on representation ~

when I turn on the tv, I want to see muslims who look like:

our mothers
draped in saris / shalwar kameez
speaking in punjabi / urdu / bengali / pashto / gujrati / hindi 
with a briskness that is sweet and firm all at once. 

our mothers
wearing the latest bold&bright fabric wrapped around their hips
speaking in hausa / swahili / arabic
blending melodies of cultures and heritages
that were supposed to be wiped away.

our mothers
wrapped in abayas-
all black, or all blue, or hand embroidered in palestine-
speaking arabic or arabic or arabic:
none of it sounding remotely similar
as they answer back with feigned looks of humor.

our mothers
hair tied back, spitting out spanish,
because she grew up in el barrio
so learning the gringo’s language wasn’t a necessity,
sitting in front of the camera(wo)man,
and speaking and speaking and speaking
even the translator can’t keep up.

our mothers
singing in the farsi of struggle and revolution
in a language of kingdoms and civilizations
that existed long before this country.

our mothers
in their fro(s) or braids or locs or hijabs
speaking in a language they have to conform,
developing intonations & sounds
to talk about their experiences and lives,
looking at the pale anchors to say:
‘I was here long before you.
My religion was here long before you.
So what now?’

our mothers —
our homelands, our places of birth, our reasons for being.

but some want us to look at them and say:
“no, mama, you’re a stereotype.
you speak too loud, too strong, too much.
we can’t have you up there representing ‘us.'”

so we drape ourselves
in american flags
pin our lapels
find the suit that fits
and practice so the language leaving our mouths is
so foreign
so academic
so polished —
that explaining our struggles seems alien.

while our mothers,
who have looked into the face(s) of white supremacy &
watch us and cringe.

a moment of power: ‘desis’ act for ICE detainees

On Thursday, DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving held an action in front of Hillary Clinton’s campaign headquarters in Brooklyn. They demanded that the 2016 presidential candidates make detainees in ICE detention centers a priority.

“Migrants came seeking safety in the U.S. but instead find themselves locked behind bars,” said Fahd Ahmed, executive director of DRUM.


“We are here to support our brothers,” said Aminul Islam, a former El Paso Detention Center detainee whose words were translated into English by a DRUM organizer. “We came outside this office because the people running for election say they will do something in the distant future for immigrants and refugees. But the crisis exists now. We want to know your position on these hunger strikes and conditions.”

Ahmed explained that the reason for choosing Clinton’s campaign headquarters was out of convenience. It is the only headquarter for a Democratic candidate that is in New York City. He also was not hesitant to point out that many of the men are “escaping war, repression and economic deprivation caused as a result of our government’s military, foreign and economic policies.”

Read the rest of my piece at The Islamic MonthlyA Moment of Power: ‘Desis’ Act for ICE Detainees

flying south

“We’re flying south now. We’re flying south.”

Their curiosity never ends, does it?

“We’re flying south,” he says for the fifth time, excited, like a little child learning something for the first time and wanting to share it with the world.

He turns his body away from the small window and towards his wife.

“I heard you, but I’m trying to read right now,” she firmly replies. She clutches the airplane magazine in her wrinkled hands.

what. a. bitch.

the woman sitting next to me raises her eyebrows. scoffs a little to make sure I saw her disdain. but not enough to translate it across the aisle towards the aging couple.

But was she? You know, being a bitch?

She’s instantly aware of her tone. You could hear it in the lingering silence after her words, see it in the tense grasp on her magazine. Her eyes linger on the page, but you could tell she was no longer interested in reading.

Because that was life for her, wasn’t it? Constantly being aware of everyone else. Knowing what people were thinking. When they were thinking. Wondering: why did they think that?

He sits back in his seat and looks out the window.

A few minutes later, he has discovered something else he feels the urgent need to wonder about, to share, to watch as his thoughts fill the silent gaps in the air.

He runs his wrinkled hands in his stark white hair and shakes it. White dandruff falls from his head and onto his pants.

“Is it from my hair? But how could it get all the way over there?” he says, touching the white lint on her black pants.

She doesn’t worry about where the lint came from. Just that it was there. She uses her palms to wipe it off from her thighs as best as she could. He continues to ruffle his hair and watch the dandruff fall.

Because that was life for him, wasn’t it? Unhindered curiosity from childhood as his mother, sister, wife collected, organized, smoothed out all the baggage and the bumps.

“Close your food tray,” she says as the pilot announces the plane’s descent.

“Wasn’t that a smooth landing?” he asks just as the plane hits the ground.
“Yes,” she replies as she reaches down to take their bags.


to those telling us to mitigate our tears | anger | pain | responses —

because drones
because US foreign policy
because Pakistani government
because Pakistani army
because media

we’re telling you:
because children

when we have spent years trying to make you understand U.S. foreign policy – to look at drone attacks – to sympathize with the children, women, and men being murdered by the US government in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Somalia, and now Syria – to notice the Pakistani government’s complicity in drone strikes and the “War on Terror” – to notice the relationship between what happens in this country and what we do to other countries – to simply see. our. pain.

we were told those places are no longer our “homes” – right here is where we should place our concern – not on Gaza – not on Pakistan – not on “foreign” nations – stop sending your money “there” – to not link what happens “here” and “there” because we’re co-opting struggles – to. be. numb.

so now I’m requesting you to stop. co-opting.
our. pain.
our. children.
our. foreign. nation.
our. lives.

to teach us a lesson.
we are not your case-study.
for Pakistan.
for Islam.
for foreign policy.
for war.
for political struggle.

we are angry. we are in pain. we just lost another batch of <our> children | <our> teachers | <our> parents.

we are not suddenly in need of your [academic | political | Islamic | fair-minded | neutral] insights.

you come from a place where the mundane is holy…

You come from a place where the mundane is holy.

When you were young and you entered your home, your nani would excitedly sing, “mein bismillah karaan, laakh vari karaan, hazaar vari karaan.” Invoking the Lord’s name to celebrate your entrance and her excitement. Invoking His name, she exclaims, a thousand and a hundred-thousand times.

Entering anyone’s home, let alone their rooms, required that you place your right foot in first. It’s a sign of respect, you were told. Always place the right foot in front of the left, they said.

When you saw a shoe with its sole facing upward, you were told to flip it rightside-up. You always saw everyone else doing it, but took this opportunity to ask why. You were told that the bottom of the shoe is filthy and it isn’t becoming of filth to face upwards; upwards being the same direction that your hands faced as they cried out to their Lord. The act of flipping a shoe over became ingrained in you so that you did it unknowingly every time you saw a shoe’s sole facing the wrong direction.

The foot of your bed always faced southward. It was easier that way so you knew your feet didn’t face westward, towards the home of your Lord, when you were sleeping.

When a child tripped over his or her own foot, every woman stopped in her path and said, “bismillah.” You never understood why, but it became normal. So when a person tripped, you said “in God’s name” as if even falling had a holiness to it that needed to be acknowledged.

When your nani’s rosary beads slipped out of her hands and onto the floor, she would pick them up and bring them to her lips–to kiss them–in reverence. Each bead had passed through her fingers while she recited God’s names and blessings on His beloved. Those beads now deserved more reverence than the gold necklace that hung down from her aged shoulders.

The sanctifying of objects, spaces, directions and people was normalized. It was a way to live.

But then you moved to a place where the holy is restricted to certain times, places, and occasions.

You were told that the place where you come from doesn’t truly understand religion or scripture and must be left behind.

You believed them. How could you not? They are unencumbered by the pitfalls of the place you come from. You took in every word that they uttered, you sanctified them, but you built fortresses inside of yourself. You compartmentalized yourself so that one half of you doesn’t touch the other. You began to live in pieces, never as a whole.

You watched as a friend took an entire book of supplications and placed it on the carpeted floor in front of her. Your heart folded unto itself with discomfort. But your mind put you at ease and let you know that this isn’t the holy text. It’s just a text with a bits of sanctified words. And, slowly but surely, your heart became comfortable. You saw this repeated with different texts in different places by different people. And then the moment came when you saw someone placing the Qur’an on a low shelf; your heart looked out and shrugged.

One day, you move everything around in your room. The foot of your bed ends up facing eastward, towards the home of your Lord, and you realize that you are still not at that point. The direction towards your Lord’s home was still holy. You changed everything back.

Later, you found yourself leaving out your prayer rug on the floor of your room. When you went out, you came back to find it folded up and put on a shelf. You took it down for prayer and left it, once again, lying on the floor. You walked barefoot over it occasionally to get a book from your bookshelf or exit your room. Your parents explained that prayer rugs shouldn’t be left out or walked about all over. Their words fell on deaf ears. You knew that your feet were clean and the prayer rug was just a rug. So long as it was clean, it was fine.

Then came the day when you placed your own supplication book in front of you, on the ground. Because, after all, it wasn’t completely filled with holy text. Just partly.

Having built up the fortresses between your religion and parts of your identity, you travelled back, by yourself, to the place where you were from.

You looked out in dismay. Again, you heard the utterances of “in God’s name” as a child tripped; you saw the sanctifying of everyday objects and directions. Internally, you scoffed.

As you sat reading a book in the village where you were born, you came across an odd passage.

The passage told you that the Prophet and his companions were on a trip. The Prophet’s camel tripped and a companion yelled out, “Cursed is Satan.” The beloved of God looked to him and said, “Do not say, ‘Cursed is Satan,’ for if you say these words, Satan becomes arrogant and stronger and says, ‘With my strength, I made him fall.’ Instead say, ‘in the name of God,’ for if you say that, Satan will become small and weak as a fly.”

You read that passage over and over and over again. Once out of shame, another time out of longing, and, finally, out of submission.

This was the first time your internal fortresses shook, but it would be enough to break them down bit by bit. This was what you needed to begin reconnecting the different pieces of yourself to make yourself whole once again; to begin seeing the ordinary as holy; to begin to reconnect with the roots you sought to sever for so long.

You stem from a place where the mundane is holy and you hope to God that this small piece of you survives as you plant yourself in a place where even the holy is mundane.

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