Dear World

He would fall silent, his face crumpling in consternation as he realizes his idea of what I am is fast disappearing along with my drink. How did a girl with parents like mine get her toe cut off?

Dear World-

I’m sitting on my bed with my old friends of the week- anti bacterial ointment and a bandage- and examining the ugly cut on my toe. I wasn’t exactly being smart when I got it, not unless you call running across the hay meadow at dusk in foam soled shoes smart. (Old hay stalks are sharper than you think!) To be honest, I have no real idea what I stepped on,and what if it was metal or something like that? And I get gangrene? Darn!

I picture my toe falling off. Carefully putting on the bandage, I imagine me in five years sitting across from a suitor and lifting a nonchalant shoe under the table.

“I thought I’d better tell you before we get too serious- I’m missing a big toe.”

 He would fall silent, his face crumpling in consternation as he realizes his idea of what I am is fast disappearing along with my drink. How did a girl with parents like mine get her toe cut off?

 “Oh- uh- how did that happen?”

It makes me laugh, but it brought to mind how little Muslim couples actually know each other sometimes. I’d heard way too many stories of people getting married in a flush of nuptial bliss, only to face nasty reality when their dowry never shows up- or the Perfect Dude suddenly won’t let them out of the house- or he already has a wife he didn’t mention- or a toe missing! And chances are a kid is on the way.

I like to think I’m far too suspicious for this to happen, and definitely not the trusting type. I tell my sister that a definite clause in my contract is the No Second Wife Rule….i.e.’if you get a second wife I get a divorce’.

“Maybe you shouldn’t put it in the contract, just get it across that you trust him to understand that it isn’t okay with you.”

“He’d probably do it anyhow. This way it’s crystal clear that if he wants a second wife she won’t be my second.”

Misery is what comes to mind when I think of that scenario. Freaking messy misery. And I wonder if I’m being too distrustful.

But honestly, I think that as women we should avail ourselves of all the Islamic rights we have in marriage and be sure to follow up on them. We hear a lot about the women we should be, the wives and sisters we should be like, our husband’s rights, but not so much about our own rights. In the end, our parents and friends can’t always protect us. I have to look out for myself in some things, and that’s where dictating the terms of the contract come in. If he refuses to fulfill them I’d have to seriously think about whether I wanted this to be the rest of my life with him- and I feel like I’d probably decide not to.

But then, I reason, there’s love, which is messy. What if he disregards the rules and does what he likes but I love him too much to leave him? The idea leaves me feeling rather helpless.

“You know, I don’t plan on having kids for at least three years so I can be really sure he’s the father I want for my kids.”

My sister just looks at me.

Peeling Away

So a few weeks ago, Donald Trump was voted in as President of the United States. (It was going to be Hillary Clinton-everyone was pretty sure about that- but somehow, right after our first black president, we elected our first buffoon president.) And with him, hate was elected. Fear was elected.Blame and ignorance were elected. And especially for Muslims (because obviously if you come from a different country and are Muslim something must be goin’ on with you.)

To a Muslim woman, this came as bad news. In those comparatively few days, fresh reports of hate crimes and hate speech towards Muslims has poured in, and with it the fear-fear of walking alone outside, fear of the guy in the baseball cap who seems to be staring at you funny as you walk to your car, fear of being hated and blamed; the same fears you face everyday as a woman and a Muslim, but suddenly magnified. You fear for yourself as a woman, as a Muslim, and in another subcategory, as a hijabi. It’s not groundless fears either- it’s thinking about the woman whose hijab was set on fire, the girl who was grabbed by her hijab and choked, the girl who might have been- you. There must be a solution, even a short term solution, something to help you feel less afraid and less conspicuous.

The answer that came back was quick. Maybe you all should take off your hijab for a while. Tone it down. Twist it into something more acceptable. Hide. Maybe we should just stay inside. Maybe we should start wearing hats instead. Maybe we should start being afraid enough to hide now; desperate times call for desperate measures, right?

Or maybe not. Maybe we should start smaller- walking with a friend as often as possible. Staying as close to groups when possible. Avoiding confrontation, slipping around the aisle to skip bumping into the guy in the Trump T-shirt. Maybe that will be enough, that with the pepper spray and self-defense moves you already know; it’s not like you haven’t been afraid until now.

I haven’t had to walk alone. I haven’t been vulnerable to much other than the hissed insults at our group as a whole, the dirty looks and flashed signs. I don’t have to interact with people I should possibly be afraid of daily; a few times a week, in class or at the checkout, is exhausting enough. I do live in a Trump area, at the edge of the Ozark foothills and perilously close to Hillbilly Haven. My teacher and classmates supported Trump. Our landlady did, and our neighbors. But these were the kind people who lent us cars when ours broke down, sent us fresh eggs, offered to come into town with us, reached out sometimes before we did.

And that brings the confusion. How could they, people who have welcomed us, reached out to us, been kind to us (and still are) vote for someone so obviously standing for hatred of us? It’s a question that so far has only been answered with excuses.

We have learned to push politics aside, as best as we can, but it’s hard to push aside something that is suddenly affecting you so personally. It’s important, that just as you respect their position on certain things, you don’t let anyone disregard yours. It’s important to stand up, here and now, to refuse to give in to the intimidation, to defy fear and reject secrecy. It’s important to speak up for the right things and do your best to right the wrong things. It’s important to keep friends and make connections.

And I feel it is most important of all to be the change you want to see, instead of peeling away my identity and waiting for someone else to do it for me while I wait in the shadows.

Owning the Sidewalk

We were hanging up the clothes. It was after Maghrib, and the three kittens crowded around my younger brother’s feet and mine as we pinned and spread the clothes. We were talking about going out when he suddenly said-

“When I walk on the sidewalk or whatever, and there are people walking too, I go to the side and get out of their way. But I always see you just walking right past.”

“What do you mean?” (I have to admit I laughed a little.)

“Like this.”

He turned around and walked confidently away from the clothes lines. I laughed again- he was obviously exaggerating my movements just for fun, because he’s like that, but I could see what he meant. I gave them the room they needed and no more.

“Well, I mean, as long as both of us get past fine. The sidewalk’s everybody’s.”

“Yeah, I know……”

“As long as you give them enough room to be polite and all that,” I went on, shrugging.

“I know,” he agreed.

“Why would you get out of the way like that then?” I asked curiously.

“I don’t know,” he answered, grinning.”I just do it.”

I have to admit I never noticed myself blazing by, nor him getting out of the way. I guess you learn something new every day, and this time it was pretty basic.

I own the sidewalk.

 

Stealing Candy

“Guys, don’t mention it, okay?”

I’m smuggling a bag of Reese’s peanut butter cups back to my room, hidden under a towel. As soon as they’re hidden I sit innocently down at my desk, trying to look like a person who would never steal a bag of Reese’s, under any circumstances.

I’m not on an enforced diet. I’m not a cruel older sister, torturing my younger siblings by stealing their treats. No, I’m an over-indulgent aunt, and am trying to smuggle some of my purchases back to my room out of sight of my three- year-old niece Yasmin.

She’s too sharp, however, and a moment later a shrill cry rises from the living room.

“THEY’RE GONE! WHO STOLED THEM! SOMEBOLLY STOLED THEM!!!”

I sit tight and wonder how on earth I am reduced to smuggling my own sweets through the house to my room- as I’m sure you who are reading this do also.

This morning, we took her shopping. She was brushed up and ready to go- but before she leaves she has to have her Bath and Body Works ‘otion’ all over- her hair included. Her dress must obviously be the one she likes best, and we are fortunate that it’s not something silly like a party dress. Her earrings, of course, and now that she’s ready to go she has misplaced her shoes. By the time we get her in the car she’s exhausted, and falls asleep.

Which may not be a good thing. When we reach the store she is awake and bouncing.

“Let’s buy this! We need some sour ones, Juwayliyah!!”

So the sour ones go into the cart.

“And we should get some for everybolly too!”

So the infamous Reese’s go into the cart- although  I have to confess my intentions are far less altruistic than hers are, and I intend to eat them myself.

She also purchases a little blue nightie with pink Hello Kitty dotted all over it. It was on sale. She is fine after that- until we get into the toy section. Then, because I am not going to spend any more money- but also don’t want to fall out of her good graces- I abandon her to her father and listen innocently from the next aisle.

“But Baba, I need this one! And her clothes……..here are her clothes!”

I hear my brother try to offer her something, then Yasmin says decidedly-

“No.”

Well so much for that, Dad.

When I see her next, she’s clutching a big basket of toy food under her arm, but still racing around pointing out the best of this and that. Other shoppers watch with a smile- she’s red-headed and adorable and clearly in charge of her father.

She also manages to coerce me into buying a big bag of tortilla chips and dip. I furtively count my babysitting money and agree- just to keep her hyperactivity confined to the cart. (I told her to hold them so they wouldn’t get crushed.)

When we got home, she sequestered all of these things onto her little table and started playing with them- including the Reese’s intended for me;I sit forlornly contemplating the consequences of taking them away- and then she ran into the kitchen and started asking someone for water.

I saw my opportunity. I snuck past the kitchen door, snatched the bag of peanut butter cups, and fled.

“SOMEBOLLY STOLED THEM……………….”

P.S: She forgot in approximately three minutes.

P.S.S: I feel kind of sorry for her future husband. Only kind of, of course.

Bright Lights

The female companions of the Prophet.

They were brave women. We have their stories- they were intelligent, adventurous, beautiful, daring, learned, mothers and sisters and daughters, women. They questioned, decided,debated. We have stories of their arguments, their kindnesses, their marital problems, the proof of their existence and humanity. They were the women around the Prophet during his life.

They were the Sahabiyat.

It’s so easy for us to forget them now. We remember once in a while to drag out some bit to defend ourselves- Khadijah was a businesswoman! Nusaybah went to the Prophet to ask for more Qura’nic verses on women! They weren’t nonentities! No, they weren’t. They influenced the history of Islam.

I can’t remember how many times I curled up with a book about the Sahabiyyat, devouring the words and actions of women I could relate to. There was my namesake, who was famous for her beauty and has been written down as a deeply pious woman. There was my closest sister’s namesake, the courageous woman who stayed to defend the Messenger during a battle when men were fleeing. She lost her hand. There was my baby sister’s namesake, a girl who helped Prophet Muhammad and her father to make their way to Medinah, tearing her sash to bring food to them. She faced the chief of the Quraish when he demanded to know where her father was; her self-possession upset him so much he slapped her in the face. She was fourteen.

They were mothers and daughters, but not only that. They were warriors in their own right. They were the true trailblazers for the rest of us, the first women to follow the message that Allah sent to  Muhammad (Allah’s peace and blessing upon him.) They were there, the beginners, but somehow they’re not good enough for us anymore.

We act as though we can’t relate to them. They celebrated, fell in love, wore jewelry and nice clothes, had their struggles like the rest of us. Sometimes their names aren’t known anymore, but there are stories from teenagers, younger girls, and women. They narrated hadith (yes, it’s not a male dominated field, check your facts) Aisha and Umm Salamah and Umm Habibah, often the narrations most pertinent to us as women. Some of the story won’t be much like ours, some of it not at all, but read it anyway. Their words were brought this far, so read them. You owe it to them. You owe to yourself.

Bring them into your dialogue. You won’t regret it.

Sameness Of Days

I have to say it annoys me when people get too personal with their poetry. Perhaps unreasonably, it feels almost as if they’re forcing the burden of their emotion on you, like that person who you meet once and they tell you every tragedy in their life. It becomes, for me, unrelatable- but that isn’t the entire point, is it?? Just one of my pet peeves. Which is why I don’t like posting poems that are too personal to me.(I guess I’m very private, and if I start complaining it means I’m really really worked up. No one in family knows or ever knew that at one point in time I was suicidally depressive, and that’s how confiding I am.) There is something very freeing about anonymity. This is about depression.

Sameness Of Days

into another and
into another and
into another and
into…….
sameness of days
grimy grey bright hot
whimpering medley
sameness of days and
into another…..
sameness of work and
sameness of leisure
words swim before my eyes
under fingers
no pleasure
and into another and
into-
waiting for someone
white hot rose
to break the momentum
of unfelt blows
and into another and
into another and
into……..

Calling Home

on the back stoop

bright hot sunshine warms my head

golden breeze whips my skirt

I sit dreaming

Dreams of a hotter place than this

Brighter.

In my head, all the way across the sea-

stuccoed houses, brighter skies,

dark haired children, darker eyes.

I squint

At blue and clouded sky . I see another sky-

Darker. Stars are out- adornments of the heavens, bright

Pinpricks on an indigo sky.

The adhan echoes through the night

Silver as the stars-

My heart sings-

Over lands, across the sea,

Call to the faithful, calling me,

Home, they say

Is where your heart is.

I find my heart in Yemen.

stuccoed houses ,brighter skies,

dark haired children, darker eyes.

Brighter, and yet darker. I sit quiet, try to see-

Yemen’s stars are calling me.