Hot Metal Bridge

Current Issue : Number Twenty-Five

Islamophobia

BY SOUKAINA ELJAMRI

I.

 

You are awakened by the call to prayer from the Athan application on your mother’s outdated Dell computer emanating from the Sony speakers she bought ‘two for one’ during the Black Friday Sale on Amazon online because she hates crowds. The “Allahu Akbar” circulates through the house, trembling every surface, disrupting every silence, embracing every listener. You hoped to sleep in on this Saturday morning/afternoon but you were in the path of the call. You consider getting up and responding, getting up and bowing your head to Allah in Salat, but instead you fall back asleep because the call may have woken you up, but you couldn’t resist the consolation.

 

*

 

The bell rings early in Art class and you hear Principal Cunningham’s voice on the loudspeaker: “All students please return to your homerooms at this time.” Ms. Moss tells you to stop working on your painting and get in line.

 

Get in line single file.

Get in line single file to go back to homeroom.

Go back to homeroom to pack up.

Go back to homeroom to pack up to go home early.

Go home early to be with family.

Go home early to be with family to watch the news.

Be with family to watch the news to see the planes.

Be with family to watch the news to see the planes hit the Towers.

See the planes hit the Towers one by one in a line.

See the planes hit the Towers one by one in a line single file.

 

II.

 

She leaves the gift bag on your desk so you can’t miss it. She knows you don’t celebrate Christmas. She knows you can’t celebrate Christmas. “It’s not a Christmas present I SWEAR. I just thought you’d like it.” You carefully remove the red and green tissue paper to find a lovely patterned scarf. It’s navy. Easy to match. You know exactly how you’ll wear it.

“I thought it would look really beautiful as a hijab…do you like it?”

She wants to celebrate you and you love it. Loved it. Prayed for it. Wished for it. For the coexistence and the understanding and the compassion and the celebration. You loved it.

*

 

They ordered 15 pizzas to break the fast. Fifteen large pizzas but you still brought the box of dates because it was customary and you couldn’t break your fast without one. Like you couldn’t believe they actually did it. Twenty-two coworkers. Like you couldn’t believe they actually fasted. Twenty-two coworkers wanting to understand you and support you and appreciate you. They were fascinated by Ramadan and by your religion and by your devotion and so they fasted with you. When you were hungry, they felt it too and when you were parched, they felt it more.

And the sun set and you all sat;

In the lounge with 15 pizzas and a box of dates;

And you broke your fast and you talked and laughed;

And you answered their questions;

And you admired their effort;

And you felt so lucky;

To be the only Muslim in the room.

III.

 

You catch the train after work and you find an empty seat despite the rush and you adjust your hijab because its been a long day and you’re tired and sweaty and you can feel the strands of hair begin to creep out from underneath but you’ve had a long day and you just want to rest your eyes for six stops and so you adjust your hijab and you sit back and you close your eyes and you feel the train stop and you open your eyes and you see the man in the red t-shirt and he glares at you and he walks forward towards the door and he walks past you and he spits…

At your feet, he spits

And you hear the words under his breath: “fucking terrorist”

And it feels like a slap in the face

And it hurts like a blow to the chest

But there’s nothing you can do

So you sit back and you close your eyes and you adjust your hijab

 

…and you stand in the locker room, adjusting the hijab that you intentionally matched with your oversized sweatpants and your loose fitting long sleeve top that your mom bought you for 8th grade gym class because it’s the one you really wanted and because she didn’t want you to feel bad because your friends wore their shorts and tank tops while you wore the long pants and the loose top and the hijab. But you were happy and you felt good and you adjusted the hijab and you went out on the track with your best friend in her shorts and tank top and you did the laps…

 

…then you felt the tug and you felt the pull and you felt exposed and you wore your shirt and you wore the pants but now the hijab was off your head and around your shoulders and you look at him and he just laughs but you can’t hear it because in your mind everything has gone silent…

 

IV.

 

Your mother made it for you. It was an Eid present. You woke up early to go to the prayer with your father at the ‘mosque’ 15 minutes from your house. The Stroudsburg Islamic Center. You saw your friends from Sunday school and you wished them a happy Eid and when you got home, your mother gave you the gift. It was a beautiful lilac hijab with detailed embroidery and a floral trim. You tried it on and it fit perfectly. You couldn’t wait to wear it to school the next day.

And the next day you wore it to school

And you wore it to music class

And you wore it when you sat next to BK, the hottest boy in the 8th grade

And you wore it when BK asked if you had a bomb in your locker

And you wore it when BK told you to take the “dirty rag” off your head

And you wore it home with a heavy heart

Then you took it off and never wore the lilac hijab again and when your mother asked why

You told her it didn’t fit right anymore.



Soukaina Eljamri was born in Rabat, Morocco where she lived for five years before immigrating to the United States. She grew up in a Muslim family in northeastern Pennsylvania and currently studies Cultural Anthropology at the University of Pittsburgh with the intention of pursuing a career in medicine. This is her first publication.