Monthly Archives: June 2015

Love Wins

I am not exactly sure if this is appropriate, or necessary. I’m not sure my community will be open to my thoughts, or support me in them. Historically, Middle Easterners, Central Asians, and Muslims are extremely hostile to homosexuality, even though homosexual activities are conducted all the time, but are swept under the rug (enter Bacha Bazi). Even though homosexual Muslim men enter into nikkahs all the time, believing a Muslim marriage will “cure” them of their unholy desires, and in doing so, rob their partner of romantic love or even honesty. Even though countless Muslim youth are disowned from their families for being themselves.

But today, I am proud to be an American.

I am proud to see a multitude of my Muslim and Afghan friends liking and sharing pro-equal-marriage articles and statuses. I am proud to see older Afghans writing comments of support to our brothers and sisters who are impacted by today’s Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriages. I am also reminded of discussions I had with Afghan-American youth, who also were in support. One young woman gave an anecdote of a relative of hers who was completely outcast, a story much like that of my female cousin’s, who has been completely shunned by our extended family.

I always accepted homosexuals, but it was not until I became close friends with a group of young gay men in high school that my heart opened completely, to the point where I wanted to protect them and defend them always.

When discussing the issue with my mother, she voiced against coming out. I was always so confused why she felt this way, because she was so liberal in all her other beliefs. One day, I asked her why she did not support coming out, to which she answered: “because this world is dangerous”.

It was then I realized, her motherly instinct was to protect. And that, by concealing their identities, she felt they would be safe.

For a long time, I wanted this blog to be a platform for those who share my faith and nation. And then I realized, I couldn’t do that, I can only represent myself. I’m not an Islamic scholar, nor an Afghan historian, and quite frankly, I live out those two identities very separately. And so, I can really only speak for myself, when I say, that as a woman, as an Afghan, as a Muslim, I am deeply moved, that my friends are being seen as human in the eyes of the law.

It is so interesting to see the difference in language, between those who support marriage equality and those who don’t. Supporters tend to write using more words like “acceptance”, “love”, “humanity”….the opposers speak of brimstone and fire, of abomination and heresy. I think its obvious which sounds more pleasant.

In any case…I am just happy. Happy that others will be happy. What a beautiful day.

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Ramadan: A Time to Remember the Suffering of Our Ummah

What does Ramadan mean to me? Growing up in a non-religious household, I was never told I should fast or even had to. I’ve never seen my parents fast, I’m not even sure they did so in Afghanistan. Last year – my first year attempting to fast the entire month – I was driven mainly by the Israeli terrorism campaign against Gaza and an Islamophobic assault in which I was the victim; point is, I felt closer to my deen and the ummah, and so, my willingness to partake in the month was stronger.

But Ramadan has always held a special place in my heart. And that is because I feel it is a time where Muslims across the world are more sensitive to the issues that plague our mother countries – and even our situations dealing with surveillance and discrimination in the States.

I would like to reiterate I come from a non-religious background, and that the majority of my friends are Muslim by name but not necessarily by practice. Regardless of this, I understand and recognize that my religious identity was assigned to me without choice, but I take immense pride in it. And I truly believe that this is a focal point in Islamic history, wherein we Muslims must educate ourselves so that we can combat stereotypes and narratives about Islam.

This time last year, I was assaulted for being Muslim. Mind you – I was wearing a short dress, at a nightclub. I was fully “assimilated”; in a Caribbean country, where, when people asked me where I was from, I answered, “America”. Not Afghanistan. Not Central Asia or the Mideast. I identified as American.

This was not enough for the Islamophobes I met that night. And thank God for the bouncers at the club who stopped these racist sick assholes from physically hurting me, because it was quickly escalating to that level.

I mention this only to tell you that they don’t care how “much” of a Muslim you are. If that’s what you identify as, they want to hurt you. This is what the media has done to feeble-minded individuals who have nothing better to do but to hate us for our backgrounds. The onslaught on Gaza a couple weeks after only reinstilled this belief in me – people thought I sympathized with Gazans because they were Muslim, or because I was “anti-Semitic” (even though I have plenty of Jewish friends and grew up with a Jewish family) – but not because of the obvious reason that babies were getting blown to shreds in front of their parents and now Gaza is unsalvageable and we have a generation of Palestinians growing up with PTSD and a range of other psychotic disorders thanks to Islamophobia.

No one cares about the Rohingya Muslims in Burma, again, because they’re Muslim. I don’t give a shit about any geo-political excuse people will make up to cloud these issues – this is all because of one thing: ISLAMOPHOBIA.

Islamophobia desensitizes people to the suffering of Muslims. We are lesser than. Remember this: to the mass media, WE ARE LESSER THAN. Our lives DO NOT MATTER.

Knowing this, my partaking in Ramadan, be it fasting when I have the willpower, or praying, or giving charity, I am doing it for those Muslims who are kneeling in rubble instead of in prayer. For those who are starving, not because they choose to, but because they have to. For Deah, for Yusor, for Razan. For those whose charity is saving survivors from a drone attack. For those who will bury their dead this holy month.

Additionally, this is a time to reflect how we hurt each other. Expand your minds and increase your knowledge about sectarian violence, about ethnic rivalry. Muslims kill each other all the time – educate yourselves on why this is happening and how we can work against this.

My Muslim brothers and sisters – don’t waste this Ramadan telling people what they should be doing, or assigning guilt towards those who don’t fast, or criticizing your son or daughter for missing a prayer. Educate your communities. Rewrite your narratives. Learn about the accomplishments of our collective Ummah. Lets bring back our humanity, no matter how skewed the media is. I cant even count how many friends have told me I have changed their perceptions of Islam – you can too. And remember, I’m not even an ultra-conservative Muslim. But the suffering of people who look like me, speak like me, pray like me, is enough to drive me towards educating anyone I come into contact with about the faith I’ve struggled with all my life.

Because the empty eyes that peered into my soul, one year ago, who told me I should be dead, who told me I was a sand-n*gger, who told me that myself and all my people should burn in Hell, was enough to make me see that we’re all in this together, hijabi or not, Sunni or Shia, Afghan or Arab.

This Ramadan, I will reignite the fire within me, the love that I have for my Ummah, the collective feelings of love, duty, and community. Because if we don’t help each other, just know that no one else will help us.

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My Great-Great Grandmothers Tired Hands

Being Afghan, I was keenly aware of the ethnic disctinctions of our people. For those who don’t know, “Afghan” is both an ethnicity and a nationality. Ethnic Afghans are called “Pashtuns”, while other minorities are Afghan by nationality, but may be ethnically Tajik, or Aimak, or Kyrgyz, and so on. The only analogy I can think of is that, for instance, Native Americans are “ethnically” American, while all other groups are American by nationality.

I grew up knowing I was Pashtun, nothing more and nothing less. And to be a Pashtun was “a true blessing, because we were the true ethnic Afghans, and all other minorities were guests in our land.” (Per some family members beliefs, not my own. I believe the land is for ALL Afghans). “The Tajiks from Tajikistan, the Uzbeks from Uzbekistan,”…. and the Hazara? I did not know what a Hazara was until I met one. I remember how confused I was that someone who looked so Asian could be Afghan like me. And then I asked my mother who these people were, and she told me they were Afghans, but they were different. We are Sunni Muslim and they are Shia. We speak Pashto and they speak Dari. She told me nothing more.

I won’t disclose who my first Hazara friend was. But she was, and is, beautiful. Striking green eyes and light brown hair, she could have easily modeled and be praised for her racially ambiguous looks. The Hazaras, mixing with the local population, looked Mongolian, but often came out with blue, hazel, and green eyes, some with blonde or red hair. I remember meeting her grandfather and initially thinking he was a Chinese neighbor. I met more Hazaras and came to accept them as Afghans, like my Tajik friends or my Uzbek friends.

And then the Kite Runner came out. I didn’t know my Pashtun people persecuted Hazaras. I didn’t know Afghans enslaved them, or that my friends family came to America fleeing the attempts to ethinically cleanse them.

And so I asked my mother to tell me more. She told me they spoke a dialect of Dari called Hazaragi. That they lived in Bamyan and Hazarajat, and that they were poor and mistreated. That she hired two Hazara servants, one for each of my sisters, and that because she too was the daughter of a general, she had two Hazara servants of her own as a child: one to play with and one who cooked and cleaned. That they lived in small quarters near our home in Kabul, and that she treated them nicely, although other families beat their Hazaras. That upon fleeing Afghanistan, my eldest sister cried and clinged onto her Hazara playmate, and begged my mother to bring him along. That to this day, she cries and misses them, fearing them dead. That they wore raggedy clothes because they couldn’t afford much else, and that the Taliban tried to murder them all.

She told me they came from Genghis Khan’s army: “They are new visitors in our land. They came 800 years ago or so, when Genghis took Bamyan. The Pashtuns killed his grandson, and Genghis became so angry, he murdered everyone there. Thousands and thousands of dead Afghans, babies heads were piled up and women were sold among the Mongol men. The city was so empty after this, that he left one-thousand (or Hazaar, in Farsi) of his army men in our land. And he told them to mix with the people, and so, the Hazaar soldiers of Genghis Khan became the Hazara people. Genghis Khan was a cruel leader, and the Afghan people could not forget the Mongol rapes and pillages. And so, since then, they have met persecution.”

So, according to her, the collective memory of the dominant Pashtun and Tajik Afghans created a sort of prejudice against the Hazara. This was the narrative I was told, by not only my mother, but other elders as well. Historical documentation of the 1221 siege of Bamyan seems to corroborate the murder of Genghis’ grandson as well.

And then I began examining my features. I always thought I had slanted eyes and high cheekbones. Friends always commented on how “Chinese” I looked as a baby. And upon meeting relatives from Afghanistan, I remember thinking they looked Chinese too.

My family hails from Wardak, which is a province in Afghanistan that has a strong Hazara presence. Some even say “Wardak” is a Mongolian word.

And so I asked my mother, “Am I Hazara? Look at my eyes, they’re slanted”, look at this uncle and that aunt; why do they look Asian too?

After about a year of avoiding the question any time it came up, my noblewoman Pashtun mother told me, that on my fathers side, I had a Hazara servant for an ancestor.

“Your fathers grandmother was a Hazara woman. Hazara blood stays in you for eight generations, so it will be gone soon”.

Such was the lore.

I asked her if she was part Hazara too.

“No. I am a full-blooded Pashtun. It is your father who is a Zaryega.”

I smiled from ear-to-ear knowing that I had something else in me besides Pashtun. I was a mutt, how cool! My mother could not hold back her laughter. To a full-blooded Pashtun woman who kept Hazara servants throughout her lifetime, it must have been entertaining, to see her idealistic and peace-loving daughter actually be happy about being part Hazara, those poor repressed peoples.

The great quote we activists love to repeat is “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. Looking back, I realize how many times these ethnic conflicts played out in front of me.

My Hazara friends grandfather always spoke to my family in a sort of submissive tone; he could hardly keep eye contact with my mother, although she made every effort to make him feel welcome in our home. “Those ideas we leave in Afghanistan, here we are the same”, she would say. But still, he must have faced persecution in his younger years from the very same ethnicity I carried with so much pride.

I remember another instance. My friends home had large wall paintings of our beautiful Bamyan Buddha statues, the same ones the Taliban destroyed a decade ago. I asked her if she was from Bamyan, and if that was why she had the paintings. She quickly and defensively stated, “Just because I’m Hazara doesn’t make me a Buddhist!”. I didn’t understand then, but I know now, she must have felt I was criticizing her for having the images, even though I was praising her.

Today, Afghanistans first female governor is a woman. But this is not her only struggle, for she is a Hazara as well. Habiba Sarabi, although she is a hematologist, although she is a champion of women’s rights and children’s education, is a Hazara. And this might be even more of a challenge than being a woman.

And this is the narrative, of ethnic rivalry, we Afghans constantly see being played out. But how long can the Hazara be persecuted for the sins of Genghis? How long will Afghans allow war to define our identity?

I wonder if I would have asked these questions before I learned of that part of me I never knew existed. I wonder what my great-great grandmother would think of these issues. I often think of her. What kind of woman was she? Was she treated well as a servant? Was she ever beaten for her race? How did she feel having Pashtun children? She must have been uneducated, simple-minded. But she was my great-great grandmother, and I wish I met her, so I could kiss her hands, probably dry and wrinkled, and massage her feet, blistered and pained, from years and years of service to my family.

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Habiba Surabi 1

Dr. Habiba Sarabi

 

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