by Emily W
There was a lot of activity on the army base. Vehicles were arriving and departing, helicopters landing and taking off, and soldiers moving about in various directions. At this forward operating base there was always something going on. Sgt. Jessica Baker was preparing for a mission herself. She was part of a unit that would be taking a convoy through an exceedingly dangerous part of the countryside.
As she approached the parked vehicles she contemplated the map she had studied and the route they were to take. There were places that they knew they might run into trouble, that was something for which they could prepare. However, there were also the unknown threats which is what usually posed the greatest danger.
A couple of privates saluted as Jessica approached. She returned their salute. The team assembled together and she explained what their orders were. After everyone was briefed they were about to fan out to their respective vehicles when one of their members had everybody pause to take a picture. Jessica reluctantly participated. After it was done, and she was walking to the lead truck, she had a feeling she could not shake. It felt as if the picture being taken was bad luck, like a broken mirror.
She opened up the side door of the lead truck and pulled herself up into it. Rodrigeuz climbed into the driver side. Jessica paused for a moment to pull the red and white scarf around her neck up onto her head. It was a necessity in this deeply conservative Muslim land to make some token display of modesty. It certainly would not make them loved, but it might keep from inflaming the local population.
Jessica was not particularly religious and so treated the cloth on her head as something of practicality rather than spirituality.
Soon the convoy was off. The vehicles moved as one steady stream down the road to their objective. They passed other vehicles and buildings and always Jessica and the others eyed whatever they passed with caution.
At one point they saw a large caravan of nomads crossing the desert. Each of them men wore a dark blue tagelmust, a sort of combination of a turban and a face mask. The nomads traveled great distances through vast deserts that often saw powerful storms. They wore the tagelmusts as a precaution. Jessica did not linger on them for too long. Although these nomads, who knew no border, did not cooperate with the American military they did not fight it either. It was the militants who operated out of cities in this country with which they needed to be concerned.
It was not until three hours into their journey that they heard the explosion. Jessica actually felt the explosion more than she heard it. Everything that happen subsequently felt strange, as if it was happening to someone else. She had her weapon ready. At some point she was out of the truck for some reason. She remembered firing. She remembered another explosion. She remembered seeing the convoy driving away, receding in the distance. And then through blurry vision dark forms clouded her vision…
Jessica was not sure how long she had been unconscious. Returning to the world of the living had been a slow process. She gradually became aware of the environment around her even as the dreams she experienced still played in her head. For a while there was a blending of the two and then eventually she was awake.
She was in a crude room, laying on a cot. The room was dusty and barren. She was confused for a moment as to where she had found herself. Instead of her army uniform she was dressed in a simple purple shirt and some trousers.
Then several armed men in masks appeared into view and her blurred memories of the convoy attack returned to her. She felt panic seep into her veins. The armed men, seeing that she was awake pulled her off the cot. She tried to resist them but found that her experience in the convoy skirmish and the explosions had left her disoriented. When she tried to throw her limbs out she mostly succeeded in losing her balance and awkwardly her captors had to help keep her standing.
She was led to a small room with only a narrow slit with bars high up in the wall for a window. Before closing the door, the militants pushed her roughly to the floor. They slammed the door. Jessica looked back at the now closed door with a mixture of spite and fear. Now that she knew where she was and what had happened to her she felt more sure footed, but also afraid.
The militants that the army had been helping the local government fight were brutal and violent. They bombed and killed without hesitation. They were so barbaric that they made the Taliban seem enlightened by comparison. She knew she had to get out of here otherwise her fate would almost certainly be grim. She went to the narrow opening in the wall. She tried looking through to the outside world. She tried jumping and could catch the most momentary of glances of the outside world. Down below she saw the rough appearance of a slum much like the several that existed in this country. She looked at the bars on the window, wondered how she might remove them.
Her thoughts were interrupted when the door burst open again. A group of fierce looking militants entered the room. They were all heavily armed except for a couple. One was a heavy set man with a trimmed grey beard. Also in the back was a young man, he lacked the physical prowess of the others and the intimidating appearance. Instead of a gun he held a camera.
The heavy set man stepped forward. He began to speak in accented, but understandable English.
“So, the Kuffar have women fighting for them.”
Jessica remained silent, though she was not sure if this was because she was feeling defiant or because she was too scared to say anything. The man continued.
“You are dead you know. The moment you stepped foot in this country your life became forfeit. You will only live for as long as it is useful for our purposes.”
Jessica remained silent.
“A couple of my lieutenants asked about whether they could make you their concubine.” Jessica felt her stomach begin to sink and her legs weaken. “I refused them, you are too dangerous to allow to live. If they took you for a slave you would simply wait until the time was right to destroy us. No, better that we behead you when the time comes.” Somehow Jessica felt even more weak legged and would have fallen on her own had the militants not stepped forward and knocked her to the floor. They surrounded her except for their leader who remained back. The young man stepped forward and setup the camera. One of the militants began reading off a script. Jessica had had some Arabic language training but she was not able to follow everything that was said. She did not need to, she knew what was said in these sort of tapes. She felt the camera on her and all she wanted was for everything to melt away.
Sometimes her captors would burst into her cell and begin hitting her. They usually targeted their blows to her chest and back, and their feet would be kicking her legs. The men would be pounding away while their leader and the young man watched. The first time this happened Jessica thought they had been motivated by some perceived slight. She had tried to curl up, to shield some of her body from the blows but they struck her so much that her body was sore and bruised regardless.
Over time she realized this was just a component of captivity. It did not happen every day, or every other day. Weeks might pass by between beatings, but it happened nonetheless. Other than that, the only other time she saw one of her captors was when the young man would come in with her meal. Consisted only of a meagre portion of rice and a stale piece of bread. the young man kept his eyes averted from her when he brought it. Sometimes her did look at her. She tried to interpret the look on his face. It was not so much hate, more like curiosity. She tried to endure these sessions as wordlessly as possible, to make herself a shield of human toughness they could not break. It was during one of these sessions that she first saw the veiled woman.
Her vision was limited, her hands covered her eyes. As such she was looking through her fingers, and in turn through the legs of her assailants. But through this, and despite the distraction of the pain, she saw a woman enter the room. She was covered in black like most of the women in this country, only her veiling was more severe. Gloves covered her hands and black fabric prevented even the slit over her eyes from being seen.
The woman approached them. Jessica vaguely wondered what this woman would do to add to her misery. As the woman came closer she passed through the middle of the men, who were presumably so wrapped up in their assault that they did not notice her. They did not pause nor glance her way. The woman reached out her concealed hand towards Jessica.
Jessica felt a sense of dread. It was strange, that with so many men kicking her that the thought of one veiled woman’s hand should distract her in such a way. The hand came close, Jessica felt as if her heart was about to stop. The hand touched her…
The sensation was odd. Jessica was at a loss to process what was happening at first. It seemed that her sense of touch was gone. The men were still kicking her, but she felt nothing. The veiled woman withdrew her gloved hand and still without any of the men seeming to notice her, she turned and left.
It was some hours later that Jessica was laying on the floor of her cell. No one else was in the room and gradually her sense of touch returned and along with it pain. However, it was the steady, dull ache of pain. No the sharp thrash of a blow. Jessica’s mind was fixated on the veiled woman. Something had happened, someone she had done something that had lessened Jessica’s pain. What had she done? Why? So strange…
Jessica was seated on the floor of her cell, he back propped against the wall. Other than her meager daily food she had not seen anything of her captors today. This was not entirely surprising. Her captivity consisted of moments of sheer terror but also long stretches of inactivity and almost boredom. Jessica’s thoughts drift to back home. She wondered how her family was coping. If they had seen the pictures and video taken of her they would no doubt be living in fear. In a way, Jessica almost felt guilty about that. While she was confined here, her life always on the edge of being ended at least she was able to cope with her situation. There was nothing she could do to comfort her parents who were almost surely living in a perpetual state of worry.
Jessica leaned her head against the wall behind her and sighed.
She wondered if the Army was close to finding her. Maybe, maybe not. If they knew where she was they would be here already, wouldn’t they?
Jessica was not sure how long she had been awake. She had fallen asleep and her dreams had been fitful and few. At some point she had simply drifted to being awake in such a subtle fashion that she had to realize she was awake.
The left side of her face was pressed against the stone floor. She would work on getting her body up into a sitting position soon. For the moment she simply remained on the floor, her eyes staring at the opposite wall and the closed door.
What happened next occurred so slowly it took her a moment to realize what was she was seeing. The wall in front of her began to change color. She had to blink a couple of times before she would believe it but it was definitely happening in front of her. Instead of the rough dirty stone wall she found herself facing a polished white surface. Jessica stared at the sight without being able to respond. Finally she rocked herself into a sitting position and as soon as she was upright she realized that the rest of the walls had disappeared and that she was now bathed in sunlight.
She felt a sudden release of tension around her arms and discovered that the bonds that held them together were gone. Her eyes remained fixated on her now free hands for a moment and then she stood up and looked around. She was in a vast sea of sand. An endless expanse of desert was before her, its dunes looking like the waves of the sea. As the sand blew off the dunes and settled below Jessica was reminded of the spray from an ocean spray.
Jessica felt confusion, exhilaration, fear. She did not know how she had ended up in this place, so very far from were she was being held. She was excited to be free of her confinement, or the brutality of her captors. But the unknown nature of this place made her anxious. She looked back to the white stone wall which turned out to belong to a large structure with the dome and minarets of a mosque.
She circled around the building. Her gaze switching from the building itself to the vast ocean of sand. She was looking for an entrance to the building one way, and signs of any place else the other. When she had nearly circled the entire building she finally found a set of wooden doors on one of the walls. With no other place to do she cautiously opened them.
Inside the interior was a majestic setting. Carefully designed geometric shapes graced the interior walls along with Arabic calligraphy. Windows high up in the walls allowed warm yellow light to pour into the building. Stairs led up to a second floor. The arches and carefully designed shape of the building suggested that considerable thought went into this place’s architecture.
Jessica saw a small rack on the floor to her right. On it were a pair of black sandals. She removed her own footwear and placed them next to the sandals. She had spent enough time in the Muslim world to know about this curtsey. She had many questions running through her mind. And yet, she felt serene.
She slowly walked into the large main room and paused when she saw that she wasn’t alone. A woman in a black niqab was in there, waiting for her. Jessica knew that rationally she should be on guard, she should not let herself be captured again. However, part of her knew that there was no danger of that happening in this place.
She slowly walked towards the woman in the niqab.
“Peace be upon you, Sister.” The woman’s voice was soothing, and familiar.
“You were the one who came to me in my cell.”
“Why did you do that? Who are you?”
“The answer to both those questions is the same.”
“I sorry, I do not understand.”
“Of course, we never understand at the beginning of a journey.”
Jessica could not think of anything to say. All she could do was stare at this mysterious woman concealed entirely in black. Jessica looked at the black gaze over her eyes and wondered what lay beneath them. She then found her gaze drifting to the walls. The elegant geometry of the walls with its many angles with colorful pieces. Above, the elaborate calligraphy that circled around the room. And the windows above, with the radiant light that poured through them. Somehow this place seemed…it seemed right. It was so different from the cell she had been held in just a few moments previously. Suddenly a sinking feeling hit Jessica.
“Did I really escape from that cell?”
“Your body is still there if that is what you mean.”
“And yet I am here.”
“You are more than just your body.”
“What do you mean?”
“You will understand in time”
There was a white flash of light.
When Jessica found herself back in the cell there was a moment of disappointment. Disappointment, but not despair. She was sad to not to be there, but she was not in despair of her surroundings. It was a bad place to be, but her thoughts were too preoccupied with the beauty of what she just saw to be distressed.
The next couple of days passed and Jessica was mostly left alone by her captors. Occasionally they bothered to feed her and the young man awkwardly brought in the food while trying not to see her, but mostly she was just an asset left in storage. During that time she focused on the place she had been to. She did not try to decide if it was a dream or not. She knew it wasn’t a dream. It had been real, but different. That place had been different from any other she had ever been to. She had been held in this cell one moment and the next she had been somewhere else, somewhere bathed in light.
The more she thought about the place the stronger her memories of it became. And then one day she saw her cell melt away again and she was once more in that mosque.
The light from outside poured down onto the floor below and she was bathed in its radiance. The woman concealed in black approached her.
“Welcome back sister.”
“I am glad you chose to come back.”
Jessica paused for a moment. “I’m sorry, I chose to come back?”
“Yes. It is your choice to come here, there is no compulsion in religion.”
“What is this place?”
“It is whatever you chose to make of it.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t, but perhaps you will.”
For some reason Jessica found herself in awe of this woman whose face she could not see.
“Why am I here?”
“A very wise question to ask. I am sorry, but I cannot not answer it.”
“I am here to teach you about Islam.”
Jessica had always been an atheist. To hear the mention of a faith, the faith of her captors at that, should have bothered her. But in this place she did not feel bothered by anything. Instead she was eager to continue asking questions of this woman who seemed to know so much but who said so little.
“How can you teach me about Islam if you don’t answer my questions?”
“Because it is the asking of questions that are important, not the answers.”
Jessica paused for a moment to consider the woman’s response. Upon thinking about the wisdom of her words she decided she liked this veiled woman.
“What is your name?”
“You can call me Hasifa.”
There was a white flash.
Jessica was in her cell, but her thoughts were in another place entirely. She ate the food brought to her and listened when one of the terrorists came in to threaten her. But there was an inner calmness in her. A calmness that allowed her to endure her surroundings.
Soon she was back in that mosque so far from her cell…
“Welcome back Sister.”
“Thank you Hasifa. I am glad to be back here.”
Even though she could not see Hasifa’s face, Jessica thought the woman was smiling.
“Hasifa, I have some questions.”
“That is great. Islam is all about questions.”
“Are you a Muslim?”
“And you are here to teach me about Islam?”
“Am I suppose to become a Muslim?”
“That is for you to decide.”
“But, what do you want?”
“I want you to seek knowledge.”
Jessica thought about that for a moment and found she continued to like the things Hasifa said. It was difficult to believe that someone so introspective could practice the same religion as the brutes who had captured her, who terrorized their own country.
“What about the men who hold me captive?”
“What about them?”
“Aren’t they Muslims?”
Jessica blinked. “No?”
“They seemed pretty insistent that they were.”
“They have no right to call themselves Muslims. They are not. And their actions are an affront to Islam and an insult to Allah.”
A white flash.
The next several days followed a pattern. Jessica would sometimes be in her cell. Sometimes she ate, sometimes her captors would hit her. But these experiences felt like brief, fleeting dreams. More and more she was spending greater lengths of time in that mosque, the mosque so far away from her cell.
Once Jessica arrived at the mosque as Hasifa was praying. Jessica watched as the black shrouded woman bowed and kneeled and supplicated herself to Allah. Jessica had seen it many times before with her time in the army. She had never felt much while watching it. However, there was something about the way Hasifa was performing it now that made it seem so meaningful. When she was done Jessica approached her.
“That was really beautiful.”
“I am glad you think so.”
“Does…God like it when you pray like that.” Referring to God as Allah still seemed strange to Jessica’s tongue. Allah was some strange, Eastern deity. Even in this mystical place she was full of doubts and disbelief.
“That is a complex question to answer. Allah is not pleased simply by the preying.”
“No. It matters to Allah if the preying is good for His worshipers. If it helps them to feel closer to Him than he finds it pleasing. He does not care if people prey to him, he cares only if it does them good.”
“I see. Is…is it the same with the veil?”
Hasifa nodded. “Yes. Wearing the veil just because one is told to makes no sense. I wear it because I love Allah and by wearing it I feel closer to Him. That IS something he is pleased by.”
Jessica thought she understood the idea that Hasifa was trying to convey to her. “I like the sound of that. Back where I was, women would be forced to veil.”
“That is not right. Of course it would be good for them if they veiled, but they must make the decision. There can be no compulsion in religion.”
Jessica smiled. If she had seen this woman before she came to this place, she would have assumed her to be a poor, misguided woman who was the victim of a male dominated society. In fact, when Hasifa had visited her in her cell before she came here that is what she had initially thought. But it was clear Hasifa did not subscribe to such notions. Listening to her was enough to make one feel owe of her.
“So, does that mean that the same action, say a woman wearing the veil, can be right and wrong in Allah’s eyes at the same time?”
“Yes. Come, let me show you something.”
Jessica followed Hasifa to a door. Hasifa opened it to reveal steps leading downwards. Jessica followed her. They soon entered a circular space below the main room. It consisted of simple stone walls and in the middle was a large stone big enough for several horses to stand one. Hasifa stepped up onto it and Jessica followed. She found herself unsurprised when their surroundings faded to black and then changed to something else. They were on a beach.
Soon two figures walked into view. One was a blonde woman in the skimpiest bikini Jessica had ever seen. The other was a woman in a black niqab with only her hands and a slit over her eyes showing.
“Which of these two women do you think worships Allah better.”
Jessica looked at the two and thought about it for a moment. Before her many talks with Hasifa she would have guess the woman in the niqab. But ever since she first came to this place she had found that things were always more complicated than what one first thought.
“I don’t know.”
Hasifa was silent for a moment. “It is always wise to admit when you do not know something. Let us watch them.”
The woman in the niqab picked up her bag and began walking off the beach onto the neighboring boardwalk. As she approached it Jessica noticed a homeless man sitting against the fence. His body was unwashed and haggard, but it was his eyes that Jessica found the most striking. They seemed empty, with no hope. His hand was slightly outstretched with the palm up but he was clearly not expecting any help. And the woman in the niqab passed by him without giving any.
Next the woman in the string bikini picked up her bag and walked along the same path that the woman in the bikini had taken. Only when she encountered the homeless man she paused to take some money out of her bag and place it in his hands. When she had disappeared out of sigh Hasifa turned to Jessica.
“Which of the two do you think worshipped Allah better?”
“The woman in the bikini.”
“She helped the homeless man.”
“But what about her attire, she had her body on display for all manner of men to see.”
“Maybe God would prefer her to conceal her beauty, but simply wearing a niqab does not make one a good Muslim.”
“But…” Jessica trailed off.
“Would it be better if the woman was wearing the niqab than a bikini?”
“What do you think?”
“Maybe if she understood what the benefits of wearing the niqab were?”
They returned to the main room of the mosque. Hasifa and Jessica sat there in silence. Each woman left to her respective thoughts.
Over the course of Jessica’s next couple of visits to the mosque she talked more with Hasifa. It was an interesting dialogue and every time they had a conversation. Sometimes Hasifa would allow Jessica to just roam around the music. Jessica would trace her fingers along the geometric shapes, marveling at how simple they were and yet how complex were the patterns that came from them. In a way it reminded her of her conversations with Hasifa. Simple statements, but with complex meanings.
Sometimes Jessica would watch Hasifa pray, it was always a beautiful sight.
Often Jessica wondered what it would have been like had she been born as a Muslim. Would she have prayed everyday like this? Would she have been veiled like Hasifa?
Sometimes Jessica would remain seated in the mosque. She would simply sit and let time pass and yet no time was passing at all. She would contemplate things, both great and small. When Hasifa was not speaking to Jessica she would spend her time reading a copy of the Koran.
“Is the Koran the book of God.”
“The Koran is a book that was given to humanity.”
“It is a guide.”
“There are people who read the Koran and do terrible things.”
“They are misusing it. It is Allah’s will that people strive to do good. It pleases Him when people strive to do good. It displeases him when people do evil. When people do evil in His name it displeases him all the more.”
“What about the Christians and the Jews…and the atheists?”
“When people do good it does not matter what they call themselves. If a person does right in life, they will have their reward in the next world and they’ll have an eternity to decide if they wish to become a Muslim.”
“Wait…I don’t understand. You seem to be saying that Islam is the right religion, but that it is fine to be another religion as well?”
“The men who took me captive, they did not seem to think so. They have attacked people of a different religion than them, they’ve attacked people who follow different versions of their own religion.”
“They will tremble when the last day comes and Allah judges them. Being a Muslim means more than simply saying that Allah is great and Muhammed is his prophet. These and everything else are the lesser forms of Islam. The greater form of Islam is to obey the commands of the heart that Allah gave you. Remember what I showed you of the two women and how the outward display of faith does not translate into true submission. A person can declare their faith, they can pray five times a day, they can make the hajj, they can fast. But what do these things mean if they are not listening to the true guidance of Allah? There are Jews and Christians and Hindus and Buddhists and atheists and all manner of believers and non-believers who through their actions and intentions serve as examples of what a Muslim should be. Do you understand?”
“It is fine if you do not understand everything at once.”
“But, do things like wearing the veil matter at all?”
“When I wear the niqab, it fears my mind from worries about my appearance. About what men think of me. The peace I feel helps me to understand Allah better.”
At one point during her captivity one of the militants entered her cell. Without saying a word he pulled a knife out and held it close to her throat. Jessica’s body froze and part of her mind thought about her situation. This man would surely kill her if he decided to. He had no constraints on his behavior, so twisted was his interpretation of Islam that he could engage in any horrific act and justify it. The only thing that kept him from killing her was the commands of his superiors.
Jessica’s eyes looked at the knife. The long blade of cold metal. It occurred to her that the blade was neither good nor evil. Right now it was being used to threaten her life. It could be used for great evil. However, a knife was just a tool. It could be used for good as well. Much like Islam. In that mosque, that special place away from here she had seen Islam in a way that was beautiful and transcendent. And then here, in this place people with evil intentions used the same words of the Koran for the opposite intentions.
Perhaps the man mistook Jessica’s contemplation for defiance or a show of strength. He began shouting an alternating series of insults and threats. Jessica did wonder if he would become enraged enough that he would kill her. However, she did not feel fear at the prospect. She knew somehow that even if he did kill her that she would simply return to that beautiful mosque, it was hardly a fate worth dreading.
Eventually the man put his knife back into its sheath and left. Jessica’s eyes were looking in his direction, but her thoughts were somewhere else entirely…
Jessica was seated with her knees on the floor of the mosque, a piece of paper in her hand and an ink pen in the other. She lifted the pen up and wrote in Arabic on the paper. She had asked Hasifa to teach her Arabic and the veiled woman had readily agreed. As her stays here in this otherworldly mosque grew longer and longer she had more opportunity to learn. She wrote on the page until she had filled it up. Once she was done she put them down and looked up at the calligraphy on the wall. It was everything Hasifa said when she prayed.
Jessica lowered her gaze and thought about everything she had seen in this place. Things of beauty and wisdom. She forced herself to confront a fact that in a way she had been ignoring. If this place was real, then that meant God existed. She thought Islam, a religion that was used to justify terrible acts on Earth. Yet here it was beauty. Was Hasifa right? Jessica thought about the veiled woman. If she embraced Islam would she find herself similarly concealed from sight?
Jessica took out another piece of paper. With the pen she began to trace calligraphy on the page and then paused when she was done. She stared down at what she had written, ALLAH.
Jessica soon asked Hasifa if she could have a copy of the Quran which Hasifa was pleased to provide.
Soon Jessica was spending what seemed like an eternity reading the copy of the Koran which was setup on a stand in front of her. She found the words inside to be of the most supreme beauty. Each passage she read only made her want to read the rest even more. It is difficult for her to believe that the same words she read here could be read by the same monsters who held her prisoner in that cell. When she read out of Koran she did not feel anger well inside of her. The opposite was the case, she felt relaxed…free of worry.
After finishing one of the chapters of the Koran she paused and looked around. Hasifa was not in the central room with her, but she knew that the veiled woman was around here somewhere. Jessica stood up from her position and began walking to the staircases that led to the upper floor.
She wondered, as she had more than once, about the identity of Hasifa. Was she an angel? Was she just a normal woman? There were many questions about her that Jessica had. She knew that if she asked Hasifa any of them she really would not receive an answer. Hasifa had a habit of answering questions with more questions. She seemed to know so much but was reluctant to reveal much of it. Instead, she was trying to have Jessica come to the conclusions herself.
Jessica supposed this was why she liked Hasifa…and this place. She had never had much use for religion before this place. She could never stand listening to people preach their beliefs and tell her what was “the truth.” But Hasifa was so different. She was not like any of the religious people Jessica had encountered, and certainly she was nothing like the men who held her prisoner back in the cell. It was as if Hasifa was not determined that Jessica become a Muslim so much as she was determined that Jessica choose the path that was best for her.
As Jessica ascended the stairs she contemplated what path she wanted to take. Being in this place, experiencing what she was experiencing. She felt and knew that there was something else, something different in the universe, something more than what she had ever seen. This place was Islamic in nature, did that mean Islam was what she wanted to pursue? She had been reading the Koran, she preyed with Hasifa, she enjoyed this place. But for the moment she wasn’t sure. If she departed from this place of learning and somehow escaped her captors, what would she do? Would she convert to Islam. Would she live out her life wearing a hijab? Or possibly cover herself completely as Hasifa has done? She did not think that that would be necessary. She was sure that if she asked Hasifa what she should wear if she became a Muslim, the completely veiled woman would give some answer that ultimately meant that Jessica should decide for herself.
At the top of the stairs Jessica saw Hasifa. The veiled woman was walking along the top floor. As her black shrouded form passed by it stepped into the light coming in from the windows. As she stepped out of the light of one window and into the light of the other it provoked a feeling inside of Jessica. She could not articulate it. She just felt something, perhaps a longing. When Hasifa saw her she turned and came over.
“Is all well Jessica?”
“Yes, its just…” Jessica stepped forward towards the black form of Hasifa. What did Hasifa get out of completely concealing her body. It was not to avoid the looks of strange men, there was no one here but her and Jessica. Knowing Hasifa, it probably was something contemplative in nature. By completely covering herself, perhaps Hasifa was free to concentrate solely on knowledge. For some reason Jessica felt herself longing to experience the same.
“I was just thinking, I would prefer not to be wearing these clothes when I am in this place. I would prefer to be dressed more like you.”
“Then you will be.”
Jessica was about to ask her what she meant when she caught a glimpse of her arm. In was covered in black. A long black sleeve ran down to her wrist where her hand was covered in a black glove. Jessica looked down at her body which was underneath a long black abaya, the clothes from her imprisonment were gone. She reached up with her gloved hands and felt the black headscarf. Other than her face, her entire body was covered in black.
Jessica felt something welling up inside of her. It was impossible to describe it. She had always consider herself to be a strong, independent minded feminist. When she joined the Army she went out of her way to show she could be as much a man as any of the men. But had there been something that she had been missing? She had perhaps always had that feeling, but never knew it until now. Looking at herself, wearing clothes that hid her feminine form provoked something in her. She suddenly saw all sorts of possibilities in her life she had never considered. Marriage to a good man who would take care of her, children, and a life of modest attire…and closeness to God.
“Come,” Hasifa said. Jessica followed her and soon they were back in the room underneath the mosque. They stepped on the stone and found themselves some place else. They were following the blonde woman in the bikini again.
“She has a good heart,” Hasifa said. “But she needs help.
Hasifa and Jessica watched the girl over a number of days, days that were seconds. The woman went to parties, she drank and used drugs, she slept with men who did not care about her. It repeated itself and Jessica began to feel sorry for the girl. She was not happy. When she was alone she cried, she sat on her bed and the tears flowed down her eyes.
“The path that Allah has given for us to travel is for our own benefit. Those who try to force Islam on others are not only committing a sin, they fail to see the point entirely. If we came into this woman’s home, forced her to wear niqab, to pray, would she be happy?”
“But she would be doing everything a Muslimah should, why wouldn’t she be happy?”
“Because she would not understand it. If she does not understand the benefits she would not understand why it is good for her.”
“Exactly. She must come to Islam of her own will. We can only hope someone makes da’wa for her.”
Hasifa and Jessica watched the girl for a long time. Eventually, she passed a woman who wore the hijab. She paused, took a second look. A seed had been planted. Slowly, the woman became curious about Islam. She watched videos on youtube, she read about Islam. She was wanted to know more. She read more. She visited a mosque. She began reading the Quran. She started attending fewer parties. She began praying. The casual sex stopped. She began wearing the hijab. She stopped drinking alcohol. Eventually she took the shahadah and reverted.
By the time the image of her had vanished Jessica was in tears, so happy that the girl had found the path.
So Jessica continued to read the Quran, she preyed, she meditated, and she was always in the abaya. Sometimes she would open the door to the mosque and stare out at the gentle sand of the desert. Eventually she finished reading the Koran, and at that point she simply returned to the beginning and continued reading. There was no beginning or end with truth, nor should there be with the Quran.
Jessica found that the time she spent in this beautiful place seemed to last longer and longer. Great stretches of time as vast as the desert she was in. She still did find herself awaking in the cell but these seemed like minor blips, barely noticeable amongst the grandeur of this place. If this was heaven she could spend forever here.
Then, once while she was just sitting on the floor of the mosque Jessica realized something. She got up and sought out Hasifa who was not far.
“I want to make my Shahadah,” Jessica told her. Hasifa was only to happy to listen as Jessica declared that there was no god but Allah and that Muhammed was his prophet. They happily embraced in a hug afterward and then a notion occurred to Jessica. She looked down at her gloved hands. Before coming to this place, if she would have found the prospect of being dressed like this to be unappealing. Now though…
With her gloved hands she pinched the abaya that concealed her form. She felt the smooth texture of the fabric. She was a woman, as Allah had made her. She looked at the concealed eyes of Hasifa and decided something. She did not need to say anything, she merely looked down and found the niqab which had materialized in her hands.
She then reached up and fitted this niqab onto her face, the narrow slit over her eyes the only part of her that was exposed. Soon this was covered as well when she brought the gauze like fabric down over her eyes.
Her vision of Hasifa and the mosque dimmed. But what she lost in sight she gained in insight. Free of the distractions that the physical world offered, she was able to contemplate real truth. Her Muslim identity had long been building in herself but now she was aware of it in a way that even declaring herself a Muslim had not done. She thought about her situation, back in the cell. Before coming to this place, before becoming a Muslim she had tried to stop those militants. It had been her duty as an American soldier. She had tried stopping them with sword.
Now that she was a Muslim, she still had an obligation to stop them. In fact, it felt like her obligation ran deeper. The men who used a thing of beauty as an excuse to commit outrageous offenses need to be stopped. It was the will of Allah. Only now Jessica would have a much more powerful tool at her disposal to stop them…
When Jessica looked around and found herself in the cell she knew what she wanted to do first. She took the cup on her food tray, it had a little bit of water left in it. She used it for the ablution. There was not nearly enough to clean herself, but it did not matter. Allah saw the intentions in her heart. Likewise she had no hijab to wear, but it did not matter. Hijab was more than cloth, it was a state of mind.
When she was ready she stood up. She raised her hands in the air and began to speak in Arabic. The words came out effortlessly, as if she had been speaking them for years…which she had been. She performed her prayers. She had been close to Allah in that special place, but by performing this simple ritual she was feeling closer to Him than ever. After she was done bowing, and kneeling and placing her forehead to the ground she felt renewed. One would never have known that she had been locked in this room for so many months, barely fed, regularly beaten. It was nothing she could not overcome with Allah on her side.
When the young man next entered her cell to bring her her food she greeted him in perfect Arabic.
“Peace be unto you, brother.”
The young man looked at her. His facial features were a mixture of surprise and suspicion. He certainly was not expecting her to talk to him, and in Arabic. He looked away and concentrated on placing down her food.
“And hold fast, all together, unto the bond with God, and do not draw apart from one another. And remember the blessings which God has bestowed upon you: how, when you were enemies, He brought your hearts together, so that through His blessing you became brethren; and [how, when] you were on the brink of a fiery abyss. He saved you from it. In this way God makes clear His messages unto you, so that you might find guidance, and that there might grow out of you a community [of people] who invite unto all that is good, and enjoin the doing of what is right and forbid the doing of what is wrong: and it is they, they who shall attain to a happy state.“
The young man stared at her with a gaping jaw. Perhaps he thought an American soldier might have picked up a common expression in Arabic. But to have her recite a part of the Quran in Arabic was not something he was expecting. He slowly backed away from the food he had just placed on the floor. The shock still on his face. He stumbled, fell backwards and hit the floor. He stared dumbly for a moment and then scrambled out of the room.
Jessica wondered about what the young man would do. However, it was all in Allah’s hands. Instead she began to pray.
Later, the young man entered the room. He did not have a plate of food with him. It was dark out, he had never come when it was dark before. Jessica watched him.
He approached but kept his distance from her. He lowered his gaze to the side so as to not look at her. In his Arabic he spoke,
“How did you know that passage from the Quran?”
“Because I have read it many times.”
“You have read the Quran?”
“Because I am a Muslim.”
The young man still kept his gaze from her, but he obviously was a lot more interested now.
“I thought all Americans hated Muslims.”
“Some Americans do, other Americans are Muslims. Some Muslims hate Americans, other Muslims are Americans.”
The young man contemplated that for a moment. “Why did you come here to fight other Muslims?”
“Why are you here, fighting other Muslims?”
“My Uncle brought me here, and we don’t fight Muslims. We fight the infidel and the Crusaders.”
“Your Uncle’s group has killed many Muslims, far more Muslims than Americans in fact.”
The young man looked at her. He was suspicious, but he did not accuse her of lying. He studied her.
“How do I know this isn’t a trick. Maybe you just memorized that one passage of the Quran incase you were captured.”
“Ask me to recite any part of the Quran.”
The young man asked for a particular verse.
“And in the flowering meadows of the gardens those who have attained to faith and done righteous deeds: all that they might desire shall they have with their Sustainer: this, this is the great bounty that whereof God gives the glad tiding to such of His servants as attain to faith and do righteous deeds.“
His eyes grew wide in surprise. Jessica took the opportunity to ask something, “What is your name?”
“I am Jessica.”
Razzuq left the cell. When he was gone Jessica took the remaining water in her cup and cleansed herself in preparation for prayers.
The following night Razzuq visited her again. They talked about the Quran. He seemed not only impressed by her knowledge of it, but awed by it. They discussed several other things. They talked about Allah and the Prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him. More nights passed and they had more conversations. Razzuq told her all about his life in a small village. About how his Uncle had brought him from there to this place to wage a jihad. Jessica told him about her life in America, about becoming a soldier. Finally, she described the experience she had had in that otherworldly place. About discovering and embracing Islam. When she was done describing it Razzuq could only stare at her with wide eyes. Finally he spoke,
“Surely it is the will of Allah that I help you escape from this place.”
“It will be dangerous for you Razzuq, are you sure?”
“Allah knows what is best.”
A day passed and nothing out of the ordinary happened. Then a second day passed. Then on the third day Razzuq appeared in her cell. He had a gun with him and a bag slung over his shoulders. Her cut her bonds lose. He then gave her some clothes as a disguise and he then reached into the bag and brought out a couple of long blue cloths. Recognized the tagelmust and understood Razzuq’s plan. The two of them began to wrap the blue around their heads until they looked like the desert nomads. If they were to escape from the clutches of the militants disguising themselves as the nomads who rarely interacted with the rest of the population would be a way to blend in to the desert.
In hushed tones he whispered to her. “The guard for outside always goes to bed early, come.”
They left the cell and walked down a hallway in the dilapidated building. They descended stairs and exited into a dirt courtyard. There was a wall about the building. When they reached the gate it was already unlocked, Razzuq slowly opened it a little and they slipped through. He then closed the gate and locked it.
The streets were nearly empty in the darkness. From her conversations with Razzuq she knew they were in a town far from where her base was and that trying to reach there would bring them through an area where the militants were active, instead they had to go the opposite direction and cross the desert so as to reach the border into the neighboring country where the militants presence was much reduced.
They walked for hours and gradually the dense slum disappeared and they were walking along a simple road in the desert. It was still dark out so it was difficult to keep from walking off the road. During this time they began to talk about Islam. Partly this was because Razzuq was genuinely interested in what she had to say. However, it was also a way to keep themselves distracted from the fact that they were on the run from people who would eventually be looking for them. At some point the militants would enter her cell or look for Razzuq. Once they realized that both Razzuq and herself were gone they would begin searching. It might have already happened, it might not happen for many more hours. Still, Jessica sometimes felt like she could feel the frantic activity of the militants behind her as they frantically searched for their hostage.
Razzuq seemed curious about what Jessica thought about one topic and then another. It gradually dawned on Jessica that even though he had been living with Islamic extremists, they had not truly bothered teach him the contents of the Quran. He recognized many passages as the militants made him memorize the words. However, they apparently cared little for the meaning of the words, which as not surprising to Jessica at all. No one who intelligently read the Quran could commit the horrific acts that those monsters did.
The sun gradually climbed in the sky and the heat began to pose a challenge. Jessica soldiered on the best that she could.
Soon a truck with a back full of sweet potatoes had stopped and offered to give them a ride. And so the young Arab man and the American in blue tagelmust were traveling down the road in the back of a pickup truck. After two hours they had to part way with their transport at an intersection as he planned on going south while they needed to go another direction. Soon they were crossing a vast, sandy desert. Razzuq had brought lots of water with them and she hoped that would be enough to see them over the border.
Eventually they stopped for a rest under the shade of a sickly looking tree. While Razzuq worked to catch his breath Jessica found her mind fixated beyond the near and present.
She thought about that mosque and somehow she knew she would not be returning to it, not until she was on her way to Paradise that is. Visiting that place had done what it was suppose to, now she had to do her best to fulfill Allah’s will while on this planet. She looked over at Razzuq. There was something special about that young man. He was actually quite gentle, though he would not have remained that way if he had been left with those terrorists. She could not shake a feeling that just as he had saved her, in a way she had saved him.
Soon they were back on their feet and moving forward again. The sun was full in the air and soon Jessica really began to feel the heat. It was hot, and it made the journey all the more difficult. However, she had her Army training, and her willpower strengthened by Allah.
Eventually they crossed the border, although they were unaware of this fact until hours later they reached a dust drenched town. From there they were able to pay for a ride to a larger city where there was an American embassy. When they first approached the gate the guard was wary and then Jessica remembered to remove her blue tagelmust.
The next couple of days were a blur. With the information Razzuq provided American officials, Jessica’s fellow soldiers were able to raid the main base of the militants and cripple their organization with a single stroke. Jessica received medical treatment for the malnourishment she had received while in captivity. Because of the crucial information Razzuq had provided and the fact that he had helped Jessica escape he was forgiven for any association he had had with the militants.
For Jessica the time spent recovering from her ordeal gave her an opportunity to contemplate things. She had spoken on the phone with her parents and the joy that had been in their voices upon hearing her voice was a tremendous relief. However, there were concerns in the back of mind. She had not told her parents that she had reverted to Islam. They had already been through so much that telling them she was a Muslim in her first call to them since her capture would probably have made things too bewildering. It would be better to tell them later.
This also brought up the question for where she was going to go with her life. Her time with the Army would soon be over. She would be free to go in any direction she wanted. She would of course return home for a while to help her parents recover from their own ordeal. Besides, at some point she needed to tell them. Not about the visions and journeys of the otherworldly mosque. That was a special experience, one she only would share with Razzuq. But she needed to tell them that she had become a Muslim.
She needed to spend time with them so that they would understand. She imagined their first reaction would be to assume that she had been brainwashed by her captors. She needed them to understand that she had not, that the change she had experienced came from someplace else.
Jessica reached up and touched the colorful hijab was wearing. She had requested one of the embassy staff and they had obtained it from a nearby market. It was very colorful with yellows and blues and patterned designs on it. No one at the embassy asked her why she wore it. She was recovering from a harsh ordeal and what she did with her personal time was her own business after all.
She enjoyed the feel of the hijab over her body, like a protective force. Of course, she wanted to wear something different. However, she felt it prudent not to don a black niqab so soon after her rescue. Once she had settled things in her life she would have the opportunity to wear it again. Jessica knew how to be patient, but she still yearned to wear the niqab. The feel of the black material against her body as it concealed her from the view of everyone else. She would be a being that only Allah could observe.
Less than a year ago she had not believed in Allah, she had not even been religious. But now, everyday had a special light in her life. When she prayed, she she contemplated, she felt a presence.
At that moment there was a knock on the door. Razzuq had come to visit Jessica.
“How are you doing today Jessica?”
“I’m feeling much better. How are you?”
“I am fine. The Ambassador says that if I want, he might be able to help me come live in American.”
“Is that something you want.”
“I don’t know. What do you think I should do?”
“Why are you asking me?”
“Because of how wise you are. And you are special, Allah choose you to have such a special experience. That is why I rescued you.”
“You are special Razzuq.”
Razzuq shyly looked away. “Not really.”
“Yes you are. Do you know why?”
Razzuq shook his head.
“Because Allah had me rescue you.”
“I did not need to be rescued.”
“But you did. Your soul would have been corrupted there, their path was a path to the hellfire.”
Razzuq’s eyes opened wide at the realization.
The two of them looked at each other for a long time. Jessica thought about Razzuq, and the way their fates had intersected. It was surely the will of Allah that they had met. They had rescued each other. Jessica wondered if she was suppose to stay near Razzuq, help guide him to the true path of Allah.
Seven years later
Razzuq closed the door to the mosque and locked it with his key. He took a couple of steps back and regarded the beautiful structure as he did every time he arrived or left. The Night prayers had just finished at the mosque. Once the last of the worshipers was gone he was able to head home. He began to walk down the street of the quiet town. After finishing his religious studies he had been able to attain a position as an Imam for this small town. He was young but his knowledge of the Quran and Sunna had made the townspeople marvel and already they were coming to him for advice. Of course, he often found it ironic that his scholarship was so admired when mostly it was so great because of his wife.
The thought of Jessica warmed his heart and he quickened his pace to be home with her. She had likely just finished praying at their home and would be waiting for his return. He thought back to all of the circumstances that had led them to be together. How she had been a prisoner of the militant group his Uncle belonged to. Her miraculous experience while held prisoner and their daring escape. Allah was so full of marvels.
As he walked down the street he thought about some of the writing he had been working on recently. He was doing his best to contribute to the Islamic body of scholarship and to counter the terrible crimes of those who committed violence in the name of Islam. Jessica was more than his wife and companion, she was an inspiration. When they had first spoken with each other she had seemed like a mysterious source of Islamic knowledge, better versed than most Muslims in the Middle East. When they first discussed Islam she had a way of looking at things that suggested at a knowledge of meaning and nuance that surely the angels only had. Sometimes Razzuq thought about he experience and wished that he could experience the same. He knew that eventually he would when it was his last day.
Eventually he reached his street. While walking he was scratching his chin through the seven years worth of beard he had been growing at Jessica’s instance. He stopped in front of the wooden door in the tall wall that surrounded his home. He unlocked the door, stepped inside and re-locked it. He passed through their garden until he reached the door to their home. Upon entering he was greeted by the sight of a black ghost on his sofa. Jessica stood up, her form completely concealed in black. Even though there was no need for her to be covered inside their home she did so regardlessly as it helped remind her of Allah. He never ceased to be proud and awed at how pious she was.
She greeted him with a hug. They wrapped their arms around each other and he looked lovingly at where her eyes were conceal by the black fabric. It had seemed a little unusual at first when they had gotten married, she was a decade older than him. However, the Prophet, peace be upon him, had married a widow twenty years his senior. As such they were able to look on their marriage as an emulation of the Prophet.
Jessica led him down the hallway and he looked in two different bedrooms. One held his five year old son Khalid, the other held his three year old daughter Aisha and their infant daughter Fatima. They both looked in at their children for a moment before retiring to their own bedroom. They talked quietly so as to not awake the children. Jessica asked him about everything that had happened at the mosque today. After Razzuq was done relating what he had to say he asked Jessica about her day. She described everything she had done with the children as well as all the things regarding the attributes concerning Allah that she had contemplated.
They began to disrobe and Razzuq watched as Jessica removed her niqab for the first time since she had prepared for the day.
When they were bed they almost immediately began to make love. Razzuq still remembered their first, clumsy attempt at the act after getting married. Jessica had been so much more experienced than him and had to guide him, shaking hands and all, through process. It was just one of the many things she had helped to teach him about. He was considerably more adapt at the act now and before long they were both satisfied and he was holding her in his arms. He rested his face into her beautiful hair, the hair she allowed no one other than Allah and the members of their household to see.
The next morning they were awoken by Fatima’s crying. While Jessica went to feed her Razzuq got out their pray rugs. When Aisha was silent and Jessica returned they both performed the Fajr prayer. Afterwards Razzuq helped Khalid get up and ready for the day. After a while they were all in the kitchen with Jessica making breakfast. When Aisha needed her attention Razzuq took over in the kitchen until Jessica was free again to finish.
Soon he was leaving the house for the mosque. He gave Khalid a hug goodbye, kissed Aisha on the forehead and said his departing words of love to Jessica. With the door to the house closed he then left the garden and walked to the mosque. The street was much busier than when he had returned home. Men were busy going up and down the street. Occasionally he passed a woman on the street, usually with at least an abaya on but often with a niqab. In every case he cast down his eyes to preserve their modesty.
When he stepped inside the mosque he removed his shoes before stepping foot on the carpet. He turned on the lights and went into his office where he began reading from some of his books concerning Islamic scholarship. Jessica had paid for him to begin his religious studies. They had gotten married so that she could live with him and help him learn. She was already wearing the niqab at that point.
Together they lived a pious life. He had studied under some very conservative Salafist scholars on Jessica’s urging. At first he had not understood her instance that he follow such a course of study. Even though Jessica grew more and more pious under time and insisted that their own personal household was run in a Salafist manner, she opposed many of the political objectives of the Salafists. Jessica had explained to Razzuq that if he was going to help guide people alway from violent extremism he had to be able to talk to them in a manner that they could relate to.
Jessica’s own Islam was so admirable and yet so mysterious. She personally lived the ideal life of a Salafist wife. She focused her daily activities on the care of their children. She protected her modesty, preferring to remain in the home and out of the sight of strange people whenever possible. She even avoided coming to the mosque, citing the hadith concerning a woman who had spoken with the Prophet.
“O Prophet of Allah, I desire to offer prayers under your leadership”. The Holy Prophet said, “I know that; but your offering the prayer in a corner is better than your offering it in your closet: and your offering the prayer in your closet is better than your offering it in the courtyard of your house; and your offering the prayer in the courtyard is better than your offering it in the neighboring mosque; and your offering it in the neighboring mosque is better than your offering it in the biggest mosque of the town”
Jessica was willing to work with Muslimahs who needed advice on how to strengthen their Islam, but other than that she preferred the private sphere. However, it was not just the joy of living a life of a wife and mother that kept Jessica in their home. Razzuq often got the impression that Jessica was perceiving things that others were not. When she would completely conceal herself in black in their home, she was in fact opening herself up in a different way to Allah. Anytime she had a spare moment she could slip into a state that brought her close to Allah.
Eventually it was time for Dhuhr prayers. There were several worshipers present for them. After they had been performed one of the members of his mosque came to Razzuq to seek advice. They both sat on the floor of the prayer hall and discussed the issue.
“Imam, I have a problem with my wife. She refuses to wear the niqab. I have asked her several times and she refuses.”
Razzuq nodded but then spoke. “I understand that you most be worried about your wife. But you can not force her to wear niqab.”
“But Imam, in one of your lectures you stressed how good the niqab is for protecting a woman’s modesty.”
“It is good for women to wear the niqab. But remember, there can be no compulsion in religion. If any aspect of Islam is performed under compulsion then it has not really been performed. You must work on persuading her.”
“I see what you are saying Imam, but it is very hard. I wish she was like your wife, so pious, so devout!” Razzuq smiled knowingly. His wife’s reputation for maintaining the strictest purdah was well known in the town.
“Yes brother, she is very devout. Few take Islam as seriously as her. But I think it is unfair of you to expect your wife to change completely over night. I recommend that you wait a couple of days, and then try to explain the benefits in a calm way. Persuasion is best.”
“I will try Imam, it is just…”
“I was thinking…maybe if my wife could talk with yours. Maybe your wife could help her to understand.”
Razzuq nodded. “I see what you are saying. I will speak with my wife. She is always eager to help the sisters improve their Islam.”
“Thank you Imam.”
Razzuq resumed his studying and writing. Eventually her turned to his correspondence. Despite his youth, the solid accomplishment of his work had impressed many more senior people with clerical training. He had been in contact with Imam Hasin of Saudi Arabia for some time know. Hasin was interested in Razzuq’s work and had written wanting to know more. Their letters to each other had grown longer and longer and both men found they enjoyed the vicarious company of the other. In Hasin’s latest letter he indicated that he would be near to the town where Razzuq was serving as an Imam and would be interested in meeting him. Razzuq wasted no time in penning his reply.
Jessica watched dinner cooking through the eye slit of her niqab. Even though she preferred to have the gauze layer down over her eyes, for tasks where that was not practical she lifted it up. Her husband would be bringing the Imam Hasin and his wife Nuzha over for dinner before too long. Both Jessica and Razzuq were excited to have this opportunity. Hasin’s work was influential. If they were able to impress him with some of their ideas he might incorporate them into his work.
Ever since Jessica’s ordeal as a hostage and her escape with the help of Razzuq they had travelled on a path together. That path had consisted of many things. Of a mutual interest in striving to live in accordance with the will of Allah, of working to fight the terrorism and violent extremism that was erroneously committed in the name of Islam, and of a mutual love and devotion that had slowly but surely grown between them.
Jessica was not even sure when they had realized their feelings for each. It had gradually emerged before they married but only truly blossomed after their wedding. They had a connection beyond just love, they were both engaged in a mission from Allah. Jessica had helped Razzuq with his clerical studies and even to this day he often turned to her for insights on his work. In a way, it felt like an extension of her efforts to fight terrorists when she was a soldier. However, at that time she had only been fighting them with guns. Now Razzuq and her were fighting them with something far more powerful: ideas.
Jessica just finished dinner when her husband arrived with the Imam Hasin and his wife Nuzha. With the gauze now over her eyes she stepped forward to meet them. Hasin was a lean man with a long white beard and a measured but stern demeanor. His wife wore a black niqab that left only the slit of her eyes uncovered. Those eyes saw everything but made an effort to avoid being seen, Nuzha’s would only glance briefly at Razzuq when introductions were being made and like Jessica she remained silent so as to protect her modesty.
When they sat down to dinner the two Imams spoke at length. Jessica listened attentively but did not speak. Occasionally she would look at Nuzha, though Jessica’s vision was dimmed she could see an eagerness and alertness in those eyes. Eventually the meal was finished and the men retired to Razzuq’s study. The women went to a separate room and once the door was closed and locked they removed their face veils. Nuzha was a pleasant looking woman of middle age. When Jessica removed her veil she saw the woman’s face become stunned. She seemed to have been surprised that Jessica was a Western woman.
“Are you an American?”
“Yes I am.”
“I would never have guessed. You are so pious covering your eyes. Even my husband does not regard that to be necessary.”
“I like to live in as strict purdah as I can.”
“This is simply amazing!” Jessica smiled, both because she enjoyed the praise but also because she hoped that Nuzha would have good things to say to her husband after they left.
“I suppose you did not expect to find an American woman living in purdah in this town.”
“I would never have thought. May I ask, how did you come to this place. I assume you were not born a Muslim?”
“No, I am a revert.”
“Would you please share your story with me, I simply must hear it.”
Jessica told Nuzha some of her story but she left out much regarding her capture and the visions. That was for her to share with Razzuq alone. However, she did not need to share temporal facts to convey her transformation. Instead, she spoke of the joy she experience upon finding Allah. How she had married Razzuq and moved to the Middle East so that she could focus on improving her Islam. Her story was so moving that Nuzha was crying by the end.
When it was finally time for Hasin and Nuzha to leave the women put their niqabs back on and soon goodbyes were said. Afterwards Razzuq and Jessica spoke.
“I think my conversation with Hasin went very well. I think he was even interested in using some of my research for his next work.”
“How did you get along with Nuzha?”
“Very well I think.”
When it was late they retired to bed. Jessica reluctantly removed her niqab. She would wear it every moment of her life if she could but her husband did enjoy seeing her face so to please him she did remove it for bed. As soon as the sheets were over them they began to kiss passionately and soon they were making love. As Jessica laid on the bed, her husband on top of her, she thought of their first time making love. He had been shy and awkward, having come from a conservative, rural background he had not had the experience that Jessica had growing up in the United States. She had guided him along at first but over the years he had become more skilled and soon her bearded lover was able to satisfy her in bed.
When they were done he pressed her close to his body, one hand resting on the curve of her stomach. Razzuq had already made her the mother of three. Jessica was in her thirties and so once she was done nursing Fatima it was possible Allah would bless her with a fourth child. She already felt fortunate as it was with her son Khalid and daughters Aisha and Fatima.
The next morning she helped everyone get ready in the morning and soon her husband was off to the mosque. She was able to then spend the day in the company of her children. Fatima was still an infant so she mostly just required that her needs be taken care of. Aisha was three and was beginning to truly begin to perceive the world around her. Khalid was five and was already her little helper around the home.
When Fatima did not immediately need her attention and Aisha was busy playing Jessica used the time to tutor Khalid in preparation for when he would enter school. She taught him both Arabic and English to reflect his duo ancestry, they studied math and geography and of course they studied Islam. After Khalid had completed his work she put on a video for him. It was an animated education program about Islam. Although she was not making Aisha watch it yet the girl would often gravitate to it anyway as it was animated.
This day she was in her room playing though. While Fatima was still asleep and Khalid was occupied Jessica used this opportunity to spend some time with Aisha. She was playing with some veiled dolls and Jessica sat down to join her.
Eventually Khalid and Aisha had lunch and were soon in their rooms for their respective naps. While they were asleep Jessica took a now awake and hungry Fatima into her bedroom and after some adjustment to her clothes began to feed her. As Fatima drew milk from her body Jessica contemplated how she would have viewed this domestic life prior to her reverting to Islam. It would certainly have seemed strange. For most of her life Jessica had lived a secular lifestyle and had prized her toughness. She had never really thought about or wanted children. Now, she could not image a life without them, and her body which Allah had created to bare and care for them.
When all three of her children were asleep, Jessica slipped out into the walled off garden in her niqab. It was always a peaceful experience, she could stand outside, covered in black, and admire the majesty of Allah’s creation. Sometimes she would recite the Quran to herself, she had no need of a printed copy. Her experience in the mysterious other place had allowed herself to keep the entire revelation in her mind.
Sometimes she just stood in the garden and listened to the outside world. There were the voices of people walking down the street and the occasional more distant sound of a car. She had little interest in that world and relished the fact that she was screened from sight here within the garden, free to work on perfecting her Islam. She would occasionally travel outside but only to help her husband with something if he needed it.
Occasionally she did have guests over though. If a sister wished for her insights she was always happy to give it. A few days later she had such a visit from a woman named Maisa who needed help. Her husband wished for her to wear the niqab but she was not sure whether it was something she wanted.
“It is nice to have you over Maisa.”
“Thank you,” the woman smiled slightly. They talked a little bit about what was new at the mosque. Eventually they came to the topic of niqab.
“Jessica, why do you dress the way you do?”
“To please Allah.”
“But surely you do not have to please him that much?!”
“Tell me Maisa, do you think there is a limit to how much we should please Allah?”
“Well…no. But I don’t think we should have to completely conceal ourselves. I don’t understand why you, as an American have chosen to live the life of a Salafist.”
“Well, I would not consider myself a Salafist. I am very conservative and I encouraged my husband to study under a Salafist but I do not agree with everything he thought and nor did my husband. We are currently working on trying to reform Salafism to help correct some of the mistakes it has made so that we can help people fully live their lives in accordance with Islam. As for me being an American, I think it has helped me with some perspective. Do you know what I did before I was married to Razzuq?”
“I was an American soldier.”
“Really?” Maisa’s eyes grew wide.
“Yes. I actually fought violent extremists in another country. It was actually there that I had an experience that opened my eyes to Allah. I’ve seen some extremes Maisa. I’ve seen an extreme in the West were women do not dress modestly and morals are too loose. I have also seen another, much darker extreme where people are forced to live in a manner they do not want. I feel that the way I live my life is a balance in the middle, however that is just my perspective. We are all free to practice Islam as we wish, remember there is no compulsion in religion.”
That night, when Jessica fell asleep in Razzuq’s arms she traveled somewhere.
She found herself dressed in a shirt and her old army pants and boots, her dog tags hanging around her neck. She was in a desert, the crumbling ruins of Middle Eastern countries around her. This was more than a dream, she had momentarily left the confines of creation to be somewhere far grander.
The stone ruins may not have looked as magnificent as the elegant mosque that Jessica had traveled to so long ago. However, it did not have to be. The superficial exterior was not as important as what lay just beneath. Jessica looked around at ther surroundings, old stone buildings and a rugged desert. There was a stillness in the air. The silence was louder than any sound. The sky was bright, but dim. There was no sun in the sky.
Jessica walked along the rock covered ground. She was not in her niqab. Normally she would not feel right without it on. However, that was back on Earth. Wearing her niqab there helped her draw closer to Allah. There was no need to do so hear, His presence was unmistakable. This was a place without sin.
Jessica found a low piece of wall and climbed up onto and seated herself. A verse from the Quran came to mind,
“And efface Thou our sins, and grant us forgiveness, and bestow Thy mercy upon us! Thou art our Lord Supreme: succour us, then, against people who deny the truth!”
She thought about all that she had experience so far in her life. A journey that had taken her across continents. She was not granted any insight into what her future would be, she would discover that as the years continued to pass in her life. However, she knew that there was nothing for her to worry about. All would be taken care of by Allah.
This story is inspired by the TV series American Odessey broadcasted in the US by NBC. The photos in this story, except for the last two, are from this series.