Yasmeen.

** Warning; The poem below touches on ideas of religion and culture that may be sensitive to some readers. I advise those who choose to read this post proceed with an open heart and an open-mind to the thoughts of others. However, if you feel as though this may be something you’d like to avoid, by all means do so. I love and respect everyone who takes the time to even to consider my blog so, regardless of your decisions, I will humbly appreciate your feelings and perspectives as I know you would all do the same for me. **


Yasmeen

Bismillah, ir-Rahman ir-Rahim

In the name of God,

most Gracious, most Compassionate.

 

There is a story

my mother tells me

about my grandmother

coming home from Pakistan

when I was two

with gifts for the family.

 

Silk and satin and

embroidered khusas and

Salwar suits and

Haldi powder and

at the bottom of the bag

Fair and Lovely

bleaching cream.

 

Beta,

She’s a little dark

don’t you think?

Pause.

 

Fast forward and

I’m now five years old and

I’m in the first grade and

everyone keeps calling me

by my nickname –

 

everyone calls me

by my nickname

because my mom made a mistake

on the registration form and

the teacher thinks it’s easier and

my friends name is Hannah and

that translates to ‘favour’ and

‘grace’ in Hebrew and

I don’t even know

what my name means.

 

So, I stick with the nickname

only to wince when

I hear the name

Yasmeen

come from the lips

of my grandfather when

calling me for dinner.

 

I’m five years old and

I’m at the kitchen table and

I ask him to pretend my name is Paris

because “I think it sounds prettier.”

 

Beta,

why would you want us to call you that?

Pause.

 

Fast forward and

I’m thirteen years old and

I’m sitting in a Catholic Church and

my aunt is getting married and

I’m looking at the stained glass windows and

the music is so pretty and

suddenly I feel like crying and

I want to be a Christian,

I think.

 

So, I go to tell my mother

that when I think

of being Muslim

it makes my heart hurt

during the middle of the reception.

 

I’m holding my cousin’s rosary

because the beads feel right

on my fingertips and

I go to tell Mom what I think and

she swears under her breath and

knocks the beads from my hand and

tells me “stop talking about things

you do not understand” and

then we drive home in silence.

 

Yasmeen,

What is wrong with you?

Pause.

 

Fast forward and

I’m sixteen and

I’m wearing my Salwar suit and

I’m kneeling in the Masjid and

everyone around me is crying and

the headscarf I’m wearing is itchy and

I’m mouthing prayers

that taste like salt in my mouth

at my own grandmother’s funeral.

 

So, when people come that night

for chai and evening dua,

Asking me how I feel and

why I haven’t cried,

I do not say a word.

 

I rarely speak and when I do

Arabic syllables stumbles off my

tongue like an unwelcome guest:

I get embarrassed and

I feel like locking myself

In the bathroom and

scrubbing and

scrubbing and

scrubbing myself

until the brown

washes out of my skin.

 

Beta,

Why do you seem so out of practice?

Pause.

 

Fast forward and I’m sitting here now

Trying to think of

where I went wrong

all these years

of trying to do my best.

What did He not see in me?

 

They say that

He loves you and

watches you and

and protects you and

cherishes you and

Guides you and

all the other things

that Gods are supposed to do,

but let me ask you God:

What have you done for me?

 

Because In all the years I’ve spent

lathering myself in bleaching cream and

pretending my name is “Paris” and

praying to stained glass windows and

scrubbing and

scrubbing and

scrubbing myself raw,

I have still never found your presence in me.

 

But still,

I’ll recite the prayer again in my head,

replaying the same

words I have heard since

I was two years old:

Bismillah, ir-Rahman ir-Rahim

In the name of God,

most Gracious, most Compassionate.

 

I’ll keep praying and

praying and

praying and

praying and

maybe someday

You’ll find me.

 

Ameen.


 

Prose:

Now I understand how this piece may be jarring for some people – trust me, it was jarring for me too. I didn’t really realize how badly I needed to write this until I actually did, and then as soon as it was over it was like it never really happened. Documenting the things I’ve heard, the things I’ve felt, the things I’ve considered never felt so real. If there’s any explanation, or perhaps even advice I could give towards this piece it would be this: please note the difference between an absence and a lack of understanding of something in someone’s life. In my case, that would apply to the influence of religion in my life, but for others that can mean anything. I think that that was an important realization that I’ve had to come to over the last few years of my life, and that is what helped me propel myself into this blog. I do not believe that there is an absence of religion in my life, I only feel like I can’t possibly understand it.

 

I guess my inspiration for this initially came from a simple CPU personal response that I published onto the blog over the Christmas break where I talked about my mother and the experiences I’ve had with my culture and religion. It felt right to post that blog – to honour my mother and explain her efforts to educate me on the things I could not possibly understand about myself, however a small part of me felt like I wasn’t giving it everything I could have. I wasn’t sharing everything (which, rightfully was okay as it was only a personal response blog), and so I guess this poem is my version of giving the whole truth. It is the truth of my thoughts and my feelings in the most questionable moments of my life, as well as the honest responses I received in some of those moments. It hurt me to write this – to admit to all the insecurities that have come from my lack of understanding of religion – not an absence. I don’t think people realize how hard to feel like you don’t really have an identity. Growing up not really knowing who you are makes understandings of things like religion and culture so much harder for those who aren’t really sure where to lay their roots. These ideas were ones that I explored at the beginning of my grade 12 year and I have battled a lot in the most recent months as I navigate my way to university and a life beyond my beloved high school.

 

Let it be known that I love my religion. I love my name. I love my mixed heritage. I love my family. I even love my God, but I’d be lying if I said that I always felt this way. I have spent my entire life clawing at a sense of understanding I have never been truly able to find, so it would be a complete lie to say that I have always relied on these components of my life to guide me to where I am today. In all honesty, most of these things weren’t even there to begin with. I didn’t always love these things, but that wasn’t mean I hated them either – I just couldn’t understand them. I was alone for a very long time, and so I’ve learned a thing or two from bleaching creams and nicknames. Stained glass windows still catch my attention, I learned the majority of my understanding of Islam from instagram posts, and I pray on towels in my bedroom because I’m usually too scared to use a prayer mat. These fears, these insecurities still exist in my life, even if I can manage to hold a conversation in Arabic or with only a couple stutters.

 

I know He is in me, somewhere deep down under a jumbled mess of teenage angst and westernized ideals, I know He’s there somewhere. I also know that there are plenty of people in this world – and even in our school – who feel exactly as I do: lost in certain aspects of their life, whether it be their culture, their religion, their grades even. So, let me be the one to come forward to say that it is okay to feel scared, and it is okay to not believe or not fully comprehend yourself the way others expect you to.  It is okay to feel however you need to feel on the way to finding yourself. Just because you don’t understand something doesn’t mean that you’re lost. It simply means that you just aren’t ready.

Please remember that.

With love, 

Yasmeen.

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5 thoughts on “Yasmeen.

  1. Amazing. Simply amazing. Thank you for this, I feel like it was something that you have been thinking about for so long, and the way that you have posed your concerns are beautiful. Not only do you write with such raw power – you make me reflect upon my own beliefs and thoughts about my name. Thank you so much for writing this <3
    ~Areeb

    1. Of course Areeb, I’m glad this piece could allow you to reflect on yourself. Keep staying as wonderful as you are <3

  2. ***
    As someone who grew up in a strictly religious household and often struggled with my beliefs, this poem really spoke to me. Thank you for sharing it with us <3

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