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The Little Muslimah – A Short Story


The little muslimah

Ali bin Abi Talib reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Gabriel, upon him be peace, said to me: O Muhammad, love whom you wish for you will surely part with them, act as you wish for you will surely see its results, and live as you wish for you will surely die.” The Prophet said, “Gabriel had been concise with me in his discourse.” [Ḥilyat al-Awliyā’ 3/202]


[Adapted from Hans Christian Andersen’s “The Little Mermaid”]

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To be a human was a painful thing. 

Alara never thought that one could be dying while still alive.

The sea witch had warned her. And she had agreed, of sound body and mind. It was her voice that had been taken away, not her brain, and certainly not her heart. But she wished that it had been. She would not be facing this torment otherwise.

Tears began to sting her eyes, like mist from the sea decorating her face with dewdrops. The vocal contract replaced the sigh of the gentle tide:

“Feel as though a sword passes through you

The pain will stay, your feet will bleed through 

Your feet shall walk, as if on a knife 

Win his heart, or else you lose your life.”

She opened her eyes again, and another stab of pain ripped her apart.

There he was—the prince she had sacrificed everything for. Walking along the shore with his wife-to-be.

Alara was wrong. She was not dying. Death would have been merciful in a moment like this.

Her grandmother called it the “Ottoman Empire.”

It had been alive for almost as long as she had. A mermaid lived three hundred years, but humans, and even their empires, did not.

One of the many momentous years in the life of a mermaid was when she turned eighteen. It was then that she was permitted to rise to the surface.

“Why?” Alara had asked. One by one her five sisters would go up. Five years would pass before she was ever allowed to see the moonlight on the surface of the ocean.

“Because humans are cruel,” her grandmother answered. “Your father is a good king, but many rulers on the surface are not.” With a sigh, she continued, “That is why we only allow you to rise in Dhul Qi’dah—a month where even they are not at war.”

So Alara remained patient. Her grandmother told her that flowers had fragrance up above. So too, instead of fishes that ate from their palms, there were fishes with wings—called birds. And they could sing, like the people in the mosques and minarets. They would sail in things called “ships,” and travel the world boundlessly.

Ships were her favorite, as well as her sisters. Often, they would collect whatever treasures they could find from the wreckage. Her sisters had taken chests and coins, but Alara chose a portrait of a prince that sank. He was handsome, noble-looking, and she dreamt of seeing him when it finally came for her to go to the surface.

By and by the paint began to fade away, but she kept the thought of him in her mind. Her daydreams were plentiful, with more being added with each story and each visit from her sisters.

“I rose in the middle of the night!” the eldest said. “I rested on the sandbank, basking in the moonlight, and gazed at a town nearby. Oh, their lanterns glowed like stars!”

The second eldest was even more elated. “I saw the horizon that Büyükanne talked about! It was beautiful… at sunset, they see more colors than we have names for.”

“They have more animals than us!” the third reported. “I heard the birds singing—all kinds—and crying above me when I came to shore. And a dog chased me!”

The fourth sister stayed in the center of the sea. “Their ships are so much more beautiful when they are put together. I saw the humans dance on their decks…”

With not much else to discover, the fifth sister focused on the glassy surface. “There were icebergs like great pearls and diamonds, and I tasted rain for the first time.”

Finally, it was her turn. Mindful of the stories from her sisters, Alara decided to rise as the sun set. She could not have chosen a more perfect time. The sun was bathed in scarlet and took the rest of the light with it, and night was just beginning to showcase the stars. There were no people at the beach; instead, they were right on the water. A mosque as blue as the ocean was reflected in it, calling everyone to prayer. She sighed longingly, wishing she could join them. A few came too close to shore, and she dove beneath the waters. She felt darkness creep over her, and she resisted the eagerness to see the canopy of stars coming over her.

When she lifted her head once more, her breath was taken away—not by the gills having to adjust to the air all around her, but by a great ship before her.

So that was the darkness, a moment ago! It was passing over her. Now, Istanbul—the human city her grandmother had mentioned so many times—was illuminated. Fireworks boomed over the Bosphorus, creating ripples of their own in the sky. She marveled at the ones that looked like sprouted coral, others with sparks that scattered like minnows, all decorated in bright colors that replaced the departed afternoon sky.

But a sight more incredible than all of that emerged on the ship. Him—the prince from the painting.

Alara forgot the sky, the sea, and everything around her. She even forgot herself.

She watched as the prince spoke happily with others, sharing in his own personal merriment. It was his birthday, too! The thought of some kind of commonality between them was no short of reassuring. It was meant to be, that she stumbled upon his party—the invitation was from destiny itself.

However, the sea did not share in their celebration. As though angered by the late festivities, it began to toss and turn. Alara feared not for herself; as she could not be sunk nor drowned. But she feared for the prince.

Without warning, the tides became tumultuous. Clouds raged above them, pouring rain and clapping thunder in warning. But it was far too late for an escape. The ship was crushed by waves in all directions, and was dragged down to join the rest of its comrades in the deep. 

Alara panicked. She dove down among the rest of the wreckage, tail swishing faster than it ever had in her life. The lightening illuminated her sight well enough to spot the prince, frantically fighting with his last few breaths to reach the surface. Then he grew unnervingly still. She darted to his side and fought against gravity, water, and even what may have been destiny itself to bring him back to shore.

When she brought him to the beach, his eyes were still shut tight. But his chest moved up and down, gently, like seaweed flowing slowly back and forth. She could not take her eyes off him; afraid that if she did, his breathing would fail him. So she stayed with him until dawn began to creep behind her.

The Blue Mosque called fajr, and people began to appear. She swallowed. The myths of mermaids were all too cruel—that they were the ones who destroyed ships, in search of their treasures, and that they murdered for pleasure. 

They spoke the same language, did they not? All she had to do was tell them that she was not so different… she might have a tail, and gills, and he did not, but they both had hearts.

But she remembered the caution from the stories shared earlier, and she pulled herself away once more. Alara watched, instead and again, as another woman approached the prince. She gasped at the sight of him and called for help. At the sound of her voice, the eyes of the prince opened. And there Alara saw the most painful sight of all: his smile as he beheld her.

She dove down, down, down, thinking of how happy she had been only a few hours before. Her only pause in her descent was to pray, and then collapse in her bedroom. 

Surprisingly, she was able to sleep as long as she liked. She had expected her sisters to ask her about her journey, but none were interested. 

“Alara? Will you not come out? There was a shipwreck last night, and there are such beautiful things!”

The most beautiful thing of all was taken, she thought mournfully.

Hours passed, and Büyükanne entered the bedroom. A princess behaving in this manner was unbecoming. But she was patient, hearing what her granddaughter had to say before rebuking her. 

Alara confessed all that had happened, how full of joy she had been, and how full of sorrow she was now. 

Calmly, Büyükanne spoke, “It is painful, but it will pass. Remember that humans make more enemies than friends, even among themselves. They are quick-tempered and cunning. And as for men… they are the worst of them. They may not cut out your heart, but they can still take it.”

She sighed. “Constantly, they say that you may spend paradise with your husband, if you marry him… but it is too heavy a price to pay for eternity. Live, my dear granddaughter, for three hundred years, unbothered by their rules and regulations.”

The little mermaid nodded.

“Do not fret. Your mother may not be here, but I have cared for you as though you are my daughter. We shall make a fine bride of you yet.”

But how could she marry someone else when she was still so set on another?

“And it will not be difficult to get you married. Some mermaids require magic in order to have matrimony!”

Alara resolved to be one of them. She kissed the hand of her grandmother and headed to play with her sisters, as well as say salaam to her father.

The palace was teeming with life, whereas the dwelling of the sea witch was almost overflowing with death. There was naught but sand and rocks, and the remains of ships that the princesses did not care for.

It was cold and dark, so much so that Alara could not address the sea witch without shivering. By contrast, the sea witch was calm and composed, stroking her water snakes. She was cloaked in flowing black robes. Not even a thread of hair showed from her aged face.

“I know what you wish for.”

Alara swallowed and bit her lip. “Any price.”

“Little princess, you only speak of price. And it is great. As well as the cost. But so too is the reward.”


“The price is your voice,” the sea witch said. A smile crept onto her voice, spreading like one of her unwinding snakes. “The cost, you will never be able to swim with your pretty tail again. And it will hurt terribly.”

“Nothing is more painful than this.”

She cackled. “Oh, you sweet swan.” 

“As you said, the price and cost are great. But so is the reward.”

“Very well. Open your mouth.”

Alara swallowed. “Will you cut my tongue?”

“Heavens, no. I do not need to make a mess to make magic.”

“But how will you take my voice without my tongue?”

“You will be in so much pain that you will find even breathing a struggle. But surely your eyes, your grace, these things shall enchant him.”

The little mermaid thought carefully. This would be the last time she would see her sisters. Her beloved grandmother, and even her father. All for a prince she had never met.

But it was a risk she was willing to take. Her grandmother had said that the humans believed in an eternity with their spouses, and that was something even a life of three hundred years in this underwater utopia could not compare to.

She swallowed and surrendered. The sea witch began chanting, and it echoed with her as she rose once more to the surface. She had been instructed not to drink it until she had risen.

“Feel as though a sword passes through you

The pain will stay, your feet will bleed through 

Your feet shall walk, as if on a knife 

Win his heart, or else you lose your life.”

The little muslimah

PC: Annette Batista Day (unsplash)

The potion had worked like an anesthesia; as the operation was far too great for her to remain conscious for it. The only thing she remembered before her eyes saw the blackness of her eyelids rather than the black sky was, in truth, a sword cutting her in a swipe that no scream could encapsulate, had she her voice.

It was the gentle voice of the muaddhin that woke her. Every movement she made seemed to aggravate the invisible pain; the surgery for which there was no scar. The waves rolled gently around her, taking her scales with them. Forever.

Ladies-in-waiting saw her from a distance and rushed to her side.

“Another shipwreck?” they asked.

“A princess?”

“Are you hurt?”

She opened her mouth, and nothing came out. They cast worried glances at each other, and passed it off as trauma from the wreck. “We will have to take her to Topkapı Palace,” one murmured. “See what the Sultan will say.”

The little mermaid—well, maiden, now—stumbled with each step. The ladies-in-waiting hailed a ride for them to reach the palace. Again, they attributed her struggle to a shipwreck. Despite the agony in her new legs, Alara smiled. The humans were coming up with excuses for her. Believable ones! Her bargain would never be exposed.

After being dressed in fine silk and muslin, the ladies-in-waiting brought her to the court. The sultan was away and had placed his son in charge. In that moment, the little maiden was thankful—had she her voice, she would have stammered at his handsomeness and tripped over her words as she had on her toes.

Salam alaykum,” he greeted. 

The ladies-in-waiting nudged her. But Alara shook her head, and again, opened her mouth—and nothing came out.

Alaykum as-salam, dear prince, she thought. I cannot speak.

She saw pity overtake him. He smiled gently as the ladies began to glare at her. So this was the quick temper that her grandmother had warned her about. Her new hijab covered her throat, making it difficult for them to see how she was gulping from nervousness.

“Ah, yes, you were found on the beach,” he continued. “I understand how scary that must be. Not too long ago, I washed up after a terrible storm. In fact… a sister rescued me, but I am afraid I will never see her again to thank her…”

Now Alara struggled in earnest. A cough came out, and with it, a searing of pain through her abdomen to her ankles. But no words formed.

Please let me stay.

His brows furrowed, trying to understand. Then he waved his hand authoritatively. “You may stay until your voice returns.”

She felt as though she had received another invitation again, this time, to be a part of his home. In time, she gained her footing. Her movements were slow and careful, and everyone took it to be a reflection of her grace. But truthfully, it was her gingerness in trying not to make her feet less painful.

The little maiden spent much time with the ladies-in-waiting. She learned how to wash clothes (there was no need to do that underwater), clean dishes, and set a table. Often, she would insist on this before meals at the palace. She sat on the opposite side of the table from the prince, who took note of her presence there every time they ate.

One night, as she was cleaning the table, she overheard him speaking to his servants.

“She seems familiar,” he told them. “I have seen her to be nothing but kind to others. I am sure she is of royalty. Look how she carries herself.”

“Şehzade, you cannot be serious!” one of the servants scoffed. “A mute? For a wife? Tell me… have you two communicated solely with your eyes?”

It is true. We have, Alara thought. All she had to do was think of the words, and somehow, he would say what was on her mind.

“Her feet bleed, Şehzade,” another urged. “I still do not know why. The doctor has no answers. But it is every time she walks. How can you expect her to run after children?”

Alara learned that night that you did not need a voice to cry. 

Her dream of being with the prince was beginning to fade, just like he had in the painting. 

Servants spoke incessantly about how the prince felt for the washed-up girl, much to both of their embarrassment. The sultan had to put the rumors to an end. Word was sent throughout the country, privately, that his son was eligible for marriage. What embarrassment it would be for this maiden, whom he had no knowledge of her family or background, to marry his son.

Every day, the little maiden prayed that her prince would sacrifice as much for her as she had for him. She learned the rituals that the humans exchanged in—salah, they called it—and despite the aching in her legs, she performed each of its requirements with perfection. Fajr, dhuhr, asr, maghrib, and isha, she begged to marry him.

But time passed, with no answer to her du’as in sight. It seemed to be getting worse. The prince met more and more ladies each day, which made her heart skip. And when he turned them away, only then would it settle.

He seemed to be getting exasperated with every meeting. Often, he complained to her of how unfair the situation was, how this was not something he wanted, and how neither of these women was what he wanted in a wife.

“When will it end?” he asked. “I am so tired of praying and waiting.”

I am too.

“If only she would appear, right in front of me.”

I am here.

His eyes darted towards her once, then away. With a sigh, he bid her salaam, and decided to return to court for his next appointment.

The woman who had found him on the beach was waiting for him.

The day after the wedding, she would be foam of the sea.

The little maiden gave the prince her blessing with a nod of the head. And her kindness was so great that she helped the ladies-in-waiting fit the new princess in her wedding dress. It had not even been a few weeks since she had had the same thing happen to her.

As the princess walked towards the prince in the ceremony, Alara held the train of her dress. It was as if she was underwater; the congratulations and nasheeds were muffled. Her feet throbbed with stabbing pain, her heart broke with every step.

Alara embarked on the ship with them, where they were set to go on their honeymoon. She followed the ladies-in-waiting to their own quarters. When all was finally silent, she rose to the deck and sobbed.


She gasped.

“Sister, look up! We feel your tears falling into the sea! We can stop them!”

Confused, she looked out of the ship. All five of her sisters were gesturing towards her, their beautiful hair chopped and ragged. One was carrying a knife.

“The sea witch bargained with us! We gave her our hair, while the hair of Büyükanne fell out in despair, knowing you will die. Pierce the heart of the prince, and let the blood fall on your legs. You will have a tail again, and you can live out life happily with us! Hurry!”

They tossed the knife aboard, and the little maiden caught it before it clattered too much on the deck. Despite the torment, she tiptoed below to the suite of the prince and princess. Both were sleeping soundly, wrapped together like two sea flowers.

She looked as happy as Alara did at the first glance of the prince. He, too, finally appeared content. Alara trembled. She had prayed behind both of them. Eaten from their wedding feast. To kill them now was evil behavior. Exactly the kind that Büyükanne had warned about.

Perhaps she had really become human after all.

Horrified at the thought of being evil, she left the room quietly. Careful not to disturb anyone else, she let the dagger fall into the depths, and dove down after it. 

She asked Allah to forgive her.

When she awoke, there was only darkness. Alara opened her eyes, puzzled, and tried to rise. To her surprise, she saw bubbles rise from her mouth.

It could not be. She jolted, and doing so flung the covers all about her. They fluttered around her, unbound by gravity, and before her was her tail—scales and all.

There was no pain.

“Ah, little princess. You are awake.” The sea witch floated near her snakes, pouring ingredients into another cauldron. Alara suddenly felt fury.

You tricked me. You tricked them!

“He was the one who bewitched you. Not me.” She hardly blinked as she stirred the concoction before her. “I told your sisters that only blood was needed for your tail. But as you can imagine, they were enraged at the prince for taking you.”

So what about my sisters and their hair?

“It will grow back,” the sea witch said with a shrug.

What about what Büyükanne said? That if I had his love, I would be able to have paradise?

“A myth!” she said. Suddenly her voice became stern. “Love of a man will not grant you Paradise. It is only that you will spend eternity with your spouse in paradise. Whomever that will be!”

Alara was dumbfounded.

“I learned this lesson long ago.” The sea witch lowered her robes, and Alara finally understood. She had never been a witch. She had merely isolated herself from the others, wearing flowing robes as the dervishes did above. A long time ago, she, too, had fallen under the charm of a human, and attempted to earn his heart through the sacrifice of herself. Now, she proposed trials to others who would visit her—when they were tests all along.

And Alara had failed hers.

I lost him. I lost everything.

“No, little Muslimah. You received the greatest gift of all.”

Alara could not fathom how.

“In this life…” the sea witch began. “There is only Allah. You were blessed to discover Him through another. Yes, it came with burden, but as He says—with hardship, there is many eases.’

She remembered that verse. Her heart began to ache, as she was sure that she had heard the prince recite it once.

“Dhul Qi’dah is not always about fighting a war with the world outside. It is about fighting a war within ourselves. The prince wanted a human woman just like him. You, on the other hand, wanted to grow. To learn something new, to become a better person. So who is really the loser?”

Alara sank her head. She wanted to say it was her, but she had not the courage. Her tail, instead, swished shyly below her. Embarrassment and shame flowed through her as air once did.

“Have you not noticed? You are no longer under the transformation. Take your voice, and take heed.”

The little Muslimah gasped, and felt her throat fill up once more. She cried out, and the sound even made the eyes of the sea witch brim. Alara was so elated that she thought she would start weeping.

But she remembered that underwater, there were not any tears that she could really shed. Just like Paradise. 

So the little Muslimah did not cry.



The Six Fasts – A Short Story

Short Story: Hijab, My Crown

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Hannah Alkadi is a lawful good social media master, cat mom, and total nerd. She began writing in the pixels of online threads with friends since she was 13. Now, she continues in the pages of essays, short stories, and poetry. Her work has been published in Amaliah and Muslim Youth Musings by the grace of Allah ﷻ.

1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. Nasreen

    June 5, 2024 at 2:46 AM

    Thank you for another beautiful story, this one really made me cry and reflect. Thank you for painting the Seawitch as an ordinary woman who was once just like all the other mermaids but due to scorned love became who she became. She offered many powerful lessons. This is a gem of a story and you are a gifted writer MA!

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