Saturday, April 14, 2018

Maintaining the Silence on Aafia


What do the Washington Post, the Boston Globe, and (the Pakistani daily) Dawn have in common? They all maintain the silence on the unjust imprisonment of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. As such, they are abdicating their responsibility as media organs to seek truth in this case of gross human rights violations of an innocent Muslim woman scientist.

My letter to the Washington Post on Aafia (after running the 2018 DC Rock ‘N Roll Marathon in her name; letter is as yet unpublished by the Post):

My letter to the Boston Globe on Aafia (after running the 2017 Boston Marathon in her name; letter remains unpublished by the Globe):

My letter to (Pakistani daily) Dawn on Aafia (after running the 2016 DC Rock ‘N Roll Marathon to call attention to Aafia’s case; letter was not published by Dawn):

It is particularly shameful that Pakistani and other Muslim media refuse to openly and honestly discuss her case, or take any step which would compel Pakistani lawmakers to intercede on Aafia’s behalf. Inshallah, they will be held to account on the Last Day.

--Nadrat Siddique

Sunday, April 8, 2018

Standing with Black Lives Matter-Columbia


So I finally made it to my first Black Lives Matter-Columbia vigil today, a few hours after completing the B&A Trail Marathon. The vigil is held at a very busy intersection at one of the entrances to Columbia Mall. It was an excellent turnout, with an entire shoulder on one side of the road filled with folk holding signs saying "Black Lives Matter," invoking the names of Philando Castille and other victims of police murders; decrying the school-to-prison pipeline; or calling for justice for all. There was a smaller but energetic group of activists on the other side of the road as well.

I stood with the larger group of activists in my shalwar kameez, seemingly the only Pakistani in attendance (unfortunate because the Columbia area has a very sizable Indo-Pak population).

Amazingly, the young white woman next to me, whom I'd met at a recent NAACP meeting, was also a marathoner. (She was preparing to run Boston in a little more than a week!) She told me she attends the vigil each month. I carried a sign saying "We stand with the family of Terrence Sterling; Stop Police Murders," which I'd hastily penned after running the 26.2 that morning.

Sterling was a 31-year old resident of Fort Washington (a DC outskirt). In 2016, he was riding his motorcycle--unarmed--when he was shot in the neck by police, who claimed he deliberately backed his motorcycle into a police cruiser. No criminal charges were brought against the officers involved.

Participants at the BLM-Columbia vigil were of all races and ethnicities, with a high degree of White participation. The Howard County NAACP chapter was there in force. Numerous candidates running in the upcoming local elections were also present. The vigil was entirely peaceful, with the greatest perturbation being the constant beeping of horns by passing motorists in support of the vigil.

It was a great day to stand up for justice.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Juma’ah at the DC Islamic Center: Hashing and Re-Hashing Hasad (Envy)


By Nadrat Siddique

Washington, DC
April 6, 2018

I performed juma’ah prayers for the last two weeks at the DC Islamic Center. Located on Embassy Row, ICDC, as it is known, is rather unusual as far as mosques go. It was conceived in 1944 during the Truman presidency by diplomats from Muslim countries, and was inaugurated in 1957 under Eisenhower.  The principal who pushed for the completion of the center was Egyptian Ambassador Kamil Abdul Rahim. Abdul Rahim travelled to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and other Muslim countries to solicit funds for the completion of the center.  In addition to funds, various Arab countries also contributed to the decor of the mosque: Egypt provided a chandelier, Iran brought in oriental carpets, and Turkey contributed tiles.

At the time, ICDC’s board was composed of diplomats from the various Muslim countries. Today, it is unclear who sits on its board. In fact, the ICDC webpage fails to list board members, imams, and related information. By contrast, other mosques, however conservative or controlled, list this key information. The imam’s salary is also not divulged. It does say that the Islamic Center’s aim is to work with the U.S. government, an odd breach of the key American principle of “Separation of Church and State.”

The Saudi Embassy’s website mentions the DC Islamic Center (as an example of the broadening reach of Islam in the U.S.), but does not delve into the extent of its contributions or investment into the Center.

The Islamic Center board was determined by election only once in its history: In November 1981, a Syrian-born Sunni scholar, named Muhammad Al-Asi was elected imam. His reign at the center was brief however, and he was ousted by the Saudis and others associated with the previous mosque board in March 1983. The Saudis locked Asi and his family out of the Islamic Center, and completely closed the Center for three months, under two seemingly unrelated pretexts: 1) that they had information on a weapons cache inside the Center; and 2) maintenance and repairs were needed inside the Center.

Later, when Imam Al-Asi attempted to return, they arrested and briefly jailed him along with 50 of his supporters, charging then with “unlawful entry into the mosque” and “disturbing a religious service.” Asi and his cohorts were also indefinitely banned from entering the mosque.

New Trend, then in its sixth year of publication, supported Imam Al-Asi on principle.

So, the operations of the current board of the ICDC remain enshrouded in mystery. The little which is known emerged around 2009, as a result of a legal case between the mosque director/imam Abdullah Khouj and the mosque financial manager Farzad Darui. As a consequence of the case, it became apparent that hundreds of thousands of dollars were being funneled into a mosque fund by the Saudi government. The money was to be used, in part, for mosque maintenance and security.

Another point garnered from the 2009 case was that the mosque board had, in 1984, shortly after deposing Muhammad Al-Asi, hired a Saudi—from Saudi Arabia, and with no ties to the local community—to be imam.

The Saudi imam’s March 30 khutbah I sat in on focused on cleansing one’s body as well as one’s soul, touching on various complications which can arise in such cleansing, including hasad (envy). The April 6 khutbah by the same imam also focused on hasad: Why one ought not engage in hasad; ramifications of engaging in hasad; remedies for the individual in danger of engaging in hasad, etc. There was a great deal of redundancy between the March 20 and April 6 khutbahs. And there were extensive and selective quotations from the Qur’an in Arabic (to a congregation which was, at best, 50% Arabic-speaking).

Feeling an odd twinge of empathy (pity, really), I pondered how difficult it was for imams in the pocket of Saud or DHS to come up with entirely academic khutbahs, and completely skirt any remotely political topic, week after week. Almost any real world concern, it seemed to me, could be labeled as political—and hence off limits—not only to the paid Saudi imam whom I observed, but to the numerous imams on the DHS-approved speaking circuit.

For example, in both the ICDC khutbas I heard, the imam mentioned memorization of Qur’an by hafiz-e-Quran as one area in which envy was okay. That is, competition to memorize and accurately recite God’s word was a highly worthwhile endeavor exempt from the warnings against hasad. Ideally, envying a hafiz would lead one to also become a hafiz.

Ironically, two days prior, 100 hafiz-e-Quran children in Kunduz (Afghanistan) were killed in an airstrike by the Afghan government, a puppet of the U.S. And a little more than a year ago, world renowned hafiz-e-Qur’an Dr. Omar Abdel Rahman died a political prisoner in U.S. custody. How could any man of God ignore these terrible tragedies, and not make the logical connections? But to the Saudi imam I was observed, there seemed no connection.

The Saudi imam continued to rail against hasad, spouting off yet more daleel in Arabic. His frenzied du’ah, also entirely in Arabic, was the only passionate part of his khutbah. Murdered Afghan children were clearly not on his mind. I left immediately after the prayer ended, asking Allah to forgive me for praying behind such a one. I pondered the openness to scrutiny of our beloved Rasool (SAW) and later of the Khulafah-E-Rashidun (RA) by their constituents. At a minimum, disclosure of the ICDC imam’s salary and its source, as well as the salaries (and sources) of other ICDC board members would help congregants to understand why topics such as hasad are beat to death during the Center’s khutbahs, while thousands of innocents across the Muslim world perish daily at the hands of the U.S., Russian, NATO, and other imperialist armies without a mention.

© 2018 Nadrat Siddique

Friday, March 16, 2018

Her Too? Assault and Rape in the Case of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui


Soon after the running the Rock 'N Roll DC Marathon to call attention to the case of political prisoner Dr. Aafia Siddiqui, I wrote this letter to the Washington Post. I tried very hard to adhere to their publication guidelines. (I tend to be overly verbose, which may lead to rejection of a submission, but in this case, I was quite succinct). And, I thought the topic interesting and timely enough that perhaps the letter might be published.

Yet, it was not. The Post, like other corporate media, seems to be clinging to U.S. government dictates to bury political prisoners. The government refuses to acknowledge the existence of political prisoners within the U.S., corporate media are the mouth piece of the government, and therefore political prisoners, as a non-existent group, are never discussed. Unless and until there is a 180 degree turn in corporate editorial board policy, letters on political prisoners, especially those who are Muslim, will continue to go unpublished. And still, I will write.

--------

March 16, 2018

Letter to the Editor
The Washington Post
1301 K Street NW
Washington DC 20071

letters@washpost.com

Dear Editor,

With the advent of the MeToo Movement, one would expect the name of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui and the massive violation of her rights to come to the fore. Dr. Siddiqui is a political prisoner, currently being held at Carswell USP in Fort Worth, TX. The petite Pakistani neuroscientist, a graduate of MIT and Brandeis University, was convicted in 2010 of absurd charges which included assaulting seven American servicemen in Afghanistan, by a New York court riddled with emotion and fear of terrorism.

But it is Aafia herself who has been terrorized. During her 15-year incarceration, which includes a period of captivity at a “Secret Prison” in Afghanistan—where, in violation of international law, her presence was not acknowledged—and she was therefore subject to all manner of horrors, Aafia, like many of the women who have come forth in the MeToo Movement, was repeatedly assaulted and raped.

The primary difference between her and the America women accusers who form the MeToo Movement is that Aafia is a Muslim woman, and horrifyingly, the assaults against her occurred while she was in the custody of the U.S., or its Pakistani and Afghan allies (at U.S. behest). And—unlike the women of the MeToo Movement, Aafia’s voice remains completely unheard. Held in administrative detention even as her health deteriorates to dangerous levels, she is allowed almost no visitors, and zero phone calls or interviews. Her family, who are mostly in Pakistan, are not permitted to visit or call her. Most bizarrely, her petition for a new trial, perhaps her last opportunity to seek redress through the legal system, was withdrawn (ostensibly) by the defendant herself, under suspicious circumstances.

On March 10, I, a Pakistani woman marathoner, ran the Rock ‘N Roll DC Marathon to call attention to Dr. Aafia’s case. It was my 36th marathon, and I dedicated it to the freedom of this courageous Muslim woman scientist. Approximately 10 months prior, I ran the Boston Marathon in her name. A long-time resident of the DMV, I traversed DC’s strikingly beautiful streets, starting near the African-American Museum and the Washington Monument, and ending at RFK Stadium, in a black long-sleeved tee-shirt reading “Free Dr. Aafia Siddiqui.” I finished the marathon in 3 hours, 54 minutes, in the top 14% of my division, and qualified again to run Boston (my 10th time qualifying for that prestigious race).

In the course of running 26.2 miles in the nation’s capital for Aafia, questions raced through my head: In the age of MeToo, Why is Aafia, after all she suffered, still locked up? As Aafia’s sister, Dr. Fowzia Siddiqui, asked in a recent International Women’s Day speech, “Is not Aafia also a woman?” Isn’t assault, rape, and torture a cause for concern if the victim is a Muslim woman prisoner? If nothing else, the gross pre-trial violation of rights guaranteed to Aafia—under both the U.S. Constitution and the Geneva Convention—cry out for a nullification of her conviction.

Sincerely,

Nadrat Siddique
nadratsiddique [at] yahoo [dot] com

Friday, January 26, 2018

Run, Nadrat, Run!

How White Supremacy and Islamophobia Under a Republican President Created a Muslim Marathoner Girl

By Nadrat Siddique

One recent MLK Day, I experienced deja vu in the park where it all started. I was at Burke Lake Park in VA, engaging in what I thought was an appropriate activity in honor of the great civil rights martyr: an 8K race billed as the “Keep Moving Forward” 8K Trail Run. I had hoped for a race in DC or Baltimore, organized by a Black rights or civil rights organization, with which to mark the occasion. Since I couldn’t find one, I opted for this. Proceeds from the event benefitted United Community Ministries, not at the top of my list of organizations to support. But then beggars can’t be chosers.

I attended high school entirely during the Reagan years, and proudly wore the hijab for the entirety of my middle school and most of my high school. In 1979, I experienced a life changing event: a visit to Iran following the Islamic Revolution there. I was 11-years old at the time, and accompanied my father, Dr. Kaukab Siddique—a freelance journalist and maverick whose work, albeit lacking formal recognition, would come to influence the Islamic movement in the U.S. for decades to come—to the Islamic Republic. Together we witnessed the power of the people to topple Shah Reza Pahlavi, a dictator armed to the teeth by the U.S. government, his monarchy and that of his father supported by the U.S. for decades. The Shah operated by imprisoning his political opponents, who were often brutally tortured by SAVAK, the secret police closely aligned with and trained by the CIA. Eventually the Iranians had enough, and took to the streets in a bloodless revolution, literally stopping the Shah’s tanks and troops with their bodies.

As a young Muslim girl growing up in a non-Muslim country where I was consistently treated as an outsider, I was particularly struck by the confidence, near swagger even, of the young Iranian college women. Dressed in unconstraining black headscarves and tunics, which they wore over elegant flowing pants loose enough to facilitate a round-house kick, the female college students walked with confidence and carried automatic rifles, holding their own. I was in teenage awe, and when I returned to the States, I deliberately adjusted my rather generic style of head-scarf to a style which more closely resembled that of the Iranian students.

At the time, we lived in the homogenously White DC suburb of Annandale. Each morning, my sister, who is two years my senior, jumped out of bed around 5:30 AM, ran to shower, then put on her silk blouse, designer jeans, and makeup. She styled her hair perfectly, checked herself in the mirror, and made her way to school very early, so she could be there before most of her peers. She was on the photo journalism club, a member of the student government, and every other school club imaginable. Sleek and slender with a model’s body, she was a runner who, much to my envy, ran at least five miles a day. With her dark hair, long lashes, and exotic beauty, my sister mesmerized nearly every guy in school.

While my sister was already on her way to our school, each morning, I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed. I put on my dark-colored hijab and loose-fitting shirt, and made my way to the same school. On a good day, I would make it there just as the school bell rang. More often I would be there a few minutes late, or not at all.

No one forced my sister to dress as she did. And no one forced me to wear the hijab.

My sister and I attended the nearly homogeneously White, upper middle class Annandale High School (AHS). She was an upper classman, and I had just started there. There were no other evidently Muslim students. There was an Iranian boy named Reza, whom I suspected was Muslim. But he looked and acted White, interacting without qualm with his White peers and teachers, but redirecting his gaze immediately if we made eye contact. So, I did not pursue conversation with him. In any case, my communication skills as an adolescent were nil, and I would hardly have known what to say to him if we had conversed.

The persecution started soon after I began school at AHS. I do not recall how it started. Granted, not only I wore Iranian style hijab, but I brazenly displayed a poster of Imam Ruhollah Khomeini, whom I greatly admired for his stance against what I viewed as an imperialist superpower, in my school locker. I viewed both the wearing of the hijab and the display of the poster as First Amendment protected-actions.  Hence I did not think it should make me the target of violations of my civil rights.

Yet, every day, fellow students, often White males who were much bigger and older than me, would hurl ephithets of “Blue nun,” “ayatollah,” or “raghead” at me. “Get that rag off your head,” they would jeer, savagely yanking my hijab or slapping me on the back of the head. Very often these sorts of interactions occurred in the school stairwell or hallway soon after I arrived at school. Unfortunately, they were but a prelude for what was to come during the course of the school day.

Without realizing it, I developed strategies for dealing with the bullying. At times, I would arrive in class as early as possible and take a seat in the part of the classroom where I thought the bullies were least likely to sit. At other times, I would get to the class as late as I could without missing the attendance roll call, to minimize the time between student arrival and teacher arrival, and therefore the “bullying window.”

In some classes, the persecution was worse than in others. The classes with the most “freedom,” i.e., allowance for the students to physically move about, were the ones I dreaded the most. Off these, Earth Science was perhaps the worst. The bespectacled, bearded, hippie-looking Caucasian teacher was particularly inattentive. The students could wander about the classroom, under the pretext of looking at the aquariums, terraniums, and other displays set up by the school’s Science Department. And that gave them an opening to yank at my hijab.

A pair twins, Denise and Robin Wright, were among my classmates in Earth Science. Both were very beautiful per the Eurocentric ideal, and very physically fit. Denise had highlights in her hair. Robin’s hair was so black, it was almost blue, and her lips were always perfectly made up in red lip color. Robin gave me a proverbial pat on the head, telling me I had beautiful hair, and why did I have to wear “that thing on my head.” She thought it horrible that my father made me wear it. She would tell him—on my behalf—what he could do with it, if she had the chance.

It was my very first semester of high school, and my first crack at a real science class. Needless to say, I fell flat on my face, earning an “E,” and was ordered to retake the class in summer school. With such a start, I marveled in later years that I was able to undertake and effectively complete a degree in a hard science—biochemistry—at a competitive American university.

Physical education (PE) class was by far the worst. On the first day of PE, the school screened us for multiple scoliosis (MS). All of us girls lined up in long lines that spanned the length of the gym for the screening, waiting to be seen by the nurse practitioner and her assistant. I had no understanding of diagnostic screenings, or why they were done. I had poor posture, accompanied by a very negative body image. By the time I got to the front of the line, I had convinced myself that the spinal curvature of my slouch was an indicator of MS. (It wasn’t).

Not having a clue how to nourish myself, I indulged in the heavily meat- and sugar-laden diet of my family home with abandon. As a consequence, I had the typical rotund desi build, and was very uncomfortable with the idea of having to undress in front of other girls. On top of that, there was the Islamic prohibition against disrobing, including in front of those of the same gender. I was shocked that the other girls seemed to think nothing of it, bantering and carrying on in the nude, as they changed and showered together in the locker room. Loathing the concept, I feigned illness or injury, and got exemptions from PE class whenever I could. At other times I would simply hook the class. Even when I was physically present, I would stay in the girls’ locker room during PE class while the other students ran around the fields or played handball, volleyball, softball, flag football, and other sports. Amazingly, I made it through that first year of PE, earning a “P” (for “Pass”). But, the following year, I missed so many sessions of the dreaded class that I received a failing grade, and had to re-take it during summer school.

Eventually, the girls’ locker room became my cave. I would frequently seek refuge there even when it wasn’t time for PE class. I hated lunch almost as much as I hated PE.  In the cafeteria, bereft of the political correctness provided by adult monitors, some of the wildest behaviors occurred. Kids would indulge in salacious talk as a matter of course. The bolder or stronger ones would concoct cruel pranks to play on smaller, weaker, or more susceptible students. They would bully, hit, sexually harass, or subject such students to epithets.

To escape the horrors of the cafeteria, I would come to the locker room and sit very quietly. I never cried in response to a set of circumstances which I realize in retrospect would have left many girls sobbing, screaming, or reporting the perpetrators. And although I came from a highly educated family—my father held a PhD and my mother a Master’s degree, and and at least six aunts and uncles held, or were in the process of completing medical, engineering, or RN degrees—no one suggested to me that what I was experiencing was a gross violation of my First Amendment rights. Nor did it occur to me, a child of 14, that I could have taken AHS to court for these violations.

In the locker room, I would sit and eat the high-fat/ high cholesterol lunch prepared by my mother. If anyone entered the locker room —they rarely did during the lunch period—I would freeze like a terrified animal, in the hopes of remaining unnoticed. Only later did the oddity of eating lunch in the semi-dark of the locker room, and its implications for my incipient eating disorder hit me.

History class gave me a glimpse of alternatives to hiding or persecution. There too, at the beginning of the class period, as the students were taking their seats and before the teacher got there, there was persecution and taunts about the hijab. In the class were two tall skinny White boys, one with sandy brown hair (named Tim), and another with dark brown hair (named Kevin). In blue jeans, boots, and with chiseled good looks, they were the epitome of cool, and had the respect of the class. And—for some inexplicable reason —they defended me regularly. In response to the bullying, one or the other of them would tell the youthful tormentors, “Come on, man. Leave her alone. That’s not cool.”

Only later did I find out that these two were flunkies, which was why they were so much older and more informed than the rest of the students.

The class was taught by a stylish young woman with auburn hair, named Sallie. She found out about the persecution, and admonished the perpetrators that it was my right to wear the head cover. Very quickly, the perpetrators blended into the woodwork.

A few weeks later, we were all standing in the hallway during a fire drill. Taunts and whispers about the hijab had started when Sallie walked by. I was happy to see her, and thought she might defend me as in the past. My heart sank when she told me, “I’m sure you have beautiful hair. You don’t have to hide it all the time, you know.” Sadly, she said it in front of some of the tormentors.

The bus ride to and from school was where some of the worst abuse occurred. Since there was only one adult present, and about 30 kids, all unmonitored, they could do what they wanted to me. One of them would slap me in the back of the head. Then, when I turned to identify the perpetrator, they would cover for each other, pretending they had no idea what I was talking about. Or they would apply one sharp backward yank on my hijab, which I had tied tightly underneath my chin. The tight knot alone prevented the removal of the holy garb. But—the daily ordeal convinced me that I was surrounded by enemies.

Sometimes the persecution continued even after I got off the bus. I would walk purposefully, holding my head high, in the direction of my house. Sometimes a bully or two would follow me for a short distance, muttering things about the head scarf. Perhaps fearful of being observed by adults now that they were out in the open, they did not pursue me for any great distance.

One day, the bullies—I wasn’t sure how many, because I refused to look, or do anything that revealed fear—followed me further than usual into the town house complex. One of them came bounding up, and tried to kick out my knees from behind me. Fortunately, I was walking with a sturdy, balanced gait, and although my knees partially buckled at the impact, I did not fall down. Another kid who rode my bus, fearful I was about to be beat up, yelled, “Run Nadrat! Run home!”

I did not look back. And—I did not run. Innal hokmo illah lillah.

Eventually, the attempts to forcibly remove the holy cloth became too much for me. I would deliberately miss the bus, and then my mother would have to drop me at school. I felt badly, that I was adding to the burden for an overworked, frequently exhausted mother. And—from the single conversation I’d had with her on the topic, I knew she did not support my wearing the hijab. This made asking her for a ride even more unsavory.

On the sole occasion when I raised the topic, the conversation went as follows:

Nadrat: “Ami. They pull my scarf.”

Mother: “Pull it back a bit, then they won’t do it” (meaning I ought not wear the hijab in such severe fashion, far down on my forehead, and perhaps allow a bit of hair to show as she did with her Pakistani-style hijab).

Deeply chagrined at what I felt was justification for the bullies pulling my hijab (ie the style in which I was wearing the holy garb, was eliciting the attempts to forcibly remove it), I never mentioned it to her again. I also did not bring it up with my father, expecting that my mother would advise him of the situation if she thought it important enough. (She didn’t.)

My mother would drive my little brother to his elementary school, drop me at my high school, and finally make her way to her part-time job. One day, I decided I would walk. Henceforth, I neither burdened my mother with requests for rides, nor endured the purgatory of the school bus.

The only problem was getting out of bed. Leaving the house in the early morning hours, when the sky is still dark, and—if it’s winter—it’s cold outside, is anathema to any 14-year old child. But rushing to a place where one will inevitably be persecuted makes it even less attractive. Hence I would stay in bed as long as possible, until my mother came to my room and told me “Stop hibernating like a stupid, fat bear.” This only added to the perception of my mother as wholly lacking in empathy for me. And—it cemented the very negative body image I already had. Since I typically woke up late, I had to hurry to make it to school before the first bell rang. The idea was to sneak in before that happened, so as to attract as little attention (and thus elicit less persecution) as possible. So I had to walk fast.

At first, a slow walk was all I could muster. I lumbered along through the woods on the short cut to school. I was a bit out of breath, my ill-fitting jeans were tight on me, chafing against my thighs, and I was sweating. As the weeks went on, I walked slightly faster and felt better. Initially, I walked only to school, taking the bus on the return. Eventually, I started walking home as well. I would hurry along, hoping to beat the school bus home, thereby avoiding any encounter with the persecutors. Although I did not realize it at the time, this caused me to walk ever faster. My fitness was improving gradually. And some mornings, I would wake up very late, not wanting to go to school at all. When I finally left the house for school, it was at a trot. I trotted through the woods in my hijab, tight jeans, and long shirt, book bag on my back, wishing I was going anywhere but to school.

By the time I entered the 11th grade at AHS, I had further refined my technique. I would leave the house in the morning as if going to school. Instead of school, I headed for a patch of bushes on the periphery of the housing development. The bushes were substantial enough to shield me from view, but sparse enough to let sunlight through. Somehow I found great comfort in them. I would lie there, sometimes dozing off, until such time as I imagined both parents had left the area. Then, I would get up, dust myself off, and head to a nearby trail I had discovered. By this time, my family had relocated within Annandale. We now lived in a townhouse off Braddock Road. Nearby was Burke Lake Park. Fortuitously for me, the trail I had found led to it. I would walk at a good clip, arriving at the lake by noon. The lake was spectacular, and I grew to be in awe of it, letting my imagination run wild. I would dream of paddling the huge, glistening lake by canoe, or throwing out a fishing line and pulling out a very large, shiny fish. I felt great comfort in spending the day by myself in the wilderness. It did not occur to me that anything could have happened to me, a young girl of 15, alone in the park for hours each day. I felt a Force protecting me there, and I was certainly much safer there than at school, where there was only hatred and bullies.

Not far from Burke Lake was Wakefield Park, a recreation center which included a swimming pool and tennis courts. Sometimes I would spend part of my day there, watching kids in their swim classes. Then I would make the hour-long trek home. My sense of timing remained sorely lacking, so sometimes I left the park too late, necessitating a jog to beat bus, bullies, or my parents’ arrival home. Amazingly, the running was getting easier, and I was moving more quickly and with confidence.

Occasionally I would forsake the park for the city. At age 15, I had a political consciousness far beyond my years. I attributed this to the fact that my father, to whom I’ve always been close, was a journalist, writer, and political activist. He was a long-time opponent of the Bhutto dictatorship. In point of fact, Bhutto had threatened to jail him if he dared return to Pakistan. Instead my father had chosen self-exile.

One of his first jobs in the United States was with the Muslim Students Association (MSA), the largest and most reactionary Muslim organization in the U.S. at the time (it later became known as the Islamic Society of North America, or ISNA). My father was editor of MSA’s news magazine, called Islamic Horizons. In violation of editorial policy, he dared to criticize the Saudi dictatorship, as well as other repressive Arab regimes. The MSA, whose major underwriter at the time was Saudi Arabia, rapidly fired him. But—they could not silence him.

Needless to say, much of the talk in our household was of a political nature. As a consequence, I too, became very political, and my activities in the city reflected that. But first—with Annandale being so remote and inaccessible—I had to catch a bus, followed by a train, followed by another bus to get to the action.

By age 16, I had joined the youth wing of the Socialist Workers Party and regularly travelled to the city by myself, using public transportation. The oddity of an ostensibly sheltered Asian Muslim teenage girl, traipsing around some of the most downtrodden areas of Washington, DC, never occurred to me at the time. As with my visits to Burke Lake Park, I felt much safer in the DC Hood than in the White Supremacist trap of AHS.

Lying about my age to the socialists, I hooked school to attend their meetings, as well as those of various anti-war and solidarity organizations.  I liked the SWP’s rhetoric, against U.S. backing of dictators in places like Iran and Nicaragua, and their support of liberation movements like the FMLN, FSLN, and the New Jewel Movement. They were very accepting of me, hijab and all, and appreciated my youthful enthusiasm for their various campaigns. Under their tutelage, I read the Marxist theories propounded by V.I. Lenin, studied the techniques of labor organizer Farrell Dobs, and marveled at the sacrifices of the socialist leader (later political candidate), Eugene Debs. I also worked on the campaign to stop the deportation of a Mexican labor leader named Hector Marroquin.

One day, I was campaigning with the socialists at a Black high school in the heart of DC. Our tactic was to stand outside as classes were letting out, and offer students copies of the party’s newspaper, called “The Militant.” But for a short while, we were inside the school building, waiting for classes to let out. The bell rang, and students proceeded from their penultimate class to their final one. I was shocked to see that some of the students were young Black Muslim girls in hijab. Even more shocking was the fact that no one was harassing or belittling them. In fact, their (entirely Black) peers seemed to be treating them like equals, and as if everything was normal!

In Spring of 1985, I hooked school near daily to work as a student volunteer in the national office of the April Actions Committee. The office was run by activist Michelle Tingling-Clemens, who later became renowned in the DC activist committee for her principled stance for DC statehood, among other issues. It was also at the April Actions office that I met Luci Murphy, a local jazz legend and activist who would become a role model and mentor for me. The office coordinated a diverse coalition of groups, which cut across racial, ethnic, social, and gender lines, bringing them together for an April march for “Jobs, Peace and Freedom.” The experience enlarged my horizons, gave me confidence in dealing with the public, and helped formulate some of my current world vision.

Time flew by, and before I knew it, I had missed two-thirds of the classes I should have taken that school year. Fortunately for me, the parents never asked how my school day went, or what I had learned at school that day, so I continued to flourish in the safety of Burke Lake Park, or at the April Actions Committee.

Then one day, there was a knock on the door, and it was the truant officer. Only then did my parents realize something was amiss. Needless to say, I had failed the 11th grade, and would be taking it again.

Our family moved to Perry Hall, a Baltimore suburb, in conjunction with my father’s job. There, I had a fresh start. After five years of wearing hijab completely unsupported and in a hostile environment, and yet refusing to remove it, I felt I had won that battle. Temporarily, I set it aside in favor of a kaffiyah. And—I wore a black tee-shirt saying “Question Authority” to class.  Amazingly the kaffiyah did not elicit quite such hatred as an actual hijab. (The “Question Authority” tee, on the other hand, did raise the ire of some teachers.)

In keeping with the tee’s message, I daily questioned what I regarded as “the establishment version of history” in my humanities classes. In April 1986, the U.S. bombed Libya in violation of international law. The strike killed Colonel Qaddafi’s daughter. The next day, I clandestinely placed fliers decrying the bombing in the students’ lockers. The administration announced over the PA system that the fliers in no way represented the views of the school, were in fact anti-semitic, and that anyone with information on the culprit ought come forth.

Despite these minor clashes with the PHHS administration, I had a more positive view of school there. And, although the persecution had ceased, and there was no pressing need, I continued to use running as a mode of transportation, at least one way (usually on the return, from school to home).

Perry Hall High, for some reason, placed me a PE class with entirely obese students and smokers. The class was tested for their mile times on the high school track. Other than a very fit girl who happened to be a smoker, I was the only one able to meet the minimum requirement (in fact I was significantly faster than the requirement).

As a result of doing well on the one-mile test for PE class, I developed an affinity for the Perry Hall track. I would frequently run on it after school even when I didn’t have to. And- I would nearly always run home after school, books and other belongings in a backpack on my back. It was a liberating feeling.

That fall, while my parents were away, I participated in my first race, a fun run at White Marsh Mall. I was not very fast, and looked nothing if not dumpy in the few photos I found of that race much later. But that did not stop me. Shortly after that, I did the very hilly Zoo Zoom 5-Miler (at the Baltimore Zoo). I had just begun to run, and would not stop until I had done dozens of 5Ks, 10Ks, and 10-milers. I did my first half marathon (13.1 miles) in 1992, five years after completing high school.

In 2007, as I wrapped up a long, drawn out biochemistry degree, I toyed with the idea of running a marathon. Throughout high school, when I had an exceedingly low self-concept, regarding myself as fat, dumpy, and unattractive, I’d admired Grete Waitz, Ingrid Christianson, Bill Rogers and Frank Shorter—all world class marathoners, and all very white. There were no Pakistani women marathoners for role models. Pakistani women simply weren’t lean and fast, And they weren’t crazy enough to run such ridiculously long distances. Neither—by all appearances—did African women, or any other women of color. So, in this arena at least, there were no shoulders to stand on.

After two years of convincing myself that running 26.2 miles was within the realm of possibility for me, I ran my first marathon in 2009 in Harrisburg, PA. I did not hydrate or replenish electrolytes properly in that first marathon, and so “hit the wall” at mile 21. That forced me to stop running, and, feeling a tinge of disappointed at getting so close, but yet missing the mark, I walked the remaining 5 miles of the race. But, as I result I was challenged to do another marathon. And then another. That year, after Harrisburg, I ran the Rehoboth and Charlotte marathons.

The following year (2010), I did the Washington, DC; Frederick; and Omaha marathons. Omaha was my first time running the 26.2 miles in under 4 hours, but that has rather become a standard for me.

Last spring, I ran the Boston Marathon in the name of Pakistani woman neuroscientist whom the U.S. unfortunately holds political prisoner on trumped up charges, Dr. Aafia Siddiqui. That was my proudest moment ever, not because I was running Boston—I’ve qualified for that many times prior, but elected not to run it. Rather, I was so pleased to run in her name, that of an outstanding, innocent Pakistani Muslim woman of great achievement. She deserves to have a marathon named after her. And—she deserves be released, immediately and unconditionally.

This past fall, I ran the Marine Corps Marathon, my 34th time doing the 26.2 mile distance.

On Martin Luther King Day, as I visited Burke Lake Park, an adult athlete about to run the MLK 8K, the memories from adolescent days spent there came flooding back. As a young girl, I had experienced isolation, loneliness, and the need to flee persecution. But, I had been certain of, and determined to defend to the hilt, my identity as a Muslim and my right to wear the hijab. At that time, I had only a superficial awareness of the civil rights movement. Even White High Schools like the ones I attended mandated that students watch a movie on Dr. King on MLK Day. The students did so reluctantly, many of them rolling their eyes with evident resentment or contempt for the film’s subject. So I was aware, at least, of the popular version of Dr. King. But—I had never heard of Freddie Hampton, George Jackson, Jonathan Jackson, Assata Shakur, H. Rapp Brown, Huey Newton, Elaine Brown, and others who had made immense sacrifices for true freedom for all people. At the time, I had known only that my right to wear the hijab, something ordained by the Creator, was being denied. But as I soon found out, Black people in this country were experiencing far more serious violations: They could be shot by police, merely for walking or bicycling down the street; strip-searched in public view by police; beat to death for not wearing a seat belt. All these were daily violations experienced by Blacks in a country which claimed to extoll Dr. King.

Once slow and lumbering in that very same park, I took first place in the 8K that Martin Luther King Day. And I did so again the following year. As I thanked the Creator for the gift of running, I realized that a furnace of persecution could be a means to open my eyes to natural alliances.


© 2018 Nadrat Siddique

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Khutbah on Prayer and Some Thoughts

By Nadrat Siddique

Last Friday, I visited Dar ul-Hijrah for juma'ah prayer. The mosque is a very large establishment mosque, frequented by a good mix of Indo-Pak, Arab, African, and American worshippers. The khutbah was by one Br. Ahmed Hassan, and the topic was "The Importance of Salah" ("salah" is the formal Muslim prayer). The youthful khateeb expressed himself well in both English and Arabic, and the khutbah was, at surface level, a beautiful one. Unlike some others I’ve heard, it was easy to follow and not at all soporific. He spoke on how the prophets (A.S.) throughout time were commanded to pray, and that while other pillars of Islamic faith, such as hajj, or zakat, could be forgiven at times, salah was an absolute requirement. However, the khutbah remained very academic, as Hassan did not tie it in to anything real, practical, or relevant, instead quoting beautiful, flowery Qur’anic verses instructing each Prophet to pray. He did this masterfully in Arabic and in English.

He did not address prayer's role in organizing the community, its role in shaping the Muslim identity, or most importantly, its affirmation of the Oneness of God. It is not trivial that one bows down in the prayer to one’s Maker. This is a physical affirmation of “Innal Hokmo Illah Lillah” (“Authority belongs to Allah alone”), and as such, a negation of all other authority, including human authority. Hence the very act of prayer can be a challenge to the prevailing power structure.

At the same time, the prayer strengthens the Muslim for all possible trials and tribulations which may arise in daily life, as well as in the course of confronting human authority. “Thee alone do we worship; Thee alone do we ask for help,” is the oft-repeated refrain of the Fatiha.

Following the juma’ah prayer, some friends and I went to Bamian, an Afghan restaurant near the mosque. To my amazement, Imam Hassan, whose “pie-in-the-sky” khutbah I’d just heard, was seated at a table very near us, along with three cohorts. I longed to ask him: Did he know of the recent U.S. bombing of his country? (I guessed that he was from Somalia.) And—was he aware of the U.S. bombing/ intervention/ neo-colonial occupation of numerous other African and Muslim countries? Further, did he know that in 2016, the U.S. dropped 26,172 bombs on Muslim countries including Yemen and Libya? Out of respect for another imam whom I greatly respect, who was seated at my table, I elected to play the good little quiet Muslim girl, and didn't accost the imam with these burning questions.

“If you know, why do you keep quiet about it, and fail to use a single second of your khutbah to speak the truth on these matters, given the command to the Muslim to do ‘amr bil mauroof’ and ‘nahi unal munkari’ (enjoining the right and forbidding the wrong)?” I longed to ask him.

“It is too political, sister. And the masjid doesn’t get involved in politics,” is the standard answer I get to similar questions. On the Last Day, is that what they will tell their Creator, that their brothers and sisters were being bombed, killed, raped, imprisoned, tortured, starved—but they kept quiet about it, because it was too political? And Allah ho alam.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Muslims Run for Gaza


 By Nadrat Siddique
Special to the New Trend

Washington, DC
September 16, 2017

Under beautiful sunny skies, hundreds of runners ran along the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail. The heat rose to 78 degrees that morning, and some participants wore tank tops, short sleeved tees, and shorts. But a large number wore kaffiyahs or tee shirts bearing the Palestinian flag. Many of the female athletes wore hijab. A few of the young men donned Palestinian flags, which flew behind them in cape-like fashion. The run was the Gaza 5K, which is held annually in five major U.S. cities, including Washington, DC. It is sponsored by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) USA, and raises funds for UNRWA’s Community Mental Health Programme (CMHP) for Palestinian children in Gaza.

Why a 5K run for Gaza?

There have been three major Israeli offensives against Gaza. Each had a devastating impact, and illustrated Israel’s utter disregard for international law. During the 2014 offensive—the last major offensive, 2,139 Palestinians were killed. Of these, 490 were children. Eleven thousand (11,000) Palestinians were wounded. Of that number, 3,000 were children. In addition, Israel destroyed 20,000 Palestinian homes in Gaza, and up to 500,000 Gaza residents were displaced. By comparison, in the same (2014) conflict, 64 Israeli soldiers were killed; 6 Israeli civilians were killed; and 1 Israeli child was killed. (Statistics: The Independent, August 27, 2014)

According to the race organizer’s (UNRWA USA) web site, “Children and adults alike continue to experience high levels of stress and distress as result of a decade of recurrent Israeli military assaults, deepening poverty, increased gender-based violence, isolation, and movement restrictions because of the illegal blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt.”

The UNRWA USA web page continues, “The stress of these issues has produced: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), anxiety, depression, intense fear, bed-wetting, poor concentration, eating disorders, sleeping disorders, irritability, and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).”

So the Gaza 5K was for the innocent children of Gaza, and to this writer, who has done dozens of 5Ks, it felt right being there.

Teaming up at the Gaza 5K

Runners and walkers participating in the Gaza 5K have the option of running as individuals, or as part of a team. The teams participating were diverse, and illustrated the world community’s deep love for the Palestinian people and a broad commitment to human rights in Gaza. A total of 60 teams participated in the 2017 Gaza 5K.

The team U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, which included many non-Muslim friends of the Palestinian cause, raised the most money for the refugees, at $4,875. The team’s self-description was “Jogging for Justice.”

Team Al-Hanooti included family members of the late imam of Dar ul-Hijra fame. Imam Muhammad Hanooti was born in Haifa, Palestine, and the family evidently does the race every year, including shortly after their patriarch’s passing in 2015. The team raised close to $1,777 among their seven members. Hanooti’s 29-year old daughter Shayma al-Hanooti finished the race in 39:54.

Another team was that of Albert Mokhiber and his family: Team Mokhiber. The former Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) head, now an attorney at a high profile law firm in DC, led one of the top fundraising teams, raising $4,772 for Gazan refugees. Mokhiber’s daughter Laila is Director of Communications for UNRWA USA, and the Mokhibers said the team was their way of helping Palestinian refugees. The 69-year old Albert Mokhiber walked the race, finishing in 1:02 (1 hour 2 minutes). His wife Hindy, 10 years his junior, finished in 48:50.

A Tribe Called Hibster was the fifth ranked team in fundraising, raising $3,309. The team included several members of the Dajani family, which has centuries’ old roots in Palestine. The team’s captain, Hiba Ismeail, fundraised with great fervor, but did not walk or run the event.

MAS (Muslim American Society) Maryland’s four member team raised $1,767. Their team member Marwan Oweis held an impressive pace of 7:29 min/miles throughout the race, finishing in 23:14.

DMV (District-Maryland-Virginia) Muslim Youth’s team was dominated by women, including team captain and longtime pro-Palestine activist Aneesah Abdul-Fattaah. The team’s Nathan Nesbitt, of Cambridge, MA, took first place overall, finishing in 18:25. He held an astounding 5:56 min/mile pace for the duration of the 3.1 mile course. The team raised $116.

The top female runner, 25-year old Cherie Bennett, did not appear registered with any team. With short cropped blond hair, shorts, and tank top, she blazed the field, finishing in 20:24. She was doing 6:34 min/miles! In the awards ceremony which followed the event, Bennett said she had been to Palestine, and supported the Palestinian cause.

Then there was Wadi Run, a team of Georgetown University students. They raised $1,061. Wadi Run team member Lauren Stricker was the 2nd fastest of all women, finishing in 22:39. (She held a 7:18 min/ mile pace.) Her team mate, Keith McKay, finished just before her, completing the course in 22:34.

PLO Delegation, a team in itself, consisted of only three people, and raised exactly $79. One woman from that team, 31-year old Janeen Rashmawi almost took me, running 7:32 min/miles. (I was doing 7:25 min/miles, but more on this later.)

Islamic Relief, a team with 12 members, raised only $211. But IRUSA team members, mostly young, compensated by blazing the field. They were fast, most of them finishing in less than 30 minutes. Twenty-five year old Ibrahim Zafar, of Arlington, VA, was the fastest of them, finishing in 24:15 (he was doing 7:49 minute miles).

Jews for Gaza, a team with 9 members, raised $1,055. The team’s self-description was “Jews stand in solidarity with Palestinian refugees to support freedom and dignity for all.”
Their team mate, 23-year old Adam Beardsley, was the fourth fastest of all runners, finishing the course in 19:07. (He held a 6:09 min/ mile pace).

Team Jamaat al-Muslimeen

This was the first year that Jamaat al-Muslimeen participated as a team, called Team Jamaat Al-Muslimeen. Among others, the diverse team included Kalim Umran, a Muslim historian who is the narrator of a PBS video series on Barry Farms (a project in SE Washington, DC, and the subject of major gentrification attempts); Shakoorah El, an activist sister from Baltimore, who is also practiced in traditional African dance; and New Trend editor/ imam Dr. Kaukab Siddique.

Imam Dr. Kaukab Siddique of Masjid Jamaat al-Muslimeen-Baltimore, who is 74, completed the walk in 1:22 (1 hour 22 minutes). By all appearances, he was the only imam to physically participate in the Gaza 5K. Dr. Siddique, who used to run with his mother years ago, and then later with his daughter (this writer), did the course without stopping or feeling overly drained. He said he walked continuously for at least half an hour every day, and expressed the hope that his participation might encourage other Muslims to follow the Prophet’s example of physical fitness and staying active into their later years.

The Gaza 5K was Shakoorah El’s first race. She completed the course in 57:46. As awards were announced, she was astonished to hear her name being announced: She was awarded the “Fastest Masters Female Award” (the Gaza 5K’s masters award is granted to the fastest 65+ year old runner).

I was team captain for Team Jamaat al-Muslimeen, my first time ever as captain of anything. It was a liberating feeling, running the Anacostia Riverwalk Trail, in Southeast Washington, DC, an area which, to me, held many parallels to the Gaza struggle. The run was an out-and-back run, so that after one reached the half way mark and doubled back, one could see other runners approaching from the opposite direction. Some of the runners I saw as I doubled back carried the Palestinian flag. When I saw them, I yelled “Free free Palestine!” to which they responded in kind. Many of the runners and walkers expressed appreciation for my shirt during the race, as well as afterwards. (I wore a long-sleeve black tee, bearing the words “Free Palestine” above the red, black, white, and green Palestinian flag.)

After I’d been running for a while, I chanced upon Shakoorah El. She was speedwalking while talking animatedly with two other sisters in hijab. All three of them cheered me on, and I did similarly. Shortly after that, I saw Dr. Kaukab Siddique (Ameer of Jamaat al-Muslimeen). He was accompanied by Abdur Rahman Hasib (Masjid Jamaat al-Muslimeen custodian, and a dear brother and friend). They were walking in relaxed fashion, holding a steady pace. We exchanged chants of “Allah ho Akbar!” and fist pumps, after which it seemed to me that we all moved a little bit faster.

The crowd support propelled me to finish #1 in my division. I completed the race in 23:01, holding on for dear life to my 7:24 min/mile pace. And— I was the 4th fastest female finisher out of the 312 women who ran the race. Only three women were faster than me, and they were 25, 21, and 30 years old (1st, 2nd, and 3rd place respectively). I was #23 out of everyone including men (so out of a total of 545 participants).

I am 49-years old, and did not get into serious running until age 39 (prior to that, I engaged only in casual and sporadic running since my teen years). Aside from the personal sense of accomplishment in doing a race for a cause very dear to my heart—Palestine, the experience reaffirmed for me the notion that neither age nor gender necessarily define ability, and that some limitations are human-/ self-imposed. And— the hadith tell us that our beloved Prophet (SAW) engaged in very physically arduous military campaigns against the kuffar which required him to traverse long distances on horseback across the deserts of Arabia until the age of 65. If he is our role model, we, as a community need to up the ante on physical fitness. How many of us can run a mile comfortably? The Rasool (SAW) could, and did, with his wife, Ayesha Siddiqa (RA).

Alhamdulillah, our team, Team Jamaat al-Muslimeen, raised $743 in its first year of participating in the race.

In all, 540 people ran the Gaza 5K: 228 men and 312 women. There were Afghans, Libyans, Palestinians, Bengalis, Pakistanis, American-born Blacks, and others. There was a woman in a wheelchair, an evidently pregnant woman, and many who ran or walked with baby strollers. At race’s end, an elderly man who had walked the 3.1 mile course was taken away in an ambulance. From the ambulance he called out that he would be doing the race again next year.

At least for one day, at the Gaza 5K, the aphorism “The believers are but one brotherhood/ sisterhood” was evident.

©2017 by Nadrat Siddique