March 23, 2021 · Issue 2: Space(s)

I promise we did not gather

When this Eid hits, we know we will spend it alone and at home and it’s fine. My family is safe and together and I am grateful for so much. We make chai and have Eid cookies and there is warmth here you cannot lose. Eid is on a Sunday this year, and we call my grandparents, my family back home, my friends across town, say “كل سنة وانتوا طيبين” and it is a quiet sort of happiness. We do not gather.

A town away, men with guns knock on another house celebrating Eid and ask if there are gatherings here. Ask if there are people respecting the distancing. The men with guns know the kind of people who live in these houses and want to make sure they are not breaking the rules. Everyone knows the people in these houses cannot be trusted. Those who opened the door promised the men with the guns they did not gather.

In the midst of catching up, Nada asks if I’ve heard about cities nearby; police knocking on doors of Muslim neighbourhoods to make sure there weren’t any get-togethers for Eid. A precaution. We want to make sure you’re not spreading the virus. I quiet down. So much of who I am is used to being watched. Being expected to tumble and break. We are expected to never know the right thing to do. A big part of this is rooted in infantilizing all those who are not a reflection of white skin, I know. Firmly believing us to be incapable. Firmly believing that we need to be guided and coerced into doing the right thing. There is bitterness here. I do not know if it is from me or them. I do not attempt to gather.

It is a certain kind of madness to exist in a space where we are assumed to be the ones that will cause a disease to spread. The unclean ones. (do they know we wash our bodies five times a day for prayer?) The ones who need to be watched. (would they care?) I wonder if houses saw the same treatment on Easter. It is interesting, we say and we do not say much more. I wonder if they gathered.

Later that day, images of a park pop up. Hundreds of people on the grass. Unmasked. Undisturbed. Undisputed. The police officers stand there. Not saying much. Not doing much. I wonder what it is about skin pigment that implies knowledge. I wonder what it is about skin pigment that implies safety. I wonder what it feels like to see the men with guns and know they are not here for you. No one is ever here for you. The men with guns watch as they gather.

This Ramadan we broke our fast at home. This Ramadan we prayed at home. It felt like the re-meeting of an old friend through a glass door. So much of Ramadan is about reconnection. Reconnecting with people you haven’t talked to for the whole year, reconnecting with family, and reconnecting with yourself. A meeting you’ve been looking forward to but didn’t know you missed. This year, we reconnect in our homes. We do not gather.

I am in high school, my law teacher looks over our predominantly Arab and Muslim class, says, Oh right, you’ve never known an age where you weren’t the enemy. We sit in silence. In shame. Till this moment, I am unsure how we were expected to respond. We know what she does not say. When people think of the oppressed, the misguided, they’ll think of you. She does not say, You are the unfortunate and mistaken. There is very little you can do to change that.

My father is here visiting us when it all hits, and it is only coincidence that he is trapped here instead of home (it is comfort that he is trapped here with us, not there alone) My father shies away from speaking the colonizer’s tongue in front of us, ashamed of sounding like he is not from here, ashamed of how his letters soften and curl, hears his four girls speak this foreign language, he does not always understand and he quiets down.

If these men with guns knocked at our door, my father would have answered. I wonder what he would have said. I wonder if it would have been good enough. I wonder if anything coming from us is ever good enough. I wonder if he would’ve said, What’s wrong, did you think we were gathering?