I hear someone on the news say they heard the terrorists shout ‘Allahuakbar’
They heard the yelling, the jeering screams of
Before the explosion
Beneath the blood
I have not always known Arabic
Growing up near the turnpike
With a 4×4 and intermediate home
Eastway of New Jersey
That’s not where young girls practice Arabic
But I’ve heard “Allahuakbar”
During the prayers in Egypt
Five times a day you hear the adhan sway through the street
At least 16 pairs of feet rushing towards prayer
It was Allahuakbar that I heard
When I first graduated
With my English lit diploma
“God is great”
Is what we say
When the bride is walking down the aisle
Her white dress glistening passed the décor
Your grandmother is using her tongue as a Bango drum
Up and down her lips to create musical pride
“Allahuakbar” you hear someone breathe when the bride walks by.
They say they heard a terrorist scream “Allahuakbar”. The same Allahuakbar I hear when we realize my cousin has grown three inches taller. The same Allahuakbar I hear when my uncle with the missing teeth cheers as his favorite football team scores a penalty.
And sometimes it’s Allahuakbar we scream when the explosions find our homes
When we pull our childrens’ bodies from beneath the rubble of Western airstrikes and miraculously they are still alive
“God is great”
“God is great”
Is all anyone can yell
Is the only thing left to say
When you are confusing fireworks for explosives
When your father survived the bullets.
I have not always practiced my Arabic
I hadn’t known much
But I had understood what Allahuakbar meant long before an anchor on the Channel 11 News could teach it to me.
[Photograph of children playing taken by Amer Almohibany.]
They ask me why. Because of Dewika. and Massachusetts.
The old state building and how it reminded me of us. it’s because of the laughter, and the seamstresses, and warehouses, and the fact that I was never afraid of anything.
Because I came from a place where girls were kissed in secret and loved in secret and kept as secrets and broke like secrets. It’s because I was curious. Because my elbows leaned gawky on my heart like a coffee table. Because I couldn’t resist the way he said hello. The way he broke my body between his lips.
It’s because I was born a woman. Because my grandmother was once very beautiful before she was compared to blue eyes and a passport. Because my friends wanted to be like me and my sisters wanted to be like me, and I didn’t want to be me.
Because of middle school and puberty and boys who kissed with their tongues first and their names second. Because of the pearl necklaces and the hairbands and crochet jackets we stole from Barney’s.
It’s because I wish I had learned how to speak Arabic better. I wish boys named Mohamed didn’t sound like Guantanamo. I wish the first time I read the Qur’an wasn’t on a tattoo. Because I am from two cultures – one is water and the other is land. I can’t live in one without leaving the other.
It’s because love is so big it can carry hate. It’s because we lose things. And it changes us. because we remember them at night. And we carry their pictures in our wallets.
It’s because it isn’t fair that we have the capacity inside of us to miss people the way that we do.
[Black and white photograph taken by Haya Khairat.]
Self-love is not always booking a one way ticket to St. Bart’s
or treating yourself to an endless variety of consumer products or listening to the Beyoncé Lemonade album and feeling like a bad ass bitch for all of 2 hours.
A lot of the time self love is forcing yourself out of the bed, getting into the shower and driving yourself straight back into the world, because you deserve to participate in it.
A lot of the time it’s deciding that you deserve to eat, and to feel your belly full. It’s deciding that the pain is temporary and self inflicted and most of all, it’s reminding yourself that no matter what, the day will end and you’ll have survived it and that it’s going to be okay and that it doesn’t have to be wonderful, but okay is good enough.
[Artwork by Mishkina.]
Editor’s Note: Do you want to read more prose about love, life, and truth from writers such as Sabah at EndQuote? Sign up for the Middle East Collective newsletter to get more stories and articles straight to your inbox. Thanks for reading!