FLASH FICTION FRIDAYS
Here is the next installment of "Flash Fiction Fridays." Another Shaira misadventure. Enjoy!
"Sari Not Sari"
“You know this is an Indian show, right?”
No, bitch. I don’t recognize brown people when I see them.
That was the first thought that popped into my triggered brain, but I use my filter on occasion.
When I get monosyllabic, you’ve fucked up.
Moments like this are why I roll my eyes when my mother guilts me into going to family gatherings. “But they’re your family, Shaira.” Famous last words when you know you’re going into the lion’s den of assholes.
They’re not all assholes. I agreed to see my mother’s second cousin’s kid from Mumbai because my favorite cousin, Neelam would be there. With my focus on seeing her, I got in the car. My aunt’s cooking was another incentive to make the trek to dodge judgment and random insults.
After a scrumptious Tandoori chicken, I planted myself in the living room where the spectacle of a Bollywood award show played out on television. I enjoy a Bollywood film from time-to-time, so I was interested. Since I enjoy movies, I am a student of all kinds of cinema. I know Bollywood films and eras.
Sometimes, I’m more interested in the clothes than the movies themselves. Since award shows are fashion fiestas, I watch. I spotted Priyanka Chopra in a sari. I love saris. I can’t tie one to save my life, but I love them. They’re just so feminine and beautiful. Now, this was when only Bollywood knew her. But even then, Priyanka Chopra could rock eastern and western looks with ease. When she got married, she wore a Sabyasachi Mukherjee lehenga for her Hindu ceremony, then a Ralph Lauren wedding gown for her Christian vows. I’m all about the East/West cross-pollination. I’ve proudly lived my life that way. Rather than me choosing it, it chose me.
So, even though I mostly grew up around white people, I recognize Indian people and Bollywood actors. My mother’s second cousin’s kid didn’t know me, but she assumed I didn’t know what a sari was or what other Indian people looked like, which led to her ridiculous question.
Again, she didn’t know me, so she didn’t recognize the mix of sarcasm and irritation in my voice from the word, yeah.
“Is it okay if we watch it?”
We weren’t at my house. Why would I care what we were watching?
Neelam sat in the middle of this tension, eating her dessert, looking straight ahead.
Second monosyllabic response.
“You may have heard some things about me. Don’t believe all of it. But if you’ve heard, I have a big mouth, believe that.”
“Oh, I didn’t hear anything,” the presumptuous twit said.
“Can’t judge a book by its cover,” Neelam said.
“I wasn’t judging, okay!” she said to Neelam.
The twit avoided eye contact with me at this point. We avoided conversation after that because of the mutual disdain we cultivated. Her pre-judgment told me it was already there for her.
I hung out with Neelam for the rest of the night. Poor girl was in the middle of me and the twit. We managed to have fun discussing the topics Americanized kids talk about like school, life, even making our way back to saris.
That’s how I live my life. Sari, not sari.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
FLASH FICTION FRIDAYS
The world needs stories right now. We all need to take a break from harsh reality and cold facts. Here's my contribution. "Upping the Chai Game" is the first story in a series for April called "Flash Fiction Fridays." Enjoy this little slice of life!
"Upping the Chai Game"
“Who wants chai?"
This life-affirming question inevitably comes up at every Desi gathering. I don’t care what century or country you live in.
“Shaira will make it.”
I’m not sure why my mother volunteered me on this day. Usually, she would make the chai, especially when people were over. It’s serious shit, and she only trusted herself to handle serious shit. With trepidation, I nodded and took a headcount of who wanted sugar, who didn’t, and, if they did, how much they wanted.
Chai time, or as the British call it, tea-time falls into the top-three of serious shit scenarios in a Desi family. It has varying levels of energy as a practice. The morning chai is to wake up and go on out the door. No one talks to each other much. Afternoon chai is the late day pick-me-up with fluctuating amounts of chatter depending on whether it’s a weekday and who’s around to gossip with. The after-dinner chai, also, has diverse degrees of chatter and energy depending on what day it falls on and who’s in the house. The Friday, Saturday, and holiday after-dinner chai with extended family and friends are the most frenzied times because people are not in a rush to go home.
I am no master of chai. There is an art to it that I never had the patience to learn. As the tea boils, you watch it turn just the right shade of maple syrup-like brown before adding just the right amount of milk. Since there is no real measuring in our culture, you eyeball how much. You stop at the perfect shade of tan. If you’re making cardamom or ginger tea, you require a more sophisticated skill set, which I don’t possess. For me, it’s simple math. One tea bag for every cup you’re making. If you’re making a lot, you scale back depending on how strong everyone likes their tea.
It was during a Saturday after-dinner chai session where my call to duty and cultural lack of experience intersected. My mother volunteered my lackluster chai-making services when I had come home from college one weekend. I hadn’t made it for myself in months, but showing hesitation was not an option. Looking for the customary Tetley British Blend, I made an unexpected discovery: Lipton loose tea. The yellow box that’s only available in India. I paused. I picked up the box and stared at the anomaly in front of me. At this time, the only interaction I ever had with loose tea was watching someone in a Bollywood movie make chai with it. I had only used tea bags my entire life. This was my first time personally interacting with loose tea. Since it was the Saturday after-dinner chai, I had to think fast.
What the hell? How do I measure it?
Through deductive reasoning, I figured out that it is probably about a teaspoon of loose tea in any given bag. One teaspoon for every cup. After watching it boil, then adding the milk and watching the second boil, another revelation struck me. I had to separate the tea grounds from the rest of the chai. If I fuck this up, the whole family is going to have fun with the American-born kid who doesn’t know anything. Think Shaira! Of course! The same thing I always used: the strainer. I learned something new without making an ass out of myself and embarrassing my mother with my lack of cultural awareness. Minor existential crisis averted.
It’s like that for us American Born Confused Desis. We may amuse our relatives and slightly embarrass our parents with our spotty knowledge of simple aspects of our culture. But it isn’t that simple. Since our parents raised us in the United States, we just weren’t exposed to certain things. Like I will probably never know the joy my parents knew at eating raw sugar cane as they broke it off in the sugar cane field. The thrill of street vendor pani puri. Or how to say the name, Khan accurately.
But, at least now, I know how to make loose leaf tea.
"Fear is the glue that keeps you stuck. Faith is the solvent that sets you free."
-Shannon L. Alder -
An extended break
I traveled like a madwoman this past summer. My wanderlust goes into high gear at that time of year, the after effects of having that season off when I was a teacher. It was perfect timing because I needed to refresh my enthusiasm for my new creative endeavors. Some projects weren’t going in the direction I thought they should so that led me to all sorts of questions. What am I missing? What else should I be doing? What am I doing wrong?
These musings led me to put a full stop to certain things, including this blog. Since I was traveling so much, a hiatus was logical. Summer came to an end, along with my travels. But my projects were still on hiatus. Somehow, the pause extended itself to the beginning of fall. It’s more accurate to say that I felt stuck. Then, I had to figure out how to get unstuck.
I am very self-aware so I knew what was happening. My projection/expectation of what the results should be rather than the actions I needed to take became my focus. My uncertainty regarding outcome inevitably led to fear. My belief in what I was doing got shaky. Frankly, my belief in myself and what I’m doing has always been a little shaky.
Fortunately, the little voice inside of me that’s never steered me wrong propped me up. It reminded me that I am exactly where I need to be doing exactly what I need to be doing. I have always been led to the right course of action, and I always will be.
Once I remembered that, I started refocusing on what I love to do, which for me is reading and writing. When you’re a writer, reading is not a hobby you put aside for when you have time. It’s part of how you refine your craft. Writing is what makes me feel alive. I went back to those basics.
Do what you love
I went back to the projects I was working on. I still have uncertainty with certain aspects, but I had a conversation with a friend recently, who told me, “When in doubt, do.” I expand on that by saying, “When in doubt, do what you love.”
That’s how I unstuck myself. I focused on what I love to do. Whenever you get stuck, remember what you love about what you're doing. Let that love fuel your belief in it.
It’s that simple and that hard.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
"It's clearly more important to treat one's fellow man well than to be always praying and fasting and touching one's head to a prayer mat." - Naguib Mahfouz
Ramadan started on May 6th for Muslims around the world. Like I have since I was 12 years old, I am fasting. Since I am Muslim Light, that may seem like an a odd choice. Still, there are several reasons why I fast when I am Muslim Light.
Before I get into those reasons, let me explain what Muslim Light is. It’s a term I invented to describe myself when it comes to how religious I am, which isn’t that much, clearly. It’s also a bit cheeky because it reminds me of Miller Light or Bud Light.
Which leads me to why I am Muslim Light. I find organized religion to be rigid and confining. I don’t care what religion you practice. The idea that one false move can keep you from God’s love is ridiculous. To me, God is unconditional love. Unconditional love has no judgment. So, the notion that something as arbitrary as eating with the wrong hand or how you pray keeping you from God’s grace is fucking ludicrous.
I use these examples because when some pious Muslim wanted to religion shame me, they pointed out my wrongness in those areas and many others.
Let’s call these random rules what they are: control mechanisms. If someone doesn’t like what you’re doing, they’ll tell you it’s a sin. Since I am a contrary being of light to begin with, how much of a sinner do the Quran thumpers think I am?
So why would a sinner such as me fast? Because, for me, fasting is not a meaningless ritual. It’s a spiritual and enlightening one. I actually get excited for Ramadan because it is a time of great learning for me. When I fast, most of the time, I’m barely aware that I am not eating or drinking. It’s beyond the physical.
That’s the point. To focus beyond the physical and focus on the spiritual. At the end of the day, our souls are who we really are. Our bodies are just the vessel.
Fasting enlightens me. It nourishes my soul and helps to strengthen it.
And that’s why Muslim Light fasts.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
"Said woman take it slow, and it'll work itself out fine
All we need is just a little patience" - Guns N' Roses
The foundation of patience
Patience really is a virtue. It makes my face contort to allude to a cliche’, but, many times, phrases become overused because of the universal truths present in them. The trait of patience is the means through which we go through life with ease. The Bible, Quran, and other religious texts talk about patience at length. It is the foundation of life.
Countless times in my life I’ve stumbled into mental pits of worry because I go through every possible scenario of what could go wrong under the sun. All in the name of being prepared. When I taught, if one thing was off, I immediately went into a domino effect of what could go wrong and, potentially, affect my job. Later, I broke it down into, if I did my job and could prove I was doing my job, I would be fine. I stopped worrying after that.
The fruit of the soul
How much benefit is to be gained from just STFU’ing and letting things play out? In the past, I’ve found myself getting riled up in certain situations. I’ve caught myself and then, the thing I wanted came through. I realized, if I was calm to begin with, what I wanted came through even faster. It felt even better without the self-torture.
One of my favorite chapters in the Quran, “The Cave” beautifully illustrates the value in patience. Moses comes into contact with a mysterious teacher who is gifted directly from God. Moses knows this and asks if he can join him in his travels. From the beginning, the teacher tells him he won’t be able to have patience. Of course, Moses says he will, and he even says he won’t ask questions. They set off.
On three different occasions, Moses is horrified by the actions of the teacher and asks him why he did what he did. Each time, the teacher tells him he won’t be able to have patience. Moses backs off, only to be impatient again.
The third and final time, The teacher tells him they must part and explains everything. All his actions, no matter what it seemed like on the surface, were for the greater good. Moses wasn’t patient enough to see that, and he lost a great teacher.
The key of patience
All my experiences, even the most uncomfortable ones served a higher purpose in my life. A year before my father passed on, I went through a major heartbreak. I moved back in with my parents. During that time, I shared beautiful moments with him. I was grateful to be living with him for the last year of his life. My heartbreak served a greater good.
I see no need to feel sorry for myself for that experience or any negative experiences that followed. Everything is a stepping stone designed to get you to where you need to be.
I’ve learned that, if I just trust the process and myself, everything has a way of working itself out. Patience is key in all of it.
Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil...
SHORT STORY SHARE
Welcome to the April Short Story Share. I usually have this feature towards the end of the month. This time, I chose to do it a little early in honor of my late father's birthday this week. The story I share with you today is a an excerpt of a short story that featured in my first book, Shaherazade's Daughters. "A Soul's Journey" is a fictionalized version of my father's life story. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
"A Soul's Journey" (excerpt)
When Gulnare the Fairy was fed up with human beings, she came across Junaid. While she was lost in deep thought pondering their uselessness, pettiness, and downright immorality, she stumbled on a human being who seemed to have a heart beating somewhere in his chest.
Walking through the bazaar, she saw a merchant refusing to accept payment for a beautiful blanket. This intrigued her because most merchants she had seen were amongst the greediest people in the world. She stopped her musings for a moment to watch this most amusing scene.
“No, Hassan. It’s my gift to you.”
“Junaid, please, this is your business. You insult me.”
“You insult me by not accepting my gift. We’re friends, are we not? In the name of friendship, please take it.”
“You’re a rascal. I can’t refuse you anything.”
“My wife tells me the same thing.”
They both laughed, and Gulnare could not help laughing with them. At that moment, she wanted to learn more about this man who seemed determined to show another man kindness. She was intrigued because it was quite obvious that kindness was an ideal that this man lived and breathed in.
“You do realize that you missed something?” she asked.
“What was that?” he responded, fully aware of her meaning.
“Usually, a person chooses something and pays for it. It’s usually not given away. Bad for business, isn’t?”
“Bad for business, maybe but good for the soul definitely. In any case, I made enough money for today. I don’t need the money of a man who has a sick wife to take care of and poor besides.”
“You do realize that I could count on one hand the number of merchants in the world who would have done what you just did? And I would have fingers to spare?”
“I like to think that I am not your average merchant. I like to think that I am not your average anything,” he responded with his dazzling smile.
Gulnare smiled back. As she did this, she wondered if this charming devil in front of her was aware that his smile could rule the world. In the same moment, she realized that he probably did. Judging from his behavior towards his friend, she suspected that Junaid was the kind of man who only used his charms for good, but at the same time, her lack of faith in human beings did not allow her to fully accept this assessment. She was determined to learn more about him.
She returned to the bazaar the next day. She watched him yet again. She saw that every transaction he made was honest. He did not try to rob his customers, yet he made sure he did not incur losses. By the third day, Junaid was quite at a loss because he was not certain as to why this woman continued to watch his dealings. He also realized that if he was aware of her constant scrutiny, then the gossip mongers were too. Then, it would not be long before his wife became aware of her. Normally, his wife was a quiet, unassuming woman, but she could be like a tornado where he was concerned. He did not want to be in the path of her ravings. He had enough to occupy his mind.
At the close of business, he asked Gulnare what she wanted from him. There was something not quite right about her, but he did not sense any malicious intent from her.
“Madam, I am sure you mean no harm, but you know how people can be with their idle chatter. Who exactly are you, and what do you want of me?”
“Trust me. I understand the vices of human beings. But before I answer, ask me for something. Anything.”
“A jug of wine.”
At that moment, a jug of wine landed in Junaid’s hand. He took a big gulp of it right away. He thought for a moment, and then asked, “Madam Fairy, what will you have of me?”
“Your story. Human beings have been quite a disappointment to me, you see. I have become used to their avarice, their jealousy, and their unreasonable desire for power. I have yet to see any of these qualities in you. I would be quite interested to know why.”
“Madam, you might still see these qualities in me. If by the end of the month, you are still interested in my story, you may have it.”
“I think by the end of a year that I would still be interested in your story, but I accept.”
What she observed of Junaid only intensified her interest. He was quite charming, yet genuine. He had a penchant for exaggeration, but he was easily forgiven for it because it was all for fun, never for subterfuge. He was immensely kind, yet immensely brutal. If a person crossed him in any way, they would be put in their place as fast as a cobra strikes its prey. Yet even with this paradox, he was adored by all who knew him. He was now adored by Gulnare, but only the way all devotees adore the objects of their worship.
So at the end of a month, she asked him again. This time he complied.
“I received the first obstacle in my life when my mother died, he began. “I was five, and that is far too young to learn the unfairness of life. We were five siblings, and as our father was a travelling merchant, we were sent to live with his brother, who was living a more settled life. We essentially looked after each other as we were constantly reminded that we owed a debt of gratitude, so we tried to stay out of the way as much as possible.
“My sister was married off as soon as she came of age. I have always felt that I didn’t spend enough time getting to know her. But what I did know, I loved. She was the closest I ever came to having a mother.
“Although there was always an air of indebtedness, I found a connection with my cousin, Ali, right away. From the time I was five years old until now, he’s been more of an older brother to me than my real brother. Ali and I have had many adventures together, some of which I may actually tell you.” He beamed his disarming smile.
“My uncle loved me, but I think he was uncomfortable with how much he admired me because I wasn’t his own son. It was almost as if his love had to stop at a certain point. Otherwise, he would be showing me more love than his own children, at least in his own mind. But I learned to accept love when it is given, even if it is not quite the way I would want or do myself.
“As time went on, I eventually decided to work for my uncle. The work involved much travel and I found it wasn’t for me, that I preferred a more settled life, like my uncle’s. One day as I was walking, I stumbled and hurt my head. I am not sure how long I lay there, but when I awoke I met the first fairy in my life.”
At this, Gulnare shot him a quizzical look. She was almost a bit jealous as she had come to think of Junaid as hers.
“I’m sorry, Madam Fairy,” he smiled, “But my wife, Laila, was my fairy long before you. Not to worry, though. There’s room for you both.”
“I feel so privileged,” Gulnare retorted.
“She took care of me whilst I was recuperating. No human being has made me feel more loved than she. I am almost covetous of her. I simply think of her as mine. Twenty years of marriage and six children haven’t changed that.
“When we had been married fifteen years, trouble ensued in the kingdom where I was born. You’re puzzled? Yes, this is now my home, but I was born in the kingdom of Basra. At the time of my birth, the king was a fair and tolerant man. His son was something different altogether. He was always a power hungry, arrogant sort. He wasn’t a man interested in fair governance. He was only interested in what his legion of sychophants had to say.
“When the lines were drawn, I found myself on the wrong side. My family did not have roots in Basra. So the new king decided that the kingdom of Basra should only be for people who had their ancestral roots in Basra. Never mind those of us whose families had helped to build Basra. We had no place in a land we had helped to build. We had thirty days to leave or die. I took my family and whatever possessions that were not taken from me and came here to Sanaa.
“It was a difficult time. We only took what we could literally carry on our backs. I had built a reputation in Basra. Here, I had to start all over again, and I knew no one. I took my family to the first inn I could find and set off to make inquiries in the marketplace. I didn’t have enough money to set up another shop so I had to find work as a shopkeeper’s assistant. I went from owning several shops to a shopkeeper’s assistant and with a large family to support. But one must do what one must.
“It wasn’t long before I met my mentor and friend, Rashad Uncle, who kindly gave me a job and after a few short weeks, opened his home to my family and me. His daughters were married and gone, and they welcomed the clamor that my family brought.
“After a time, there was even more clamor as our sixth child came into the world. My poor wife was so afraid to tell me. She didn’t want to add to my burden, as she felt that providing for another child would be another burden for me. How wrong she was, Madam Fairy. I have never seen any of my children as anything but a blessing. Never for one moment was I unhappy at the thought of this child. I loved her from the moment I knew she existed. I knew she would be nothing but a boon for us, and she’s never proved me wrong.
“Rulers come and go, and the tyrant in Basra also went the way of all flash. That place will never be the same for me. This is my home now. Would you believe Ali came to Sanaa at the same time my family did, and we did not know for a month of the other’s whereabouts? Ali found work on the other side of this bazaar, and I happened to meet him one day. I think Allah never meant for us to be too far away from each other.”
“There are some people in life, Junaid, who are meant to love you and be in your life no matter what you do, and there are some people who are not meant to love you and be in your life no matter what you do,” Gulnare said.
“Very true, Madam Fairy,” Junaid responded.
In any case, Ali and I found each other. I’m glad we did because it took me a long while to find true friends besides Rashad Uncle and his wife. I was a stranger here at that time, and all my time was spent providing for my family. There’s a difference between moving to a new place by force than by choice. There’s a built-in resentment that you must overcome. I must say it took me a while to let go of my resentment. When you don’t do terrible things yet terrible things happen to you, you start to become bitter.
“I found that issues that I thought I had buried were coming out in rather unreasonable ways. My reaction to Ali’s brother, my cousin, Saleh was one. Saleh and I were never as close as Ali and me. He always resented it and me. He was a spoiled child who was used to getting his own way, and when he didn’t get it, there was a problem. When he had his little tantrums, he was placated. Of course, I was not spared his injustices, his thoughtlessness that sprang from overindulgence. He would do things to me here and there simply because he could, and I would have to get over it because: Who was I at the end of the day? Why shouldn’t I put up with Saleh? He could do no wrong in his parents’ eyes, so there was no point in arguing. So with a new land and a new life, I decided there would be new rules. No longer would I endure slights and disrespect. So when Saleh moved to Sanaa with his family, I decided Saleh was no longer welcome in my home.”
“You look puzzled, Madam Fairy. Disappointed? Not sure what you conjured up in your head about me, but I am only human, not an angel.”
“I am puzzled as to what you hoped to accomplish with such an action. Since circumstances brought him down a peg, you decided to show your power? By throwing a tantrum just like him? Men have no idea what power really is. Power is silent restraint. Refraining from action when you know you can act. Men will never understand this.”
“Over time, I have learned. Acting, reacting, and in some cases overreacting, these things accomplish nothing. But you will allow some mistakes in a journey that has been plagued with unforeseen, burdensome, circumstances?”
“As long you learn from them, which it seems, you have,” Gulnare concluded.
“Don’t be sure, Madam Fairy. He’s long since moved to Yemen. He’s no longer here. So, I suppose we’ll never see how much I’ve grown,” he smiled.
“Somehow I think we will get to see,” she smiled back.
“I think I would like to make peace with him at some point. We both survived expulsion. We both have families. All our petty squabbles seem insignificant now.” He paused. “In any case, Allah then saw fit to throw more trial my way. He fights with me. I fight with him. It’s okay.”
“Stop it, Junaid. Allah has better things to do than fight with you. He tries us all. It makes us better Muslims and better human beings.”
“Then, I must be the best Muslim and human being in the world,” he smiled again.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
"Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do." Benjamin Spock
I have a love/hate relationship with fairy tales and fables. I love the lessons and inspiration some of them have. What I don’t love is when they give false impressions and promote falling in line, rather that following your heart. A common archetype is a young, motherless girl who suffers, but if she is pious, she is rewarded. Replace the word pious with the word silent, and you’ll have a better idea of what the real message is.
Believe it or not, I actually like some of the messages of Aesop’s fables. The lessons are universal. No act of kindness is ever wasted. Don’t underestimate yourself. The list goes on and on. One story I always appreciate and go back to is “The Scorpion and the Frog,” It is an Aesop fable, but there are also different versions from around the world. It’s not sweet and sugary, but it makes a point.
A scorpion is trying to cross a river. He looks around trying to assess the situation. He sees a frog sitting on the riverbank. He asks the frog to help him.
“How do I know you won’t sting me?” The frog says.
“If I sting you, then I will die, too.”
They go back and forth as the frog goes through the different scenarios of how the scorpion could kill him. When the scorpion refutes all of them, the frog is convinced of his own safety.
He comes to the scorpion, and he gets on his back. The frog starts to swim, careful to stay on the surface so the scorpion doesn’t drown.
Then, midstream, the frog feels a sharp pain on his back. He realizes the scorpion has stung him. As he is dying, he says to the scorpion, “Why did you do that?”
“You knew I was a scorpion,” he says.
It’s dark. I know. But I always appreciate the message of that story: The nature of a thing will always reveal itself. To take that further, if a person shows you or tells you who they are, believe them.
When it is in your nature to believe in the good, that can get tricky. You want to be positive. You don’t want to pass judgment. At the end of the day, you want to believe that everyone is good and wants to do the right thing.
When we realize everyone’s definition of what is good and what the right thing is varies, we gain a broader perspective. From there, when we accept that what’s good for them may not be good for us, we can take actions that are in our best interests. Or sometimes, like the frog, we can get so tied up in someone else’s interests, we forget our own. That’s when we get into a “yes” to someone else being a “no” for us.
When we go against our own intuition or better judgment, especially when we know the nature of a thing, that is a recipe for disaster. We’re not being unkind. We’re taking care of ourselves, and that’s always the right thing.
Don’t be the frog. Don’t be the scorpion, either.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
I couldn’t let Women’s History Month go by without chiming in. In this blog, I focused on Muslim women. I have a reason for this. In 2019, we still have a pervasive narrative. We are oppressed, veiled victims who have no agency. Yes, that does exist. At the same time, that is not our entire story. I believe in what Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie calls “The Danger of a Single Story.” Taking one story of a few members of a group and using that to define all members of that group minimizes them. The veiled victim story of Muslim women robs us of our humanity and denies our contribution to history. The women I talk about today made undeniable contributions to the world. They harnessed their own power to make an impact. No single story here. Today, I offer you a few. Here are 7 badly behaved Muslim women who made history:
1. Razia Sultana
Razia Sultana was the first woman sultan in the Delhi Sultanate. She was trained in battle and administration. Her skill in these areas impressed her father so much that he wound up favoring her over her brothers when it came to succession. She refused to wear the veil but still had the support of the people. Although she was an able ruler who worked for her subjects, the nobles refused to be ruled by a woman. She was assassinated with her husband only four years into her reign.
2. Nur Jahan
In her day, she was the real power behind the throne as the emperor of India at the time, Jahangir was an opium addict and heavy drinker. She issued official royal proclamations and even had coins made with her name. As an Iranian immigrant with no regal heritage, her rise to power was near impossible. Still, this talented artist and politician became an empress. She had the strength of a warrior, leading troops to free her imprisoned husband. Both disdained and admired, she is a standout among royal women.
3. Fatema Mernissi
Although she grew up in a domestic harem where women were not expected to leave the house, she sought education, eventually earning a PhD. She became a professor at Mohammed V University in Rabat, Morocco. From there, she went on to become one of the founders of Islamic feminism. She argued that Islam did not favor the oppression of women and could support her assertions with scholarly research. Not only did she question the status quo when it came to gender roles and gender equality, she encouraged women in rural areas to become educated. She expanded her activism when she organized a writer’s workshop for political prisoners.
4. Aisha bint Abu Bakr
A wife of Prophet Muhammad, Aisha was not a woman relegated to the sidelines. In her time and beyond, she caught her fair share of criticism for her outspoken ways. She was a scholar and an intellectual. She assisted the early followers of Islam in interpreting the Quran. After the death of the third caliph, she even led an army in the Battle of the Camel. She lost, but she never lost the respect of the community. She still taught Islam and is known as the “Mother of the Believers.”
5. Noor Inayat Khan
This unlikely World War II hero was a secret agent for the British. After escaping Nazi occupied France, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, eventually becoming a radio operator in France. After betrayal by a Frenchwoman, she was arrested, tortured, and executed by the Nazis. Despite her confinement and torture, she never revealed any information. In 1949, the British government awarded her the George Cross for courage.
6. Tawakkol Karman
In 2011, she became the first Arab woman and second Muslim woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is known as “The Mother of the Revolution” in her home country of Yemen. As a journalist, she reported human rights abuses and mobilized the community. She founded Women Journalists Without Chains, an organization that reports on social injustice and violations of human rights. Even after being arrested on several occasions, she continues her fight for human rights.
7. Malala Yousafzai
In 2012, she was shot in the head by the Taliban for wanting to go to school. Not only did she survive the attack, she thrived. She continued to advocate for human rights and the education of girls. In 2014, she became the youngest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Today, she does what the extremists don’t want her to do and studies at Oxford University, all while continuing her activism.
These are just some of our stories. I honor these women, their stories, and all our stories.
Until next time, look behind and beyond the veil...
SHORT STORY SHARE
Welcome to the March Short Story Share.
This month's story is a bit of flash fiction with some history thrown in. Happy reading and let me know your thoughts in the comments below!
Death by Kahve
As soon as the peasant, Aristotle walked into the largest kahvehane, coffee house in Peloponnesus, his senses were immediately assaulted with the robust flavor. The aroma sailed through his nostrils, and the clamor of all the lively conversations pounded in his ears. He furtively glanced all around him looking for his party.
He sat down cautiously at one of the few empty tables. His hands were sticky, and he wiped them on his shirt. Then, he cupped the curb of his sabre. For what reason, he wasn’t even sure.
He wasn’t sure of much these days. He barely knew how he was keeping himself and his family alive. A sense of urgency bit into him like the Hydra, and when he tried to shake it off him, more urgency took its place. Underneath it all was a lingering anxiety about an uncertain future.
He wasn’t alone. Whenever he entered the kahvehane, the raucous conversations ricocheted between collective anxiety and unified, righteous indignation. Nobleman, peasant, and merchant alike anticipated the winds of change. They hoped the gods they no longer prayed to would harness those winds to the point that they became a typhoon.
Aristotle had no interest in anyone’s gods. Not the gods of the Greeks or the god of the Ottoman Turks. He believed in what he could touch with his hands, feel with his heart, and work through with his own brain. The illiterate peasant had a knack for astounding the illustrious noblemen with what he could concoct in his naturally adept mind.
Konstantinos, his unlikely ally, valued Aristotle’s facility with strategy, although he would never tell him so. The educated son of a merchant could recite the words of enlightened Frenchmen and speak eloquently of their overthrow of tyranny but had no real skill to navigate devious political minds. He needed Aristotle but would never admit to needing a peasant.
Their unexpected collaboration started when Aristotle sipped his kahve. He marveled at how richness, bitterness, and sweetness could exist in one place but still be enjoyable. In the middle of his musings, he heard Konstantinos spew discontent over the state of the Greeks. Another spoiled, educated brat who has no understanding of real suffering. He thought to himself.
At the same time, his intoxicating idealism drew in everyone near him. In spite of himself, it drew in Aristotle. Since a peasant has no choice but to be practical, he had to inject some realism into the conversation.
“And what would you have us do, boy?” he said.
Aristotle had no idea how his off-handed, irreverent challenge would alter the rest of his life and the lives of the other Greeks in the kavehane.
Here he was a year and a half later helping that same boy figure out what to do. Konstantinos never liked Aristotle calling him boy considering Aristotle wasn’t much older. He chuckled at the thought taking his sweaty hand off his sabre.
Konstantinos barreled through with a group of men that included 2 teachers, 4 priests, and 2 doctors. One of the priests went with Aristotle to the mountains to enlist the aid of the self-professed militia who some saw as common brigrands. He hugged him warmly. He gave a quick handshake to the others, including Konstantinos.
“Are you well Aristotle?” he said as he sat down.
“As well as these times will allow,” he replied as he waved a server to their table.
He flashed his rogue smile and asked for ten cups of kahve. He watched the server walk away and took in the whole kahvehane in one fell swoop.
“Did you secure the agreement of the Russians?” Aristotle whispered, unconsciously putting his hand back on his sabre.
“We did. I told you we would,” Konstantinos said.
“I never had a doubt.” The rogue smile made another appearance.
“Oh, but you did,” Konstantinos laughed, shaking his head.
“What word from Istanbul?” Aristotle asked one of the priests.
“Ready and waiting for word from us,” he said.
Aristotle paused as the server placed kahve in front of everyone.
“Do you think the Russians can be trusted, Aristotle?” one of the teachers asked nervously.
“Can we really trust anyone at this time? Why should the Russians be any different?”
“We can trust each other,” Konstantinos said.
Aristotle nodded and took a slow sip of kahve.
With flourish, Konstantinos gulped down most of his kahve.
“Is it time, Aristotle?” he blurted.
“It is time,” Aristotle said, as he took another slow sip of kahve.
Aristotle’s words rang true with their success in Kalamata. The spirit of Aries overtook the peninsula, and the Turks could not match it. Aristotle and Konstantinos shook off their titles of peasant and merchant’s son and embodied the title of warrior. When the battle was over, the two men parted ways after Konstantinos was appointed as one of the first senators of the Messenian Senate, and Aristotle joined the pursuit of the Turks to Tripolitsa.
He saw the young senator again when he came to Tripolitsa to congratulate Theodoros Kolokotronis on his victory. They saw it as only fitting to meet in a kahvehane since that’s where it all started.
This time, when Aristotle entered the establishment, the conversation that buzzed in his ears was filled with collective exhilaration at the possibilities of independence and the restoration of former glory. No one noticed him.
When Konstantinos arrived, cheers greeted him. He shook hands warmly and received the adulation, already playing the role of a politician. Aristotle shook his head.
“I hope the politicos don’t eat you alive,” he said, as he drank his kahve.
“You don’t think I can handle the snakes?” Konstantinos asked.
“Of course not. I never doubt you.”
“Oh, but you do.”
He laughed and took a deliberate sip of kahve.
Revolutions are born with kahve... And empires die with kahve.
Until next time... look behind and beyond the veil...
"Am I too much for the world, or is the world too much for me?" Kelli Jae Baeli, Too Much World“
I think we’ve all asked ourselves that question. Especially when we’ve been told not to be so sensitive. I’ve often thought how little sense it makes to say that to someone. When someone’s feelings are already hurt, are they automatically going to stop being sensitive? Many times, we’re made to feel like sensitivity is a bad thing. I happen to think that sensitivity is a wonderful thing that you can use to your advantage.
When you’re sensitive, you’re paying attention to details that matter. How someone feels matters. When you pick up on another’s feelings, you can, at least, understand them better. At best, you can help them. You can do the same with yourself. Being in tune with your emotions can help you navigate any situation.
Like with anything else in life, there just has to be balance. You don’t let something bother you to the point where you’re on the floor. At the same time, you can be sensitive to and have empathy for the feelings of others. You can be sensitive to your own feelings, too.
Once, I had a student who looked sad and put on a lot of weight in a short amount of time. I asked her a simple question about her grades, and she burst into tears. I took her aside and made sure I talked to her one on one. The next time I saw her family, I told them what I observed of her. They were taken aback. I know they got involved because I noticed a change in her. She seemed happier. I saw her smiling again. Her grades got better. I’m glad I paid attention.
For myself, I pay attention to how I feel. I don’t just cast my feelings aside, anymore. Before I would talk myself out of what I was feeling. It was more important to keep getting things done than to pay attention to how I felt. That didn’t serve me because it just became a vicious cycle, and I would end up being in the uncomfortable place I started. Now, I’ve realized I have to allow myself to feel what I feel without judgment so I can move forward.
Non-judgment leading to elevation
Non-judgment is key. Too often, we judge ourselves about how we feel. Others judge us. That breeds negativity that doesn’t serve us. Our positive emotions can serve us well, especially our joy. Think about all the great achievements that have come from times where you just felt good. Has anything good come from when you’ve judged and come to an unfavorable conclusion?
Being aware and allowing whatever comes to come makes the journey easier for yourself and others. Being sensitive to others makes interactions go smoothly. Being sensitive to yourself can help you get through whatever you have going on or keep yourself in a great place. When your sensitive to others, you can elevate them and maybe, yourself in the process. Using your emotions for elevation is the best advantage to sensitivity that I can think of.
Until next time… look behind and beyond the veil...
Sameena K. Mughal, Author, Freelance Writer