Friday, December 09, 2005

Quest for Redemption

This article was published on
Allah accepts the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; to them will Allah turn in mercy: For Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom. (Al-Qur'an 4:17)

When those come to thee who believe in Our signs, Say: "Peace be on you: Your Lord hath inscribed for Himself (the rule of) mercy: verily, if any of you did evil in ignorance, and thereafter repented, and amend (his conduct), lo! He is Oft- forgiving, Most Merciful. (Al-Quran 6:53)

Quest for Redemption

By Amani Jabbar-Esa

Human beings are flawed. This fact isn't the revelation of the century. Humans make errors, while Allah is incapable of fault. Allah knows that better than any human being can. This is why Allah gave us laws to govern our lives by. Allah's (God's) laws are clear and without fault, while human laws (just like humans themselves) are imperfect.The death penalty is an example of man’s attempt to punishment those who are believed to have committed heinous crimes. I suppose the rationale behind the death penalty is that those who commit these crimes have no right to live.The problem with the death penalty is that it is by no means evenhanded. More minorities are sentenced to death than whites. Black, Hispanic and Asians are greatly over represented on death row. According to the A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition, “Since the death penalty was reinstated in the 1980's, 40% of those executed have been African American. Prior to that, over 50% were African American.”[1]

The race and class of the victim also plays a role in whether or not the death penalty is used. The A.N.S.W.E.R Coalition also states that, “While African Americans are six times more likely to be murdered in California than whites, when the victim of a homicide is white, the perpetrator is at least four times more likely to get the death penalty than if the victim is a person of color.”

Additionally, many people are sentenced to deaths who have not committed the crime which they were convicted of. One such example is the case of Earl Washington. In 2000, Earl Washington, who was originally convicted of rape and murder, was granted clemency based on DNA evidence. This was after Washington had spent 16 years in prison.

And, of course, human laws do not take into account that people can, and do, repent and change. Allah says in the Holy Qur’an, “Allah accepts the repentance of those who do evil in ignorance and repent soon afterwards; to them will Allah turn in mercy: For Allah is full of knowledge and wisdom. (Al-Qur'an 4:17).” Throughout the Qur’an we are reminded of Allah’s supreme mercy. If a person commits a sin, and later repents with a pure heart, Allah will have mercy on him/her in the hereafter. Allah(swt)’s laws are free of flaws, and they leave room for change in a person’s heart, while man-made laws do not.Stan Tookie Williams is a prime example of a man who may have committed crimes in the past, but has also spent many years of his life attempting to right his many wrongs. In 1971, Williams co-founded the Los Angeles Crips. The Crips are one of the most notorious street gangs in the L.A area.

In 1981, Williams was convicted of murdering four people during two robberies, and was sentenced to death row in San Quentin State Prison. Williams has adamantly declared his innocence since his conviction. There has also been much controversy surrounding the fairness of his trial.

Since his conviction, Stan Williams has worked for years to end gang violence. He has written nine highly-acclaimed children’s books that warn young people about the dangers of gang violence. Williams has also founded organizations, such as Project for Street Peace, that attempt to deter youths from lives of crime. He has been nominated numerous times for the Nobel Peace and Literature prizes. He has written an autobiography, Blue Rage, Black Redemption, which has been nominated for a James Madison Book Award.

However, as I said before, man's laws are flawed. So, the last twenty years of Stan Williams’s life don't matter. What matters is a crime that he may, or may not have, committed nearly twenty-five years ago. Williams will likely be put to death on the evening of December 12, 2005. If I could speak with Stan Williams I would share the above verses of Qur'an with him, and remind him that only Allah (swt) can judge what is in the heart of man. HE accepts our repentance, when man does not.

For more information about Stan Tookie Williams and his clemency hearings visit these resources:


By Amani Jabbar-Esa

Wednesday, November 30, 2005

Natural Occurences

Natural Occurrences
By Amani Jabbar-Esa

The sweater is bluish-lavender in color, made of a soft lamb’s wool. Impossibly tiny—a reminder of how small human beings start out. Four miniscule mother-of-pearl buttons serve as a closure at the neck. The area along the neck and shoulders is knit into a tight weave, but the arms and body are woven in a loopy, loose pattern—a testament to the knitters talent. The tag inside proudly states, “From the needles of Naima.” Naima is my mother’s sister-friend, and therefore my “aunt.” Naima originally knit the sweater for my older sister, about 26 years ago. After my sister outgrew it, it was saved until I was born. I then wore the sweater for my appointed time.
My mother then put it away, perhaps she harbored a wish to have another little girl, but she was only granted boys. So, the sweater was saved for years—not long in geological time, but significant in the life of a human being.
The week before Hurricane Katrina pummeled the Gulf, as my mother and I were sitting in the living room of my parent’s home, my mother handed me the sweater without any pomp and circumstance. She simply stated, “You’ll need this in a few months.”
I was a little surprised, “Is this…,” I trailed off.
“It’s the sweater Naima knit for Sadiqua. Don’t you remember? You wore it, too. Now your baby can wear it.”
I did remember the sweater, not from my baby-hood, but from pictures and oft-told tales. Two of my older brothers now had children, and the fact that my mother chose to save the sweater until it was my time to be a mother was a little surprising. The gesture also held an uncharacteristic touch of sentimentality.
“What if I have a boy?” I asked the question not because I felt I would have a boy, but because I was suddenly at a loss for words.
My mother made a noise that was cross between a snicker and a cough. “You’re having a girl,” she announced.
“Ummi…how do you know that?”
“I can tell just by looking at you. You’re having a girl.” This statement enraged me.
My mother has a habit of assuming that she knows me better then I know myself. Suddenly I was determined to give birth to a boy, if only to prove her wrong. I held my tongue though; I was deeply touched by the gift of the sweater. What is it in human nature that makes us desire to leave something to our children? A good name, faith, money, homes, heirlooms…they all add up to a child’s legacy.

“Hello…,” my sleep clouded voice is answering the phone.

“Amani! Why are you still asleep?! Don’t you know that the storm is coming?” My

mother’s voice is like a douse of cold water.

“Where is the storm coming mother,” I ask sarcastically, “Is it coming to my house?”

“Look, turn on the news. We’re leaving in an hour if you guys want to come.” CLICK—

my mother has hung up on me, again.

I look at the clock it is 6:02 am. I reach over to wake Jibril, but I realize that I am in

bed alone.

“JIBRIL!! Where are you? What are you doing?”

I enter the kitchen. My husband is dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and jamming sodas

and snacks into our white Styrofoam “storm” cooler. There is no need to turn on the

news. It’s obvious that we’re leaving.

“What do you think I’m doing? I’m packing. We have to get out of here. This storm is gonna make landfall by tomorrow morning.”

I roll my eyes dramatically. Since when did everyone decide to be so preemptive?

“Yup…that’s the same thing they said about Ivan…Have you spoken to your


“Yes. They’re taking the I-10 to Shreveport.”

“I just spoke with my mother. They’re probably going to Florida.”

“Let’s go with them. I’m not in the mood to do battle on the I-10 like last time.”

I remembered the last hurricane season, when we had attempted to evacuate for Hurricane Ivan. My husband and I had spent 6 hours driving to Baton Rouge, and eventually turned around and came back to New Orleans, after the storm took a dramatic turn towards Florida. Mother Nature hadn’t even been kind enough to give us some rain to ease the stifling heat.
That night, upon returning to our nearly vacant neighborhood, a group of young men began to bang on our front door. They wore dark colored clothing, and one carried a stick. My husband had gone outside and asked what they wanted. They fled. We assumed that they were looking to take advantage of those who were fortunate enough to have a choice about whether to stay or leave.

I ran into our bedroom and took down my overnight bag. I began to cram in clothes, shoes, and toiletries. I then grabbed my wedding album from the top of my dresser, and our insurance papers from our filing cabinet.
I shower, and get dressed. I am somewhat surprised to discover that the top button of my jeans will not budge. Hadn’t they fit just a few days ago? I tried covering the ugly truth with a long t-shirt, but my belly was still visible. I then threw on a black and brown abaya; the long, loose over garment covered the evidence of my swelling belly and breasts. I was happy to be pregnant, but I was not happy to show the world my burgeoning body. I don’t look pregnant yet…I simply look like I had put on weight.
I begin to search the house for my husband again. I find him dismantling his computer and putting the tower on our dining room table.
“What are you doing,” I ask.
“I’m putting this stuff up in case it floods.”
Eventually, we had finished our meager attempt at preparing for the storm. As we left the house I passed our couch. On the couch lay the sweater my mother had given me just days before. A fleeting thought passed through my mind: Maybe I should take it just in case. I decide against it. I don’t like traveling with important things. It had been hard enough to convince myself to take the wedding album.
Upon arriving at my parent’s home—only a few blocks from my own—I was surprised to find that nearly my entire family had pulled together for this evacuation. For my father this was the first time he had ever evacuated for a storm. Upon entering we were assaulted by the din of my five brothers’ voices. My two sisters-in-law, niece and nephews were also there. I try to remember the last time we were all assembled together, but I come up empty. Yet, there is someone missing.
“Did you call Sadiqua,” I ask my mother.
“Yes. She is going with friends to Houston,” is my mother’s reply, “She must think this is an opportunity for a road trip.” I smirk. It is just like my sister to leave the rest of the family and opt for friends at a time like this.
I gradually become aware that my mother is staring at me. “What,” I ask, “What are you looking at?”
“Nothing…it’s just, your breasts are so swollen. They look like they got bigger since yesterday.” Leave it to my mother to say something embarrassing as though she is talking about the weather. I ignore the comment. “What,” she continues, “It’s only natural. Your body changes when you get pregnant. The baby takes over your entire body. It’s a natural occurrence.”
“How long will it take to get to Orlando,” I ask no one in particular, an attempt to end the conversation with my mother. I assume that we are going to my grandparents’ house.
“We aren’t going all the way to Orlando,” my father replies. “By the time we get there it’ll be time to turn right around and come back. I ain’t driving all the out there to stay a day or two.”
Soon it is time to go. We assemble in a circle outside, and raise our hands in prayer. My father leads the prayer; he asks for nothing more then that we return home safely. We all cram into four cars and start our caravan towards Florida—not Orlando, but Pensacola.
“The water level in the city of New Orleans has now crested since the failure of two of the cities levees,” an indifferent news reporter blandly states the facts of our city’s dire predicament.
“What does ‘crested’ mean,” my younger brother asks.
“It means that the water in New Orleans is the same level as the water in the lake,” I answer.
All fourteen of us are huddled in a hotel room in Pensacola, Florida. The television is tuned to CNN. As I glance around the room, I realize that each person present has a different expression. My husband looks pensive; he rests his head on his chin, and scratches his beard thoughtfully. My mother looks miserable—I can only imagine the thoughts that swirl through her mind regarding our city, what plans are formulating in her head. Her eyebrows are furrowed and her eyes are slightly red. Everyone is shocked and surprised by the condition of our city.
When we had gone to bed the previous night, Monday, we thought that we might be able to return home within a day or two. The storm had passed, and it seemed as though New Orleans’ luck with hurricanes would continue to hold out. Besides some wind damage, the city looked pretty good. Upon waking, we realized that the situation in New Orleans had gone from “not too bad” to indescribable. Since daybreak, we watched the water levels in the city continue to raise, people calling for help on rooftops and balconies, and the government’s haphazard rescue attempts.
The next morning we rise early to drive the rest of the way to my grandparent’s home in Orlando, FL.
Arriving in Orlando cemented something for me. It wasn’t until we were settled in my grandparent’s home that I allowed myself to shed tears over New Orleans. In a hotel room, it was easy to imagine that we were simply on vacation, but cramped in my grandparent’s home, twelve adults and four children, it became clear that this was no vacation—at least not one a sane person would have planned.
The scene continued to repeat itself, the same news footage, and the same phrases delivered dryly from the mouths the reporters that could care less about the city of New Orleans. “The situation in New Orleans is dire…Over ten-thousand residents wait in the Super Dome to be rescued…Many residents have turned to looting…” One day I erupted, “Aren’t you all sick of watching the same stuff over and over again. OK, the city is bad!! Haven’t you seen enough??”
“If you don’t want to watch it, leave,” one of my brother’s retorted. None of my family members seemed to share my outrage. They watched the footage again and again as if there was something new to be discovered.
I walked out of my grandparent’s living room, and my husband followed me. In the room that we shared, I began to cry, the kind of uncontrollable sobs that usually come from children and irrational individuals. My husband tried his best to comfort me with the usual--“It will be alright,” he said, “Don’t upset yourself.” I stopped crying abruptly—something felt strange. I strained as if I was trying to hear something, when actually it was something I felt. “What is it,” Jibril whispered. “I…I think I felt something. Like a poke from inside.” Suddenly, and just as fleetingly as before, I felt it again. My baby’s first movements. Then I was crying and also laughing a little. I know my husband probably thought I was a crazy woman. I explained to him what I felt, and he tried to feel it also, but I suppose the baby had tired itself out because I didn’t feel it again until several days later.
In those days and weeks following Katrina’s destruction, it often struck me how ironic nature could be. Nature could be overwhelmingly beautiful in its order…a newborn baby, a flower, a changing leaf…all of these were examples of nature’s beauty. Yet, it could also bring destruction, suffering and death. All of which were witnessed in the days following the storm. Yet…what did we expect? We all knew that New Orleans was a city below sea-level. Yet New Orleans’ levees were sub-par. A hurricane is a natural occurrence, just like pregnancy and childbirth are natural. It is up to man to prepare for nature’s wrath, as nature gives plenty of warnings. Like the nine months that I have to prepare my mind and body for a baby, New Orleans had plenty of close calls to prepare itself…yet when the time came we weren’t ready.
I learned two months after Katrina hit that my home would have to be demolished, and there was little that I could salvage. But one of the few things my father was able to pull from the wreckage was the sweater my mother had given me. To me it came to represent a starting over for me just as much as it would mark a beginning for my child.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Starting Over

Starting Over
By Amani Jabbar-Esa

It’s that time again. Ramadan, a month of fasting, prayer and reflection, is over. As Muslims, we believe our souls have now been laundered clean. So we will start from the beginning.
We have identical Qur’ans, green with gold embossing on their covers. Our blue ones are gone now, along with all our other belongings. But we have each other and our unborn child, he says. My husband begins. He reads Al-Fatihah: The Opening. The words are as familiar to me as my husbands face. . Bismillah-Ir-Rahman-Ir-Rahim Alhamdu lillahi rabbi alAAalameen…In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most merciful. Praise be to God, Lord of the Worlds…He recites the verses in Arabic, and then in English. I find the rhythmic rise and fall of the Arabic words soothing and the baby does as well. My swollen belly is still for now. I imagine my child craning his neck to listen to the words.
My husband commands Arabic as though he alone owns the language. His voice is sure and confident as he reads. His recitation lacks the awkward stops and stutters that exist in mine. Soon it is my turn. I begin the chapter Al-Baqara: The Cow. Bismillah-Ir-Rahman-Ir-Rahim…Alif-Lam-Miim... Thalika alkitabu la rayba feehi hudan lilmuttaqeen …I begin, In the name of God most gracious, most merciful…This is the Book; in it is guidance sure, without doubt, to those who are pious. The curling calligraphic Arabic script seems odd compared to the bold English translation. The guttural sounds of the language of the Qur’an are so different from the language that I use each day.
I understand little of what I read in Arabic. Jibril understands nearly all of it. We both depend upon the English to gain full understanding of the book. I look at my husband. The contented look on his face shows that he enjoys this ritual more than I do. His face is relaxed and a smile tickles his lips. When I stutter, he corrects me. "Don't rush," he says, "let the words flow." It is frustrating, but rewarding for us both. To him, the Qur’an is a secret that he wants to share with me. To me, it is a mystery that I yearn to discover.
As I read, my mind begins to wander, although I try to stay focused. I wonder about our baby. Will our child inherit my husband’s verbal agility with Arabic, or my love of English? I wonder if he will have my husband’s nose, with the oddly shaped nostril I have always found endearing. Our baby will likely have the soft brown, honey-colored skin, which Jibril and I share.
I yawn, despite my efforts to swallow it. It is only 5:45 A.M, and the white thread of light is not yet distinguishable from the black sky. Soon, we have read enough and we close the books. If we read a little after each Morning Prayer, we will finish just before Ramadan next year.
Jibril sits next to me and pulls up my shirt. Rubbing my belly, he places his ear on my stomach. I smile; we both know he won’t be able to hear anything. I look down at my husband’s face. I notice his beard and the two white hairs that crop up on his left cheek. He is too young to have gray hair, and I cut them out from time to time, when he lets me.
“Ya Habebee’een…qalbee’een,” he says in Arabic. Oh, my two loves… my hearts. "I can' wait to meet you," he speaks directly to my belly. I look around at our sparsely furnished room. We have little furniture, no decorations…yet I feel an inner peace is a contented feeling in my heart that cannot be manufactured.

Sunday, November 13, 2005

Looking at Emmett Till--Glaring at New Orleans

Looking at Emmett Till—Glaring at New Orleans

By Amani Jabbar-Esa

In his essay, John E Wideman speaks about the horrible 1955 murder of Emmett Till. Growing up an African-American, I also grew up aware of the horrific dehumanization of Emmett Till. I have also seen his picture, long ago in a documentary. However, unlike Wideman, the picture never “haunted” me. I suppose I grew up feeling “safe.” My parents instilled in me a feeling of self-worth and shielded me from most of the realities of present day racism. I guess I grew up believing that the days of lynching, disregard for black life, and blatant bigotry were over…and then hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans.

One day, several days after Katrina hit New Orleans, I sat watching the news. I found myself near tears, as I watched footage of the filthy conditions in and around the Super Dome. I continued to watch as they showed a young mother holding her infant child, and joining in a chant. “We need help,” was the crowd’s chorus. I felt as though I was viewing conditions in a developing nation. Could this be America? Could this be the very city that I had grown up in?

I began to vent to a friend of mine from New Orleans, over the internet. I can’t believe what’s going on over there, I typed. Can’t they get them out of there any
faster than this???

Don’t you get it, he replied, they don’t care about those people. This whole thing is racist!!!

Racist? The thought that race was the reason why the authorities weren’t coping with the Katrina faster had never crossed my mind.

Do you really think that they are leaving them there because they are black?? I felt incredulous.

Yes, he replied. Yes I do.

My friend’s comments stayed with me throughout the day, and continue to cross my mind from time to time. You see, my friend is Lebanese. He is gray in a country of white and black. I felt hopelessly naïve. In his essay Wideman writes, “Emmett Till dies again and again because his murder, the conditions that ensure and perpetuate it, have not been honestly examined. Denial is more acceptable to the majority of Americans than placing themselves, their inherited dominance, at risk” (33).

Immediately following Katrina, many reports came out of New Orleans about some blacks there developing a mob mentality, raping and looting in the streets. The New Orleans Police superintendent was quoted as stating, “"The tourists are walking around there, and as soon as these individuals see them, they're being preyed upon. They are beating. They are raping them in the streets."[1] However these reports later proved to be unfounded. Later the superintendent stated, “"We have no official reports to document any murder. Not one official report of rape or sexual assault." There is another example that was shown on television. The host showed one picture of a white couple taking food and supplies from a store and the caption said, “Couple takes supplies from store.” The host compared this picture to another that showed blacks taking from a store and that picture referred to the act as “looting.” As Wideman questions, “Does a photo document or fabricate an event? Is life composed of facts or a constructed fiction?”(47)

In the days following Katrina, the reality of some of the cities poorest inhabitants left to sit in their own filth for days was transformed. Instead of feeling sorry for these poor souls, many in the media twisted the truth and painted a none-to-pretty picture of petty violence, rape, and mass hysteria, where there was none. In the days following Katrina one might be lead to think, as Wideman states sarcastically, “Hey maybe black people really ain’t worth shit, just like you’ve been hearing your whole life”(36).

Many people died during and after Katrina. At least some deaths can be contributed to the slow response. It saddens me that for a moment in time lives were so “expenendable.”
As Wideman states, “Young black boys [ and woman and children] are still being cut down as relentlessly as Till’s murderers cut short his life—nobody’s fault, everybody’s fault a deep, deep fault that remains in our national psyche” (46).

No one knows if the response to Katrina would have been better if the victims had not been poor and black. All we can do is speculate and conjecture. However, as I read Wideman’s essay, this is all I could think about. I don’t know why many people, including my sister, where left without food and water for days. What I DO know is that this incident is a national shame, and as such it deserves to be examined, written about and, most importantly, not forgotten.

[1] Katrina: Rumors, Lies, and Racist Fantasies By Slavoj Zizek, In These Times. Posted October 31, 2005.

Saturday, November 12, 2005

Looking back

She threw the pants down as tears of frustration stung at her eyes. She looked like a 22 year old brat and she also felt like one. She had just recovered from an unbelievable fit of nausea. The throws of vomit had taken over her whole body leaving her neck aching and her throat sore. Afterwards she immediately called her mother, who soon came over.
“Ummi, I can’t fit into anything,” she spoke to her mother. She stared down sorrowfully at the subtle swell of her abdomen, the over-flowing fullness of her breasts. She was rounder, softer and more emotional than usual.
“What did you expect,” her mother responded. “You’re pregnant. That baby is going to take over your whole body…didn’t I already tell you that,” her all knowing mother wit was at times too critical to swallow.
“I know… I’m only three months,” Amani began searching for something else to wear.
“Let me see that stomach,” Ummi stated as she pulled up her daughters t-shirt, exposing small, round belly. She began to push and prod at The Belly, staring at it inquisitively.
“There’s nothing wrong with you…it’s only natural,” her voice began to take on a softer tone.
Amani began to wonder what it was she had expected when she embarked on this journey to motherhood. Did she just expect a positive EPT and nine months later a cherubic baby would come from the stork, with her eyes and her husband’s keyhole nostrils? No, she wasn’t that naïve, but everyday she discovered things that no one had told her about. Yes, this baby was indeed taking over every inch of her body. From the swell of her breasts, sudden explosive growth of her nails and hair, to her sudden fits of nausea at some moments and unending hunger at others. She knew that this was just the beginning and she was somewhat scared and ashamed of her fear. Each month would offer her many more joys and sorrows and she was beginning to know and accept that fact.
“Let me help you find something,” Ummi found an elastic waist skirt, and an oversized tunic.
Putting the pieces on, Amani realized that she didn’t look that bad.
This was three months ago, before hurricane Katrina took away Amani’s home, and material things. She is not alone. Nature is cruel at times, and it doesn’t discriminate. Amani often looks back on that afternoon. She yearns for a time when her biggest worry was the swell of her belly and what to wear. She is six months along now, and what was once a soft curve is bordering on a basketball-sized mound. Impossible to hide or ignore. Soon the life growing within her would have to face this world, whether it is ready for him or not.
Now her biggest worry is how to care for the growing baby inside, instead of how to clothe the baby she once was.
© 2005 Amani Esa