Global Literature through the Eyes of
an American Democratic Islamic Lawyer
by Danelle Pitts
As a student studying global literature, I sought to give a voice to the often unheard and misunderstood Muslims in America. I created a fictional character, and carefully crafted every aspect of his life: persona, family members and career. The following work is purely fictional; it is the fictional response from a fictional character to actual text from exceptional writers. Although the context of the narrative is derived from actual events and places, PLEASE do not focus on name or situational coincidences. The purpose of this work is to inspire the reader to think and re-think general conceptions and misconceptions. And of course, whenever possible, inspire activism.
To Masses of "Mis-es": the under-represented, misrepresented, misguided, misunderstood, misters and misses, I dedicate this work to your struggle and resilience.
Monologue: 9-11 Memoir
name is Abdul-Haqq Mohammed and I am 60 years old. I am married and my wife
Halima and I have 3 sons ranging from ages 12 to 16. My wife and I have been
living in the United States since the summer of 1980. We make our home in
Manhattan, on Park Avenue, in a nice building on the Upper East Side. We faithfully
attend services every Friday at the mosque on 96th Street and Third Avenue.
My wife is an obstetrician-gynecologist with a highly successful practice
on 91st Street and Madison Avenue. I on the other hand, am an immigration
lawyer and current law professor at Pace University. My children all attend
the Collegiate School on the West Side.
recently, we have maintained a peaceful and secure life here in the States.
On the morning of September 11th, by 8 o’clock I had just dropped the
boys off at school and was headed down the West Side Highway with my wife.
We were headed to my class at Pace where she was to give a presentation on
women’s medical treatment while in immigration detention. Around 8:30am,
Halima and I stopped at a local deli to buy bottles of water. As we chatted
about the validity of “Vitamin Water” out of nowhere we heard
a loud, ground-shaking explosion. The sound was eerily familiar in that it
reminded us of the frequent blasts we heard while living in Palestine. As
we exited the deli, we looked up the street and saw nothing. As soon as we
had walked a block towards Pace, we came into full view of the South Tower
with a massive fiery hole billowing out of the top floors. At first, Halima
and I did not know what had caused the fire ball in the Tower. As we tried
to rapidly weave our way through the forming crowd, hastening towards Pace,
I picked up random phrases from onlookers. “Oh my god!” “And
then a Plane” and “I can’t believe it!” By the time
we had reached our destination, I inferred that a plane had struck the Tower.
Halima and I entered my classroom full of anxious students peering out the
window at the blaze, I noticed another plane rounding the North Tower. Halima
screamed in sync with most of the students as we saw the second plane strike
the North Tower. Immediately students began making and receiving phone calls
on their cell phones as Halima and I stared at one another in disbelief. After
an eternity of ten minutes, a loudspeaker came on in the classroom instructing
all students, faculty, staff and visitors to remain indoors until further
notice. There was no explanation and no further instruction. As many of us
stared incredibly at the blast, a student turned the flat-screen television
on and flicked to CNN. As we watched Aaron Brown review the morning’s
horrendous events, another student begins to shriek loudly and sob uncontrollably:
The North Tower had begun its collapse. As I watched the enormous edifice
collapse like Legos, I clutched my wife in an effort to console her sobs.
We witnessed a whitish-grey cloud of smoke engulf the pedestrians below, in
their almost futile efforts to flee the scene. Halima and I were staring at
each other dumbfounded. The attack we had experienced seemed eerily familiar.
pulled me into a corner and whispered, “Honey, are you thinking what
I am thinking?” “I am thinking many things, Dear. What are you
thinking?” “Do you remember what Abu-Dar Salaam said this summer?”
“I do. I feared it then, and we are about to experience it and its wrath
now.” Frightening me by its blast, my cell phone blared. My eldest child,
who had always proved to be the most composed in times of great emotion, stuttered
into the phone. Khalil was quite upset and fearful. As he stuttered into the
cell phone, I came to understand that the students had gathered in the cafeteria
and watched the events replayed on CNN. In addition, my innocent children
had become the ostracized members of their classrooms as Aaron Brown pointed
the finger at Osama Bin Laden and other Arab men. My son begged me to rescue
them as chills ran through my body. My children were in a corner of their
school’s cafeteria, huddled together, fearing their classmates. My innocent
children were at an all male, predominately Jewish school on the Upper West
Side, while my wife and I were quarantined in the Financial District. As I
explained to Khalil that it would take time for me to reach them due to the
closing off of streets in the area, I heard him swallow his tears as he muttered,
“Get here as soon as you can Daddy.” He hadn’t called me
daddy since he was nine. My heart broke with his words. The anti-Arab sentiment
had already shown its ugly face. As we stayed on the phone in 5 seconds of
silence, my wife suggested I speak to a school authority. “Khalil, let
me speak to the nearest authority!” As Penny Bernstein, the high school
receptionist came on the line, I attempted to speak with calm. “Hello,
Mrs. Bernstein. This is Dr. Mohammed. Can you please do me a favor? Can you
place my children in your office until I am able to retrieve them? Khalil
has expressed concern for his brothers and the children would like to pray
together.” “No problem, Dr. I will wait with the boys until you
arrive. See you soon.” “Khalil, son we are on our way. Pray with
a stupor of fear and anger I gathered the attention of the students and dismissed
them with the instructions to expect an email later in the week about further
class business. Halima and I left in a hurry, dazed and anxious. We reached
the school within the hour. As we entered the building, many students and
faculty alike, stared at us like they never had before. As I walked towards
the high school office, I wondered about the future safety of my boys as Palestinians
in America in light of the attacks and the reactions of their classmates and
home, I spoke with the boys assuring them that I would protect them to the
best of my ability and that they should not be afraid because they have done
nothing wrong. “Allah will protect us.” I stammered in my attempt
to make an assuring statement. In reality, I was frustrated with the profiling
and the assumption that all Arab men are terrorists and their male children
are future suicide bombers. I am a working professional, happily married with
boys that love the Yankees and Knicks. We are not terrorists: we are American.
Since the day of the attacks, my children have been subject to verbal threats and they have experienced one physical threatening by other boys. Our mosque has even been vandalized. We continually pray that the perpetrators are brought to justice, and we pray for the safety of our families and Muslims worldwide.
following excerpt and text analysis are crafted from the perspective of Abdul.
In God Dies by the Nile by Nawal El Saadawi, I wanted the character to respond
to the corruption and gender inequalities as presented by the text.
1. His hand was about to reach for the telephone when he heard the sound of the water
2. being poured in the bathroom. It reminded him that Zeinab had come to his house at
3. dawn, and that meanwhile she had swept and cleaned the house, so that now all that
4. remained for her to do was the bathroom. A thought flashed through his mind. ‘Why
5. not go to the bathroom and have a try?’ But he drove it away. Somehow he felt that
6. Zeinab was not like her sister Nefissa who was simple and easy-going, and had not
7. instilled in him the same caution and hesitation he felt in the presence of Zeinab. He
8. could not understand why with Zeinab he was so cautious and hesitant, even afraid.
9. Yes, afraid. Perhaps because she was Nefissa’s sister. True, Nefissa’s story had
10. remained a secret, but who knew? Maybe this time things would not be concealed so
11. easily. He tried to chase away his fears. Who could find out the things that had
12. happened? He was above suspicion, above the law, even above the moral rules which
13. governed ordinary people’s behaviour. Nobody in Kafr El Teen would dare suspect
They could have doubts about Allah, but about him…It was impossible.
passage highlights the corruption of the local government in Kafr El Teen.
The Mayor, while highly respected by the men of the town, is a womanizer in
that he sends for the prettiest girls of the village to work in his house.
The Mayor knows that many villagers are living in extreme poverty and attributes
their lack in interest and at times, their adamant refusal to work in his
house to be due to their ignorance. In reality, one gets confirmation of the
Mayor's mysogyny from the women in the novel, due to the common sentiment
that it is "better to eat salted pickles and old cheese" than be
subject to his sexual advances without promise of marriage.
This passage also gives the reader a sense that the Mayor is accountable for the unexplained and assumed tragic disappearance of Nefissa. (lines 6-10) This passage also highlights and exposes the Mayor’s mentality in that he understands that his position in society gives him the power to act above the law. (lines 12-14) The reader gets the sense that the Mayor is not the only man in the village that acts above the law; the other men in the village sexually intimidate the young girls in passing as they are doing their daily chores. The girls have no choice in how to react to such abuse from the men for two reasons; first, the purity of the girls is the basis for their marriage to another man. If for any reason that purity was compromised, they would not be a suitable match. Marriage in this culture is not based on love between partners, rather, one gets the sense that marriage is a means of social and financial distinction gained by the girl’s family.
In the following excerpt and textual analysis of The Day the Leader Was Killed by Naguib Mahfouz, I wanted Abdul to respond to the historical significance of the current events in which the novel was set. It is just as important to understand the events themselves, as it is to understand the perspective of those affected.
Passage from page 26-27
1.Our times have taught me to think. They have also taught me to be contemptuous of
2.everything and suspicious of everything. Should I happen to read about a project which
3.buoys one’s spirits and gives one hope, then, all to soon, the truth is revealed and it
4.turns out to be just another dirty trick. Should one let the ship sink? It’s just a Mafia
5.which controls us, no more, no less! Where are the good old days? There were, no
6.doubt, some good days. I, too, have known them, the days when my sisters were living
7.in our apartment and it was full of life and warmth. And there were no heavy burdens
could also feel the presence of my father and mother at home.
9.In those days, there was a dialogue of sorts and laughter, the excitement of studies and
10.the illusion of heroism. We are the people. We chose you from the very heart of the
11.people. Love was a bouquet of roses wrapped up in hope. We lost our very first leader,
12.our very first prima donna. Another leader—one diametrically opposed—then comes
13.along to extricate us from our defeat and, in so doing, ruins for us the joy of victory.
victory for two defeats. We chose you from the very heart of the people.
passage seems to be more of a lament than an actually insight into the issues
of the village or the lives of the characters themselves. This passage is
from a section in the voice of Elwan. Elwan mentions that the government is
responsible for the lives of the people in that he cannot see his parents
often enough because the government has done away with programs to help Egyptian
families. In addition, one gets the sense that Egypt is suffering from either
a corrupt government, or one that acts in the interest of a select few. Government,
as an institution created and maintained by man, is therefore inherently limited
by its Creator.
This passage gives us insight into the change of leader of the government and one gets the sense that the first leader (Nasser) instilled a completely different sense of heroism and nationalism into the Egyptian peoples than his successor, (Sadat.) The repetition of the pronoun “we” gives the reader the sense that the character is representing the common sentiment among Egyptians. The reader also gets a sense that the people feel betrayed by the new leader. The repetition of the line ‘We chose you from the heart of the people’ hints at the history of the new leader. This line describes the history of the people with Sadat; Sadat was the vice president under Nasser and a member of the “Free Officers Group” which was a secret group of army officers that stages a “coup d’etat” to seize control of the government in 1952. Sadat was initially seen positively by Egyptians since he had acted in the interests of the people until he succeeded Nasser.
The most important aspect of literature lies in its ability to inspire the reader. From all the novels we read this semester, I chose to share the following two alter-ego monologues because they tell the reader more about Abdul; Abdul's career, family life and political views only depict him as a reactionary. I wanted to show Abdul in a context where he was inspired to action. As the age-old saying goes: actions speak louder than words.
Alter-Ego inspired by Martyr's Crossing
I remember hearing the news that Marina’s baby had died. Damned guards. Selfish bastards! Had Marina been on their side and wanted to see a doctor on our side they would have gladly ushered her through. I feel so guilty; Marina had come to see my wife Halima, who would have set her tired body in motion to aid the sick child. I lied to Marina, “No my wife is not here—she went off to visit another patient.” I lied. How could I lie to the woman whose child my wife delivered? The woman whose child my wife could have saved? Halima was asleep—for the first time in almost three days. She worked so hard to take care of every ailing person she met. She felt it was her duty to heal as many as she could during my one year sabbatical here in Palestine. At night we would often discuss our reasons for leaving Palestine when we did. We wanted to get out—move away from the darkness and death that had consumed us since the occupation began. All we knew were bullets, blood and bodies and we knew there had to be a better way. When Halima’s acceptance to Columbia’s Medical school in New York came, we fled—with only the clothes on out backs and the phone number of her father’s friend—the store clerk who had fled two summers ago. I said no to Marina so that Halima could rest. No matter how much I tried to convince her to rest adequately she adamantly refused. “We owe it to them Abdul—we abandoned them.” Marina’s child is dead and I will be too if Halima ever finds out the truth.
Alter-Ego inspired by Red Azalea
Set to represent Asian man who fled communist china to come to US for “opportunities.” In trouble with law because he forced other Chinese immigrants to work in slave-like conditions.
I was appointed by the court to represent a Chinese immigrant held in custody and charged with forcing other Chinese immigrants to work in slave like conditions in addition to being in the united states illegally. The man, Jhong Doe immigrated to America in the summer of 72 and had been here since then illegally. Jhong Doe owns a take out store in Brooklyn, serving a multi-ethnic community. his store has 8 employees, all other Chinese immigrants of no blood relation, ranging in ages from 12 to 36. Jhong Doe was brought to the local authorities by the youngest immigrant whose name I cannot pronounce. It means sunflower though, so I’ll call her that. Sunflower went to the authorities to report Jhong Doe because she came to find out that unlike her native China, children were allowed to attend school and despite working 16 hours a day at the shop, Jhong Doe would not et her attend school because "you have not worked long enough to make enough money to pay for your schooling." Sunflower had accepted Jhong Doe's excuses for over three years until one day she was allowed to run deliveries for her brother, who had scalded his leg on the deep fryer. Jhong Doe told him to ice the extensive wound and take Sunflower's job of cleaning chicken, peeling potatoes, making rice and taking phone orders. Sunflower went on her first delivery with a hand drawn map of the local area in which she was to take the orders. It was the first time she went outdoors since her arrival at Jhong Doe's. They all had lived in a 10 by 10 room adjacent to the freezer in the basement of the shop. Sunflower delivered the food to a local rectory on the corner of Nostrand and Avenue P. When she arrived, the pastor began a conversation with Sunflower, whose English was advanced considering the circumstances. He asked her questions and she hesitated to answer--she took the money and fled. For the next year, every Friday the rectory would order food from Jhong Doe's Nu China restaurant, and Sunflower would deliver it. it was the priest who after a year had cracked sunflower's shell; after learning of her journey from China and her life at Jhong Doe's, had brought her story to the local INS authorities. The authorities questioned Sunflower and the priest and found substantial evidence to bring him in for questioning. After learning of Nu China's three previous Department of Health violations in addition to the allegations of cruel and inhumane treatment, unlawful detainment of other illegal aliens, two counts of endangerment of a minor, Jhong Doe was detained in the county's jail. When I met with Jhong Doe, he told me that he wanted to plead innocent. in his eyes he was not as the American law portrayed him to be; he was a product of communist china and had worked 16 hour days for the last 9 years so that he could arrange for his immediate family left in china to come live with him here in the united states.
Now I have to figure out a way to convince a judge that Jhong Doe is not a despicable human being who exploited other immigrants for his sole financial benefit--as Jhong Doe precisely put it, "I am not a capitalist. America is full of capitalists. I am a worker. I made something out of nothing." Jhong Doe is in fact a product of communist China and the only work ethic he knows is that of the communists. whatever strategy I employ, I must be certain to comment on the importance of cultural relativity and argue how one is unable to rid oneself of his cultural instinct. I must also show how Jhong Doe is an embodiment of the American dream: how can an immigrant, without a bank account or a social security number, no credit or collateral to his name, establish a $150,000 a year business? Jhong Doe had no loan from the bank; he has no greed card; he has nothing to his name except his work ethic and his dream. I do not believe that Jhong Doe meant harm to the other immigrants; he certainly meant no harm to Sunflower; he just wanted to show them that communism void of corruption can work, and in fact, in this case, it did.
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