by Maniza Naqvi
They come for us five times a day. The azaan goes off with a bang as the loudspeaker switch is flipped on. It's so loud—I feel like I've been electrocuted—and there's a white light that goes off in my head—then the call to prayer which would have sounded lyrical, reassuring, soothing and calming at a different decibel now tears apart any peace or calm that might have crept in, might have tiptoed into this cold institutional facility somewhere in the heart of the Midwest. But instead it's like a kick on the side of my head— by army boots. Then just as the deafening noise ends, the guards, come in with their own deafening numbing vocal assault. Muscular women, heads covered in tightly wound hijabs, clapping their hands harshly, screaming, “Let's go! Let's go! Let's go ladies!' As if they were the TSA security at JFK or Dulles. Only now, after all that practice we've had, and they have too, they're shouting at us and we're not going anywhere, we're here, in a prison compound, “Let's go! Let's go! Salaat time. Salaat time. Now!”
And we are all forced, forced to get up and go say our prayers…what we call Namaaz…, those of us who have been Muslim longer than our guards ever have been—they are all new converts, all young, all, from Chicago, New York, LA, Kentucky and Tennessee. They are forcing us to relearn what we have taken as a given: as our flesh and our bones and our blood. They are determined to make Moss—LEMS, out of us.
People like myself are forced to huddle and share quarters with people I would not mingle with in ordinary circumstances. We are different in every way from each other, but now we are 'people like us', we have been categorized and compartmentalized and yes imprisoned together because of our names, our origins and our religion. And the religion makes us a threat. All of us are considered now by law potential terrorists, waiting to go off. And so here we are with nothing much in common in this life, on this earth except a rivers of milk and honey concept of an after- life in heaven—and a law that considers us a potential threat.
We have been forced to give up our alive-living-breathing-active-lives for this hell. The lives, the ones we lived outside these walls, have been stripped from us. We are here, we cannot leave because they've built walls to keep us in, keep us here. We have been forced to give up our clothes, the ones we arrived in…our jeans, our skirts, shalwars and kameezes, our kurtas and churidars, and saris, our nighties, our bikinis and bathing suits, our business suits, our play clothes, our gym wear, our shorts, our dungarees, our bras and panties, whatever we were wearing at the time that they came for us—-and we have been issued prison uniforms, thoughtfully made for Muslim women. We must wear these uniforms—black hijabs over grey abayas. The privately run prison complex, one of many run by a Mega chain, is a franchised facility, and is advised by a consultancy firm in Qatar. Let no one ever accuse or reproach America for its insensitivity and disrespect for cultures and religions. The very expensive consultant is an expert in all things Islam. We can never be allowed to leave, there is money to be made, in our safekeeping. And to help this along, our assets, our Bank accounts have been confiscated and are under the management of a Private Fund set up for this purpose. It invests our assets and pays for the overheads of the cost of keeping us protected. Its a perfect self financing scheme.
They come around, walking purposefully, through the rows that they have forced us to form –this sisterhood of guards—-“What kind of a Moss-lem are you' An overzealous guard screams at me—”Fold those arms, now across your chest! Do it! Cover your head, sister! Inshallah. Jazakallah. “I said fucking fold your fucking arms! Don't try to teach me the ritual of prayer you little shit! Keep that up and I'll make sure we throw your ass out of prison and then make sure you show up in a shoot up somewhere as the perp! That's right—we will do it. So start praying, like I tell you to pray.”
We exchange glances, my bunk mates and I. Roll are eyes…this sisterhood of guards use the words Inshallah, Jazakallha, mashallah, as their badge of being Muslims, to prove they know the lingo. They have no idea what it means. “Inshallah the prayers are over!” —“Mashallah move, move move!”—Jazakallah—bitch–lights out or I'll mashallah knock the lights out of you!”
Sister, inshallah if you don't fold your arms across your chest, inshallah I will do it for you. Inshallah pray. Now!”
A woman say's something in Arabic. ‘What's that?' Screams a guard.
“It's a verse from the Quran.' Replies the woman.
“Inshallah' replies the guard.Alright! Inshallah!
The guard passes on and the woman says ‘I told her in Arabic to go fuck herself.”
In the first few days, there were those amongst us, who smirked as people like me were forced by the guards to pray, forced by the guards to keep our heads covered—”It's the uniform bitch! Keep that fucking head covered or I'll shave that hair you're so proud of right off your fucking head!”
But now our smirking sisters and I are weary. I yearn for the day that we may, do as we pray.
But for now, in this Prison Complex, an abandoned Native American reservation, we are all made to fast, made to pray, made to listen to lectures, made to read the Quran—by these prison guard sisters of ours.
It happened so fast. A shooting, a massacre. The name of the killer Osman Kareem. Riots in the streets, the ‘TakeAmericaBack' party out on a rampage, burning houses, targeting Muslims. The President called out the National Guard, then the Marines. She came on TV to announce that Muslims needed to go to the 'protection facilities' quietly and peacefully. That it was for our own good. We were rounded up for our own protection. We have no choice, she said. So we had no choice.
For our own protection. There was no choice. We, who have been deemed the primary threat in this country now interred for the threat that is posed to us, because we are Muslims, from Muslim lands, far away from here…our only crime, that we were here, in that moment, when they came for us, kicking in the doors, marching into homes, offices, beaches, shops, streets, cafes into our bedrooms, wherever we happened to be that day, when they came for us.