I screamed “Ali” in a hallway my junior year of high school just to see who would turn around and met, within the sea of human bodies, a party of Ali. Every boy in town is tragically Hussein, handsomely Hassan, most-high Mohamed or lionesque Ali. “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose. By any other name would smell as sweet;” Shakespeare famously declares through Romeo in the great tragedy of Verona and of course – his white male privilege downplayed the importance of self-determination. I’m a Shia by birth, Sufi twelver by choice but I’ve been Muslim from the very start.
Seventh grade fresh out of primary privately funded Islamic school, my sheltered upbringing shattered:
On the bus, where everyone could hear my ignorance, my new hijabi friend asked me:
“So are you Sunni or Shia?”
“Yeah I know, but which one are you?”
“I don’t even know what that means,”
“Do you love the Imams?”
I tried to remember how many there were, twelve, like my age, and if I knew them well enough to love publicly. I remembered my ‘Ya Hussien’ headbands at home and all black attire and mustered some courage:
“Like Imam Ali, right?”
“So who do you follow?”
This was only the beginning, but I’ve grown up since then. The string of “sunni” chicks I hung around during awkward teen years, and an AP English class got me into the business of refuting religious here-say and the asteroid belt of low strength hadith orbiting around me. The Quran as my witness, I could dye my hair black, listen to music, eat with my left hand and sleep well at night knowing the black-clad chadored ladies of my Sunday school days were in the business of making rote believers and not inspired thinkers — ritual prized over reach.
My father walked in the footsteps of the Prophet between Safa and Marwa and told me if I ever wanted to know anything about religion, I’d have to learn it myself. Those words are written on my heart, penned in the calligraphy of the halls that watched over me like guardian angels and a large subcategory on my Amazon wishlist. Imam Ali (a) said: “A person setting forth for the acquisition of knowledge is like the one who struggles in the way of God.” [Al-Majlisi, Bihar al‑Anwar, vol. 1, p. 179], and it’s narrated the prophet dropped this truth bomb: “You will not enter paradise until you believe, and you will not believe until you love one another..” The Quran recites, “And when she had given birth to the child, she said: “O Lord, I have delivered but a girl.” — But God knew better what she had delivered: A boy could not be as that girl (Mary) was.” – [3:36] These are the things Sunday school and my peers failed to teach me, they did not teach me the beauty in self-empowerment, history or art, they did not teach me soul.
…If I ever wanted to know anything about religion, I’d have to learn it myself.
My first dose of soul outside of musical symphonies and pop classics was during Ashoura. I could barely comprehend the commemoration my first time; the passion play with the sixth graders with little props and smaller voices on the stage alongside the Arabic monologue by a wrinkled relic, but the warmth of my inexplicable tears alongside everyone else’s, moved me.
They call the carnage of Iraq enacted by extremist thirst for grandiosity and petrodollars, a genocide, a tale as old as time.
So every year when the lights dim
and the crowds quiet and
the reciter begins their rhythmic mourning,
of hope and triumph
in the face of oppression,
a cascading sea
devoid of color
and marches in perfect step,
with raised fists
beating their chests
to the pendulum swing of existence;
I think of…
The ‘Nassarah’ (“Christian/ foreigner”) نِ and the ‘Rafadi’ (“rejector / shia”) ر, letters tagged by the Daesh, not so long along. The people of Palestine and of Ferguson linked by Twitter, tear gas, and the struggle of freedom. The long-lost heritage of my Native Great-Grandmother that runs my body 16% hotter against the imperialistic machine. The Bay of Pigs, and Cuba’s doctors.
And when my phone rang:
“Quick question, do you pray five times a day or three times a day?”
“Five? I’m confused,”
“I’ll explain just a couple of more questions,”
“Do you pray towards Mecca, or that Iraqi City?”
“Mecca…. are you talking about Karbala?”
“I think that’s what my dad said—” Laughter.
Silence. “Your dad said those things?”
“Yeah he says that Shia are Kafir (Disbeliever), but I know you’re not.”
In the hallways of life these days, I scream, “REJECT THIS”.