Muslim Youth Musings A Site for Muslim Literature Thu, 15 Mar 2018 03:14:58 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Muslim Youth Musings 32 32 11028491 What Happens When I Go to Starbucks Fri, 09 Mar 2018 20:50:12 +0000 By MYM StaffMuslim Youth Musings

I wonder if it’s worth it, brushing the dust off an old atlas to show you where I came from.

By MYM StaffMuslim Youth Musings

When your gaze shifts, I notice your distress. It’s a game for us now, my sisters and me. We’re the best at it, too. I mean, how couldn’t we be, with all this experience? Find the I-can’t-get-enough-looks stranger, the ignorant I’m-going-to-ask-all-these-questions-and-then-proceed-to-tell-you-how-sorry-I-feel-for-you classmate, the middle-aged lady horrified beyond reason, clutching her precious child to her breast, waiting for a ticking bomb to explode.

God knows how much time they have left together.

I wonder if it’s worth it, brushing the dust off an old atlas to show you where I came from. Instead of the world stretched between pages, your eyes would wander to my father’s hands, rivers of white tears lining his dark skin. Would you listen of the sleepless hours he spent chopping at mountains to learn? Sometimes, he transcends time zones, travels across oceans to visit the home of his childhood, and he comes back confused. When he looks at himself through the spyglass of his sisters, all he sees is a frustrating lack of money.

Forgive me, for I have only your piercing stare to go on, but I do not think you are someone who can understand this kind of longitude and latitude, with my father’s callouses as degrees.

Mama’s eyes are hollow sometimes. I have felt helpless when facing piles of endless homework that take days to finish, but none of it compares to the anxiety churning in my stomach when she speaks of home. Once, an evening came and she found her mother had breathed her last only moments ago, when the moon had set high in the sky a thousand miles away. Would you hear my mother’s sobs rising from a bleeding heart, or be blinded by her veil, her accent?

Your pity astonishes me. Did I not say that I chose this lifestyle for myself? But I realize my shortcoming, that, despite being a poet, my words are not enough to describe the peace encompassing my heart when I remember God’s promise.

My grandparents migrated as children, their parents breathing a sigh of relief as they stepped over the border to a newborn country. Here, they wouldn’t be slaughtered in masses. Here, they’d build a new land piece by piece, every family supporting another. But the foundations, though strong, were not maintained, and so the dust-covered earth of my ancestors trembles even today. And my parents, seeing this, made their own migration to the West, placing their fate in God’s hand and following the tales they’d heard about the American dream.

Tell me then, why I would destroy this beautiful home of ours when my parents spared no penny, no bead of sweat to secure a fate here for us? You need not clutch your child so tight. My siblings grew up calling me their second mother; I understand how every drop of a child’s blood is priceless, especially those of yours, for he holds the potential of an open mind, a remnant of the people of Taif.

Mayhap you’ll listen to your own kind. There are Americans in my family too, a cousin who paints her dreams into reality. Another whose steady voice recites the Quran, leading the people praying behind him. I have one who is mocked for being a short nerd but fights back with the spirit of his warrior namesake. They’re a trio inseparable, bonding in their childish love for troublemaking, setting off fireworks and slipping away uncaught.

There is an uncle back home who doesn’t know of his own autism, the reason he can’t find work, and another in America who shoulders the burden of breadwinning for whole families alone. Shall I tell you of their endless humor and pranks? With beards and growing children, they are still young boys at heart.

And if you insist, “This America, my America,” I will remember my papers and concede, “This America, your America.” But I cannot help my love, forbidden in your eyes, of the America that raised me, her rolling hills littered with dandelions, her stray turkeys waddling about with chicks in tow, her sharp curbs challenging my proud, red bike. I’ve only one place to call home, and it is here.

My fingertips tingle with anxiety as I make my way to the counter to place my order. I remind myself of the woman in Wal-Mart touching my mother’s hijab, saying in wonder, “I like this,” of Mrs. Compton telling me my senior year that she saw my frightened freshman self as “shy, yes, but resilient and brave,” of my dentist chatting away about her astonishment as a student when cars lined up in rows around the block outside her house, because the mosque was just down the street, and it was the first night of Ramadan.

“A caramel frappuccino,” I answer the barista, my voice wavering only slightly. “Please,” I clear my throat and smile at her. She turns to take it without a beat, and relieved, I’m left alone to my thoughts for a little while longer.

My sisters confront you by laughing at the craziness of it all, playfully tipping imaginary hats as salutes to you. You don’t think it’s amusing, but the man beside you does. An involuntary grin tugs at his lips, and he turns his face to hide it, though the sparkle in his eyes remain. They’re just girls, he probably thinks.

But I fall silent. My sisters and I have set our eyes above the sky’s horizon, above the rising sun that enchants everyone else. With every layer of black cloth comes a layer of even thicker skin, and instead of teaching humanity, we build ourselves from within, practicing silence, wary of offending our offender.

All this runs through my mind in milliseconds as your gaze of disgust lingers. But even if I used the sky as my map and connected constellations to show you the intertwining fates of my family and this country, you’d be skeptical. “You have no place here,” you’d say. And I’d get a little quieter.

So I turn away and pretend not to notice your constant glances.

All I wanted was some coffee.

Memoir by Anonymous Staff Writer (may Allah bless her and all Muslim women for all that they go through)

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Innately Beautiful Wed, 28 Feb 2018 23:57:24 +0000 By Maryam Abdul-KareemMuslim Youth Musings

Here, my Lord made beauty / If you listen, you can hear the heart beating beauty

By Maryam Abdul-KareemMuslim Youth Musings

Beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder
So, behold
Here, my Lord made beauty
If you listen, you can hear the heart beating beauty
Undisputed, your Lord is beauty
Islam on the tongue and it is sweet
The taste of life
Beauty lies in the soul
So, Behold

We are masterpieces of the Creator
Reaching for Jannah – the beauty of beauty
It takes one to know one
I reflect you and you reflect me
Innately beautiful
Garnish your soul with faith and fear
Embellish every essence of your being
It is Allah who created you
You have but to Be and you are –

Beauty lies within
Stop diminishing her with sin
Repent to your Lord and feel her again
Stop killing the soul
Guard your heart from evil—the hindrance of faith flow
Inject beauty into your veins
Let Islam gorgeous through your body and resuscitate you to life
There is no beauty in the walking dead
So, repent to your Lord and feel life again

Breathe in faith, let it warm your soul
The beauty of prayer is what makes you whole
Let your faith breathe in this city of beauty
No pollution here, we run on Islam
Environmentally sound
Clean and pure
Winds so fresh, they recite Qur’an

I hear the sands reminding me of Allah
Sanding his remembrance in every sermon, every khutbah, the waves bring to shore, they assure:
There is only One God worthy of worship and we are to worship Him and Him alone
Feel Imaan in every joint, every bone

So committed to submitting to my Lord
I make-up every part of me with Him
So that He may become the ears in which I hear
The eyes in which I see
The hand by which I hold
And the foot by which I walk

I walk towards my Lord, so He can run towards me
Forever seeking and soaking in His mercy
I am a forever praying, begging, pleading servant of He
The One
The Eternal
The Absolutely Beauty

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On My Way Home Fri, 23 Feb 2018 04:58:21 +0000 By Aysha SamjooMuslim Youth Musings

“All aboard!” the attendant proclaimed / I checked my map and boarded the train / This was the route that would ease the pain...

By Aysha SamjooMuslim Youth Musings

“All aboard!” the attendant proclaimed,
I checked my map and boarded the train,
This was the route that would ease the pain,
Of suffering and detachment from broken chains

I gathered the little spirit left in me,
Left behind the world, left behind my keys
Made sure to take the window seat
En route to Siraat-ul Mustaqeem…

With the phases of the moon, the train would equate,
The pace was slow, but the route was straight,
Sometimes it paused, and long was the wait,
But the sun only helped me recuperate

I knew I was moving, for my surroundings were anew,
These eyes saw with guidance, what the path meant to construe
Every detail in vicinity, a newborn hue
All led me back to The Creator of the view

I saw, I felt, I reflected, I listened
On my way to my Lord, I toiled, I hastened
A new kind of conscious within me awakened
The journey was worth the land I’d forsaken

As the train rode on, skimming rail after rail,
The path to Him was to my avail
I beamed as the truth before me unveiled
Home was close and His guidance prevailed

“Enter here in peace and security”
My recorded deeds, my only currency
An everlasting dwelling of serenity,
Just me and my Lord forever after in eternity…

Author Notes: It was a warm summer night in Ramadan, and all the believers had left their homes to gather at the masjid to appreciate the word of their Lord. The Sheikh spoke about the ayah from Surah An-Nahl, “Invite to the path of your Lord with wisdom and goodly advice”. He mentioned how Allah ﷻ invites to a path, rather than a destination. Maybe because we are all toiling, hastening towards a path that is open to anyone and everyone who wishes to travel it, and the goal is one and the same: The Creator. As the moon has phases, so do we as believers. Some of us are moving slower than others, and have longer pauses and smaller steps, but what matters is that we are moving with the sun as our constant reminder. And as we move forward on this path to our Lord, we see through new eyes with a heart that beats with iman and greater understanding of our Lord’s words.

This path is Islam, and Allah invites you to reach Him while on it, the Creator of the Heavens and the earth.

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The Sapphire Sky Tue, 06 Feb 2018 04:32:08 +0000 By Sarah AnwarMuslim Youth Musings

The sun is beginning its farewell spectacle and reflects my bittersweet emotions...

By Sarah AnwarMuslim Youth Musings

Blades of grass droop sombrely under the heavy dew. Daisies pop up here and there in a hopscotch pattern, demanding their place in the patch. On the platform, a mother scolds her child for running too close to the edge. A man occupies the only bench reading the day’s newspaper. Every so often, he peers at the train and then shifts the sleeve of his suit back to check his watch. They start to fade out of view as the train begins to move. Gaining momentum, lush pastures of emerald and bright green rush by. I lose myself in the details of the villages, hills, and streams. The conductor, a tall woman with a pleasing countenance, asks to see my ticket. I show her, stuff it in my coat pocket, and return my attention to the world outside. I rest my head on the pane for a moment, and the window vibrates due to the motion of the train. I glance upwards, and see the clouds unite in an ever expanding embrace, and then after a moment or two, drift apart from each other. The sky is tainted with a hue of saffron. The sun is beginning its farewell spectacle and reflects my bittersweet emotions.

I look around at all the people in my carriage. Each person carries a different weight in their heart and each has their own tale of life. Little do they know mine. Would they even care to know? My thoughts begin to take a secluded path as I ponder. Why is it when one door slams shut, we are so blind to see another one open right next to it? Why in the jigsaw of our lives do we try to slot a piece that is not a fit, yet we delude ourselves that it is the whole jigsaw that is wrong? Why are we too afraid to venture into the unknown, when in fact we are suffocating in the illusionary comfort of our bubbles?

My eyes fall upon my bag sitting rigidly on the seat beside me; its mouth gaping wide open, a part of me wishing it would swallow me whole. The seat facing me is occupied by a lady who is engrossed in what appears to be a crime or thriller novel. She shows no sign of being aware of my existence. With a hefty sigh, I reach over into the bag and take out the envelope. I clutch it in the palm of my hand. A tremor would be detectable to anyone paying close attention. I drop it onto the table in front of me. I feel the havoc the emotions are wreaking in my heart, fear being the alpha of the pack. What if I have failed myself? What if I have failed those who I wish to make proud? Years of my life, my hopes, training, effort and energy amounting to absolutely nothing. In my mind sirens of what if’s blare incessantly; throttling my rationality. I lean back on the seat and close my eyes in an earnest attempt to sleep. To escape from the reality I am in…

Lying outstretched in the world of my imagination. I feel drunk with the heat of the sun. I haul myself up from the ground. The light breeze feels beautiful upon my flushed cheeks, gently sweeping through my locks, caressing me like a lover. I see a butterfly. The way the light reflects off its wings like a prism producing a halo of colours is simply enchanting. So fragile a creature yet so striking in its beauty. Without warning, it flutters its wings and ascends into the air. On sudden impulse I chase after it. My steps quicken until I am running. My eyes are fixated on it. A desire to hold it, to have it rages from within. I look down and realise my hands no longer have fingers but are nets. I can hear each flap of its wings. They sound like the wheels of a train clicking on the tracks. I see how near it is and I am so very close to seizing it. Leaping into the air, I throw the whole weight of my body, my arm extended and ready to capture. In this position I’m suddenly suspended mid-air and as I watch, the butterfly disintegrates crumbling into a thousand tiny pieces. In that instance like an anchor being dropped, I’m falling.

I open my eyes abruptly. Heart racing, palms sweaty, and my mind hazy. It takes me a few seconds to adjust to the surrounding. I must have drifted off. I sit up and rub my face in an attempt to wipe off the slumber. There it was still, exactly where I had left it on the table. A tiny spark of courage rises but is immediately snuffed out. I glance to the window on my left. The sky is now intensifying by the minute into a darker and deeper sapphire. It has swallowed the sun, it is long gone. The shrill voice of the train conductor announcing our impending arrival bursts through the speakers and grabs my attention by the scruff of its neck. I’m almost home. Everyone will be waiting. I picture the smiles of encouragement on their faces as I walk in and the sighs and ‘never minds’ as I tell them I haven’t made it. That I have failed. That I haven’t secured the position I had been long awaiting. The pinnacle of my career. This was it. Make or break. I clutch the envelope and I think I’m about to tear it open. But I falter. I taunt myself. Coward.

I’m distracted. A baby is desperately trying to wrangle out of the arms of his mother who is sat in a table seat diagonally parallel to mine. After several attempts she gives in and puts him down onto the floor of the half empty carriage. He crawls a couple of seats away in one direction and then back to where he was placed. His mother leans forward out of her seat and protectively looks on. I see little chubby hands reach up as he attempts to hold the edge of the seat in order to stand. His weak legs fail him. The mother coos to comfort and encourages with her words. He reaches up to the seat to try again. There seems to be no ‘give up’ mode engaged, failure is not an option. No fear detected. It’s exactly the encouragement I need. His resilience is like an arm around my shoulder and a supportive word in my ear. In that moment whilst my courage is a warrior keeping my fears at bay, I tear open the envelope, unfold the letter and let out the breath that has been suspended in my throat for the last few seconds. The words are a blur. I’m scanning them more quickly than my brain is registering them. I find what I’m looking for. The words ‘pleased to inform you’ and ‘successful’ keep repeating in my head like a jammed CD. Closing my eyes I feel the heavy baggage of fear and anxiety I have been carrying on board this train, slide down from my shoulders and drop off my fingertips.

The train grinds to a steady halt. I step off onto the bustling station. Commuters push past in a race to reach the exit. In the sea of faces traveling in every direction I spot my mother’s. My mouth spreads into a smile. A smile that is screaming I did it, I succeeded. I glance back at the seat in the carriage I was sat in. I stare for just a few seconds in defiance at the emotional baggage which I gladly no longer claim as mine. Above, the sky has been stripped of any colour and is now smothered in a layer of black velvet. It contains the secrets of many a soul and mysteries of the unknown. I pluck out the remnants of fear from the hollows of my heart and scatter them out into the night sky.

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Stuck Wed, 31 Jan 2018 12:12:39 +0000 By Fatimata ChamMuslim Youth Musings

A word has been written across her face...A word has been written across her hijab...

By Fatimata ChamMuslim Youth Musings

In the corner, she sits,
In the darkness, she sits,
In the grass, she lies,
In the moon, she rests,
Words hanging off her back

A word has been written across her face
She is continuously running away….
A word has been written across her hijab
It’s living in her heart, now.

She’s standing,
she’s sitting,
she’s running.
But still…

She’s banging on the windows,
Tears run down her chubby cheeks,
Her hair runs free now.
Her hijab is gone
Pulled off by those
Who simply don’t understand
Her hijab
Is her freedom
It’s her life.

Trying to yell,
trying to scream.
Nothing but air,
nothing but silence.
The world is moving on without her,
Her name is floating in a cloud somewhere,
She is nothing, but something that once was.

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Under Cover – On Being an American Muslim Reporter Sat, 20 Jan 2018 08:03:38 +0000 By MYM StaffMuslim Youth Musings

One year ago, at around midnight on election night, I sat in the back corner of a local restaurant and bar with my laptop, filing a story on a local political race. I hadn’t prayed Isha yet. I was hungry. “BREAKING: A Donald Trump presidency is on the horizon…” The headline was met with a …

By MYM StaffMuslim Youth Musings

One year ago, at around midnight on election night, I sat in the back corner of a local restaurant and bar with my laptop, filing a story on a local political race. I hadn’t prayed Isha yet. I was hungry.

“BREAKING: A Donald Trump presidency is on the horizon…” The headline was met with a four-letter profanity that interrupted the sound of my fingers rapping against the keys. The printers in the newsroom were waiting. Cries of incredulity and concern hung in the air.

It had been a long Tuesday hopping between polling sites and pooling quotes about local and national races for our live election feeds. I had found myself seeking out non-white voters to understand the Trump phenomena. It was an eye-opening exercise in avoiding assumptions. In what felt like a teaser of the results of the election, exactly 23 of the 24 immigrants I interviewed said they were voting for Trump. I felt intrigued, awkward, and shocked as these individuals explained their reasoning and offered concerns about Muslim radicalization, mounting terrorism, and illegal immigration. Trump was the “people’s man,” as one immigrant from the Philippines told me.

At the restaurant, an elderly woman with a beer in hand approached me. I peeled my eyes from the screen and told her I was on deadline, assuming she wanted to talk to me about the local political scene.

“I just wanted to say we’ve got your back. Whatever happens,” she said, offering a gentle smile. She opened her mouth to say something more, but stopped midway.

I filed my story, drove home, grabbed a granola bar for dinner, and slept.

The next morning, I awoke to the land of Trump, a candidate who had called for a national registry of Muslims, expanded the political space for anti-Muslim rhetoric, and planned to build on pre-existing domestic programs and a hidden industry that feeds on Islamophobia.

My phone buzzed with texts from sources offering words of solace and comfort. Wary of crossing the line between personal and professional, I hesitantly read the messages.

“I know this may not be appropriate, but I just wanted to say that I will fight to do anything and everything to protect the rights of Muslims,” one text read.

Thinking of all the immigrants that told me they were voting for Trump, I responded, “How can you be sure I didn’t vote for Trump?”

No response came.

These kinds of conversations routinely crop up in my work, though the beat I cover is as insulated as it gets—low-lying hyperlocal politics, far removed from national news. Yet, as a Muslim journalist, I have grown accustomed to my claim to Islam being a defining point—and in some cases, a starting point—in conversations.

The innocent, open-ended question, “Where are you from?” has often become an opportunity for me to define my identity in an increasingly secular, liberalizing society.

“Maryland,” I respond.

Confusion usually crosses their faces. Some accept it. Others try again.

“Yes, but where are you really from?” they ask.

I explain my American Pakistani roots, offering a coined phrase.

“I’m an American Pakistani Muslim—in that order,” I say, smiling.

What many don’t realize is that it has taken me much time to cement that order.

Being a Muslim journalist instantly earns you the cool badge among friends and acquaintances, perhaps at the expense of eyebrow-raises and subdued nods and achas among the uncles and aunties in the community who struggle to understand what an online journalist does. My physical appearance, namely my hijab, precedes me when I enter any room. Most of the time, I am the only minority present.

Ironically, I found myself relying on my uniqueness as a Muslim in journalism to separate myself from peers. Only later did I realize how dangerous that was.

Fresh out of college, a Jewish national reporter and editor I worked with on a post-graduation stint said he’d keep an eye on me.

“Muslim, hijab, and a reporter! Well, isn’t that one hell of a story!” he said over dinner at a halal restaurant.

I gawked. Was it really?

Unfortunately, anti-Muslim hostility has given rise to a pitiful genre of corrective journalism that seeks to normalize the mundane actions of “everyday” Muslims. Headlines blare, “Look at this Muslim doing such a normal thing!”

In doing so, these otherwise well-intentioned stories reduce the American Muslim experience to fit a preconceived notion of what it means to be “normal” in this country. Yet, people mistakenly perceive the greatest power of a Muslim-minority journalist is representation in a less-than-diverse newsroom.

One of my Muslim mentors pulled me aside after November 8, 2016, and said, “Well, don’t you have a responsibility, missy? You’re in a powerful position.” She then went on to draw an imperfect comparison between Muslims breaking into the field of media to black journalists changing the narrative during the civil rights movement.

Admittedly, there is no denying there is a growing need for alternative voices to represent the American Muslim experience. But the greatest power of my role extends beyond representation. It means adopting a career mantra that is stubbornly staked on pursuing the raw, honest journalism that speaks truth to power that the American Muslim community has craved for many years.

And when you pursue that mission, that means no excuses.

Journalists are not stenographers. They have a responsibility to seek the truth and report it. When you know what it’s like to feel misrepresented, misconceived, and misplaced in mainstream media narratives, you understand the plight of the most vulnerable and underrepresented segments of the community. When you see acts of terror conflated with and connected to Islam, spun and respun into a self-serving, ad hominem argument, you understand the struggle and pain when an undocumented immigrant chooses to share her experience.

“I’m not a criminal. That’s what they say on the news, but it’s not what’s really true,” one undocumented college student recently told me. “You can’t paint a people with one brush.”

I feel a vested responsibility to ensure that I do not approach any story with baggage and a pre-written narrative. And though I have made many mistakes and written stories I would be ashamed to re-read, I know that I am open to the thoughts of others, no matter who they may be.

As one local black leader put it over the phone the other day: “Let’s just say you’re not a blonde, blue-eyed reporter. That changes things.”

“You don’t belong here, ma’am.”

After visiting a polling precinct – my first time as a reporter – I closed my car door, put my hands on the cold steering wheel, and cried.

The election judge barred me from taking photos, a typical move veteran journalists are accustomed to. “You don’t belong here, ma’am. I don’t think you understand how things work here. So, please, leave,” he said. “I can tell you’re getting emotional, but please, just go.”

State and federal law allows reporters to take photos at precincts, so long as we abide by certain restrictions like not shooting photos of people filling out ballots.

In hindsight, a thousand rebuttals stream into my head, but in that moment, nothing came. As I sat in the parking lot, I thought, “What did he mean I don’t belong here? Was I unfairly interpreting this statement to mean I don’t belong in this country? Or did he mean the polling site?”

I discovered the plight of Islamophobia. By inciting fear of Muslims, this phenomena incites fear within them. I interpreted every negative encounter as evidence of Islamophobia. The run-in with the election judge was routine, I later learned.

As my one of my editors told me, “If you want to be loved, you don’t join journalism.”

But at other times, clearly Islamophobic encounters have happened. When you are in a visible role, you are visibly targeted. A few days ago, a man, who introduced himself as a Trump supporter, told me to go back to my country and poked fun at my hijab as I prayed near a public government campus.

This time, I felt prepared. I finished my prayer, looked up, and said, “Thanks for the invite, but I’m already at my home. If you feel so strongly about this, I can certainly quote you on that.”

I knew the man’s name, as you often do in local politics, and the web of ties between people is fascinating to uncover, especially for a newcomer.

These encounters stick with you. They make prayer a challenge in public places. They rattle you, even though you tell yourself they are the exception rather than the norm.

On a daily basis, however, the challenge is less headline-worthy.

In between assignments, you must find a spot to pray, to make wudu or to break your fast during night meetings. You must establish lines with non-mahram colleagues in a profession where private sit-downs and coffee chats are a proven way to gain the trust of sources and learn what’s going on in the community. You find yourself expertly maneuver yourself between non-mahrams at press conferences where space to prop your recorder or camera in front of the person presenting is limited.

And, most importantly, you embody a silly pun to die for: You’re a journalist. Under cover.


In Search of a Code of Ethics

Famed newspaper commentator and author Walter Lipman famously said, “There is no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.”

In journalism school, I recall circling this quote, drawing a straight line with a pointed arrow, and writing the famous hadith, “Enjoin the good and forbid the evil.”

It seemed Islam and the secular code of ethics in journalism, written by the Society of Professional Journalists and taught in classrooms across the country, was beautifully in sync with the Islamic principles of truth, honesty, and justice. The code highlights four broad principles: seek the truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent.

But in practice, a Muslim journalist must recreate a code of ethics that is more closely in line with Islamic beliefs. This is necessary because there is no formal professional organization or network of Muslim journalists.

For example, an individual’s right to privacy often butts up against the public’s right to information. In Islam, one requires a compelling argument to interview a grieving mother, to divulge their secrets, and lay bare the most intimate, emotional parts of their lives. It is hard not to feel like you are exploiting the vulnerable.

Verification is also a major tenet of journalism. Sources routinely provide information—sometimes for political gain, to score points, or to sway coverage. As a journalist, I must evaluate my personal comfort level with the information I’m exposed to. It’s almost as if there is a sanad, or chain of narration, that is necessary to vet the quality of information. As Allah says, “And cover not truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth when you know what it is.” (2:43).

Haqq is, ultimately, the central driving force. When your career and your deen depend on this guiding tenet of truth, you have a high standard to uphold. There is no room for games.

Despite this challenge, I am elated to hear of anyone entering an non-conventional career that strays from wielding a stethoscope or becoming an engineer.

At a recent community iftar, a first-year college student told me she wanted to become a journalist, but her reasoning disturbed me.

“I want people to know that Muslims can do anything. I can be a journalist and be normal too,” she said. “Any advice?”

What a sad place to begin, I thought to myself. Unfortunately, many aspiring youth buy into a dangerous, self-serving narrative, ultimately reframing their identity and justification for their career to fit a reductionist, mainstream model that seeks to normalize Muslims in non-conventional careers.

I told her that the headscarf on her head will no undoubtedly drown her presence when she enters a room. To the world, she will undoubtedly be known as the “Muslim” journalist. She would often be the only minority in the room. But that should not define her.

What should define her is her work, her ethics, and her commitment to upholding the tenets of true journalism: accountability, transparency, and a quest for uncovering the truth.

Once she embraces that, there is no falling back.

This is what I told the young college student who approached me that Ramadan night after an especially mundane meeting.

It is also the scoop I tell myself.

I am not the story. The story is my work. I must not let my career be defined by my commitment to my Islam. My Islam must define my commitment to my career.

And nothing is ever, as they say in journalism, “off the record.”

Memoir by Anonymous Guest Writer | Photo by Shefa Ahsan

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The Experiences of a Black And Muslim Girl Living in America Mon, 15 Jan 2018 22:52:45 +0000 By Fatimata ChamMuslim Youth Musings

I sit here and try to write, but it comes up as a blank. You would think that it would be easy to write about something like this, but it’s not, because the truth is, there are a million black and Muslim girls in America, and I’m just one of them. How can I speak …

By Fatimata ChamMuslim Youth Musings

I sit here and try to write, but it comes up as a blank. You would think that it would be easy to write about something like this, but it’s not, because the truth is, there are a million black and Muslim girls in America, and I’m just one of them. How can I speak for all when I can’t even speak for myself sometimes.

Here’s my first experience.

I was in the second grade. Sitting at a table. I look around the room and there’s only one of me. I feel lost and try so hard to belong, but it doesn’t work. They keep asking me the same question over and over again and I draw a blank. I realize I do not know how to answer it. Then it happens. Someone pulled off my hijab. I just remember sitting there and time froze. Everything around me became still. The only noise I could hear was the noise of children who were laughing at my curly, kinky hair. The hair that has been embedded in my genes. The hair that makes me African-American. They took away something that made me feel protected…my hijab. After that day, the questions never came up again.

My second experience.

I was in the 5th grade, and my cousin and I were on our way to Arabic school. We were playing around and he pushed me a bit too hard, and I fell to the ground on my face. My skin slowly started to peel off and I had to go to the ER for immediate surgery. I lost a lot of blood that day but that’s not what caused my heart to break. You see, I am a daddy’s girl. I love him and without him, I don’t know where I would be. But the next day, I could not see him because it turns out, they took my father into this questioning room and painted him as the man that had hurt me. What’s even worse is that they called him the ‘n-word’. Then they questioned me and I told them what happened and they let my father go, but I will never forget that day because they hurt the one person besides my mom who would go to the ends of the earth for me. I had never seen my father cry until that day.

My third experience but not my last.

At a march for equal rights. In a crowd of 8,000 people. I was standing with my bright red coat on. I felt protected. We were all rejoicing. Me and my friends, adults and children alike. My sign had a heart symbol and a smiley face because love is the only way, right? I was happy and I had the biggest smile because no one could take that away from me, right? Then he came. The man with the yellow shirt. He approached me. And he told me he would buy me a first class ticket back to Africa. He told me I didn’t belong. This wasn’t my country. Something I have been told all my life. My mind froze. I felt so weak. I walked away. I didn’t yell at him. I followed my heart, and it told me to walk away. I couldn’t help but believe that it was true. Sitting in the comfort of strangers who showed me love and kindness, I learned that while I was fighting the battle inside, that I was not alone. It was the actions of another stranger that made it all worthwhile. I don’t know her name, but she told me that I was better than that. I thought my world was falling apart, that my heart was breaking at the seams. I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out.

Everyone has a story.

Things fall apart.
You fall apart.
We all fall apart.
I fall apart.
It’s what makes us all humans.

This is what I have so far, but I’m not yet done telling my story.

Even if my story becomes nothing but a distant memory. I want you to remember this: “The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern.” ― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

Everyone has a story, everyone has their own personal struggle that they go through. The most important lesson that I learned from these experiences is no matter what happens, we need to continue to fight. Every experience is a test on our strength and perseverance. We can do this because the greatest of people had to overcome a struggle and obstacle and fight through it. We all have a purpose in this life, and it is vital that we fulfill it to the best of our ability.

Photo Credit: “U.S. Fencing’s Ibtihaj Muhammad” by U.S. Embassy London is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

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Breath of Death Thu, 28 Dec 2017 21:23:17 +0000 By Asha ColeMuslim Youth Musings

It’s funny, how we live life fretting over the pettiest things, and not fretting over the important things. For example, this past Saturday, I had a panic attack because I was denied a trip and was convinced my life was over. Yet I never really considered preparing myself for when my life will actually be …

By Asha ColeMuslim Youth Musings

It’s funny, how we live life fretting over the pettiest things, and not fretting over the important things. For example, this past Saturday, I had a panic attack because I was denied a trip and was convinced my life was over. Yet I never really considered preparing myself for when my life will actually be over, and I will meet my Lord. That is, until, I smelled the breath of death. But that’s getting ahead of myself.

My life hung on my parents saying yes. Folded paper slips they needed to sign rested in my hands that I kept behind my back.

“Morning habibti,” Mama says, a glass of smoothie in her hand. “You want some? I added a new secret ingredient.”

“Morning. Um, maybe in a bit.”

Baba looked up from his work computer, raising a single eyebrow, a trick everyone in my family could do besides me. “Maimuna, refusing her mom’s famous berry-mango smoothie with a mysterious new ingredient? What type of alternate reality is this?”

I take a breath. “An alternate reality in which I need to ask you two a very important question. Vital, actually.”

Mama puts down her glass, and Baba swivels his office chair to face me. “Yes?”

Casting the paper slip onto the kitchen table, I launch into my spiel. “So my Spanish class at school has planned a fully paid trip for their advanced class, which, as you know, I’m a part of. Mr. Diego and his wife are chaperoning, and the trip will be extremely beneficial, offering a rich experience of the language and culture that can’t be taught in a classroom.” I parroted the last part from Mr. Diego.

My parents were squinting at me.

“And where is this trip to?” Baba asked.

I bit my lip, crossing my fingers in my pocket. “Spain. Barcelona, Spain.”

“Oh, yes, I got an email about that, but with my sister’s wedding it just slipped my mind. I’m sorry Maimuna but your Baba and I already discussed it. Not this time habibti.”

I blinked, hearing the words but not wanting to comprehend them.

“We just don’t feel comfortable sending you thousands of miles away and—”


My mom nodded. “And we hardly know your teacher and the students you’ll be sharing a room with—”


“I’m trying to tell you sweetheart. We aren’t comfortable with our fiteen year old daughter practically on the other side of the world with no one we truly know.”

“But, but, everyone’s going. Everyone else in the class, even Iman!”

“Well, that was their parents’ decision. This is our decision.”

Tears brimmed my eyes. “But I’ve spent months preparing for this, and—”

“Maybe next time Maimuna. Right now you should wash up and get ready to go. Your aunt wants us to help choose a wedding cake.”

“There’s not going to be a next time,” I argued, shooting a desperate look at my dad, but he simply offered an apologetic smile. Their calmness mocked the way they made my insides feel like a teapot of hot water had been poured into it. I stormed from my seat, kicking the table and flipping over a chair, stomping to my room and slamming the door locked behind me in my Baba’s face.

He kept knocking and calling my name, but my head was in my pillows, and I was wheezing. I didn’t understand how they could let my three months of pinning ideas onto my ‘Trip to Spain’ board, spending late nights pouring over Spanish textbooks, podcasts, and shows, and chatting excitedly with my classmates about the trip like I was going, go to waste. I didn’t understand how they could let me be the only person in the class with parents that acted like I was a baby and deprived me of a once in a lifetime chance. My mind wandered to the paper slip left abandoned on the table. I wish I could forge their signatures, but Mr. Diego said he had to receive the slip from the parents themselves.

When my breathing finally became semi-stable, I pulled my phone from underneath my pillow. I pulled up a recent text conversation with my friend Iman, which consisted of her trying to convince me to come to Jana, the most popular girl at my school’s beach party. I had refused because I knew there’d be music, dancing, boys, and whatever else teenage parties consisted of. Basically, everything that would make my parents freak out if they found out I went. But if they weren’t going to be considerate of me, there was no reason I had to consider them.

I changed my mind about the party. Can u pick me up now?

Three blinking dots.

Iman: Be there in ten.

I jumped off my roof. Which, at least from the part directly outside my window, wasn’t much of a drop at all.
Although Iman was only a year older than me, she already had a license and the newest model of a Chevy to her name, vis a vis her dad being a doctor, and her mom being a lawyer. And yes, before you judge my friend choices, she is a bit spoiled, but also the most honest person I know, which was important to a girl in middle school surrounded by false smiles and deceiving motives. She rolled down the window of the passenger seat, eyeing my sweats.

“You’re not going dressed like that.”

I got in the car and placed my bag between my legs. “I was hoping you’d help me find an outfit at the mall before we go.”

Iman’s fingers tap-danced against the wheel. While I had no idea what I wanted to do, Iman was already looking into fashion schools, and any mention of clothes or the mall made her giddy.“I know the perfect dress. Pray they have your size.”


There was an interval of silky silence. “You can’t go, hmm?”

My staring moodily out the window answered her.

“I’m so sorry May. Maybe this party will make up for it a bit.”

I snorted. “Well, it’s getting away from my parents.”

When we got to the mall, Iman knew exactly where to go, dragging me to some obscure corner of a store I haven’t even been inside before. Hangers rattled against each other.

“Here it is, and in your size,” Iman gushed, waving a glimmery and turquoise dress with lace sleeves in my face. “It matches the ocean and brings out the green in your eyes, it will knock everyone’s sandals off!” She giggled at her own joke. “Perfect for a beach party if I may say so myself.”

I glanced at the sleeves cut just below the elbows with uncertainty. If my parents saw me in this dress, I’d be grounded for life. “Yeah,” I said. “Perfect, o great fashionista.”

She made an attempt to flip back her scarf as if it was hair, but it didn’t work so well.

I purchased the dress and a simple blue scarf, and changed into both of them. It took a whole five minutes before I could finally force myself out of the dressing room. I looked like an undercover Cinderella. I had to resist trying to cover my arms. “Alright,” I told Iman. “To the first place I’ve been without my parents knowing.”

The beach seemed to be its own world, Jana and her friends its queens and kings. A tingle traveled up my spine as I realized that as soon as I stepped out of the car, I was one of them. A few girls swayed and giggled near a boombox playing one of the newest hits. Boys and girls faced off in an intense volleyball game, sending sand flying. A few waded in the shallow part of the sea, and if I could see correctly it seemed two boys were having a sandcastle building competition. But the largest crowd was around a gaggle of foldup tables covered in lacy white table cloths, and on those sat drinks, snacks, and Jana, her blond highlights, brilliant smile, and yellow one-piece swimsuit dazzling in the sun. I shouldn’t have been surprised at the swimsuit. Jana came from an Arab family like myself, but unlike me she was the first generation to be born in America. While her parents seemed to hold onto religious and cultural customs, they didn’t push anything upon their children.

I’m sure her parents would allow her to go to Spain.

When we approached, Jana seemed to be finishing off recalling a memory that must’ve been enthralling, because the listeners hung onto every word, their eyes dancing. But perhaps that was simply because they were in Jana’s presence. I was wrong. Jana was the queen. We were simply ladies and lords honoured to be invited to her royal event.

“Oh my gosh,” she said when she saw us. “I’m so happy you could make it!”

Although she’d probably said those exact words to everyone here, I couldn’t help but feel special. Maybe Iman was right about this party being the escape I needed.

“Your dress is so gorgeous Maimuna. It really suits your eyes.”

“Thank you, and yeah that’s what Iman said. She picked it out actually.”

Jana gave an approving nod to Iman. “Well I know who to call during my next fashion crisis.”

I side glanced at Iman. She was failing at trying to hide her giddiness at someone like Jana noticing her fashion sense.

“No. Way,” Jana said, a smirk on her face.

“What is it?” I asked.

She leaned towards my ear and whispered. I ignored the squints I got from everyone else at the table. “That boy over there, by the water, Zaid. He is totally staring at you. He’s on our school’s basketball team and is really cute. I told you that dress is eye catching.”

I gaped, not because I didn’t know who Zaid was— everyone knew Zaid, he was like Jana’s counterpart— but because I didn’t believe her. Though sure enough, when I turned around, he was looking this way.

“Oh, he’s probably looking at you.”

“Nah, I discovered long ago we’re not each others’ type. You should go talk to him.”

Before I could protest, she was already leading me to him. I shot Iman a ‘help me’ look, but she was too busy attacking the snack table and chatting. Besides, even though Iman didn’t understand Zaid’s appeal, no one contradicted Jana.

“Hey guys,” Jana said, drawing her words out a bit slower than usual. “What are you up to?”

“You see that rock island thing over there?” Zaid said. I followed where he pointed to a cluster of rocks, in the middle of the water, placed a ways from all the people, seagulls dancing around it. “I wanna swim over there, but the twins don’t want to come because they didn’t bring swimsuits.” He rolled his eyes grandiosely.

The twins, who were the boys building sandcastles, shrugged.

“The water’s chilly,” said the one with the tallest castle.

“My shorts won’t dry off quick enough and I hate wet things in a car,” added the one with the more elaborate castle.

“Divas,” retorted Zaid. “Will you come to the island with me?” He was staring directly at me, and I didn’t know where to look. Although the weather was warm, I felt like it wasn’t warm enough for the ocean. However, something about him didn’t let me refuse.

“Uh, let me just change into my swimsuit.”

Jana laughed. “Well you two have fun.” She waved and returned to the tables.

“Even this fine lady isn’t afraid of the ocean,” Zaid said to the twins pointedly, trying to get a reaction.

They kept nonchalantly building their sandcastles.

“It’s Maimuna,” I said, and promised to be right back.

Iman had left her car unlocked like I knew she would, and I quickly grabbed the bag I’d put my swimsuit in.

There was a restroom building on the beach, and I put on my swimsuit faster than I ever had in my life, probably because I was sure Zaid would leave without me, perhaps finding another girl to go on island escapades with. My swimsuit covered everything but my hands and feet, and I wore a scarf made for swimming. I felt like I contrasted starkly with Jana, but there was no time to be self-conscious about it.

Zaid was miraculously still waiting for me, giving me a lopsided grin, when I arrived panting.

“I thought the fine lady was going to bail on me for a sec there.”

“I will if you keep calling me fine lady.”

His eyebrows shot up. I’m guessing few girls objected that nickname. “Ahh, so you’re a feisty one.”

“Well when your parents crush your dream, I guess you’re pushed to be brasher than usual,” I muttered.


I shook my head, going ahead into the water. My toes wriggled, the sting of the chill bringing a layer of reality to this afternoon that had been passing by like a hazy dream. A few minutes in, and my shivering subsided. I put barely any effort into swimming, but the waves were dragging us towards the island.

“Do you think we’ll find a treasure map in a bottle?” Zaid joked.

I smiled, half at his humor, half at the warmth on my face. It wasn’t Spain, but it was something my parents would never let me do, and the feeling of freedom was almost similar. Except one had an undertone of guilt and the other wouldn’t have. I shook that thought from my head. “Mm, yeah the dotted line will lead up to an X,” I paused dramatically, “-box.”

Zaid chortled. “The best type of treasure.”

It was probably the first time I had made a male outside of my family laugh, so I smiled brighter, letting my eyes close as I soaked in the moment.

When I opened them again, we were closer to the island, the people of the party merely moving forms.

“I think we’re too far from the sand,” I told Zaid, but he shrugged, so I stopped worrying, and re-entered my bubble of peace. Then the tide changed that peace to chaos.

“I can’t swim forward,” Zaid said, panic in his voice.

I gave a start. The island was only a few yards ahead of us, but somehow we were pulled behind it. Within split seconds I was thrashing against the waves, alarms wailing in my head. I didn’t understand how I didn’t notice that we got this far away from the beach. I didn’t understand how my heart could beat too fast and too slow at the same time. I didn’t understand how the water was so warm and so cold. I didn’t understand how a refusal from my parents lead me to placing myself in a position where I was going to die. However, I clearly understood that I was drowning.

“Help!” I wailed continuously in between choking, waving my hands as desperately as, well, a drowning person. But the ladies and lords and queen were far off, out of earshot, enjoying their world of sunshine and laughter and music. Snot and tears ran down my face, the salty water stinging my eyes. My voice didn’t sound like my own. I glanced at Zaid with hope of help but it immediately flickered out; he was in a just as miserable a state as I was.

I can’t tell which one of us repeated, “I’m going to die.”

With every inch I swam forward, the waves pushed me back three, so I gave up, exhausting my breath and strength to keep myself above water. I wouldn’t last much longer. The seagulls squawked, their white slender wings mocking me.
I realized then that there was only one thing that could help me. One that can always hear my calls of despair, always see my state. The same One I’d truly been disregarding all day.


When the thought entered, I instantaneously felt like an angel had embraced me, smoothly transitioning my body to where I was laying on my back— something I would’ve never thought to do. My memory is like a grainy photograph beyond that point. The next thing I remember clearly is crying into my mother’s shoulder, apologizing, to her, to myself, but mostly to Allah.
It is sad, how I have lived life fretting over the petty things and not fretting over what matters most.

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If I Weep Thu, 21 Dec 2017 18:45:10 +0000 By Eman AkhtarMuslim Youth Musings

if i weep, it’s because i can only hold onto grief,   and if i cry, it’s because there’s no place for me,   and if i can’t forgive myself, it’s because i don’t know how.   is it okay if i lose myself in trying to recover who i really am?   is it …

By Eman AkhtarMuslim Youth Musings

if i weep,
it’s because
i can only hold onto grief,


and if i cry,
it’s because
there’s no place for me,


and if i can’t forgive myself,
it’s because
i don’t know how.


is it okay if i lose myself
in trying to recover who i really am?


is it okay if i am hard on myself
for not knowing all there is to know?


is it okay to give up on what i thought i wanted,
because i realized that i only want to be happy?


is it okay to stop eating,
because i still sob at the memories?


something foul lives in me,
and i stand quietly,
softly avoiding my former self.


my mother,
you see,
has left me,
and i still have to come to terms with this grief,

with who i used to be,

with how i view myself through her eyes.


sometimes i feel like no one would understand,
the way i hurt myself in the process
of processing everything that has occurred.


i pray for everyone’s happiness,
for heaven,
for peace of mind,
for atika, karim,
colleen, youssef, rajae, zaynab,
for hanna, janie, julia, andrzej,
everyone else there is to know,
my mother, my remorse,
my abbu, his career, his family,
my phupal, her marriage, her children,
my amee, her health, her strength,
my brother, to take the path for which i am too weak to bear
my chachee, who lost her job,
for lara, her pain, her selflessness,
for the wars to end and for the people dying,
and then for myself,
for how i love and hate,
for my fear, for my loss,
for me to be someone renewed,

without that same feeling of emptiness,


if i don’t pray correctly, will i be forgiven?
i never knew a time
when i could ask for so much,
beg for something,


but i hardly say thank you,
hardly a moment,


if i don’t fast properly,
if i can’t remember surahs the way i memorize the minute details of the sky,
if i can’t keep myself from descending into that place.


i realize i’m too tough on myself,
but that doesn’t help it,
it doesn’t make the pit in my stomach disappear,
it doesn’t make me any less fearful,

of wrath, of pain, of having to survive the night,


what do i do to live peacefully?
to be the way i know i should be?


do i avoid all thoughts?
pray infinitely?
cry myself to sleep?
refuse to eat another day,
for i no longer feel hunger?


but i am human,
and it’s okay to break apart after seven years,
it’s okay to feel as if the world is ending,
every other day is another shooting,
every other day the tears flow,
like rivers,
like acid rainfall,
like darkness descending at maghrib,


but sleep,
tomorrow is a new day,

and God willing,

you will live again,
breathe again,
find that peace,


Author’s Note: This poem is about coming to terms and accepting myself as a Muslim and as a human being, realizing that I cannot know everything and that it’s okay to make mistakes. Over the past week, I’ve traveled around different cities in Morocco and learned things about myself more than I did about the country I’m staying in. I’ve learned that it’s okay to continue to grieve for my biological mother who passed away nearly seven years ago. I’ve also learned that it’s okay not to know everything, whether it be about language or religion, because no one can really know everything.

The people around me, Muslim and non-Muslim, have helped me to see this, but I still have self-doubts and I end up being hard on myself. For example, when I pray, I pray for all of the people in my life: my host family, my mentors, those on my study abroad program, my family, my friends, then myself. At times I feel bad because I feel as if I’m praying for too much and never thanking Allah enough for what I have. I have doubts about whether I’m a good Muslim, about whether I even pray or fast correctly. But by the end of all this, I realized that I’m a human and it’s okay to make mistakes, that Allah can forgive me, and that tomorrow is always a new day to make up for everything I lost before.

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Her Name Meant Mercy Thu, 14 Dec 2017 18:42:05 +0000 By Aziza PauffMuslim Youth Musings

When I first saw her, I couldn’t yet perceive That this veiled figure would be the friend of my dreams Whose existence was hidden from me until the time was right For the Lord is aware of even a creature’s most silent plights It was a less than a year since I’d left my home …

By Aziza PauffMuslim Youth Musings

When I first saw her, I couldn’t yet perceive
That this veiled figure would be the friend of my dreams
Whose existence was hidden from me until the time was right
For the Lord is aware of even a creature’s most silent plights

It was a less than a year since I’d left my home
With tears, I bade farewell and embraced the unknown
The tires of my car spun the memories through my mind
A quiet small town and a spring sunrise left behind

Despite the pain, it was a leap of faith I had to make
For I knew that better things would be lying in wait
But inside of me ever lived a piece of where I came
Something deep I couldn’t shake which always stayed the same

So I felt, I loved, I fell, I cried, and it all happened so fast
Circumstances forced this timid soul to face her fears at last
And though I wondered why some things just didn’t seem right
There was no choice but to have hope and carry on the fight

I was a first time teacher caught up in a frenzy of thoughts
“Did I just do the right thing or was I better off not….?”
I realized that I still had so much to learn about my ABC’s
Academics, behavior, classroom management…all three

In the midst of all this came the news that gave me a little scare
A new team teacher was to join me, but who was she and from where?
Another change and adjustment to tack onto my list
For things to stay the same was a vain and impossible wish

Her name meant mercy, she walked in so calmly and offered me a grin
That one would have never guessed the story hidden within
For she too knew what it was like to leave the things that she held near
But her trust in Allah gave her peace and took away her fear

She came when I needed her most and together we strove and tried
To mend the cracks and patch the holes around us and inside
She saw my many faults glaring like headlights in the night
But she was always there to cover them and help me get things right

She taught me how to plant discipline so learning could bloom
At 1:00 came nap time and together we sat in a dark classroom
Conversing about the day, our families and our lives
She lifted up my sinking heart with soothing words of advice

We became like sisters who had only been separated for a time
I was her companion in a foreign land and likewise she was mine
We had different personalities and came from worlds apart
Yet somehow, together we were a beautiful, complete work of art

I truly feel…
That she was a mercy sent from Allah to reassure me
That this life may be tough but never more than we can bear
And that I will never be forgotten in my sister’s prayers

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