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“Finding my Syrian-American Identity” by Hajar Abdul-Rahim

My father always said, “You don’t understand the price of freedom.” But I do know I understand the price of being robbed of my right to grow up around grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins. I know the price of growing up nation-less. The price of having no national identity. The cost of not knowing who I am or where I am from.

I am the daughter of a mother wanted for execution in Syria for simply owning a dream to think freely, and of a father who would not bow to the country’s criminal silence. They escaped in 1980, reunited in Jordan, moved to Iraq, United States, Canada, then once again back to the United States. They stamped each country with the birth of a child, clinging to their dream of returning to Syria. I was born in Montreal, Canada.

As a child, I was Syrian. But as a teenager, I was lost. In America, I wasn’t American. On my two visits to Syria, I wasn’t Syrian. I couldn’t own pride to a country that stripped my mother and father from the right to live or the right to return. I didn’t understand the fear, the silence, the poverty, or why my grandfather hung a two foot portrait of the President Hafez Assad right above his television. When my 13 year old cousin pointed his finger at me and accused his uncle, my father, for being too much of an arrogant doctor in America to even pay a small visit to his family in Syria, I opened my mouth to unleash my rage only to find my grandfather’s strong palm glue itself to my lips.

At 24, after I completed Graduate School, still without an identity or nationality to boast, I decided that I would embrace the identity of being an “American,” and accept my Syrian heritage as something that belonged to my parents, something of the past. I slowly erased that image from my memory.

After the revolution in Tunisia dominoed its way to Syria, and peaceful protestors were instantly captured, detained, and had their hearts foam out of their mouths, I didn’t understand why my mother and father were depriving themselves of sleep at night. I was offended that when I flew across the country to visit them over the holidays, they were not emotionally with me as we sipped our nightly tea. They were glued to their computer screen at home, signed into Skype, talking, arranging, organizing, doing anything and everything within their human power to help the people of Syria. They even traveled to Turkey and lived with 8,000 Syrian refugees in Antakya for one month as an in-house doctor and emotional supporter sleeping in their tents and using their overcrowded toilets.

For 10 months, I prayed for the dead, the detained, and the tortured. I followed the news for ten days then abandoned it for twenty. I wanted to put this past behind me. I wanted to convince myself that there was nothing more I could possibly do. But as the symphony of protestors grew louder and stronger, bouncing off high concrete walls, over a web of narrow ancient alleys every time a child was sniped, a woman beaten, and a man burned to death only after breaking his back and slicing off his fingers, my heart began to feel alive. I began to see a different purpose to this life. Was it simply to get an education, dine at fancy restaurants, travel, have children, and move into a large home while the blood of others gushed into rivers, or children die of starvation? Where were the Syrians finding the courage to persist? Where had their fear and silence gone? I no longer wanted to continue my perfectly played out movie, or worry about things that really didn’t matter.

My numbness to the image of tortured body after body after body for the past 10 months burst. I finally understood my parents’ overworking their mind, body, and heart. I understood how they went two days without feeding their stomachs because they had no time to stop. No interest.  They had no time to even grow hungry. My parents outran death, literally, when 40,000 others couldn’t.  For 26 years they told me and my siblings that this life was only a journey, and the purpose of that journey was to make it to heaven. “Never get too comfortable,” my father said. “Be the last to eat and the first to serve.” Just as my parents began to grow numb to the idea of ever returning to Syria, watching the last flicker of fire fade, a few boys in the village of Daraa relit the match. Continue reading

“The Domestic Crusaders” – A Mini movie by Bassam Tariq and Omar Mulluck

On 9-11-11, Filmmakers Bassam Tariq and Omar Mullick spent a day with the cast and crew of Wajahat Ali’s “The Domestic Crusaders” – a 2 Act play about an American Muslim family living in a post 9-11 world – as it returned to NYC for a special performance.

This 5 minute movie was filmed on 9-11-11 in NYC at the “Art of Justice: 9/11 Performance Project” at Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City.

For more information on “The Domestic Crusaders” please visit: http://www.domesticcrusaders.com

“The Domestic Crusaders” are….

Wajahat Ali: Playwright/Producer
Carla Blank: Director/Dramaturge
Ishmael Reed: Producer
Imran W. Sheikh: Assistant Director

Adeel Ahmed: Ghafur, The Youngest Son
Kamran Khan: Sal, The Eldest Son
Monisha Shiva: Fatima, The Daughter
Imran Javaid: Salman, The Father
Abbas Zaidi: Hakim, The Grandfather
Deepti Gupta: Khulsoom, The Mother

“Towards a dialogue on Muslim same-sex unions”: Dr. Junaid Bin Jahangir

Towards a dialogue on Muslim same-sex unions

Dr. Junaid Bin Jahangir

As in Christianity and Judaism, there has been a shift in the Islamic position on ‘homosexuality’. Archbishop Desmond Tutu has said that he would not worship a homophobic God. Likewise, Rabbi Harold Schulweis has stated that the counsel of celibacy is contrary to the Judaic affirmation of sexuality.

In Islam, US based Imam Suhaib Webb has expressed regret on his referral to a reparative therapy group and argues against the discrimination of gay congregants. Likewise, Sudan based Sheikh Hashim Al-Hakim has indicated that while, he used to be hard against homosexuals, he has ‘learned to respect their humanity’. US based Imam Johari Malik has said that ‘It’s time to get past our homophobia to help human beings’.

In contrast to traditional Muslim views, several church denominations and synagogues bless same-sex unions. However, Muslim discourse is not shaped by alternative voices in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Groups like Muslims for Progressive Values work towards supporting Muslim LGBTQ rights. However, in contrast to Judaism and Christianity, the discussion on same-sex unions in Islam is fairly recent.

  • Orientation

Traditional Muslims believe that any homosexual conduct is prohibited. Several Muslim medical professionals argue that homosexuality was declassified as a disorder due to pressure from gay activist groups. However, Rabbi Gershom Barnard indicates that medical opinion gradually evolved from hormonal treatment to psychoanalysis to behavioral conditioning to saying that there is no treatment to finally indicating that there is nothing to treat.

Professor Hashim Kamali of the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies in Malaysia has stated that both Islamic jurisprudence and science confirm that sexual orientation is inherent. Dr. Qazi Rahman from the University of London and co-author of the book ‘Born Gay: the Psychobiology of Sex Orientation’ also affirms the innateness of ‘homosexuality’.

According to Dr. Bassem Nathan, three medical opinions existed among medieval Arabs. According to one school of thought, ‘homosexuality results when the maternal sperm prevails over the paternal sperm’. Like Al Razi (d. 925 CE), the Nestorian Christian Hunain Ibn Ishaq (d. 873 CE) and the Melkite Christian Qusta Ibn Luqa (d. 912 CE) also subscribed to the view that ‘homosexuality’ was an inherent trait.  Continue reading

“THE WALK HOME” – A Short Story by Esther Reiser

The Walk Home

A Short Story by Esther Reiser

 

The bright sun juxtaposed the biting wind as Sultan made his way home from school. His body lumbered-not because he is a large boy- he is in fact very thin-but simply because he felt tired. Well, that’s the simplest way to describe it. He was imbued with a heaviness that moves up the body, manifesting itself mostly in the head. Indeed, Sultan found it hard to look up or even keep his eyes open.

I’m going to stop being 15 at one point. I’m going to grow up and get a high paying job. Women will love me. I’ll get one who will love me. I’ll stop being alone. He told himself. The guidance counsellor told him to repeat positive mantras to himself whenever he felt down. “They will provide you with a more positive outlook, make you feel better about yourself, and help you achieve everything!” his guidance counsellor enthusiastically told him. “When you’re really down..just force yourself to simile..you’ll feel better!…It will work…trust me!”

Today, it wasn’t. Sultan started the walk home with a forced smile, but decided this wasn’t the best plan when it caused a young girl to run behind her young mother. When the young mother saw the source of her daughter’s agitation, she paused. Terror flashed in her eyes before collecting her daughter and quickly walking off. He concluded that this demonic frown-turned-upside-down must have brought to mind an image of Genghis Khan sizing up a rape victim somewhere in her family history that was regularly told to scare her growing up. He decided to save the “smile your way to happiness” technique to when the park was vacant. Unfortunately, this experience further bruised Sultan conception of his sexual prowess. He feared this awkward shut in stage of his life would never end.

He inhaled and momentarily shut his eyes. Why born here? Why now? The way I’m looked at school? On the streets? Why not in some glorious past or some distant supernatural future? If they’re not scared of you, they just disregard you. It’s always the same….you’re either a threat or a disappointment. No one wants to listen to you..they just don’t care. No matter what you do..they just want to find a reason to hate you. At school..everywhere. I just wish I could go away..just leave this all. I just wish time could go by faster. Everyone says they understand and know what’s best..but they really have no idea…. His thoughts trailed off.

He heard a rustle in the trees beside the path. He was slightly curious as to what was causing the trussle, but didn’t have the energy to investigate it.

Sultan looked up. Today the trail seemed to go on forever. He was neither enjoying his walk nor eager to get home. He stuffed his hand in his pockets and trudged on into a murky and uncertain future.

 

                                                                                                                                                           

Deborah was breathless. The dry cold air stung her throat and diaphragm. Her pace had accelerated from a brisk walk to a jog to a run in the course of 30 minutes. Not that it bothered her-if she had the gumption and if her timing was right-the prize at the end would be worthwhile. She brushed away strands of her red hair that had stuck to her parted lips.

Only one thought circulated through her head: If I was a man-I’d probably be arrested. Dear God I have a problem. Yet any of these pre-cautionary thoughts were drowned out by the beating of her heart and her overpowering desire.

Struggling over fallen branches and thick tree roots, Deborah began to envy the smooth and pedestrian nature of the park’s paved paths that her rustic path paralleled. But the anonymity the tress present her with is required. Deborah knew full well being inconspicuous was not her strong suit. She made a mental note never to consider a career in espionage. It may look exciting, but in all likelihood she’ll probably end up being tortured to death.

She saw his black hair bobbing in the spaces between the trees. Deborah felt her heart pounding its way out of her rib cage. Her freckles were being absorbed by the flushing of her cheeks. She could feel her body rapidly shaking and breaking sweat in spite of the fact it was currently well below freezing.  She had caught up! Ok Ok…how to intercede..how to make it look spontaneous? Doubt clouded her mind, Am I going to even be able to do this? Honestly, I don’t think my heart will take it…Couching her fears she continued to follow undaunted. Deborah knew theses rustic para-trails since childhood. Continue reading