My Sweet Girl,

I woke up yesterday not sure if I wanted to go to the Women’s March or not. It wasn’t that I didn’t support the movement and the different women who were making a commitment to go. I think it might have just been complacency, you know? Just the apathy that so overwhelms me as a privileged person--that gives me the luxury to think I can stay home. The only reason I wanted to go in the beginning, I’ll be honest, sweet pea, was for you. I thought, how could I ever face my daughter if she read about the women’s march in a history book and when she asked me what I was doing then all I could say was, “well, it was a Saturday, and I had stuff to do.” I didn’t have stuff to do, though. So, I went, all the while reminding myself that this was me fulfilling that tradition of the messenger, alayhi alsalatu walsalam, to speak truth to power, that I was fulfilling the requirement of a higher level of faith he was talking about when he said

من رأى منكم منكرا فليغيره بيده ، فإن لم يستطع فبلسانه ، فإن لم يستطع فبقلبه ، وذلك أضعف الإيمان 

 This wasn’t even a high level of faith; I was really being pretty basic in my standing up to injustice. I was challenging injustice with my voice, but I’m thinking now, as I write this to you, that my heart doesn’t even truly hate this injustice, if I did, I wouldn’t have had to question whether or not I wanted to go. Apathy is killing me, my darling, and I am not quite sure what to do about that. the other day, when the young women I lead a halaqa for asked me what they could do about the apathy in their own hearts, I didn’t know what to tell them.

I don’t know what to do about the apathy in my own heart. Are you going through this or are you too young still? I want my heart to break, my love, but I have felt nothing like heart break in so long. These odd waves of sadness overcome me once every month, every two months, but they aren’t heart break. No, heart break, and a true violent explosion of emotions that shake me to my core and make me feel human again—I haven’t felt that since jiddo passed away. At least, that’s what I can remember. And that was a little over two years ago.

One of the scholars says that a heart that is incapable of feeling sadness is like an abandoned home. I cannot feel my heart, and I want to cry at the loss of it.  

I remember reading a sign at the march that said “the price of apathy is to be ruled by evil men.” It is slightly altered version of something that the philosopher Plato said and it is very true.

I think it is my apathy that has kept me from sending out the essays I have written about trump and islamophobia and all of these emotions and things I don’t like to talk about. I’m not quite sure why, since white women talk about these issues all the time—and I think I have a little more to talk about. But I don’t know, if it’s me being disillusioned or if it’s me being apathetic—that I don’t have the strength of emotion that they do. I remember the day after he won, I went to class, and all of my colleagues were upset, I mean some of them had bags under their eyes and they were telling me about how they were crying when they were watching the news on the night he won. I went to sleep when they were still counting the votes, I didn’t even think twice about the fact that he might win. I didn’t think America would be that honest with itself, or that stupid. I was a mixture of emotions—I was both so aware of the wretchedness that is the heart of America, and the systematic injustice against people of color, and against our people in other parts of the world. But I figured Americans would just vote to keep the status quo, would just vote for Hillary. The status quo with another x chromosome. But that was a fail. And when they told me they were crying, I didn’t really know how to react. I felt bad, and I felt a part of their shock. And I felt a little scared too, because it was a fact now, that many more people in my country hated me than I was willing to believe. I knew the majority hated a lot of us, that the majority were ignorant, that the majority had a specific idea of what a “good” Muslim was; I knew the majority subscribed to the “War on Terror”. But I didn’t think this many people hated even the idea of me.

I wonder if this is the same America that you know. I wonder where we live, if you live here, or if you just came here to study—if America has just gotten worse, if you’re not even allowed in here. I don’t know. But, let me tell you about the women’s march yesterday.

Donald trump was inaugurated on the 20th, and yesterday, the 21st, there were over 67 marches worldwide protesting hiss inauguration and a whole host of other issues. According to estimates, there were over 2 million people protesting across the united states.

It was the largest march in American history—if you consider the numbers in all of the major cities that held marches. I went alone, because I had only decided last minute that I was going, I didn’t have a sign or anything made. (here is suggestion number one for truly living the moment, sweetie, decide early, and surround yourself with people to get excited with.) I went to a sister march in New York—if you were born, we would have totally made this a family affair and gone together to DC. I saw maybe three identifiably Muslim women, and many other women of color, but the majority I paid attention to were young and white. I don’t know if this is just a function of the group I had caught up with, or that many women of color were working at the time I went or that I am remembering incorrectly.

Everyone was smiling at me, very sincerely and very kindly, but I felt strange. I felt like they were smiling at me because I was wearing a hijab, because I was their token Muslim, their token woman of color, their “hey I was nice to a Muslim today” story. I swear, my dear, I do not doubt their hearts, but I was never smiled at so many times in the streets that I felt a little out of place, a little confused, and a little disheartened. I felt like they were smiling at the idea of me, and not me. that if my Muslimness posed a threat to their privilege they wouldn’t smile. That if they knew I was an Islamist they wouldn’t smile, that if they knew I wanted the capitalist system to deteriorate, they wouldn’t smile, that if they knew I was not “with her” they wouldn’t smile, that if they knew I did not subscribe to the “war on terror”, they wouldn’t smile, that if they knew how I felt about Palestine and Israel they wouldn’t smile. I felt they were all Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony—feminists until they withdrew their support of the black cause to secure the white woman’s vote.

Hasaythum ma bihibuni la-thati, bas bihibu fikrit inhum mutaqadimeen wu munfatiheen.

Darling girl, I don’t want to be a receptacle for smiles and a way for people to pat themselves on the back for being open and liberal and whatever they think they are.

I’m not that. I’m not a “good” “moderate” Muslim—whatever the hell that means. I’m not okay with the status quo, and I never was “with her.”

Hillary Clinton tweeted a thank you to the marchers yesterday. I cannot tell you how much that annoyed me. the women who founded the march were not all supporters of Hillary Clinton. And yet, she thanked us, as if we—as if I, marched in support of her. as if my feminism necessarily included support of her. Even if she is a qualified candidate, it does not. Because I’m not okay with her or with a lot of what she represents.

I heard three chants yesterday:

My body my choice! /Her body her choice!

Show me what democracy looks like! /This is what democracy looks like!

We are the popular vote!

I heard a few protestors shouting “black lives matter” for a total of thirty seconds. I heard one woman and her two friends on the side of a road chanting something about Muslims. that was it. there was nothing about our Hispanic brothers and sisters, nothing that fueled anything but rainbows inside of me.

There were no arrests or any real police interference at these marches. That should make me feel good. But I know America, my love, and I know the arrests and the tear gas and the injustice that the marchers faced in black lives matter protests or those protests that our indigenous brothers and sisters faced as they were protesting the building of the Dakota access pipeline on their sacred lands. I know that if the majority of these protestors weren’t white women, protesting probably mostly because the now president is so overtly a misogynist... that there would have been arrests and there would have been problems and there would have been less pink and less smiles, and less support all around for the likes of us, and those far less privileged than we are.

But these are things I say to seem aware and “woke,” these aren’t things that even trouble my heart seriously. thinking about all of this isn’t even something that I do anymore. I cannot even feel anger properly. I can’t feel anything besides temporary pleasure.

I am all apathy. I am apathetic and disillusioned and privileged and I don’t know what to do about it, my dear.

This is the deep and dark underbelly of the American dream.

This apathy is what it survives on, this apathy and blindness is what fuels it, and what brings people like trump into power, and keeps other dictators in it.

Fight that apathy, sweetie, stay above it, and if you are drowning in it, like I am now, pray. Pray really hard, and surround yourself with people who hate injustice and who see it for what it is and who are not afraid to fight it.

I love you,
January 22, 2017





Grief |al- huzn الحُزْنُ
eep sorrow, especially that caused by someone's death.

الحُزْنُ والحَزَنُ: نقيضُ الفرَح، وهو خلافُ السُّرور.

وعامُ الحُزْنِ العامُ الذي ماتت فيه خديجةُ، رضي الله عنها، وأَبو طالب فسمّاه رسول الله، صلى الله عليه وسلم، عامَ الحُزْنِ؛حكى ذلك ثعلب عن ابن الأَعرابي، قال: وماتا قَبْل الهِجرة بثلاث سنين. الليث: للعرب في الحُزْن لغتانِ، إذا فَتَحُوا ثَقَّلوا، وإذا ضَمُّوا خَفَّفوا؛ يقال: أَصابَه حَزَنٌ شديد وحُزْنٌ شديد؛ أَبو عمرو: إذا جاء الحزَن منصوباً فتَحوه، وإذا جاء مرفوعاً أَو مكسوراً ضموا الحاء كقول الله عز وجل: وابْيَضَّتْ عَيْناهُ من الحُزْنِ؛ أَي أَنه في موضع خفض، وقال في موضع آخر: تَفِيضُ من الدَّمْعِ حَزَناً؛ أَي أَنه في موضع نصب.

“I will never stop grieving Bailey because I will never stop loving her.” -Jandy Nelson, The Sky is Everywhere
See also: Love/hubb حب

Funeral Homes بيوت العزا 

لبيوت العزاء رائحة مميزة
رائحة ممزوجة من رائحة القهوة السادة والهيل والعود وشيء من رائحة الجنة

في بيوت العزاء نشعر بالحزن في فناجيننا
نقدمه للضيوف ونراه يتلالا في سواد اعينها
تسع كل احزاننا فيها ولا تسع في جدران البيت الكبير
تبهت كل الوان السجاجيد
وتعتم كل الغرف
وتبدا الجدران بالتقشر**

**Funeral homes have distinct smells. They smell like the bitter mixture of ground cardamom and roasted coffee beans, boiled in water and set so the grounded spices and coffee could settle before being served. Jiddo’s funeral was the second home I had been to where the deceased was actually somehow related to me. Somehow the grief of the family fit into the small cups, but was too big for the house. Somehow the small cups withstood the pain, but the carpets greyed, the walls peeled, the circuits were shorted. Funeral homes felt like the pain in my lower back from bending to offer the hundreds of guests dates from the heavy crystal dishes my aunt set aside for us. Funeral homes smelled like ground coffee and tasted like dates.


Mamma, your teta, was upset when I told her I would call this letter byut al-'azza—she thinks I’m being too depressing. But byut al-‘aza stopped being “depressing” for me when her grandfather died. They started feeling like home and the last thing I had left of him.

This Wednesday, the 26th of October, marks the two year anniversary of jiddo, your great grandfather’s, death. 

Jiddo used to sleep every night at 10:30, with two exceptions: the first day we arrive from the States or the last day before we have to go back. We had been in back in the states for two months, and your grandmother had spent the entire month of October worried--with this overwhelming feeling that she had to go back. Maybe the things destined for us, because they exist in ālam al-ghayb and outside of the realm of time, are always pulling on us as we continue living, so that the closer we get in time, the stronger that pull becomes. And maybe the homeland is always calling her children from the diaspora.

Some hours after jiddo went in to his bedroom, he was woken up by loud screaming and the screeching of tires and a car and house being set on fire. He went outside, despite protests from the son that lived with them and teta, your great grandmother, and the expected how could you go outside in your pajamas? This was a man who only rarely got angry, but who could not sleep through an opportunity to help. Two of his nephews, he discovered, were in a fight with one of the neighbors and his son. 

Jiddo walked out, without his cane, without his shmagh or his ‘abaah, onto the street lit only by one lamp. His nephew did not see him, and as he sped down the hill, he hit jiddo. He flew into a pole. It was death on impact. 

My darling girl, every ibtila’ after this one was negligible. I knew it would be like this. When khalto Sakha’, your grandmother’s sister, told us, she did it in pieces. She told me he was sick first. Then that he went into a coma. I remember it so vividly. I was on the floor mattress in my bedroom, and I was reading her messages, and I put the phone down, and I begged God to not test me with his death. God, I told him, I know he has to die eventually, just not now. Please don’t do this now. Please don’t test me like this. Not now. And then she told me to tell my mother to call her. He was “in a coma” for an hour before my aunt told us, in a message that seemed to hold all the finality in existence, “Lulu, your grandfather is in the gardens of eternity. And to God we belong and to Him we return.”

We came like guests to my grandparent’s home, aboard the first flight available from JFK, we arrived at the end of the first day people were coming to give their condolences. 

When he wasn’t there to greet us, but other women in long and dark colored jalabīb were, I knew the house was transformed from beit il-eilih to beit ‘aza. It used to be the family house, but now, it was just a home of the deceased. Still, it was a home. A home that would come to hold the grief of our broken hearts. My darling girl, it was the moment that this house transformed into a beit ‘azza that I came to feel at home in homes where people were being mourned and others were coming to offer their condolences. And it was the moment that I felt might be captioned with that unspoken but certain condition of living in the mahjar:

            "لما تعيشوا في الغربة لازم تتقبلوا فكرة انه ممكن يموتوا وانتو مو هون"

But that at least meant you had some valid grief—even if it meant you signed away your right to mourn properly or say goodbye to the deceased before they buried him because well, we can’t delay. But we can’t delay sounds too much like your grief is less important for me to hear it any other way.

I don’t know yet, sweetie, where I’ve brought you up, and I don’t know where we all live, whether it’s with our family, or if everyone is on their own, and I don’t know how lonely you may feel, or if, even if we live together, you sometimes feel like you live in some sort of diaspora or that your claim to loving someone or something you don’t live with is challenged or tested. 

When I got ready to leave to the airport with her, mamma asked me why I was going. Her question made me feel like I was on borrowed grief. It reminded me of every time I told her I wanted to move to Jordan and she said “You’ll get tired of it, you’ve lived your whole life here, you couldn’t possibly.”  I felt like my mother was doing to me what everyone else there did to her. 

Here is unspoken but certain condition of living in the diaspora #2: to everyone else back home, you are simply less—less attached, less genuine, less true to your roots, less loving, less bereft, with less right to mourn. Because even when we arrived, after all the people left our house around 11, and before they came the next day at 9am, and after they left again at 11—throughout that entire week I was there, everyone made me feel like my grief was borrowed and that it was second to their own, to the grief of someone who lives in Jordan, someone who has not moved away. 

My sweet girl, in those days grief felt like a competition I was bound to lose.

They all told stories, about what happened when they first heard, how they reacted, how happy and peaceful he looked, they all posted these super sentimental Facebook elegies (and I was the writer), started thinking of different ways for his children (not grandchildren) to give charity on his behalf (passing out meat, money, books, paying for water pumps, etc.). They were all very expressive. I said nothing, because my story felt irrelevant. My aunt told the story of how my cousin found out—over and over again, and every time it felt like everyone who listened was nodding away my right to grieve. I cried, and I sobbed, and I heaved, but mostly I acted like I always did. So it felt like they only saw the lack of expression, and the ordinary smiles and laughs, and I heard in it all she’s only his granddaughter, and she doesn’t even live here.

I could not begin to heal. My grief felt so unearned and unworthy—so second to everyone else’s. I was not unused to this feeling, but I’m only making the connection now as I rewrite this letter for the third time to you, and after some distance. When jiddo died, I had just gotten out of a marriage I had spent two years in where I constantly felt like my emotions were second to his, that he probably had it worse and telling myself to see it from his point of view, that he was depressed and there is nothing wrong with you, suck it up. In retrospect, I think a lot of my feelings about how much less valid my grief was had to do with this. 

So I stayed quiet and I grieved politely, as I expected I could without bothering anyone else, without making them feel like I wanted to win the competition, that I was doing anything but respecting the pain I must gracefully admit is more than my own. When I returned in April without my mother, and everyone’s pain had eased into a daily sort of mourning I could not upset with my own, I cried every night. For three weeks, when everyone slept, I blew my nose into napkins, wiped tears on the sleeves of the black hoodie I wore to bed, sat on his bed and talked to his pillow, and memorized the tiles on the bathroom wall through red and stuffy eyes. 

I am writing this letter to you, my dear, because I want you to know that Grief is never a competition. Just because someone has it “worse,” that doesn’t mean that you’re okay, and you don’t have to be. And just because you may live away from the people that you love, it doesn’t mean that you love them any less, or that you would grieve at their passing any less. And just because we grieve in these different ways, and in different times, none of our grief is invalid or less

My love, this is not a letter where I tell you never to move or visit new places because someone very close to you might die and you may never see her again. This is a letter where I tell you that everyone will grieve differently—and some of us without knowing that we grieve. And to tell you that when we break—the cracks along which we separate and shatter are different for each of us. 

We may never be unbroken. But I will be with you when you break, and when you begin to heal, and ya rabb too when we’re in that place where we can’t ever break or fear or grieve again.

I love you, 
October 22nd 2016