Americana, Bangladesh, Death & Dying, Immigration, Violence

On the death of Ayub Ali

NPR: Father Of 2 Parkland Shooting Survivors Is Killed In Robbery; Suspect Arrested

I’ve been sitting on this one ever since my brother texted me on Tuesday that an Ayub Uncle from the community was shot and killed. I asked if he came over on Eid. We couldn’t remember if he was there. We think his wife and kids came over. So many come by my folks’ place on Eid; I can never remember all the faces.

I’ve been sitting on this one because it struck me that my Facebook newsfeed was in mourning – but the only people mourning for Ayub Uncle were other Bangladeshi Floridians, or their spouses.

But no other U.S. Muslims in my Facebook newsfeed except for two non-Bangladeshi Muslims. No other Floridian Muslims or other Floridians who were posting only months ago about #MSDStrong and the terrifying culture of U.S. gun violence that is unlike anywhere else.

Yes. Two of his kids are survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre. And yes, I have my ideas as to why this is too complicated and messy of a story in terms of identity for why “Muslim America” is not clamoring about it — but I’ll let the experts in anti-racism activism parse that one out. 

I’ve been sitting on this one because throughout elementary, middle, high school, and college — I’ve watched folks come to my parents to seek advice about what to do with the bodies of Bangladeshi immigrant store employees or employers who were shot to death — and what to do about the family they leave behind who often include a wife who doesn’t have access to a bank account and kids who are left with nothing. The usual conclusion is that the local Bangladeshi community raises money to help the bereaved family for awhile; sometimes that money is just enough for plane tickets back to Bangladesh.

And yet Bangladeshis keep immigrating to the U.S. to work in these small convenient stores because that’s what the people who came before them did. And they possibly remain in poverty, or they possibly get shot, or they possibly “make it” — and whatever the possibility, the work often entails selling merchandise to the poorest communities in the United States in which so much of what is sold is just straight up poison — and that slow poisoning of communities along with the quickness of violence and rottening of relationships between small immigrant-run businesses and the local patrons they profit off of is cyclical.

I’ve been sitting on this one because one elder posted that this is the 50th body that he has had to bury of a Bangladeshi Floridian who was shot to death in a store since he immigrated in 1981. And after the 50th body, although he has never supported the death penalty, he is tired and angry and sad and now wants “these animals” who kill “my brothers” to die on the chair.

It really hurt me to hear him say those words. Especially when we know statistically how structural racism shapes how justice and capital punishment works in the U.S. But maybe it’s just the moment, and maybe he’ll realize like my beautiful friend who had complete tawakkul when facing the man who killed her baby brother and realized another man’s death would do nothing to bring her brother back.

I’ve been sitting on this one because for years I’ve listened to other Bangladeshi elders tell their brothers and sisters — Allah has made the world a very big place. Allah’s sustenance is wide and generous. For all the haram ways to earn a living, Allah has created so much that is halal. Don’t poison your wealth. Don’t bring a gun into your home. People are dying. Your kids are dying. You are dying.

I’ve been sitting on this one because it’s the first time I’ve heard a Bangladeshi-American uncle openly tell his peers to assert their second amendment rights and carry a concealed weapon to protect themselves from the next violent robbery.

And I’ve been sitting on this one because I don’t even know where to begin except with Al-Fatihah.

But I’m all packed to travel outside the U.S. for a little bit to get some perspective again.

Arabic, Poetry, Translation

My eyes see nothing without your beauty

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Dedication: To lovers between material reality and the plane of imagination 

The following poem was sent to me by one of my elders the summer of 2016. The verses are from the poem by the Damascene Ottoman Sufi ʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulsī (d. 1731). 

Like so much medieval Arabic devotional poetry, the poem lives on in song and recitation. To my knowledge, this poem has not been previously translated in English. I have included my attempt at an original English translation beside the Arabic text below. 

The first translation is of the form of the poem as I first encountered it. Another elder pointed out that the text differs from the version she is familiar with, including the additional “wāw” added at the end of the verses for vocalization in the first text. I have translated this version as well. 

This is the first version I received.
My eyes see nothing without your beauty
Without you, my mind ponders nothing else
You fill my thoughts above all creation
By your love, I die and I am resurrected
My lord, my heart holds fast to you
I could never bear even an hour apart from you
But you left, so my solace also vanished
And upon your distance, life became wretched

Yet God is greater than that which decreed separation

Should you leave me, to whom shall I turn?

When I advised my heart patience, it rebuked me,”No patience for me! No patience for me!  I shall not be!”

If I sleep, you are with me in my dreams
And in my waking state, it is you that I see
There is no difference between me and my imagining you
If you should vanish, so would I; And should you be present, so would I
For in reality, the two of us are one
Except that I am of the lowest and you are majestic
And I hope that perhaps your kindness would restore me
From my diminished dignity and wretchedness.


The final inscription at the bottom of the image reads, “Pray upon him and rejoice. May prayers and peace be upon him.”


On the other hand, here is another version of the poem written byʿAbd al-Ghanī al-Nābulsī. I have included my English translation below the Arabic text.

My eyes see nothing other than your beauty
Without you, my mind ponders nothing else 
You fill my thoughts above all creation
By your love, I die and I am resurrected
Oh Lord, my heart holds fast to you
I could never bear even an hour apart from you
If I sleep, You are in my dreams with me
And should I awake, it is you that I see
There is no difference between me and my vision of you
If you should vanish, so would I; And should you be present, I would be, too
For in reality, the two of us are one
Except that I am of the lowest and you are majestic
And I hope that perhaps your kindness would restore me 
For I took flight from my own dignity and became most wretched.
How perfect you are, my lord, the Master of creation
Indeed I seek, by your glory, your succor
And I have made my means to you a master
Whom You have sent with truth to make your Way manifest
He is the Prophet — Muhammad — above all of creation
Your prayers upon him shall never cease
Americana, Community, Identity, Story

Choctaw Nation

12 Ramadan 1438 / 8 June 2017

Dedication: To bearing witness
A family elder used to live in a very small Oklahoma town with a population of a little over 1,000 human beings – almost  40% of whom were Choctaw Nation, 54% white, 1% black, and 5% all others. He moved there to serve as a physician for a Choctaw clinic located in one of the most beautiful valleys I’ve ever seen – and have yet to see. Generous, committed, a snorter when he laughs, and the very fulfillment of the absent-minded professor trope, the doctor was loved by his patients so much that they would bring him fruits and vegetables from their gardens, including squash, peaches, and walnuts.
His family was one of two Muslim families and the only Bangladeshi family in that town. The closest masjid that held Friday congregational prayers was 1.5 hours away.  A self-assured and proud Muslim, this doctor kept a beard and regularly wore a topi; his wife, who could not speak much English at the time, wore colorful hijabs to match her colorful saris, shalwar kamises, and jilbabs.

When their land lady, a white Baptist woman in her 90s who owned two llamas and made her own moo moos, first saw them praying, she was genuinely curious and asked after they had finished, “So … are you … Jewish?”

They said no, so she guessed again.

“Ah. So you must be…Catholic?”

Being Jewish or Catholic was the strangest thing she could imagine. Muslim as a category of religious difference was not even on her radar — at the time.
So she learned from her new neighbors who Muslims are. She also learned to love them until the day she died.
On the day of the 9/11 attacks in 2001, this elder continued to see and treat his patients as usual throughout the day.  Before he went home, a Choctaw elder who was his patient approached him and said, “If any one gives you trouble, you let us know. We will protect you.”
In that moment, the Choctaw elder had the wisdom – rooted in a long communal memory – to understand that this new Bangladeshi Muslim doctor did not know the kind of racial violence his patient sensed was coming.
In that moment, the doctor didn’t fully understand what his patient was saying — until he saw the glass shards of broken beer bottles littering the path that led to the front door of his home where his pregnant wife was waiting, shaded by the most gorgeous magnolia tree I have ever seen.

We bear witness to those who stood, stand, and will stand for us expecting nothing in return. Our hearts in turn stand and beat for them in prayer and remembrance; a prayer and remembrance that asks for the integrity, dignity, and courage to do the same; a prayer and remembrance that travels dimensions and penetrates the sky and earth; a prayer and remembrance that is affirmed and repeated by every angel bowing or prostrating, by every leaf and blade of grass, by every rock and grain of sand, by every conscious being in the water and on land, by every sunrise and sunset, by every moon birth and as it wanes, by every celestial body known and unknown. Amin. Amen. Let it be.

Love, Poetry

Love & Fear 1438/2016

I’m too afraid
To even whisper his name
أحيا اسمه
For fear
 في هوى البدر التمام
That the trembling of my lips
And tremor in my voice
Would expose the rapture
فحان حمامي
Of his memory
يانور الوجود
Traversing my veins
بشرى لنا
And softly inscribed
نلنا المنى
In the pulsating
دوم تك تك دوم تك
Heartbeats so loud
دوم تك تك دوم تك
Chest bursting
طالما أشكو غرامي
Unable to bear it
يا عذولي
I would beg
لا تلمني
I would plead
مدد يا مدد
خذ بيدي
أبان مولده
Whereby the watchmen
فكيف تنكر حبا بعد ما شَهِدت؟
Issue their warrant
فكيف تنكر حبا بعد ما شَهِدت؟
To cage this madness
I’ve tried
So hard
عدتك حالي
To protect

اللهم صل وسلم وبارك عليه وعلى آله

11 December 2016
12 Rabi’ Al-Awwal 1438
New York City

Moses on Karbala

10 Muharram 1429 / 11 October 2016 / Yom Kippur 5777

“End of the Trail” by Frank Parrish
Let my people go
Let me lead them home
I will split the sea
We will wander free
Freed from desire for your throne
A throne upon which
Red blood flows quick
And the tears of mothers crying
For dear Husayns betrayed
And brave Zaynabs slayed
And all the innocents dying
Dying for the right to hope
The right to love
The right to believe
In blessed days free from your grip
Basking in divine reprieve
Arabic, Poetry, Translation

A Lover’s Impatience

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Dedication: To searching for one thing and finding another

I was searching for a specific citation through one of the books of Al-ʻIqd Al-Farīd by Ibn ʻAbd Rabbihi (d. 940)  when I came across the following couplet:

Attributed to “the poet,” the verses are recited by Muhammad ibn Salām to Muhammad ibn Hārūn al-Amīn. Here is my rough translation:

Passion recollected, the lovesick one began to sigh
Head bowed, shame appeared upon his countenance.
Oh, one who tells me to be patient, have pity!
 Patience is never borne well by lovers.
Arabic, Poetry, Translation

Poetic Counsel

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Dedication: To loved ones who send you poems as Ramadan gifts. Also — to keyboard warriors 😏
On 19 Ramadan 1437 / 24 June 2016, I read the following verses sent to me by a friend before walking over to the library to continue my dissertation work:
The short poem above is described with the heading “Invaluable Counsel.” The upbeat meter of the poetry’s form including the unusual rhyme of Ḥā’ is infused by the charmingly gentle and clear tone of its content.  I found the verses widely circulated on the internet and shared in the form of images (as the one above), as memes, and in blogs without a writer attributed. Here is my translation below: 
My dear brother, give counsel and do not shame
Admonish without injury
Forgive the one who hurts (you) and say,
“May the Lord of Creation forgive.”
Should you find yourself in the world’s tightening grip
Reflect upon (the chapter) “Alam nashra…”
And ask your Lord for reprieve
Perhaps God will grant you an opening*
Follow the best of those who were sent
Delight in the Door that will never close
Leave behind that which you desired, and seize
The more becoming desire for the Noble One
Do not (solely) rely upon your intellect
 The intellect of the Chosen One is more perceptive
Do not bear contempt for anyone
For those filled with hatred never succeed
Trade in your world for that which is to come
Truly, it is a blessed and most profitable trade!
For reconciliation is more virtuous
And the virtuous one attains success
Invoke blessings and everlasting peace upon the Beloved
And rejoice in the most delightful of melodies.———–

*In other versions I found online, the following additional verse is included:
و قُلْ حَقّاً بِلَا مَيْنٍ

إِذَا مَا شِئْتَ أَنْ تَمْزَحْ

Speak the truth without deception
Should you wish to speak in jest