I was on a conference call one evening last week when my call waiting beeped at me. It took me a few seconds to recognize the number since I only see that area code a couple times a year. It was my dad. I let it go to voicemail.
I waited until the next day to check the message. His voice came amicably through the receiver and he chided me jokingly about turning 40 a few weeks earlier. My dad doesn’t celebrate birthdays, so I thought it was odd that he was calling me about it until I realized the real reason for his call: an annual religious celebration that is part of his church is coming up soon. He wanted to remind me about that.
I left my dad’s church for good in my early twenties, after a long struggle between the teachings I grew up with and my own personal beliefs that had gradually evolved from age, experience and study. My father’s church instructs that members should not associate with people who leave the faith, and that includes family. When I left, I did so with the knowledge that my dad would no longer be an active part of my life.
Having been through the process of losing the religion of my youth and choosing a new path (Islam), I firmly believe that there is no more fundamental or sacred right that each human being has than to explore their spirituality on their own terms. And yet, as I have experienced, it is often the people closest to us that want to control that sacred right and who feel justified in punishing us if our seeking leads us in a direction different from their own.
I am not always strong.
There are times that I experience steep slopes of sadness. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, the sorrow arrives as crude, impolite explosions.
I don’t have everything together, no matter what type of confidence seeps out of my writing. I spend most of my time struggling from paycheck-to-paycheck, too poor to actually date should anyone ever ask me out. I’m always in a suspended state of fear that this is all my life is going to be: a lonely existence with a salary that is barely livable. I feel like I’m stuck, and inertia is a type of sin in my world.
Sometimes, I feel like I should just give up and claim my rural White heritage. I will move to some small Southern town and live in a trailer park. Forget my complicated identity. Screw my vast life experience. I am nothing special.
There are days I feel like low hanging fruit.
I write this not because I want sympathy, but because I know everyone else feels powerless and hopeless at times. I need you to know that you are not alone.
We are thrilled that Love, Inshallah anthology contributor and Literary Momma columnist, Aisha Saeed, has announced her new book deal for the Young Adult novel, Written in the Stars. Read her celebratory thoughts on the matter here (and follow her on Twitter). Go, Aisha! This is the beginning of many wonderful things for you and we couldn’t be prouder!
The Ides of March
--(or how girl can write her way to a new life)
Last week, snow and ice kept me housebound for the third, and hopefully final time, this winter. This snowfall felt different than the previous ones. It arrived glutinous and sticky and carried a surreal sheen of pristine clean. It seemed that nature had saved the most beautiful display for the last seasonal flurry. I felt that it was sent just for me.
The ice weighed down trees until many limbs plummeted to the earth, as if set free from unspecified burdens. As temperatures rose throughout the day, a glorious soundscape ensued. Imagine a cacophony of dripping and flowing water, the hum of melting snow and cracking limbs, and birds already praising the spring weather that would arrive the next day. It was like a grand tick-tock of a celestial clock, all gears grinding in full glory to mark the end of the year’s darker half.
In less than twenty-four hours, the final winter snow would be in gallant retreat. Along with it would go the last remaining moments of my old self. I stood in my doorway and listened to nature’s majestic regulator. It is now time, I heard this voice say from somewhere deep, to finally let go of your old life.
Return of the Friend I had not expected love but it surprised, like the slip of arm around my waist I had expected chiding, but your eyes spoke only kindness, like your face Tulips by the road, the burst of red— I drew my breath as your bus rounded the bend Pink rose in lime green tissue, then your tread, and the slip of arm around my waist Years dissolve between us in this place, and I exhale. I had expected questions, quizzing, an exchange, a taxing gaze, not acceptance freely given, your embrace I had not expected love
~ From Mohja Kahf’s unpublished love poetry manuscript written in 1999.
Mohja Kahf is a Syrian-American poet and novelist. Her first collection of poetry, E-mails from Scheherazad, evokes the mixture of pride and shame involved in being an “other,” with characters balancing on the line between assimilating and maintaining the habits of a good Muslim. In addition to contemporary Muslim women, Mohja’s poetry also explores figures from Islamic history including Hagar, the wife of the prophet Abraham, Khadija and Aisha, wives of the Prophet Muhammad, and Fatima, daughter of the Prophet Muhammad. According to The New York Times, her writing on contemporary subjects “draws sharp, funny, earthy portraits of the fault line separating Muslim women from their Western counterparts.” Of the intersection of Islam and art, Mohja says: “One of the primary messages of the Qur’an is that people should recognize the beautiful and do what is beautiful. This is not simply a moral beauty but a visual and auditory beauty as well. Conduct should be beautiful, writing should be beautiful and speaking should be beautiful.”