When There is NO Sense There is Violence
It’s been almost a week in the US since we found out about the shooting in Christchurch, New Zealand. It happened on the eve of my daughter’s birthday. ON her birthday in NZ time. We were still on Spring Break. I came home dog tired from day 3 of theme parking.
It took me a few minutes to understand what the evening news was saying. A shooting. At a masjid. What was shocking was that I wasn’t shocked. It was just a matter of time, right? The only thing shocking was WHERE it happened. In a country that had gun control. No, no, there was something amiss. What finally sent me tearing toward my phone was the realization that I have family there. Family that wouldn’t miss Friday prayer at the masjid. After frantically calling my cousins without an answer, I cussed and called Pakistan, ignoring time zones and praying for my aunt to pick up. She did, immediately knew why I called and allayed my fears. While I waited anxiously to reach her, I kicked myself over and over for not making it to a wedding last year just to meet them. They were okay. We were okay. Allah gave us more time.
I put on my mom face and soldiered through another day of vacation. I was a little nicer though, wondering what I would say to my kids when we get back home, letting them put their sticky boogered hands in mine, smelling their sweaty hair and kissing their red cheeks often, knowing they were safe on this Friday with me. “Say goodbye to the pain of the past. You don’t have to live there anymore. Love is an open door.” These lyrics to a Disney “Frozen” production we watched almost pushed me to tears. Our masjid has an open door policy. Almost all do. We, as Muslim Americans, get offended when we find a masjid locked. Why wouldn’t it be open all the time? It’s for the community. A place where we pray, gather, eat, discuss, and for the kids, play.
My oldest started going to the masjid before he knew the word. Or many words. He was in diapers. He turned out the lights one taraweeh night, and with an imam (not hafidh) reading from the Quran in our early years, sent people giggling, locked in prayer and not knowing what to do until my husband broke to turn the lights back on. It’s one of our favorite family stories: the power of the child in a masjid. Children have caused many costly disasters at our masjid. My two oldest are responsible for most of the physical destruction. We used to be able to tell where, but the masjid has since painted over their artistic contributions. Twice. My youngest attended every taraweeh at 6 months old, resting on the floor with my body shielding him as I prostrated, being lifted up or strapped to my back if he was fussy, or nursing. He still likes to lie down in front me while I make sajdah, though he’s too big now for me to shield all of him like I used to do. Just the vital organs. He closes his eyes, wraps his arms around my neck, and whispers “Subhana Rabi al ‘Ala” with me. It must be something he remembers from those nights. My children were passed like candy by the older children, occasionally dropped or fed something sugary and foreign, but no worse for the wear. This was their second home, and their first family. We forgot our 3 month old daughter at iftaar one day. A teen was watching her and she was loved, happy, safe when we found her. It was that same night. I’m not that neglectful. But I did leave my son there last year after Friday prayer, and because we have 2 services, the second jamaat watched him until one of us picked him up. He had no idea or concern that he was forgotten. He was simply thrilled to have more time to play with friends. I was building independence. It’s never too early.
Our masjid isn’t just a place of worship. It’s truly our first family. It made Friday prayer near us a reality. It started a weekend Islamic school. It stocked our fridges and freezers with food with every sad and blessed event. I didn’t even have to cook RICE for 3 months after my youngest was born! We celebrate the whole of Ramadan together, both Eids, potlucks, service events, anything to just be together. If we don’t let our kids go to ‘Isha prayer on weekends with their grandfather, they will not shut up about it. They get upset when they don’t see their masjid family, especially on Eid day. My mom tribe, my sisters, are at this masjid, the women I lean on for help, to just be someone other than Ammi for a few hours a month. To lose any masjid member now rocks us because we are so small and so close. What would happen if 50 of us just disappeared?
I attended my first vigil for Christchurch yesterday. And I was mad, following the stages of grief almost textbook paced. I was angry because I’m not shocked that a masjid was shot. We are sitting ducks every single Friday. We post our prayer times publicly. There are free apps to figure out when we will pray together. Our Eids are open season. When the Jewish Center at Overland Park had an active shooter, our weekend school decided to have an evacuation plan. The crux of it was to have the teachers get kids out of the building or into the bathrooms and lock the doors. That shooting started our school’s downward financial spiral as we started paying for off duty police because the police chief, though nice and understanding, couldn’t give us free protection. Since 2012, 96 people have died at the hands of white supremacists, mostly lone shooters, in houses of worship. Forty-six died in the United States. Fifty of them died this past Friday. Why would any house of worship be safe when our schools aren’t? Why does the 2nd Amendment right of a few folks supercede the 1st Amendment right to religious freedom for a larger majority? There are far more faithful Americans than there are militiamen. And why are video games promoting violence sold to the general population? They should be reserved for real soldiers.
The answers to all of the questions are simple. When our state and federal elected officials stand in photographs with white supremacists flashing their Nazi hand signs, call them “very fine people,” take their blood stained money, pander to their politically laced agendas and sell out the American people, we get a culture of culpability reduction. “MY people don’t do that. MY people aren’t the cause of the hate, division, and discord. YOUR people are.” And with all that dark red money, it’s not hard to buy media outlets and funnel that propaganda, the “us vs them” to the masses. The video games are much needed training for the “master race” to literally execute its plan. There are no accidents.
Furthermore, it’s OUR fault that the above happened. We didn’t write our stories. We didn’t join the standing institutions, sometimes because of overt racism preventing us, sometimes for lack of resources. We didn’t create lobbies or political muscle. We didn’t object or create waves when a lot of us have the financial power and legal resources to do it. We didn’t think to do anything except survive, especially those who immigrated here. While we did that, the supremacists ensured their longevity by infiltrating school boards and securing Islamaphobic, xenophobic curricula. They produced Hollywood films depicting Muslims as the antagonists, often preceding a US led offensive in countries that surprise! Had oil. And committed “humanitarian atrocities against their own people.” News flash: Syria and Yemen. News news flash: No oil. Worst of all, we let this happen by not voting. When we give up our vote, we decide not to care where our school taxes are used, we decide we don’t care what’s taught in our schools, we decide not to pay teachers living wages, we decide not to study the long term effects of active shooter drills on our kids, we decide not to prosecute police brutality, we decide to funnel the for profit school to prison pipeline, we decide it’s okay for guns to be sold without background checks, we decide that misogynist judges let rapists free, we decide to put families in cages, we decide to enable an unsustainable privatized healthcare system, and we are accountable for all of that and more, in this life and in the next. Every local and municipal decision requires a vote. We don’t just make an appearance at the polls every 4 years. But we hear, “It doesn’t matter,” and “I’ve never voted” and “It’ll never happen to us.” Well, aren’t you special? It matters to SOMEONE. And if SOMEONE isn’t important enough, then NO ONE is. Especially not you. “They are us.” We are next. “Pray as if it’s your last prayer.” We hear this every time we pray together. Well, vote like it’s your last vote. If you don’t think it matters, MAKE it matter.
I still have to talk to my kids about it today. I know one will put on his brave face, and go on. He’s just old enough to be too proud to admit fear. One will stop going because he's completely comfortable with his fears. One won’t understand much except that she still wants to go see her friends. And my youngest won’t stop going. He’s the same age as Abdullahi Dirie, shot dead on Friday. He’s a year older than baby Mucad Ibrahim who didn’t know to play dead and tried to run to his father, shot down on his way. I will tell them that a large, loving, hardworking masjid family was murdered in the place they loved the most. They will hear about the pain of parents and kids losing each other to racism. And then they will learn what Islamaphobia is, and that to combat it, they must excel in everything, especially grades and manners like I did, overcompensate, and live the example of Muhammad (peace be upon him) as closely as they can so they can live the love they’ve learned. I will advise them never to apologize for sins that aren’t theirs, and to admit and correct the ones that are. I have to tell them that to die praying to Allah, fearing Him Alone, is what we do. We don’t let the fear of man overcome our duty to worship. In that is our freedom. And now, as a mother, I finally understand what it means to pray as if it’s my last prayer. I have to pray as if my kids’ or my husband’s next trip to the masjid, or anywhere, could be their last. I have to pray as if Iosing His Creation, the loves of my life, won’t kill me. May He protect us from every evil, division, enemy, and every harm, seen and unseen, known and unknown. Ameen.