The text messages on our family chat came in rapid succession.
“Khutbah was zabar10”
“How do you not know what zabar10 is?”
“Oh, then why didn’t u just say that?”
“Imam gave amazing khutbah your dad said. He spoke of how he went to visit a prison, and an 18-year-old came up to him and told him that he used to go to the Sunday School, and now he was serving a six-year sentence for drugs and what not. He had said that we shouldn’t tell children not to come to the masjid because this is what happens.”
By the time, I looked at the messages, I knew to know better, I chimed in, “So what?! That’s not going to change anything. I’ve been saying the same thing for 30 years. Because the imam said it all of a sudden, things will change. No way. They will go back to the way they were in no time flat.”
“They want to hire a youth director.”
I responded, “That won’t make a difference. That’s their way of solving all problems is throwing money at them. They don’t need a youth director. They need the parents to get involved instead of the dump-the-kids-at-the-masjid-and run. That’s not what you did. We didn’t have a youth director. We had MYNA [Muslim Youth of North America]. We did it on our own with our parents.”
I would never really know what happens in what I refer to as the “bougie desi masjid” except for the third person accounts i.e. hearsay. I only show up a couple of times in Ramadan before I have some encounter that makes me feel unwelcome there. Truth is I am just another mother with unruly children. Last Ramadan, I had someone try to move me while I was in the middle of praying because I was praying near the food line, because the masjid was packed, and there was no place to go. Like they cannot wait 90 seconds for me to finish.
The year before I was scolded for bringing a double stroller and not putting it in the right spot. Ramadan brings out the best and the worst. If one is the mother of three kids, it will bring out the worst, because I am the one that makes the geriatric center/Islamic center feel less posh when children are running around.
Muslims make up less than one percent of the population in Florida, but consist of ten percent of the prison population. The problem was not isolated. It was systemic. Muslims are overpoliced across the United States and are overrepresented in prison populations similar to other black and brown folks. The khutbah should not have been about one child that ended up in prison, but about the overall failures of the criminal justice system.
But the only person more unwelcome in a mosque than a mother with small kids is a lawyer and social justice activist. Sitting in the masjid and being meek will not do anything. We have to organize, become involved politically, and reach out to communities we have ignored for far too long. Coddling our faith in small corners while ignoring the flames of injustice, ignorance and poverty will not save us.
Meanwhile, two days after that zabardust khutbah, we set out to see the change brought about by the zabardust khutbah. On that evening, a woman pushed my five-year-old daughter to the side in the middle of the prayer right in front of me. We are already in the back of the masjid reserved as the area for those with small kids. Granted my daughter should not be running in the mosque in the middle of prayer. But granted she is five years old. The woman pushed her. Not very hard. But still a push.
Pushing someone else’s child never helps anything. I listened to her pathetic apology after the prayer. I did not say anything, because I wanted to hear whatever pathetic excuse she had before I spoke. I let her ramble, “I’m so sorry. My daughter is the same age. I understand. I’m sorry I pushed her.”
Then she hugs my daughter, sits her in her lap and rambles on some more, stroking my daughter’s head. I looked at her with disgust, because I was witnessing the classic abuse cycle of a child. Being berated, followed by a deep, meaningless apology. I told myself to be calm. And then I said:
“I don’t know you. And this is not what you do to someone who comes to the mosque who you see for the first time. What you did makes me feel unwelcome here. You are not supposed to treat kids like that. I don’t know why you would touch someone else’s child. You can see her mother is right here. We don’t need you to do anything.”
My case and point. The zabardust khutbah without any effect. Two days later in two seconds flat, things were back to the way they were.
Earlier that week, I was at the mussalah on the other side of town when a man told my 8.5-year-old son, he was not allowed on the men’s side. My son, being the eldest, is actually quiet and docile. He was going back to his dad and to get his shoes. He came back and said he was not allowed on the men’s side by some man.
Love to all the men who think parenting is supposed to only happen on the women’s side of the mosque. And love to all the women on the women’s side who cannot stand the sight of a child being a child.
So please reserve those crocodile tears about losing our youth for the 30 minutes of a Friday once a year and forget it about those tears at all other times. I carry a pack of tissues and diaper wipes at all times.