If I Should Speak, page 18
But even then, even as she was inspired by the sermon, even as she admired their unity, even as she envied the powerful message, still, there were desires pulling at her. She wanted to be a singer. She wanted peace in her family. She wanted to keep her image, her friendships. She despised the idea of being a stranger, a sore thumb in a crowd. Although inside she knew there was nothing wrong with any of it, even being different, she was not particularly excited about covering her body and hair.
Tamika was now convinced that Aminah was right, that the earliest religious women did dress in that manner. But, no, not Tamika, she could not do it. How could she? How could she dress like that, when years before she had mocked it, had laughed at it, sitting with friends and family discussing how confused those women were to dress like that? Would that not make her a hypocrite? And what would her mother say? Her aunts? Her friends?
“There you are!” Aminah said, relieved, now standing in front of the chair where Tamika was still sitting. “I thought you were outside.”
Tamika forced a smile and shook her head, immediately reminded that she had to go to Aminah’s house. She hoped the time would pass quickly.
She nodded, “Yeah.”
“Sulayman’s already in the car.”
Inside, she groaned at the reminder.
Like a lost child, Tamika followed Aminah out the exit and into the parking lot, sometimes having to push through the crowd in order to oppose the force of the people upon her.
“Aminah,” a woman’s voice called as they walked swiftly to the car where Aminah’s brother was waiting.
Tamika turned and found a woman a few steps behind them, completely covered in a light gray…jilbaab? A small slit was barely opened enough for her eyes, just enough for the woman to see, and her hands were gloved. No part of her was exposed. The woman reminded Tamika of pictures of Arab women she had seen, the ones for whom she felt pity. She had assumed they were oppressed, cruel men having made them dress in that manner, men forced by their “oppressive” religion.
At that moment, Tamika realized her ignorance. She had never even heard a veiled woman speak, and she was unexpectedly surprised to hear the woman talking, and so casually—so content.
“Oh! As-salaamu-alaikum!” Aminah eagerly greeted the woman, turning to embrace her warmly. “I didn’t know you were coming!”
“Well, what can I say?” the woman said good-naturedly, chuckling. Tamika was still adjusting to the reality that there was actually a person—a personality—behind all of those clothes. “I needed some inspiration.”
There was a brief pause.
“And who is this?” the woman inquired politely, turning to Tamika. Tamika suddenly felt self-conscious.
“Tamika,” Aminah told her.
“Oh,” the woman’s voice said in pleasurable surprise, as if she had heard of Tamika.
Tamika felt uncomfortable, unsure where to look. She was accustomed to looking a person in the face, but the veil created a barrier between her and the woman. It was difficult for Tamika to relax and casually greet her.
“How do you like living with Aminah?” the woman asked.
Tamika forced a smile. So Aminah had discussed her with this person. “It’s pretty good,” she lied. She actually enjoyed living with Dee.
“Good, good,” the woman commented, her clothed head nodding. “I hope my daughter’s treating you well.”
Her daughter? She was Aminah’s mother?
“You’re coming to visit us, I hear.”
“Yes,” Tamika replied, eyes diverting, unsure where to let them fall.
“Well,” Aminah’s mother said finally, “I better go on. I don’t want to keep your father waiting.”
A few minutes later, Tamika was in the car again, suffocated and uncomfortable. But she could bear it, she told herself. The drive to Aminah’s could not be as a long as the drive from Streamsdale. But, still, she was likely to be counting the minutes, the time likely to drag, especially if she had to spend too long at the Ali residence.
The heavy rain fell against the firm glass of Tamika’s bedroom window in thuds, its rhythmic pounding a just complement to her contemplative thoughts, as she reflected on the events of that day. The night was dark and cold, a sharp contrast to the warmth of earlier, when she had gone to the Friday sermon and visited Aminah’s home. She had learned a lot, more than she had expected, more than she had wanted. Her stereotypes were swept away like dust after a brisk wind, removing all doubts from her mind as to what she should do.
“I was clueless,” Aminah’s mother had recalled her life before Islam, laughing.
Listening, Tamika had stared at the woman, amazed. She looked like an ordinary person. Tamika could not get over that. The sprinkle of freckles across the bridge of her nose, the large brown eyes, the thick blond hair that fell loosely around her shoulders. If Tamika had not seen her at the mosque earlier, she would have never guessed that the woman who sat laughing and joking before her, comfortably dressed in a buttoned blouse and jean skirt, was the same woman who was covered from head to toe with a thin slit barely enabling her eyes to be seen. The same woman who appeared “oppressed.”
“Practically atheist,” Sarah, Aminah’s mother, had shared. “If you would’ve told me about God, I would’ve told you to prove it.” She shook her head, chuckling. “I guess I was just turned off by the Christian church.”
“For me,” Dee’s mother had interjected, her accent apparent in her words, “I guess I was a little different. I was really religious, but when my husband told me about Islam, I fought it. I didn’t want it to be right, you know, because of all the stereotypes and things I’d heard.”
As the women spoke, sharing their stories, Tamika realized for the first time that these were average women, regular people, ladies whom Tamika had likely seen at the grocery store, stood behind at the bank, and waved to during a stroll through the neighborhood. They were not oppressed. They were not even introverts. Rather, they were opinionated, strong women, who loved who they were and what they had chosen. No one had forced them into anything. No one had asked them to cover, told them they had to. They had simply done it, because God wanted them to.
Dee’s little sisters, all three of them, the youngest being four and the oldest fourteen, had drilled Tamika with questions.
“You don’t pray?” the four-year-old had asked her, eyes wide, blinking with innocence.
“She’s not Muslim,” the fourteen-year-old rebuked, as if the question had been out of place.
The four-year-old, Naimah, stared at Tamika in disbelief. “You’re trying to go to the Hell Fire?” she asked, gasping. “Are you scared?” she inquired before Tamika could respond. The girl’s eyes were intent, and her voice was almost a whisper.
“Naimah,” the fourteen-year-old stopped her, eyeing her, correcting. “You shouldn’t say that.”
“But she’s not Muslim?” the little girl was stunned, terrified, eyes wide, wanting answers. She found it hard to believe.
“Now,” Dee’s mother had interrupted, looking at her daughter, “you know everyone’s not Muslim, don’t you?”
“But she’s going to the Hell Fire?” the girl kept asking, looking as though she were about to cry, the information paining her.
“We can’t say that,” Dee’s mother gently corrected.
“But she’s not Muslim!” the little girl exclaimed in desperation, as if she wanted her mother to know in case she misunderstood, or in case she could help Tamika’s poor soul. “Mom,” she pleaded, begging for her mother to listen.
Embarrassed, Dee’s mother lifted the child, forced a smile and said, “I’m sorry,” and left the room.
At the moment Tamika had felt dirty, as if she were a heathen, a monstrous spectacle for the entire family. Tamika understood they did not intend it to make her feel that way. But it was too late. The little girl had spoken, her innocent words vocalizing what everyone else was thi
“You thinking about becoming Muslim?” Aaesha, the fourteen-year-old, inquired kindly, trying to make up for the unwanted interruption from Naimah.
Tamika had shrugged and exchanged friendly conversation with the family for the remainder of her time there. She had spent the entire time at Aminah’s house listening to Aminah and Dee’s mothers talk about Islam and answering questions from Dee’s little sisters, who found it strange that Tamika was not Muslim.
Tamika, on the other hand, was in awe of everything she saw and learned. She was not only amazed at the striking differences between Dee and her mother and sisters, but she was also surprised by the striking contrast between how she had viewed Muslim women and Islam and what she witnessed was reality. She never imagined that there were others who felt as strongly about their religion as she had. She had never dreamed that there were little children—Muslim children—sick with worry about the lost souls of those who had not accepted Islam.
How ignorant, how stupid Tamika had been, she realized regretfully. She should have known that there was another world different from hers, another perspective other than what she had seen, and another Islam different from what she had perceived. How was it that she had lived eighteen years, now officially an adult, and still have harbored childish stereotypes about people who were unlike her? Hadn’t it hurt her, the mistreatment and assumptions by others based upon the color of her skin? Yet she held similar ideas, baseless views, about Muslims.
Just then, she understood, the painful realization stinging her. She now understood what it meant to be racist. And it scared her, terrified her—she could actually relate. She had, albeit unintentionally, accepted the images of Muslims that she had seen on television and accepted as fact that Muslim women were oppressed, never having verified the information. Why did she need to? She had a television, books, and what she heard from friends and family—just as racists were unfamiliar with Black people, whether by circumstance or volition.
Did she dare, could she possibly say, that she was like Jennifer, a person who had carelessly flung a filthy, racist word at her, tearing at her heart?
But it was possible, definitely possible that she had viewed Muslims the way Jennifer had viewed her.
If it were not possible, then why was she so amazed by Aminah’s and Dee’s parents? Why? Why was it shocking that they spoke, laughed, had fun—chose to cover and be Muslim? Why was it so amazing to find a White woman and a Cuban woman sitting in a room with their families, reminiscing on their lives, their lives before Islam? Why did Tamika find it strange, unreal?
Was she a racist too? Had she too been reared upon ignorance and unfounded beliefs? Prejudice, although she claimed to be a victim of the same thing? Was she a hypocrite? ...Was her mother?
The voice was soft, whispering, as if uncertain if Tamika was awake.
Tamika sat up. “Yeah?”
Dee smiled, her dimples small shadows in the dark room, the dim light from the window making her face glow. A sweet scent of perfume filled the air around Tamika’s bed, and Tamika realized Dee was dressed to go someplace.
Tamika forced a smile. “No, just thinking,” she replied, her mental exhaustion detectable in her voice. “What’s up?”
Dee turned on the light, Tamika blinking as her eyes adjusted. “I wanted to know if you felt like singing tonight.”
Singing? Now? Tamika shrugged. “If you want to.”
“No,” Dee laughed, realizing what Tamika thought she meant. Tamika noticed the small gold leaves dangling from Dee’s ears as her thick hair moved with the laughter. “I’m talking about going to the studio.”
“The studio?” Tamika repeated, unsure if she had heard Dee correctly.
Dee was dressed in a cream colored dress that hung just above her ankles, a small slit on the side. Patent leather shoes adorned Dee’s feet, Tamika noticed, admiring how the color of the dress complimented Dee’s tan skin.
“That’s where you’re going?” Tamika inquired.
“Yeah,” Dee replied, “but I wanted to see if you wanted to come.” She paused, hesitating, and then added, “My recorder, um, he kind of wants to hear you too.”
“Me?” Tamika was excited suddenly. “The producer?”
Dee shook her head. “No, my recorder. The producer won’t hear us until the formal.”
“Then, uh,” Tamika searched her mind. “Who’s this?”
“Remember I told you I was recording some tapes?”
“Well, he records them.”
“Oh, I see,” she understood. “But why does he want to hear me?”
“Because I told him about our plan for the formal.”
She wrinkled her forehead, puzzled.
“He’s the one who talked to the school and set up everything for the formal.”
Oh. She nodded. “So he wants to approve my voice?” she joked, chuckling self-consciously, her question more serious than her inquiry suggested.
Dee shrugged, forcing laughter. “I suppose. Probably just to know who’s getting up on stage, you know, because he’s responsible for the program and everything.”
“You think it’s okay?” Tamika inquired, for a second scared that she would be unable to perform.
“Yeah, yeah,” Dee told her, waving her hand. “It’s no problem.”
“Okay then,” Tamika said, thinking aloud, glancing around the room to see if she needed to take anything. “Should I bring my songs?”
“He has them.”
Her eyes widened. “He does?” Tamika now became nervous.
“Yeah, and he likes ‘em.”
She could have fainted from excitement. This was not happening. What if this was her first step to making it big, to having her own recordings—professionally!
“So you gonna come?” Dee asked, hands on her hips, teasing.
She laughed at Tamika. “Then let’s go!”
Tamika jumped from the bed, hurrying, slipping on her shoes and frantically brushing her hair in the mirror. “Is this okay?” she asked Dee after finishing her hair, referring to the floral dress that she was still wearing, tugging on it gently so that Dee could see what she was referring to.
“Uh,” Dee replied, uncertain, her eyes tracing its wrinkles that had developed from Tamika lying in bed. “You probably want to run an iron over it.”
“I’ll change,” Tamika decided quickly, turning to open the closet, fumbling through each of the outfits, sliding the ones she did not want to the side. A few seconds later, she pulled a dress from the hanger and quickly changed, too excited to feel ashamed of undressing in front of Dee.
“How’s this?” she inquired, now wearing a white cotton blouse and dark blue rayon skirt.
“A lot better,” Dee told her honestly.
“Okay then,” Tamika said, slipping on her shoes again. A moment later, she and Dee made their way into the living room.
“It’s raining cats and dogs out there,” Dee commented, walking over to the front closet. “You better wear a rain coat.”
“I have an umbrella.”
“You’ll need a coat too,” she suggested.
“Where’d you park?” Tamika inquired, removing a rain jacket and umbrella from the closet.
“Right outside the side door.”
“You found a space?” Tamika asked in surprise. Parking was normally difficult to find.
“It’s Friday night.”
“Oh,” she chuckled, nodding. Most students left for the weekend by Friday afternoon.
Dee opened the door, and she and Tamika left the apartment. Dee locked it with her key before they made their way down the hallway.
“Don’t be nervous,” she advised Tamika, grinning, knowing Tamika was probably dying of nervousness inside.
“That’s easy for you to s
Dee laughed. “Don’t worry, he’s really nice.”
“I hope so.”
“She seems nice,” Sarah commented that night in reference to her daughter’s roommate.
“She is,” Aminah admitted, arranging the plates in the dishwasher of her family’s kitchen. Although Dee had picked up Tamika several hours ago, Dee’s family had left Aminah’s house only thirty minutes before. Aminah’s and Dee’s parents had talked for several hours while the children ran through the house, enjoying themselves as usual. “It’s just that,” she started to say, then sucked her teeth. “I don’t know.”
Sarah was quiet for a few minutes as she wiped the cabinet. She paused to glance over her shoulder at her daughter, whose expression was distant and concerned as she loaded the dishwasher. “You’re worried about Durrah, aren’t you?”
At first Aminah declined to reply, feeling as if she would be betraying her friend to share what she felt. But a moment later she gave in, tired of holding it all inside, unable to vent. She now needed a listening ear, one that would understand. She sighed sadly. “Yeah.”
Sarah frowned, suddenly feeling sorry for her daughter. She could only imagine the pain that Aminah must be going through to see her childhood friend struggling with serious issues, especially in the religion. Sarah rarely discussed Durrah with Dee’s mother Maryam. She realized that Maryam, if not in denial, was not completely aware of the things her daughter was involved in. In a way, Sarah understood her friend’s ignorance. Only a few years before, Durrah was like the twin sister of Aminah. She was outspoken about Islam, hosted Islamic events in the masjid, and held study circles for the sisters. Before they graduated from high school, Durrah and Aminah were even discussing the niqaab a lot, seriously considering covering their faces with the veil.
Sarah could only imagine how difficult it would be to come to terms with reality if one day Aminah came home uncovered and involved in public singing and beauty pageants. Such a circumstance was almost unthinkable, if not outlandish, given Aminah’s dedication to the religion. But the scary part was that Durrah had been the same, no signs of weakening faith apparent to anyone, until she slowly began to uncover her hair before college. What possessed her to do it, no one knew, but whatever it was, it took a toll on Durrah’s religious commitment. Seeing that occur terrified Sarah, pushing her to pray voluntary prayers regularly instead of every now and again. She now woke for Tahajjud each night, crying and begging Allah to keep Aminah on the Straight Path and to guide Durrah back to it. She also asked Allah to keep her, her husband, and Sulayman strong. It tore Sarah apart to hear Maryam talk about Durrah. Maryam often made references to speeches Durrah had delivered and literature she had compiled about Islam before going off to college, a hint of pride still in her voice. She was living in the past and holding on to it. She knew Durrah’s lifestyle was a phase—at least she had convinced herself that it was.