Let Her Name Be Written in Capital Letters, NABRA
“Fatima, this is so SCARY.” I said as I rubbed my eyes after a sleepless night.
A sigh, then 30 seconds of silence took over the phone.
“Aren’t you scared? I mean you should be more scared than anyone else, right? Nabra was shot in Virginia.” Words flew out of my mouth as tears were dropping down my cheeks.
“Any one of us could have been Nabra; it could’ve happened to mom, you, me, or to any Hijabi Muslim. That’s what scares me,” Fatima replied after having silently listened to me for the first five minutes of the phone call.
I asked a question that I already knew the answer to: “How did we end up here? Why so much hatred against Muslims?”
“I am not surprised, I encounter their looks everyday,” my sister said. We both knew what she meant by “looks”, so without questioning her further, I ended the call.
17 year old Nabra was walking back from the mosque with her friends in Virginia when she was abducted and killed. The police did not consider the death of the 17- year old Muslim girl a hate-crime. However, her father believed his daughter was targeted because she was Muslim. Wearing a scarf, and in the company of a group of other young Muslims returning from the Mosque in the middle of Ramadan, there could have been no doubt in the attacker’s mind about her religion.
My tearful eyes were glued to my laptop, my thoughts chasing each other, one news report after another, with the same few pictures trending. Soon, the interview of Nabra’s dad was screened by news agencies. I saw resilience in his eyes, the same kind I had seen in my own dad’s. The tone of his voice reminded me of another phone conversation a few months ago.
Bia ka borim ba mazar, the phone had rung. “Sallam allykum Ata, Peace be upon you, dad,” I said, surprised.
The darkness and quietness of my bedroom was a contrast to the gregarious college common room. Even endless amounts of caffeine, assignments, and adrenaline from stress were not enough to keep me awake any longer. 2:30 am seemed just about the right time to call it a day. I was lying in bed, reciting ayatul-Kursi; verses from the Quran, which is a praying ritual that I use to try to fall asleep.
“Can you hear me?” he said with a rush in his voice.
“Yeah, How are you, Dad? I miss mom and you,” I said while looking at their photo.
“We miss you too, bachim. Your mom is here. How is everything there? Everyone is still nice?” he asked with little suppressed concern.
“Ata, everything is good here, are you concerned that I will get bullied? I am still a decent kid.” I was joking, trying to make light of the situation, expecting to hear my dad’s laugh.
“Bachim, I am serious, listen,” he pleaded.
My dad is not one to lecture, so with a world of confusion and curiosity, I sat up straight: “I am listening.”
“I’ve heard from the radio that the elected president of America doesn’t like Muslims. Now, I know not all Americans are like him. The other day, I met another American soldier at the village who said that not even Americans like him,” he continued.
“But, Ata…” I interrupted him.
“Listen, shir-e-padar, my lion,” he said as cleared his throat. Meanwhile, I was still trying to make sense of why my dad was calling in the middle of the night. Where was he going with this unusual talk?
“It is a done deal. I just want to tell you. You don’t have to wear your scarf when you are over there,” he said.
“Bala? Pardon?” I was speechless. My dad has always been the one I turn to when I am being criticized or looked down upon for wearing my scarf. He has been my backbone when it comes to my choice of covering.
“Ata, Why are you saying this?” I replied as I thought how hard it must be for my dad to be in this situation.
“Shir-e-padar, I think you are much more than your scarf. You are …..” He went on with his fatherly compliments. “But…”
There it was, the ‘but’ that I was expecting.
“But, if your life is in danger then you don’t have to wear it. It is what is in your heart that matters.”
153 days later, the sadness in the voice of Nabra’s dad explained my dad’s fear that night all those months ago. My dad raised me in a warzone, constantly in survival mode, and has invested his entire life in me. The mere thought of losing his daughter for being a Muslim in a “safe, democratic, and Western country” must have been immensely painful to him.
As hard as it is to admit, I am concerned; not only about living in a country that is so violent toward Muslims, but also about the kind of stories we will pass on to the next generation.
History can be changed through small and consistent actions. Perhaps my running in hijab on the trails and sidewalks of small town America is my small contribution to normalizing and humanizing the image of Muslims in this country. It is my contribution to Nabra’s legacy. Her name should be written in capital letters, hacked in our memories, used as motivation for the everyday fight against Islamopobia.
NABRA, you will be missed forever and ever. Rest in Peace.