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“Friends forever, friends forever, friends forever more.” Eyes shut, Samira, Maryam, and Latifah chanted in unison and held each other’s hands as they sat in a circle on the carpet of Maryam’s bedroom floor. It was a Saturday evening in mid-November, two months from the day Samira had left the angry note with Maryam’s mother.
Samira opened her eyes first, but she still held Maryam’s and Latifah’s hands.
“Now,” Samira said, grinning as she raised her voice. “Time for heart-to-heart.”
Maryam and Latifah giggled as their eyes fluttered open.
“Wait,” Samira said, jumping to her feet and letting go of her friends’ hands abruptly. She grabbed her backpack that lay near Maryam’s desk chair. “Let’s pray first.”
Maryam and Latifah exchanged puzzled expressions.
“What time is it?” Samira said, looking at her friends as she unzipped her bag and pulled out a bundle of white floral cloth.
Maryam glanced at her wristwatch. “Five-oh-six.”
“Then we’re late for Maghrib,” Samira said.
Maryam creased her forehead. “It just came in ten minutes ago.”
“Then we’re late.” Samira shook the cloth then pulled the one-piece prayer garment over her head. Her voice was muffled momentarily as she pushed her arms through. “Come on. We can do Friendship Style after prayer.”
Maryam rolled her eyes. “Relax. Prayer isn’t about to go out any time soon.”
Samira drew her eyebrows together and frowned. “But what’s the point in delaying it for no reason?”
“Samira,” Latifah said, a grin forming on her face, “it’s not delaying prayer if you finish what you were doing before you pray.”
Samira shrugged. “Well, you can pray late if you want. I’m praying now. My father said never play with your salaat.”
“Play with your salaat?” Maryam laughed. “Samira, you really need to study Islam and get your facts straight. We’re not playing with salaat just because we’re not freaking out about not praying as soon as it comes in.”
Samira glowered at Maryam. “You should be freaking out. How do you know you won’t keep delaying it until you’re late for real?”
Latifah sighed and pulled herself to her feet. “Samira’s right. It’s better to pray salaat now.”
“In the Sunnah,” Maryam said, standing herself, but her expression conveyed annoyance, “it’s better to finish what you’re doing so you can concentrate properly.”
“But maybe that’s just for breaking fast in Ramadan,” Latifah said, wrapping her khimaar around her head.
“Why wouldn’t it count for other things too?” Maryam put on her hijab then tucked an edge of the fabric under her chin to secure it.
“Oh, let’s just pray,” Samira said, exhaustion in her tone as she smoothed out the surface of her prayer garment with the palms of her hands. “Prayer is the wall between you and all evil. That’s what my father says. I sure don’t want evil any closer to me than it is already.”
“Oh please,” Maryam said, rolling her eyes. “It takes more than prayer to stay away from evil.”
Latifah grinned and nodded. “But you can’t deny prayer’s a good start.”
Samira nodded as they lined up next to each other, Maryam in the middle. “You don’t have a chance without prayer,” Samira said. “No matter what else you do.” She smiled. “That’s what my dad always says.”
As it was obvious that Samira missed her father a great deal, Maryam and Latifah couldn’t keep from smiling too.
“You first,” Samira said, nodding her head to Latifah.
“Why me?” Latifah said, chuckling. “My life is boring.”
“Liar,” Samira said. “You beat boys in basketball.”
Maryam’s eyes widened as she looked at Latifah, gently yanking her friend’s hand that she still held. “You play basketball with boys?”
Latifah sucked her teeth and rolled her eyes. “It’s called gym class, Maryam. I didn’t join the NBA.”
Latifah creased her forehead as she met Maryam’s wide stare. “Of course. What kind of Muslim do you think I am?”
“Her mom made this cool outfit.” Samira’s smile spread on her face. “It’s a long sleeve shirt that goes to her knees, and it has matching gym pants.”
“Really?” Maryam grinned. “That’s so cool.”
“It looks like a cheap shawar khameez if you ask me,” Latifah said with a shrug.
“It does not,” Samira said. “It looks like a proper gym uniform, except better. It matches the school colors and everything.”
“Well, if that was my heart-to-heart,” Latifah said, “you sure stole it.”
“Sorry.” Samira giggled as she brought a hand to her mouth, letting go of Latifah’s hand.
“Okay, I got one,” Latifah said.
The girls released each other’s hands, and Maryam and Samira leaned forward, eager smiles on their faces.
“A boy asked for my phone number.”
“What? No way.” Samira eyed Latifah skeptically, but a hint of a smile was still on her face.
Maryam was speechless with a hand cupped over her mouth.
“Did you give it to him?” Samira asked.
Latifah playfully slapped Samira on the thigh and narrowed her eyes. “Do you think I want my parents on trial for murder?”
“Oh come on, Latifah,” Samira said, laughing. “I don’t think they’d kill him.”
“Yeah, I know.” Latifah sucked her teeth. “They’d kill me.”
The girls exploded in laughter.
“Your turn,” Samira called out, looking at Maryam.
“Me?” Maryam wore a look of surprise. “I go to Muslim school.”
“And…?” Latifah fluttered her eyes sarcastically.
Maryam lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “Nothing interesting happens there.”
“Like I believe that,” Latifah said. “I remember seventh grade. They were up to all sorts of stuff.”
“But this is high school.”
“So it’s different.”
Latifah started to say something but withheld, sensing that Maryam felt left out.
“Okay, then I’ll go,” Samira said, grinning.
“Okay.” Latifah smiled eagerly.
“I think my mom is getting married again.”
“Really…?” Latifah said, an uncertain expression on her face.
Samira nodded, obviously proud of the news.
“To who?” Latifah asked.
“I don’t know.”
“Then…how do you know she’s getting married?”
“I hear her talking to someone on the phone.” There was a sparkle in Samira’s eye.
“What if it’s not a man?” Latifah asked, hating to ask the obvious. She just didn’t want to see Samira hurt.
“It’s a man.” Samira nodded emphatically. “I can tell by the way she talks.”
“What about her wali?” Maryam furrowed her brows. “I mean, isn’t it haraam to talk to a guy like that?”
Latifah turned to Maryam, scolding her with widening eyes.
“I’m serious,” Maryam said, raising her voice defensively. “My dad says it’s like doing zina for a man and woman to talk alone.”
“Maryam.” Latifah’s tone conveyed exhaustion and thinning patience. “I really think you need to study Islam from someone other than your dad. No offense.”
Maryam contorted her face. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
“It means your dad’s not the prophet, okay? My parents talked on the phone before they got married.”
“But they weren’t Muslim.”
“Yes they were.”
“But they didn’t know about Islam yet.”
“Yeah, you’re probably right.” A hint of sarcasm was in Latifah’s voice. “They didn’t know cultural Islam yet.”
“My mom says Americans are the ones who follow cultural Islam.” Maryam crossed her arms, offended.
Samira groaned aloud. “I can totally see her saying something like that.”
“What?” Maryam glared at Samira.
Samira raised her palms in defense. “Hey, I’m just being honest. Your mom thinks she’s a know-it-all.”
“How dare you talk about my mother like that.”
“How dare you talk about our mothers,” Samira said.
“Latifah started it.” Maryam’s cheeks flushed. “How come she gets to talk bad about Desis and I can’t talk bad about Americans?”
“I didn’t hear her say anything about Desis,” Samira said.
“She didn’t have to. That’s what she meant.”
“No she didn’t.”
“Yes I did.” Latifah’s voice was devoid of energy.
Samira looked shell-shocked as she met Latifah’s gaze.
“But I didn’t mean only Desis. I meant all foreign Muslims.”
“Foreign Muslims?” Maryam grunted. “Ummi says saying ‘foreign’ is impolite.”
“Immigrant then. Whatever.” Latifah rolled her eyes, shaking her head. “Same difference to me.”
“Can you two please stop it?” Samira said, raising her voice.
Samira sighed. “Like Latifah said, maybe it’s not even a man my mom’s talking to.”
An awkward silence followed. Latifah and Maryam were unsure what to say.
Samira’s eyes grew sad. “I was just hoping it was my dad calling to take us back.”
That night Basma and Joanne sat drinking tea with Latifah’s mother in the living room of Basma’s home. They had finished eating dinner a half hour before. Joanne and Rafiqah still wore their head covers though the men were at the masjid and were not due back for at least another hour.
“I’m sorry for all I put you through,” Basma said. She sat on the loveseat across from where the two women sat on the couch. A sad smile lingered on her face as she met Joanne’s gaze.
Joanne waved her hand dismissively. “I’m just glad you got up the nerve to make amends.” She chuckled. “I’m a bit too headstrong for make-ups.”
“Well, if you’re stubborn when it comes to apologies,” Rafiqah said with a grin, “you certainly are warmhearted in accepting them, maashaAllah.”
Joanne smirked. “You don’t know me well yet. You’ll eat those words one day.”
Rafiqah laughed lightly. “I doubt it.”
Rafiqah took a sip of tea. “What was it you two were fighting about anyway?”
Joanne rolled her eyes to the ceiling as laughter escaped her throat. “Oh don’t remind us.”
A sad smile lingered on Basma’s face. “It was my fault. I was being overly judgmental of Joanne’s parenting.”
“Shame on you.” Grinning, Rafiqah reached forward to set her teacup on the saucer of the floor table. “I thought you were too sensible for that.”
“I thought I was too,” Basma said. “But I think that was the problem.”
“You had a right to be judgmental,” Joanne said. “I’m not the best mother in the world.”
Rafiqah’s eyebrows shot up. “Woe… Now don’t go all pity-party on me. I don’t think there’s a such thing as a ‘best mother,’ if you ask me. We all walk on dirt, not water.”
“True,” Joanne said. “But some of us walk in dirt, not just on it.”
“And if you’re Muslim,” Rafiqah said, “that dirt is washed away at every prayer.”
“InshaaAllah,” Basma added.
Rafiqah nodded. “InshaaAllah.”
They were quiet for some time, and the distant sound of laughter came from upstairs where the girls were.
“Samira told me about the Muslim gym suit you made for Latifah.”
“Oh, that?” The sides of Rafiqah’s mouth creased in a smile. “You’d think I was asking to reinstate the draft, all they put me through to let her wear it.”
Rafiqah looked over at Joanne. “What does Samira wear for gym?”
Joanne laughed. “Pants under the school shorts and a long sleeve shirt under the T-shirt.”
“MaashaAllah, that’s good,” Rafiqah said.
“Maryam said your girls have a Muslim teacher,” Basma said. “Is that true?”
Joanne nodded. “Yes, for U.S. history. He’s from Pakistan.”
Rafiqah chuckled. “He is indeed. The Desi club, that’s what Latifah calls it. But she says he has a master’s in Black history.” Rafiqah shook her head, smiling. “The way Latifah tells it, he’s a Pakistani Malcolm X.”
Basma grinned. “That would be interesting.”
“Well, I think she meant Malik El-Shabbaz,” Rafiqah said, “not the Nation of Islam part.”
A brief silence followed.
“Latifah doesn’t mind wearing hijab and jilbaab to public school?” Joanne asked. Her eyes reflected intense interest as she looked at Rafiqah.
“I guess there’s only one real answer to that,” Rafiqah said. She reached for her teacup and took a sip but didn’t say anything further.
“What’s that?” Joanne asked after several seconds passed.
Rafiqah leaned forward until her elbows rested on her knees as she cradled the teacup with both hands. “I don’t know.”
“I can’t imagine any teenager liking it,” Basma said.
“Samira likes wearing hijab to school,” Joanne said.
Basma gathered her eyebrows. “Really? MaashaAllah.”
“Well,” Joanne clarified, “I don’t have to force her to.”
Rafiqah nodded. “Same here. MaashaAllah. Latifah’s never given us any heat about it. Even when she was called rag head some years ago.”
Basma rolled her eyes. “Maryam never got over being called that.”
“Maryam used to go to public school?” Joanne sounded genuinely surprised.
Basma met Joanne’s gaze with her brows furrowed. “Yes, in elementary school. You didn’t know that?”
Joanne shook her head, smiling. “No. And I admit I’m quite surprised.”
“Why?” Rafiqah asked.
Joanne shrugged. “I suppose I think of Basma as this perfect Muslim. I never expected her to put her daughter around non-Muslims.”
Rafiqah chuckled. “Lord knows where you get your ideas. You should’ve given me a call. I’ve known Basma for years.” She smiled at Basma. “I’ll be the first to tell you she’s far from perfect.”
Basma shook her head, grinning. “Thanks.”
“I’m just keeping it real.”
“Well, at least I’m not the only imperfect Muslim here,” Joanne said.
“Show me a perfect Muslim,” Rafiqah said, “and you’ve met the only perfect Muslim that exists.”
“But there has to be some measuring stick, you know?” Joanne said. “I mean, it’s obvious some Muslims are better parents than others.”
“Based on what?” Curiosity was in Rafiqah’s tone.
Joanne shrugged. “I don’t know… Maybe T.V., movies, music…stuff like that.”
“Okay,” Rafiqah said, “I admit I’m not a big fan of T.V. or movies, and we definitely don’t do music. But really, I think parenting is much deeper than that.”
“True,” Joanne said with a nod. “But what about limits? Take the internet for examp—”
“Woe…” Humor was in Basma’s voice. “I thought that topic was off limits.”
Rafiqah creased her forehead as she looked at Basma. “Why? That’s the perfect example.”
Rafiqah turned back to Joanne. “I think we all have to set limits,” Rafiqah said. “But in the end, it boils down to knowing your child’s strengths and weaknesses.”
Joanne sat up straighter and nodded emphatically, a triumphant smile spreading on her face. “I totally agree. That was my point all along.”
Rafiqah narrowed her eyes. “All along?”
“With the argument with Basma.”
“Oh…” Rafiqah leaned back into couch and took a sip of tea, clearly not wanting to broach the subject.
“What’s your opinion about internet in your house?” Joanne was looking at Rafiqah.
Rafiqah drew in deep breath. “Well… I admit I’m a little old-fashioned when it comes to the World Wide Web. I think it’s more dangerous than T.V.”
“Oh my God.” Joanne laughed in relief. “That’s exactly how I feel.”
“But I think it’s a necessary evil,” Rafiqah said. “Everything’s online today. Job postings, school applications, and even homework.”
Joanne groaned. “Don’t you hate that? Schools asking kids to go on YouTube for a school project?”
Rafiqah shook her head, agreeing. “That’s certifiable mental illness in my opinion. Any time a teacher comes up with something like that, I’m at the school immediately, trust me.”
“But YouTube is no different than Google,” Basma said.
“Yeah?” Rafiqah huffed. “Do a search on YouTube then do the same on Google, and tell me if the same things come up.”
“Does Latifah have internet in her room?” Joanne asked.
“Internet in her room?” Rafiqah rolled her eyes and grunted. “She doesn’t even have a computer or a cell phone to call her own. We share. Everything.”
Basma shook her head as a grin lingered on her face. “Now I consider that overprotective.”
Rafiqah lifted a shoulder in a shrug. “Consider it what you want. I call it common sense.”
“And what exactly do you think you’re protecting Latifah from?” Basma’s tone conveyed amusement.
“I’m not sure I’m protecting her from anything, to tell you the truth.” Rafiqah set her teacup down again. “It’s me I’m trying to protect.”
“You?” Basma laughed. “From what?”
“From sharing responsibility in any stupid choices she makes.”
“Aren’t you being a bit cynical?” Basma asked. “Assuming the worst?”
“Honey,” Rafiqah said, humored, “sometimes I worry about you. Don’t you know that all teens do stupid things at times?”
“’All of the children of Adam sin,’” Rafiqah said. “Sound familiar?”
“That’s a hadith, right?” Joanne asked.
Rafiqah nodded. “Sure is. A famous one too.”
“But it doesn’t say all teens sin,” Basma said. “I think it’s talking about adults.”
Rafiqah raised an eyebrow. “I don’t follow you.”
“Some people die in childhood, correct?”
“Did they sin before they died?”
Rafiqah relaxed her expression and shrugged. “I see your point.”
“But aren’t teens adults in Islam?” Joanne said.
“Most are actually,” Rafiqah said, nodding.
“Young adults,” Basma said. “Still on their fitrah if they’re Muslim.”
Rafiqah raised her index finger. “Still close to their fitrah.”
“My point is, it’s about teaching them right from wrong,” Basma said. “Being overprotective won’t help.”
“Look who’s talking.” Rafiqah laughed. “No T.V., no movies, not even animated pictures.”
“Really?” Joanne’s eyes grew large as she looked at Basma.
“Wait a minute,” Basma said. “Now you’re talking about violating Allah’s laws. I didn’t make those rules.”
“Lord have mercy.” Rafiqah rolled her eyes. “Tell me you didn’t just say Allah forbids T.V. and movies.”
“But not internet?” Joanne’s eyes reflected amusement.
Basma shrugged her shoulders. “That’s what I believe.”
“Then you should believe the internet is forbidden too,” Rafiqah said. “It has T.V., movies, and music all wrapped in one. And don’t forget porn.”
“Oh please.” Basma chuckled. “I’ve never heard of a girl addicted to that.”
“But you’ve heard of a teenage boy, huh?” Rafiqah asked. “That proves teens are not as pure as you think.”
“Maybe boys aren’t,” Basma said.
“You really think Maryam isn’t tempted to go beyond Google dot com, Wikipedia or Islamic sites when she’s online?” Rafiqah’s eyes conveyed amused disbelief.
“Maryam knows nothing about chat rooms and stuff like that,” Basma said. “And even if she did, she’s too innocent to even care about talking to boys or looking at haraam, maashaAllah.”
“Well, if you’re going to walk around wearing blinders, ukhti,” Rafiqah said, sighing, “then you shouldn’t wear them when other people’s children are in your care.”
Basma looked from Joanne to Rafiqah, her forehead creased, a grin lingering on her face. “Wait, was this some sort of sneak attack or something?”
“What do you mean?” Joanne asked.
“I just find it highly coincidental that Rafiqah’s saying the same thing you were saying a few months ago.”
“Basma,” Rafiqah said, laughter in her voice. “I have no idea what went on between you and Joanne. But let me remind you, I’m from New York. If I see something that I think needs fixing, I’m not going to hide behind a sneak attack. I’ll tell you what it is, point blank. Or I’ll pray for you.” A smile lingered on her face. “Or both.”
“Thanks so much for that.” Joanne said. It was late that night, and Joanne and Rafiqah stood on the sidewalk near where Hamid’s car was parked behind Joanne’s in front of Basma’s house. Hamid and Faris were finishing a conversation under a glowing lamp on the front porch, and the girls stood just inside the house beyond the front door finishing a conversation of their own.
Rafiqah laughed, shaking her head. “Though I have no idea what you’re so thankful about, you’re welcome.”
“For explaining everything so well, maashaAllah. I could never find the right words when Basma and I talked.”
“Then you should thank Allah because it certainly wasn’t my intention to add fuel to what happened between you two.”
“I know, but I’m glad you said what you did.”
Rafiqah smiled. “I love Basma like a sister, so I treat her like one too. I don’t agree with everything she does, but I believe she has good intentions and is doing a wonderful job raising Maryam, maashaAllah. That’s why I’m glad Latifah and Maryam are friends.”
Joanne nodded. “And I’m glad Samira has Maryam and Latifah as friends.”
Rafiqah reached out and squeezed Joanne’s shoulder. “But don’t beat yourself up about where you are with your Islam. You have to have a stronger personality if you’re going to survive in a multicultural community.”
Joanne averted her gaze as she was immediately reminded of her failed marriage. Maybe that had been her problem. Her mother had always said she would get hurt if she didn’t “get some backbone.”
“I know you know this from your travel and everything,” Rafiqah said, “but when you’re faced with so many different cultures and ideas, sometimes all you can do is stick to what your gut tells you is right.”
“My mom always used to say that…”
“Well, she was right.
“And I don’t think you should budge on your internet position,” Rafiqah said thoughtfully. “I really think Basma’s living in her own world when it comes to Maryam’s innocence.”
Joanne’s forehead creased in deep concern. “Really?”
“Not like that.” Rafiqah shook her head. “MaashaAllah, Maryam’s a good girl, one of the best I know. But she’s growing up, and I think Basma is making a big mistake by leaving her to her own devices.”
Joanne nodded. “That’s what I was thinking.”
“Just make sure you let Basma know your limits. But personally,” Rafiqah said, “I don’t feel comfortable with Latifah coming over too often.”
“Because of the internet?” Joanne looked surprised.
“Because of the internet unsupervised.”
Joanne drew in a deep breath and exhaled. “That’s what I was worried about before. But, alhamdulillaah, Basma promised me I don’t have to worry about that anymore.”
Rafiqah raised her eyebrows in surprise. “Really? Well… I hope you’re right.”
“You think I have cause to worry?”
Rafiqah chuckled and shook her head. “I’m not the best person to answer that. I always think parents have cause to worry. Latifah rarely comes here without me.”
Joanne looked surprised. “Really? So you think…?”
“No, no, no.” Rafiqah lifted a palm. “I don’t mean to say I don’t trust Basma. I just know what happens when parents think their children are angels. Call me cynical, but as innocent as Maryam is, maashaAllah, I don’t see her any differently than I do the average teenager. Her innocence comes mostly from her parents, not her. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think the same about Latifah.”
Rafiqah shook her head. “But the true test comes when our children make their own choices. What worries me is that Basma’s blind trust of Maryam is premature. We have to teach our children responsibility. We can’t just assume they already have it.”
The sound of commotion and laughter prompted Rafiqah and Joanne to look toward the house. Hamid was making his way down the driveway as their daughters, still chatting, were steps behind.
“We’ll be in touch, inshaaAllah,” Rafiqah said.
“I’d like that.”
“As-salaaamu’alaikum. Have a good night.”
“Wa’alaiku-mussalaam. You too.”
Next… Story 6 of 7 Posted every Friday
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