abu Jahl – the archenemy of Islam – in the desert, and the Prophet passed by them, did he tell them to forgive? No, he told them to be patient, and that their meeting place was in Paradise, because that was all he could do. And in the end, at the battle of Badr, when Abdullah ibn Masood – who was nineteen at the time – encountered Abu Jahl as he lay gasping on the battlefield, what did he do? Everything had changed by then. It was the Madinan period. The Muslims had established a sovereign state and were officially at war with the Quraysh. Abu Jahl, though wounded, was an unrepentant torturer and murderer. A monster. So did Ibn Masood forgive him? No, he stepped on his neck and killed him. That is the proper end for tyrants. I’m not suggesting you go to war,” the Imam added hastily. “Not at all. I’m saying, safety first. Forgiveness has a time and a place.”

Yahya was a little taken aback. This was not the line of reasoning he had expected from the Imam, who was known for his moderate, progressive views. “But I’m not talking about forgiving acts against other people. Only against myself. Isn’t it true that the Prophet never sought personal vengeance?”

“Yes. That was his role. He was a bringer of truth to the world, and therefore had to come with unlimited compassion, or he would have sabotaged his own mission. Furthermore, he had the protection of God upon him. Abu Jahl, who I mentioned earlier? Once, during the Meccan period, he vowed that the next time he saw Muhammad prostrating in prayer, he would crush his skull with a heavy stone, consequences be damned. So the next time he saw the Prophet praying before the Ka’bah, he tried to do exactly that. He picked up a boulder and approached him to kill him, then suddenly dropped the stone and fled, pale with terror. The Quraysh questioned him, and he said that when he approached Muhammad, a camel’s stallion got in his way. ‘By God’, he said, ‘I have never seen anything like its head, shoulders, and teeth on any stallion before, and it made as though it would eat me.’”

“And when Suraqah Bin Jusham came at him on a horse, intending to kill him with a spear, the horse kept stumbling and stopping and would not advance. The Prophet was protected because his mission was vital to the world. Are you similarly protected? If you forgive this man Chad, will it mean anything to him? Will it stay his hand from future attacks? Or will it encourage him?”

Yahya thanked the Imam and left feeling confused and conflicted. He understood what the Imam was saying, but he wasn’t sure he could change who he was at his core, or that he even wanted to. As he was leaving, another brother came up the walkway and greeted him and the Imam. There was something about the brother that immediately caught Yahya’s attention. He was of average height, maybe 5’10”, and lean, and wore a brown fedora tipped sideways on his head, like some old school detective. Even though the guy wore worn jeans, surplus army boots, and a shirt that looked like it came off the rack at Walmart, and even though he seemed weatherbeaten and literally hungry, he emanated personal power and charisma. Yahya could see that even without looking at his light.

A Mountain of Gold

Imam Saleh greeted the newcomer warmly and said, “Zaid, I’m glad you’re here. This is brother Yahya. He might need your services.”

Yahya shook the newcomer’s hand and tried to smile, though it hurt his face to do so.

“Oh? What do you do?”

“I’m a private detective.”

How cool. He’d never met a Muslim private detective. He broke out in a grin, but his bottom lip split and a trickle of blood ran into his beard. “Sorry,” he said, wiping his chin with the back of one hand. “I was going to say, that sounds exciting.”

“What happened?” Zaid gestured to his face and arm. “Car accident?”

Yahya shook his head. “No. But I have it in hand. It was good to meet you.” He started down the walkway. Then, curious as to the source of Zaid’s strength, he turned and quite deliberately looked at the man’s light. Relaxing the muscles around his eyes, letting his gaze go soft and unfocused, he looked past Zaid’s rough exterior. At the same time, he consciously dropped his own guard, opening his chest as he thought of it.

Mayon volcanoWhat he saw stunned him. Whereas the man he’d given his shoes to in jail had been a living mountain physically, this mountain was a spiritual mountain. That was in fact what Yahya saw: a mountain, shimmering before him. That was a new thing. He normally just saw colors. This mountain was not tall but was wide and covered in forest. Animals moved through the trees, but they were unfamiliar: a jaguar, something like a cow with a long nose, and some sort of thick groundhog with long legs. There were birds, and monkeys that hooted and roared. A long fissure ran vertically through the center of the mountain, and red light and smoke emanated from it, as if the mountain were filled with fire. Yahya looked deeper, to the very heart of the mountain, and saw ribbons of pure gold that ran all through the stone like veins. As Yahya watched, clouds gathered around the peak. Thunder pealed, and rain fell in dark curtains.

He also saw that the man was torn from his moorings, for the mountain was not rooted in the earth, but drifting through the sky like a cloud. No, that wasn’t quite it. It wasn’t that it had broken away from the earth: it had never belonged in the first place. Yet the man was not lost. He did not despair. It was almost as if he carried a beacon fire within him, and never had to wonder which way to turn. Seeing this prompted Yahya to think about the concept of home, and what it might mean to such a man.

He let the vision go, feeling a moment of dizziness as he did so. He stood stock still until the dizziness passed and the world resolved before him. Imam Saleh and Zaid stood regarding him quizzically. Yahya felt as if he’d been gone for hours, but it seemed no time had passed. It was always that way when he looked at the light. He asked a question before he had time to consider. “What do you say about home?”

Zaid cocked his eyebrows. “Pardon?”

“I can see that you’ve been uprooted. The place that should have been your home never was, the place that actually was your home should not have been, and your latest, truest home has expelled you. So what is home, really? How do you even define it?”

The man gaped at Yahya in apparent amazement. His mouth opened but nothing came out.

“It’s not magic,” Yahya said, realizing that he’d already said too much. He must not reveal his full talent. People rarely believed him. Sometimes they thought he was crazy. If they did believe him, they either feared him or they became over-attached, wanting him to be their personal life coach or spiritual guide, neither of which he desired to do. “I read facial expressions, body language.” That was true as far as it went. “Anyway… Maya Angelou said that home is the safe place where you can go as you are and not be questioned. So if that doesn’t exist, then what is home?”

“Uhh…” Zaid cleared his throat and paused, thinking. “Maybe home in this dunya is not meant to last. Maybe it’s a series of moments when you felt safe and loved, and maybe you hold on to those moments, each one like a thread or a patch, and make a suit out of them that you wear wherever you go.”

Fascinating. Yahya nodded slowly. “I’ll take your card after all.” Zaid handed him a card and he took it, limping as he left.

Think Outside the Bag

“So here’s my idea,” Chad said. He sat on the floor of his room with his back against the wall. Ames’ lanky frame was sprawled across the bed on his back, looking up at the ceiling, his long blond hair fanning out across the pillow. Bram sat at Chad’s little wooden desk. The desk and accompanying wooden chair were holdovers from when Chad was a kid and used to like to draw. Chad was worried that the little chair might collapse beneath the weight of Bram’s hulking, muscular body.

Each of them had a beer in hand. It was a bit cramped with the three of them in this small room, but it was private. His mom and Amelia knew not to enter his room without knocking.

“The raghead works for this new Uber thing, right?” He pronounced it ubber, rhyming with rubber.

“It’s not Ubber,” Bram corrected, still looking up at the ceiling. “It’s Uber, rhymes with goober.”

“Uber goober, Uber goober,” Ames parroted. He might be a karate master with all-American good looks, but he was not the brightest bulb in the box.

“Uber?” Chad frowned. “That’s not a word.”

“German,” Ames explained. “Means exceeding the norms of its kind of class. Super, basically.” He took a pull from his beer.

Chad was annoyed. “German? Why does everything have to be foreign? What’s wrong with American?” And how could Ames drink beer while lying on his back? Chad was jealous. “Anyway,” Chad went on, “my grandma used to have this country house about a half hour out of town. It’s abandoned now, nothing else around. Nobody goes there. So we set up there and call Uber to that address. We tell them to send the new guy, the raghead, because he’s our favorite driver, yakkity yak. Then-”

“Won’t work,” Bram interrupted. “Uber doesn’t work like that. You order it on the internet, through your smartphone-”

“Sh*t.” Chad didn’t have a smartphone. He had a basic phone, an LG Chocolate. He thought it was cool the way it slid up to open. “You have a smartphone, don’t you Ames?”

“Also,” Bram went on, “you get the closest driver, as determined by GPS. You can’t request a particular person.”

Chad gave a disgusted snort. “That’s shot then.”

“How about this?” Ames pointed his beer bottle upward as if it were a pen and he was writing on the ceiling. “We put Ex-Lax in his food to give him diarrhea, then when he goes to the hospital we pose as nurses and kidnap him. We roll him out of the hospital on a gurney and put him in an ambulance that we hijack. From there we drive him to your grandma’s house. We tie him up and kick him in the nuts for what he did to Amelia. We kick him in the nuts until his face turns blue and his eyes pop out.”

Chad and Bram exchanged a look. Chad rolled his eyes. He was about to tell Ames to shut his idiot mouth when Bram said, “That’s problematic. Hospitals require I.D. badges. And I suspect a stolen ambulance would be easy for the authorities to track. Built-in GPS, you know.”

“What about this then?” Ames gestured at the ceiling with the beer bottle, still brainstorming on his imaginary white board. “We invite him to a rave at a downtown warehouse. When he shows up we spike his drink with a roofie, then tie him up and kick him in the-”

“We don’t have a warehouse,” Chad broke in disgustedly. “And there’s no rave. And the guy’s a Muzzie. They only drink camel wine or some crap.”

“We break into a warehouse,” Ames countered. “Throw a rave, give him cranberry juice. Think outside the bag, guys!”

Chad was about to tell Ames to get his skinny blond ass off the bed and make tracks, which would have been a bad idea since they needed his karate skills, when Bram said, “The grandma’s house isn’t a bad idea. But we must be realistic in our approach. How about this? We follow him when he goes to do Uber. We wait until he’s driving alone on a dark street, and we bump into him from behind at a stop sign or light. He gets out to exchange insurance info, we club him with a baseball bat, toss him in the trunk and take him to your grandma’s house.”

“And commence nut-kicking!” Ames crowed.

“Indeed,” Bram agreed.

Chad considered. “Not bad,” he said at last. “Not bad at all. Gentlemen, we have a plan.”

Author’s Note: There will be a delay before the next chapter. I’m working on the final edit for the print version of Zaid Karim. That’s my priority at the moment. Also, with this story, I feel like I need to take time to get to know Yahya better. I’m not quite ready to proceed. – Wael

* * *

Next: Part 5 – To Be Nazi or Not To Be Nazi

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

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

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

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