If I Should Speak, page 17
Tamika heard the sound of something unzipping, and she realized Aminah was opening her bag in which she had packed her clothes for the weekend. A moment later, Aminah was closing the trunk, now holding a large navy blue dress in her hands.
“You can just slip it on in the bathroom,” Aminah told her, handing her the dress that appeared too big for Tamika.
“What’s this called again?”
“A lot of people call it an abayah.”
“Abayah?” Tamika repeated slowly.
Aminah nodded. “Yeah, you’ll hear it called that, like I just used, but most people call it a jilbaab.”
“But it’s not really a jilbaab though, because a jilbaab is really a one-piece outer garment that starts from your head and goes down to your feet covering your entire body.”
“Even your face?”
Aminah nodded. “Yeah, in general.” They were walking to the building now.
“Then why do they call it a jilbaab?” Tamika inquired more for conversation than genuine interest.
Aminah shrugged. “Custom, I guess. But I don’t like to, because jilbaab is mentioned in the Qur’an when God tells the women to wear it when they go out. So it’s not good to refer to something as a jilbaab if it’s not,” she went on, as if Tamika wanted to know. “Because that poses the danger of people misunderstanding the Qur’an, especially if they don’t know the original meaning of the word.” She shook her head, chuckling. “And you’re in for a war if you’re going to tell some people what it really means if they already think it means something else. But anyway, it’s not a jilbaab.”
In the bathroom, after putting on the abayah and a head covering that Aminah had given her, Tamika followed Aminah to the area in which the sermon would be held.
“You can sit here if you want,” Aminah told her, pointing to a few seats that were at the lobby doors, which were all glass except for the wooden trim, enabling Tamika to see what was happening inside. “You can hear everything from here, because they have intercoms in the lobby.”
“Thanks,” Tamika told her, sitting down, her attention now fixed on the crowd of Muslims. She did not know that they sat on the floor for the sermon. Tamika would never have imagined that. She also noticed that the women were sitting in the back while the men were sitting in the front.
The sudden sound through the speakers startled Tamika, but she listened, curious, waving mindlessly to Aminah who disappeared into the crowd after walking through the doors. The man’s voice continued for a few minutes then stopped. Tamika could not help wondering what he was saying, as she noticed men and women murmuring something after each pause in his words. Also, she noticed that throughout the mosque various men and women were praying individually, after which they would sit down with everyone else.
The crowd, Tamika could not get over that. Droves of people had come for the occasion. They were tightly packed in the large room, sitting so close to each other that each person almost touched the other. People continually moved forward, back or sideways, whichever direction was necessary, in order to accommodate the others who would arrive.
A woman passed and smiled at her, saying, “As-salaamu-’alaikum.”
Mortified that she had no idea how to respond, Tamika replied, “Hi,” immediately regretting the reply as the expression of the woman’s face changed from pleasure to puzzlement. But Tamika was grateful that the woman did not inquire further, because she was not prepared to explain who she was and why she was there.
“In-alhamdalillaah…” the strange words echoed through the lobby. Tamika then remembered why she had come. She opened her notebook, prepared to write down what she was seeing and hearing, although she had no idea of the latter.
She was grateful a few minutes later, when the man began to talk in English. She would not know what to report on if she did not understand what was being said. At first, her mind drifted, paying little attention to the speech, and her eyes inadvertently fell upon the glass door. She mindlessly studied its finger and handprints, and she noticed a small lip print. A child must have been pressing its small face against it. The glass needed cleaning, some vinegar would do it...
“...we look at the non-Muslims,” the words jumped out at her, throwing themselves into her ears.
Tamika’s heart raced, and she nervously pulled on her clothes, adjusting them, hoping no one knew.
“No, we can’t be like that,” the man said. Tamika’s ears perked and her mind raced in search of what he had said before that. “We don’t have a religion where we come once a week, looking and dressing like we love God, then stripping that identity the minute we walk out of here.”
“No!” the man stated emphatically, as if angry with the congregation. “That’s not what this religion is about. Allah has pulled us out of that and gave us sense. We’re not part-time Muslims, ID card Muslims, Muslims only when it’s convenient, or only when we have to be, when everyone else around us is and when it’s safe to say we are too. And then we turn around and go to work and school wearing a different face.
“No, brothers and sisters, it’s not like that,” he continued. “It’s not like that at all. We don’t believe we’re ‘saved,’ somehow guaranteed reward for nothing but a decision to say, ‘I believe.’ No, this statement comes with conditions. How can we be Muslims and sit around and look to this crazy world for direction in our lives? How can we have the only religion worth being affiliated with and we do this? We’re going to look to them for our answers?
“Some of you think that’s where the success lies, don’t you?” he taunted. “Some of you have probably said that the reason why Muslims are so behind the rest of the world is because we don’t have enough doctors, enough lawyers, enough scientists, enough whatever.” He paused. “So is that it? Is that it!” he challenged them, scolding like a strict parent. “Is that our problem? Do you think that’s what our problem is? Do you actually think that Muslims are being killed, murdered, raped, because we need more professionals? Do you!
“And some of you think that Muslims are so oppressed, so mistreated because we don’t have satisfactory numbers on election day!” He paused, and his breathing, like his emotion, echoed through the intercom. Tamika realized then that he was indeed a powerful speaker. “Some of you even go as far as to blame the problems of this ummah on this! Not enough Muslims showed up at the rally, eh? Not enough Muslims are voting, eh?
“Well, I’m here to tell you, no. No! No, that’s not it!” He paused. “Certainly, certainly, this is not the sum total of our problems. And even if every Muslim did whatever each of you thinks he should do, we’re still in a pitiful, pitiful situation.
“And if our problems were as you think, brothers and sisters, then the Prophet, sallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, and his companions would not have only been unable to be our examples, but they would have been the epitome of our failure! And we, we would have represented progress.
“‘Cause I’ll tell you right now that, yes, I know we need doctors, and I know we need engineers, and yes, I’m no fool, I know we need Muslim professionals.
“But I’ll tell you something. We don’t need Muslims in voting booths, we don’t need Muslims at rallies, and no, brothers and sisters, we don’t need one Muslim politician, not one Muslim politician!” He paused, calming, and the sound of pages ruffling filled the mosque.
“Some of you don’t want to hear that, eh?” his voice lowered. He chuckled. “Snatches away all your opinions, your goals, huh? Snatches away the foundation you’ve built for yourself? Well, isn’t that a shame? Isn’t that a shame? That you feel like you have nothing, nothing! Nothing, without getting a piece of that political pie!
“And no, I’m no fool, I know there’s benefit in these things, especially given our treatment in jobs and schools and how we’re portrayed on television. But certainly,
“You want proof, don’t you?” he taunted them. “How can this be? We need empowerment, you cry! We need a voice, you scream! We need our problems solved!
“Do we?” he whispered challengingly. “Do we?” his whisper grew louder. “You really want empowerment, you really want a voice, you really want your problems solved?” Still a whisper. “Then wake up!” he cried.
Even Tamika began to feel shamefully self-conscious at that moment.
“Wake up! Quit averting the blame from yourselves! Quit looking to the cause of your problems as the solution!”
No one said anything.
“No,” he clarified, “I’m not telling you to go sit at home and dhikr all day and everything will be okay. And no, I’m not saying shut yourself off from society. But certainly, certainly, no sensible person would believe that you can successfully remove ill from a society by becoming ill yourself! By becoming a part of the problem that needs to be solved!
“You have a direct message, written message and human example from the Lord, Creator of the heavens and earth, in your very hands, in your very reach, and you abandon it, throw it behind your backs, and turn to the world for guidance, and you think that we need more dunya to solve our problems!
“Do we need more brothers and sisters discarding their Islamic identity? Is that it? Do we need more of our brothers and sisters abandoning Islam to solve our problems? Reinterpreting the religion? Is that it? You know something Allah doesn’t know, do you? Do you!
“Well, you have another think coming. If you think that Allah revealed the Qur’an and sent His Messenger, sallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, to play games, to be a part of your lives only when what they say agrees with your opinion, then you’re not only ignorant, you’re duped. Duped, tricked, shackled! Shackled by the world! Slaves by choice! And you may as well stop fighting.” He lowered his voice. “‘Cause they already won. They already won. Because,” he whispered loudly, “because the game is over, the bug is trapped, entangled in a web he didn’t even see!” He paused. “Or that he refused to see.
“No, brothers and sisters, your answer is not there, not anywhere except in doing what Allah and His Messenger, sallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, said, and that’s it. That’s it!
“Sounds too simple, huh? Too easy?” he asked, his voice lowered again. “No, that can’t be it, you tell me. That’s simplifying the problem.
“Well, then if it’s so easy,” he raised his voice again, challenging. “If it’s so, so easy, why don’t you do it? Why don’t you do it! Stop prostituting your wives, your sisters, and your daughters—yourselves! Turn off the television and open the Qur’an! Go to the masjid shopping for your religion instead of Blockbuster shopping for movies! Turn off that silly music, that recitation of Shaytaan and turn on the Qur’an! Get the latest singer out of your lives and let the Prophet, sallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, in!”
He grew quiet, pausing to allow the enormity of his words to sink in.
“Not so easy anymore, eh? Not so simplistic, eh?” He chuckled, but that he was not happy was apparent. “Don’t wanna give up your desires, do you? Instead of changing your lives to fit Islam, you want to change Islam to fit your lives!
“Don’t want to give up your riba, so you make it halaal! Don’t want to give up your music, so you make it halaal!”
He grew silent, and the sound of his breathing filled the microphone.
“And you call yourself educated,” he said, voice lowered. “Educated! You have a million degrees behind your name! But not an ounce of Islamic knowledge! And what’s worse,” he told them, “what’s worse is you don’t care. You don’t care if you don’t know your religion. And those who pretend to care, you change the religion, and then follow your interpretations wholeheartedly.” He paused. “How convenient for you.” He laughed. “How convenient.
“Look to the Qur’an and Sunnah so it can give you guidance,” he suggested. “Not so you can give it guidance.” There was a long pause. “Don’t know what I mean, huh? Do you? Give it guidance? Huh?” he repeated, mocking what most of them must have been thinking. “How many of you have shed your clothes of jahiliyyah, of ignorance, and put on the garb of Islam! Not half of the garb, but all of it! How many of you truly look to Islam to bring a change in your life! Or do you look to Islam to change it to fit your life that’s full of desires?”
“How many of you fear Allah before you sign your name on a riba loan, a mortgage, a credit card! How many of you encourage your sons and daughters to marry? How many of you point to yourselves abandoning this religion as the cause of Muslims’ problems around the world! How many of you take your daughter, your son, and open up the books of the Companions, of the Prophet, sallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, and say, ‘You should be like that’! And not like that in theory, or symbolically, but in practice! How many of you have said from your mouths that we live in modern times, that the Islam of the past is no longer applicable! That we are somehow exempted from fighting oppression and defending our lands! How many of you have uttered this from your mouths! And then you turn around and say, ‘I follow the Qu’ran and Sunnah.’
“No,” he told them emphatically. “No. I’m here to tell you, no! If you want some progress, look to what your Lord has to offer, not the world! Not the television! All you have to be is a believer!
“Notice,” he was whispering, cautioning again. “I didn’t say a Muslim. I said a believer! A believer! Listen to the words of Allah! Will you argue with Allah! Your Lord says of the believers,” he told them, reciting something that Tamika did not understand.
He translated, “’The believers, men and women, are protectors of one another. They enjoin what is just, and forbid what is evil. They observe regular prayers, and obey Allah and His Messenger. On them will Allah pour His Mercy. For Allah is Exalted in power, Wise.’”
“Let me ask each and every one of you, and you can raise your hand in your heart, because Allah knows you better than you know yourselves. How many of you protect one another? How many of you know the Muslims in your city? How many of you care? How many of you rush to give charity, looking at the needy Muslims as a mercy, an opportunity to expiate sins, instead of as a burden? How many of you hate to see your Muslim sister on welfare?
“Not many,” he answered for them. “And I don’t even have to conduct one research. The answer is in the state of the community.” A pause. “How many of you command the good, forbid the evil, and obey Allah and His Messenger, sallaahu’alayhi wa sallam? How many of you can even accept when good is commanded, without criticizing your Muslim brother or sister, without shooting him or her down, saying look at him, look at her, who are they to judge? How many of you are like this, hate being told what’s right, hate being told of the evil in your lives? And how many more of you won’t even accept, won’t even admit what is good, what is evil! How many of you command the evil and forbid the good! How many of you hate to see a Muslim not hanging pictures, not listening to music, not intermingling with the opposite sex, not dressing like the world, not going into riba? How many of you! How many of you backbite them, talk about how they are confused, they are extreme? While you, you, the so called ‘balanced Muslim’ sit around eating riba, watching R-rated movies and sick television shows, and know more music than you know Qur’an! How many of you! If the Prophet, sallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, was alive today, which one of you would he think is extreme! Which one of you would be considered ‘balanced’?
“Wake up, O Muslims. Wake up! If you are like this, then you hate at least some of what Allah has revealed. And this, this is a characteristic of the hypocrites! The hypocrites!
“So then,” he asked, almost whispering, “who is your example?”
He paused again.
“Allah says,” he recited again then translated, “‘O you who believe! Obey Allah and His Messenger, and turn not away from
“So here is your success, O Muslims, if you want it! If you really want it! And no, this is not an allegorical or symbolic message. It’s real, real!
“But if you have ideas on how to help Islam, do it. So if you want to write a letter to the editor, if you want to attend a rally, go ahead. Go ahead! But don’t forget your Islamic duty! Don’t ever let these things, like rallies or voting, replace what you have an obligation to do in the first place! And that is to return to this religion and protect your brothers and sisters everywhere in the world. But the first step. The first step is implementing Islam in your own lives.”
After the Muslims prayed, the lobby was suddenly swarmed with Muslims, making it difficult for Tamika to move about. She sat where she was, and her neck and underarms warmed with perspiration from the body heat emitted by all of the people. Around her people talked and laughed. Some women stopped to shake her hand, hug her, and say, “As-salaamu-alaikum.” She was grateful that they did not wait for a reply. She had no idea what to say in response, although she had heard the greetings exchanged between her roommates each day. She felt awkward, out of place with each embrace, unfamiliar with such friendly contact between strangers. But she could not help but admire it, reflecting on how strong the bonds of sisterhood must be amongst these people.
As she had watched the women pray a few minutes before, she was almost mesmerized by their unity, how they stood shoulder-to-shoulder, foot-to-foot, as the men did. Women of all ages and races together, praying in one place to one God. It made Tamika sick with desire as she witnessed even children bowing humbly before God next to their parents and friends, and she longed to be a part of that power, that strength, that sisterhood. The sound of the congregation saying “Ameen,” recited in unison after the prayer leader’s recitation, melted her heart. Its song-like utterance incited in her a hunger to be amongst them. She had felt ashamed at that moment, sitting in the lobby, deep inside knowing she belonged with them, next to the other women, praying too. How could she have even thought to delay becoming Muslim?