But dust

A passage from the novel Lead Us Not, which I was working on as time allowed between 2006 and 2010…

Never in my life have I considered putting my thoughts down on paper, but today something drives me to it. I had that urge in the middle of the service tonight as those words reverberated around the church: ‘The Lord remembers we are but dust.’ Tonight I made a covenant with Him, setting out to start my life anew. Tonight the depression will leave me. Tonight my childhood shall cease. Tonight I have made my resolve: these words shall be my witness. Continue reading But dust

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Hold fast

This is the first chapter of a novel entitled Hold Fast, which I was working on sporadically between 2007 and 2011

Beneath the grey and pale blue sky the air hangs with that heavy scent of sea salt upon mud, its odour rising whenever the cold January wind blows hard upon the flats and back towards the shore. Gone are the huge flocks of waders that had landed to feast upon thousands of creatures left behind by the tide three hours ago; they lifted altogether as a mass of black and white across the horizon, swirling away just as the waters did. All that remain are the grey plovers whistling to one another, ‘Tee-oo-ee, tee-oo-ee.’ Continue reading Hold fast

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And do not make them run away

You complained that your man was not religious, but at least he was kind. Now your husband is a zealot. One day we will hear you complain that this man made you hate Islam. Never will you ask what he meant when he said he hated your Islam, when you rejected his five prayers and his inconspicuous faith. Who knew you could read the hearts of men?

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Past Burdens

‘You may have convinced everyone else Sara,’ sneered Sajeda, ‘but I’m not persuaded by this sudden transformation of yours.’1

Blocking the entrance to the prayer room, preventing Sara from entering, she raised her right hand and jabbed it towards her heart. Forlornly, Sara looked back at the one person she had always respected and trusted; the words hurt her, but she did not respond. She glanced at the fair skinned Indian woman, her hair covered beneath a white cotton scarf; she was one of the people who had led her this way unknowingly, persuading her silently with her character that she needed to reform herself. It hurt that she seemed to view her with such contempt now.

‘After all your lies, your disgusting behaviour. Everyone else may have forgiven you, granted you a new beginning, but not me.’ She paused for a moment, searching for the words which described her feelings. ‘I don’t trust you at all,’ she concluded in the end when the words did not come.

‘Fine,’ whispered Sara, scared of the echo in the empty corridor. The soles of her shoes squeaked loudly on the polished white floor, glowing beneath the florescent lighting. ‘But Allah knows what’s in my heart.’

The sky dark blue outside and the Library now closed, Sara wanted to do her Isha prayer before she left the building, entering the cold, frosty air. She stepped forward two paces and the girl in the flower-patterned salwar kameeze finally moved aside. Sajeda watched as the door to the prayer room creaked open. ‘I’m watching you Sara,’ she said, a second before she descended the stairs from which she had emerged ten minutes earlier.

Alone inside the prayer room and seated on one of the worn mats on the green carpet, Sara began to cry. With one hand she unclipped the pin under her chin, with the other she pulled the black scarf from her head, heaping the cloth in her lap. ‘What’s the point?’ she whined audibly, ‘I can’t do this. I’m not strong enough.’

On the wall to her right there was a poster with Arabic calligraphy in gold emblazoned across it, its English meaning printed below in small uniform characters. She could not read it from her place on the floor, but the artistic curves were beautiful. On the opposite wall there was a large poster showing the Kaaba in Mecca, taken from one of the mosque’s minarets—a million worshippers at sunset, prostrating in white. Sara gazed at the golden words—words revealed on a dusty mountain top fourteen hundred years earlier—and then at the photograph of Mecca. It helped to empower her for a minute, bringing her back to feet; standing with her face towards Arabia, she restored her headscarf and prepared to pray.

A moment later she was heading down the stairs, uttering complaints against herself and then excuses. She would do her prayer when she got home, she said, once her tears had dried and she was in the mood to meet her Lord. The calm smile that had existed on her face before now gone, she took each step slowly until she reached the last. There, with the waft of cigarette smoke and scent of marijuana, a crowd of students emerged from the stairs to the basement, the bar emptying as the college shut down for the night. Sara followed them to the main doors, but held back at the top of the sandstone steps as they dispersed into the night.

‘Hey Sara, how’s it going?’ began a familiar voice drifting through the heavy glass doors behind her.

She turned to see Karen, looking dizzy, shuffling through, her eyes narrow and breath sour. Sara shrugged her shoulders. ‘I don’t see you around much these days,’ stuttered her inebriated friend, ‘What’s new?’

‘Nothing much,’ she sighed. ‘In fact, nothing at all.’

‘You don’t look happy.’

‘No,’ she said, ‘I’m not really.’

‘Thought you’d found faith. Thought everything was meant to be rosy now.’

Sara moved down the steps, one at a time, her old friend walking on her left. She shrugged her shoulders again. ‘Life is never that simple, is it?’

The sky above them revealed a couple of stars, outshining the city’s glow, and the moon was bright, lightening the darkness around it. There was no wind in the air, just a hanging chill. Sara pushed her hands down into the deep pockets of her thick winter coat and hunched her shoulders, a cloud of condensation spiriting through her lips. Beside her, Karen wrapped a multicoloured woollen scarf around her neck, hiding the shoulders of her blue denim jacket, and pulled a matching hat down over her ears. ‘I miss you, you know?’ Karen told her, ‘We used to have good times together.’

Stopping at the bottom of the steps, Sara looked into her friend’s eyes. ‘We had some bad times as well, didn’t we? I don’t miss them.’ Her eyes skipped towards the stone slabs beneath her feet. ‘Yes, I’m feeling down,’ she said, ‘but I wouldn’t go back to those days. No way.’

‘You make it sound so bad.’

‘Look,’ exclaimed Sara, suddenly irritated again, ‘all that rubbish just keeps coming back on me.’ Looking to her left, she saw Sajeda making her way out of the building. The sight of her moved her from Karen, her head bowing away immediately. ‘Whatever I do, it comes back,’ she yelled to her friend as she stormed away, ‘Yes, we had a few good times, but all I remember, all I’m made to remember is the detritus we called having a good time. Sorry, but I’m trying to start again here. Won’t anybody let me?’

Her way home followed almost the same route as Sajeda’s, but her anger forced her to make a detour in the opposite direction. The cold biting her, she skirted the Student Union building and emerged onto a hidden square. Her pace quickened, for the shadows of men meeting beneath the trees beyond the chain link fence frightened her. Every sound on her way disturbed her until she reached the sanctuary of the busy street with its cars passing by perpetually. The advice that female students should not walk home alone after dark unheeded in a moment’s anger, Sara walked quickly, regretting her sudden defeat.

  1. I found this fictional encounter in a folder on my computer called, ‘Fragments’. I’m finding some of these old fragments quite interesting, years after I put them there.
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The air in the prayer carries the beautiful scent of musk, its essence renewed by the dabbling of worshippers with the oils on the shelf after almost every ablution. Whenever the sun’s rays penetrate the porthole windows beneath the dome, bathing the burgundy carpet in their yellow-orange glow, the odour lifts and causes friends to smile at one another.

Continue reading Madrassa

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Miss Wheatcroft

Miss Wheatcroft, she’s a funny one. She’s a white Muslim like the artist formerly known as Cat Stephens except she’s a woman. When I say funny, I don’t mean she’s a comedian. One of my best friends is a white Muslim, I don’t have nothing against it and I don’t mean nothing bad. My friend, she’s a Salafee which means you have to wear short trousers if you’re a man, which she don’t because she aint a man, and you have to wiggle your finger at the end of the prayer, which my friend Aminah also does coz she’s Maliki and they do that too.

Continue reading Miss Wheatcroft

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