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Fakira looked through her drawers, searching for something to wear. Her first track practice was approaching and she needed something that would pass her father’s inspection. She immediately burst into laughter when she pulled out her old elementary school gym outfit. It was a dark gray, legged leotard with full sleeves, custom made by her mother. Coupled with the calf-length gauchos that went over the bottom and the XL white tee that went over the top, it was a bulky inconvenience that made Fakira the laughing stock of the class. She absolutely hated it and begged her mother to pull her out, but looking back, she was quite fond of the memory. It taught her that Muslim women had options and that they didn’t have to always sit on the sidelines.
Had it been up to her father, Fakira would have spent her gym period in the library studying Quran, but her mother had other plans. Thanks to Laila’s persistence, Fakira was the first of all the Ghazali girls to actually participate in gym. Laila stayed uncomfortably quiet when her husband forbade Aalimah and Sadiqah from “running in mixed company,” but she had had enough by the time Fakira started school.
“Honey, she needs to participate,” Fakira remembered her mother saying. “I think it’s silly you make the girls sit out. They need to know they’re just as capable as everyone else, and if it’s the outfit you’re concerned about, that’s not a problem. I can make her something modest and practical,” she said with a sweet smile.
It was debatable whether the five-pound ensemble counted as practical, but Fakira still appreciated the effort. When Muhammad saw the many hours Laila put into designing and sewing the outfit, he had to say yes. He still wasn’t fond of the idea, but at least she’d be properly covered. And it was hard to resist Laila’s charming, gentle persistence.
“Fakira, what will you be wearing?” Muhammad asked the morning of her first track practice. He stood with his arms folded and a skeptical look on his face. Fakira opened her bag and pulled out a bundle of pink clothing. She opened the bundle to reveal a pair of stretch pants, a pair of knee-length short and a long sleeve tee. She spread the outfit on the coffee table and waited for the verdict.
Muhammad walked around the table as if he needed to approve it from all angles. “Pink, Fakira? Did you have to get such a bright color?”
“I think it’s cute,” Laila said.
“But the attention. She’ll draw too much attention!” he said, concerned.
“Daddy, I searched for something else, but this was on sale. Everything else was too tight or too expensive,” Fakira explained.
Muhammad thought for a second. “I don’t know. My daughter running around in bright pink? And with boys?” he said, sounding dramatic. Laila glanced at the clock. It was nearly time for school. She walked over to the table, picked up the clothes, and handed them to her daughter.
“It’s fine,” she said. “You’ve got to get going. Go get your sisters.” Fakira hurried upstairs before her father could intervene. A few minutes later, she and her sisters came down and headed out the front door.
“Salaam,” they all said.
“Salaam,” Laila said. Muhammad was silent.
After dropping her sisters at school, Aalimah went straight to work. She had been getting a lot more assignments, thanks to all the positive feedback she’d received on her first story. Viewers found it “refreshing to see someone so different yet real and likable,” one of the comments read.
Mrs. Weist was thrilled. She knew she’d taken a gamble hiring Aalimah, and she was happy it was paying off. Not everyone shared in her sentiment, especially Michelle. She had been, arguably, the station’s most popular newscaster, but her popularity was waning. As Aalimah and other new faces gained recognition, she became old news. She wasn’t adjusting well.
“What’s your deal?” Aalimah said one day, tired of Michelle’s blatant disrespect.
“Excuse me? What are you talking about?” Michelle answered, annoyed.
“You’ve had an attitude with me since the day I stepped in the door. I don’t expect you to be my best friend, but I do expect to be respected.”
“Honestly, I’m far too busy to be concerned about whether or not you feel respected. Unlike you, I don’t just do fluff pieces, so I’ve got a lot of work to do.” She stood up from her seat to walk by, but Aalimah stepped in the way.
“Just answer me this: What do you have against me? What have I done to you?” Aalimah asked.
Michelle looked Aalimah up and down before answering. “It’s simple, really. I don’t like your kind.”
Tired and scared, Yusef stood at the front door and took a deep breath before ringing the bell. He still couldn’t believe his sister told his parents about Sadiqah. That wasn’t how he wanted them to find out. Now he had to work even harder to prove himself as trustworthy and upright.
He took a moment to straighten the kufi on his head. He didn’t normally wear kufis, but he thought it a good idea given the situation. Finally, with a shaky hand, he rang the bell. Mr. Ghazali opened it quickly, as if he had been standing there waiting.
“As salaam alaikum,” Yusef said, extending his hand.
“Wa alaikum salaam,” Mr. Ghazali said. He looked at the hand for a moment. Then, he shook it. “You look tired, son. Are you not used to getting up at this hour?” he asked.
“Oh no, I’m always up. I don’t miss fajr,” Yusef said, trying not to sound so tired. “I just had to get up earlier than usual to make it here on time.”
“Oh, well that’s good to hear because I would not allow you to spend time with my daughter if you didn’t make prayer, but since you do make prayer, I’m certain you won’t mind leading us this morning.” Muhammad studied Yusef’s expression, looking for signs of fear and discomfort.
“Lead? You want me to lead? Uh, ok sure. Why not?” Yusef said, stammering on some of his words.
“That won’t be a problem, will it?” Muhammad asked. “You do know how to lead someone in prayer, don’t you?”
Yusef felt like he was being interrogated, but he tried to play it cool. “Of course, of course, not a problem at all. Can I use your bathroom please?” he asked politely.
“I don’t know. Can you?” Muhammad answered, maintaining eye contact.
Yusef chuckled to himself. He was immediately reminded of his 4th grade English teacher, who was always offended when students confused “can” and “may.”
“I meant to say, ‘May I use your bathroom?’” Yusef corrected himself. Without saying a word, Muhammad pointed him in the direction of the bathroom. When Yusef returned, Sadiqah and the rest of her family were sitting in the living room, ready for prayer.
Sadiqah felt a quick rush when she saw Yusef. She wanted to speak, but thought it better to stay quiet. Yusef, too, held his tongue. Instead, they exchanged a long, intense glance. Muhammad noticed.
“If you stare at my daughter any longer, you’ll probably need to make wudu again,” he said in a less-than-friendly tone.
“Daddy!” Sadiqah said, mortified. Without acknowledging his daughter’s embarrassment, Muhammad stood to make the call for pray. They all took their places and Yusef began to recite.
Muhammad tried to focus but couldn’t help noticing Yusef’s tajweed. He hadn’t expected it to be so captivating. He had hoped it would be horrible and, therefore, the reason he’d later cite for the forced end to the relationship. Clearly, he’d have to scrap that plan; Yusef recited Quran beautifully.
“Hate to pray and run,” Yusef began, “but the sun will be up soon and I’ve got class at 8 AM. I better get going. I’d love to pray again with you all some other time.” He shook Muhammad’s hand and smiled warmly at Laila before making his way to the door.
“Thank you for coming. We’ll be in touch,” Muhammad said plainly, like he’d just finished conducting an interview.
“What a cutie!” Laila said. “I think you picked a good one.” She gave Sadiqah an approving wink.
“And his recitation is heavenly. MashaAllah,” Aalimah said, grinning from ear to ear.
Muhammad took a seat and rubbed his chin the way he always did when he was deep in thought.
“So, what do you think?” Sadiqah asked anxiously.
Muhammad cleared his throat before answering. “I hate him,” he said, not even bothering to look up.
His dad? How does he know? Yusef told! Sadiqah’s mind was racing. It took her a second to refocus. “You mad?” she asked, her voice barely higher than a whisper.
“I was. I am, but I’m serious about improving our relationship, so I made myself calm down.” He paused for a second. “Well, your mother made me calm down. I was going to give you 48 hours to bring it up on your own.”
Sadiqah was speechless. She was prepared for the fiery father she’d grown used to. She didn’t know how to process such a relaxed and balanced response. “Daddy, I want you to know we’ve only been talking. Nothing else.” She emphasized her words with a quick wave of her arms. “Yusef is extremely respectful and would never…”
Muhammad held his hand in the air and cut her off. “I don’t want to talk to you. I want to talk to the boy. Tell him to meet me here early tomorrow morning, before fajr.”
“Before fajr? But that’s like five in the morning!” Muhammad walked away without responding.
Aalimah slumped down in her seat and tried to sink into the chair. Maybe nobody watched, she thought. She checked her email and tried to forget about her embarrassing debut. “Hey, Sneezy,” Richard said, walking up behind.
“Hey, Ricardo,” she said, forcing a smile. He gave her a skeptical look.
“That didn’t really work for me,” he said with a sigh. “Let’s try that again, with feeling this time.”
Aalimah laughed. “Hey, Ricarrrrdo,” she repeated, rolling the R this time.
A huge smile spread across his face. “That’s what I’m talking about.” Ever since he told her “Richard” was just for on-air, she made it a point to refer to him by his authentic name.
“What are you doing here? You don’t even work today,” she asked.
“I know. I just wanted to stop by and congratulate you on your first segment.” Aalimah looked at him with confusion.
“You came all the way here to make fun of me? You seriously could have texted that,” she said with a roll of her eyes.
“I’m serious,” Richard persisted. “It was really good. Yea, you had a rocky start, but you recovered. The way you laughed it off and made a joke out if, it made you seem real, relatable. It was very impressive, and cute.”
Aalimah suddenly felt nervous and hot. She wasn’t used to feeling this way. “Richard, we need to talk,” she said after a calming breath.
“Sure, what about?” he said, sitting on the desk and looking her in the eyes.
“Aalimah, could I speak with you in my office, please?” Mrs. Weist said, peeking her head into the room. Without responding, Aalimah stood and followed Mrs. Weist into her office. She took a seat in a big plushy chair, the same one she sat in for her interview months ago. “Aalimah, how do you feel about your segment?” Mrs. Weist asked.
“I’m glad it’s over,” Aalimah said with a nervous laugh.
Mrs. Weist normally seemed so friendly, but she was distant today. “It was interesting,” she said. She logged into her computer and began to print some documents. “The viewers, they definitely noticed you.” She walked over to the printer to collect the papers.
“Oh. Did they?” Aalimah said, head hung low. Please, don’t fire me. Please, don’t fire me, she thought.
“Yes, they did. We got a lot of viewer feedback about you, she said, waving the papers back and forth. “I’d like to read you some.”
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Muhammad walked through the hallway and stopped in front of Fakira’s room. The light was off, but there was music on. He shook his head. He had a major pet peeve about things being left on in empty rooms. “I’m not made of money,” he muttered to himself as he stepped into the room and turned on the light.
“Bummer, totally killed my buzz,” a voice said. Shocked, Muhammad turned to see Fakira and an unidentified red head sitting in the corner, legs crossed, eyes closed.
“Sorry, Fakira, I didn’t know you were in here. What are you doing?” he asked.
“Hey, daddy, it’s cool. We were just meditating. This is Harmony. I met her in my meditation club,” Fakira announced happily.
“Meditating?” Muhammad repeated. His mind instantly filled with images of round-bellied, droopy-eared idols. “Meditating to whom? I will not have paganism in this house!” he said loudly, just short of a yell.
Harmony looked concerned. Fakira put a reassuring arm on her shoulder and gave her a look that said, “Don’t worry. He’s harmless.”
“Daddy, you don’t meditate to anyone,” she said with a chuckle. “Meditation is all about being still, quieting the inner self. You should try it. I bet it would work wonders on your blood pressure.”
“No, thank you. My pressure is fine. Fakira, say goodbye to your friend. That’s enough meditation for the day.” He spoke quickly, the way he always did when he was uncomfortable.
“But daddy, there’s an anti-war rally going on downtown. Harmony and I were about to head down there. We have protest signs and everything,” Fakira’s said, pointing to the hand-painted signs on the bed.
Muhammad walked over and picked up one of the signs. “What is the meaning of this?” he asked. “What kind of sign is this for some teen girls to carry in public?”
Harmony felt the need to respond. They were her signs. “You’ve got it all wrong, sir. ‘Make love, not war,’ is a popular phrase people say at peace rallies. It has nothing to do with sex,” she explained.
“I see. Thank you for the explanation. Fakira, you’ve been to hundreds of these rallies. I think you’ll survive if you miss one.”
“But daddy,” Fakira pleaded.
“Fakira, I don’t want to hear it. Tell your friend goodbye. You’ll see her at school.”
“No worries,” Harmony said. She picked up the signs and began to walk toward the door. “I’ll be loud enough for the both of us.” She raised the signs high in the air. “See you at track practice tomorrow.”
Muhammad turned and looked at Fakira. “Track practice?”
“Daddy, could I speak with you for a minute?” Sadiqah said, peeking her head into the room. She had been listening in the hall for a few minutes, waiting for the right time to speak.
“Thank you,” Fakira mouthed silently.
Muhammad looked from Sadiqah to Fakira and then back at Sadiqah. Finally, he stepped into the hall and stood face to face with his daughter. “What is it?” he said.
Sadiqah took a deep breath. “Um, well, I kinda wanted to talk to you about… about…” She struggled to finish.
“About Yusef?” he said in a surprisingly calm voice.
Sadiqah’s eyes grew large as saucers. “You knew?” she said in disbelief.
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Muhammed wasn’t due home for another hour, so Sadiqah took advantage of the moment and called Yusef. She hated going behind her father’s back, but she didn’t know how else to go about it.
“Salaam alaikum, have you thought about what I said?” he asked as soon as he answered, not wasting any time on small talk.
“Wa alaikum salaam, uh, yea, I thought about it. I just don’t want to move too quickly,” she said in an unsure voice.
Yusef sighed. “Sadiqah, I don’t want to do it like this. I love talking to you, but not like this. Sneaking. Hiding. Whispering. This is not Islam. Let’s tell our parents,” he pleaded.
“But Yusef, my dad and I are finally in a good place and I don’t want to freak him out. If I tell him about you, he will flip out. That’s guaranteed. He’ll probably forbid us from ever speaking again. I don’t want that.”
Yusef was quiet for a few minutes. He thought about the possibility of having to end their relationship all together. “I don’t want that either, but I also don’t want to disrespect your father or to be in a haraam relationship. We both know there is a way we should go about this.”
Sadiqah understood Yusef’s point, but she was starting to get annoyed that he didn’t understand hers. “When the time is right, I promise I will tell my dad, but I really need you to trust me on this. Please, let’s wait at least two more weeks. I have to feel him out first.”
Yusef took a second to consider the proposal. “Two weeks? I can do one week. That’s about it.”
Sadiqah pouted, but agreed. “Ok, give me one week.” She hung up the phone and wondered how she’d approach her father. She decided to ask Aalimah. She walked into her sister’s room and plopped down on the bed. “I have a dilemma,” she said with a big sigh.
“What’s wrong?” Aalimah asked, looking up from her cell phone.
“It’s Yusef. He wants me to tell daddy about us. How am I supposed to tell him I’ve been spending time with a boy for over a month? He’ll kill me!”
“Don’t tell me you two are getting married,” Aalimah said with look of horror on her face.
“No—not right at this minute,” she said with a smile. She took a second to imagine what it would be like to be Yusef’s wife. It was a nice fantasy.
“Why didn’t he go to daddy in the first place? He probably still would have been mad, but at least he would have taken Yusef seriously. Now he’s going to feel like he was being sneaky. Daddy’s not going to like that at all.”
“I know!” Sadiqah said. “I didn’t even think to tell daddy at first because I didn’t think we’d like each other this much. I assumed we’d just catch up a bit and move on. I really had no idea things would be where they are.”
“And where are they?” Aalimah asked with a raised eyebrow.
“Oh, no, nothing like that! I may be the wild one, but I’m not that wild! Momma didn’t raise no fool.” Aalimah breathed a sigh of relief. “So, come on. Help me. Give me some advice,” Sadiqah pleaded.
“Well, you’ve kind of backed yourself into a corner. No matter what you do now, daddy’s going to be upset. If you’re really serious about Yusef, meaning you see yourself getting married to him at some point hopefully in the far-off future, then you need to tell daddy now. The longer you wait, the worse it will be.”
“I’m just so nervous. We’ve been in such a good space recently. I don’t want to mess that up. What should I say?” Sadiqah asked, a worried look on her face.
Aalimah had busied herself on her cell phone again. It took a moment for her to respond. “I don’t know. Speak from the heart.”
“Speak from the heart? That’s all you got?” Sadiqah stood up to leave. “Yea, well, make sure you speak from the heart when you tell daddy about all that texting you’ve been doing with Richard.” Aalimah looked up with surprise. “Did you really think I didn’t know? Come on, now. Walking around here with your face buried in that phone all day. You aint fooling nobody!” Sadiqah said before disappearing into the hall.
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Fakira stood in front of the activities sign-up board and looked at the lists. She was only a sophomore, but she wanted to be sure she had plenty of extracurriculars for colleges to consider when that time came around. She was already in the multicultural club and the religious diversity group, but she wanted something physical, a sport of some kind.
“Cheerleading, tennis, softball, basketball, track, weightlifting,” she read aloud, running her finger across each list. “Hmm, track.” She moved her finger back to the track sign-up sheet and read the description: Do you like to run? Are you good at running long distances or short sprints? Do you have stamina for days? If so, join the track team! Contact Mr. Jimenez for more info.
Wow, Mr. Jimenez is the track coach? I’ve got to sign up, she thought, scribbling her name in the next open spot. She had loved Mr. Jimenez ever since she had him for Intro. to World Religions her freshman year. She was impressed by his open mind and lack of bias. He showed such respect to each religion that it often seemed like he believed in each one. Fakira still wasn’t sure what his personal beliefs were, but it didn’t matter. She had connected with his energy.
“Don’t tell me you’re signing up for the track team,” Tabitha scoffed, approaching from behind. “You can’t run in all that, that stuff,” she said, searching for the right word to describe Fakira’s clothing.
“Sure hope you don’t pass out from heat exhaustion,” Karen added with a chuckle.
“Oh my God, I can so see that happening,” Tabitha said with a big laugh. “Fakira, you should probably just stick to your little kumbaya clubs,” she said, shaking her head in pity.
Fakira stood up straight and looked Tabitha straight in the eyes. “So I take it you haven’t heard of Ruqaya Al Ghasara.”
“Who?” The girls exchanged a quick glance of confusion.
“Exactly. She’s a Muslim runner who won a gold medal in the 2008 Olympics. And I’m willing to bet she had people just like you telling her the same thing. Good thing she didn’t listen,” Fakira said with a big smile. She walked away quickly without waiting for a response.
She went outside and waited for Aalimah. “I can’t wait until I can drive,” she mumbled to herself. She pulled out her Ipod and settled into the Native American flute selection she’d just downloaded the day before. A few minutes later, Aalimah’s car pulled up. That was quick, Fakira thought. She usually had to wait at least twenty minutes.
“You’re early,” she said as she hopped in the car.
“I’m in a rush today. I got my first on-air assignment today! It’s not a big deal, really. I’m just covering a huge pot hole downtown, but I’ve got to get home and practice. I’m so nervous.”
“Nervous? But you’re a pro. You did this tons of times in school,” Fakira reminded her. It was true Aalimah had done many on-air reports, but this was different. This was her job, and she was doing it in front of a bunch of people who didn’t seem too interested in watching her in the first place.
Maybe Richard’s comment made her hypersensitive, but it seemed, now more than ever, she noticed a certain unwelcoming tone from some of her co-workers. Like when Matthew, the station assistant, “forgot” to tell her about the staff meeting being moved from nine o’clock to eight thirty. And like when Ashton, the production assistant, “accidently” mixed up the buttons when showing her how to work the new editing equipment. And like when Michelle, the evening anchor, made it a point to publicly address her burning concerns about how “too much diversity” might be a turn-off to their tried-and-true advertisers.
It seemed Richard and Mrs. Weist, the station director, were the only two who genuinely liked her. But Aalimah couldn’t let that be her focus. This wasn’t the first time she’d been disliked because of how she looked, and she knew it wouldn’t be the last.
After a long night of prayer and practice, Aalimah arrived at the story site early the next morning. She did a few dry runs with Jason and all the equipment. Then she prepared herself to record.
“We’re on in five, four, three, two.” Jason signaled that she had the go-ahead and the big, red RECORD light began to blink.
Again, Jason signaled for Aalimah to begin. She wanted to speak, but she felt a sneeze jumping around in her nose. She tried her best for force it down, but it was determined to be heard.
“Ah, ah, ah, choo!” Aalimah let out what she was sure was the loudest sneeze known to man.
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Aalimah and Fakira watched as Sadiqah followed their father into the kitchen. “I like your hijab,” Muhammad said, attempting to make small talk.
“Thanks,” Sadiqah said slowly. She touched her hijab and tried to think of how she’d styled it that morning. “Oh, the flower,” she said, touching the decoration she’d made out of the hanging fabric that she usually just tucked away. “I learned it from Youtube. Lots of good tutorials on there,” she explained. It felt strange talking to her dad about hijabi fashion. That couldn’t have been the reason he wanted to talk to her.
He walked over to the refrigerator and grabbed himself an apple. “Want one?” he asked. Sadiqah shook her head no. She glanced at her watch. It was six o’clock. She was meeting Yusef for coffee at seven. Hope this doesn’t take too long, she thought.
Muhammad took a seat across from his daughter and clasped his hands, resting them on the table. He was obviously uncomfortable.
“Daddy, I’m sorry about our fight. I didn’t mean to disrespect you. I’d never do that on purpose,” Sadiqah said. She figured it would be easier if she spoke first.
Muhammad looked up with a hint of a smile in his eyes. “Sadiqah, I’m very sorry about what I said. You are not a curse. I am ashamed that I let my anger control my tongue. I pray you can forgive me.”
“I can,” Sadiqah said softly. Laila started to walk into the kitchen, but stopped in the doorway when she realized what was happening. Leaning on the doorframe, she crossed her arms and listened for a short while, a soft smile on her face. She had been encouraging her husband to apologize for days, but she knew it wouldn’t happen until he was ready.
“If anyone is cursed, it’s me,” Muhammad said. “I have so many worries about you girls and I pray every day that Allah eases my heart. It’s my job to protect you. Sometimes I feel like I can’t do that. You girls are so intelligent, kind, beautiful.” He hesitated on the word “beautiful,” like he didn’t want to admit it. “I see the way men look at you girls, even in hijab. I know how easily men are distracted and how quickly women are corrupted.” He stopped for a second to gather his thoughts. “Sadiqah, I love that you are outspoken and not afraid to speak your mind. Whenever you all go out together, I rest assured that the other two will be safe because you are there. You have such a strong heart and mind, and I know that’s a blessing from Allah. I pray for your type of strength, but it scares me, too.”
Sadiqah was not a big crier, but after hearing her father say such nice things about her, she had no choice but to release big, cleansing tears. Muhammad was caught off guard. “Why are you crying? I apologized,” he stammered.
Sadiqah used her sleeve to wipe her face. “No, it’s not that. It just makes me feel good to hear you say those things.”
“Well, I mean them, and shame on me for not saying it more often. I’m only hard on you because I love you, but I will make effort to do better.” He stood from his seat and gave his daughter a big hug.
Twenty minutes later, Sadiqah pulled up to her favorite café and went inside to wait on Yusef. She told her parents she was meeting a friend for coffee, and that much was true. She just didn’t tell them the friend wasn’t a girl.
Yusef walked into the café and walked over to Sadiqah with a smile. “As salaam alaikum, how are you?” he asked.
“Wa alaikum salaam, I’m great!” she said cheerfully. “I already ordered for you. Two sugars, one cream. Just like you like.” She lifted the hot, steaming cup and slowly handed it to him.
“Thanks,” he said, taking a quick sip and nodding his head in approval. “What’s got you in such a great mood?”
“I talked to my dad today,” Sadiqah said, face beaming. “You were right. We really needed to talk. Things are much better now.”
“Alhamdulliah, that’s great.” He didn’t sound as enthused as Saqiqah had expected.
“What’s wrong? You sound a little down.”
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