A Space for Writers of the World
There is only one number that stands up straight and whole, but I am here to talk about 1400 year old fractions –
At age 7, Ali was happy.
He liked to tell bad jokes. “Hey, Why was nine afraid of seven?”
“Because seven ate nine!”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him, then and there, that it’s always the smaller number that is afraid,
that some people would hate him for being Muslim, and some Muslims would hate him for being that smaller number,
that he would be called a fuckin’ “Ta-li-ban,” even as the Taliban were killing his people in Pakistan.
I should have told him then and there that it’s times like that when he has to remember that people are more than just numbers on the other side of a fraction bar.
I say it to myself, People are more than numbers, as my people’s death toll rolls in on the news, and I wonder why Shi’a are born in single digits and killed in exponents.
1400 years of being an endangered species just doesn’t add up.
At age 12, Ali asks me why we pray differently from other Muslims.
I put his hand on my wrist, teach him to find my pulse, and say,
“Every single heart prays in the same language,
Ancient, pulsing love and peace,
and salaam means peace, don’t you ever forget that, no matter who else does.”
But there are already revolutions being born in his eyes.
He never asked to be born with a target on his forehead.
At age 17, Ali visits an old cemetery in India, where all the tombstones were made the same year. Some of the graves are very small.
In Saudi, in Bahrain, our names are fugitives, illegal labels of our heretic faith, never spoken above a whisper. But here, for the first time, Ali finds a grave with his same name on it. It is a small grave.
He walks up to it, pictures the unknown boy’s skeleton lying beneath the ground, and wonders how it felt when the fraction bar pushed the last breath from him.
At age 25, Ali wanders the nighttime streets of Cairo, loudly reciting the Shi’a call to prayer. He has a long beard, wears a nose ring, and no one is ever really sure if he is sober.
Whenever a taxi driver asks him, he says – Ana msh muslim, Ana mumin –
I am not Muslim, I am a believer.
At age 25, Ali is lying, bent and broken in a hospital bed. He puts my finger to his wrist. The arrhythmic prayer of his smoker’s heartbeat is growing fainter.
I hear him whisper,
“People are more than decimal point bullets, and police baton division signs,
but I don’t want them to remember me as a broken piece of another fraction”
Shireen Hamza is an undergraduate student studying English, Neuroscience and Middle Eastern Literature at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey in the US. She finds herself busied with the myriad activities expected of a pre-medical student, but also remains an active member of her local artistic community by participating on the Rutgers slam poetry team and attending and organizing open mics. Her parents immigrated to the United States from India more than twenty years ago. She inherited Gujrati and a taste for sun and strong tea from them, among much else. She has studied Classical Arabic intensively at an international school in Pakistan, where she spent five years. Her experiences and travels overseas have been integral to shaping her worldview. She hopes to continue adding her voice to the irresistibly chaotic discourse by sharing her writing.