Al-hamdu’ilah, my younger brother has returned home from Afghanistan unscathed, at least, physically unscathed. (My younger brother told me that everyone suffers from post-traumatic stress syndrome to various degree after being in a war zone. Some, of course, suffer more than others). He had been over there on deployment as an artillery specialist in the Army, and his tour of duty in the destitute, war-torn province of Kandahar lasted about a year, give or take a few weeks. Allah saw it fitting to return him home. He now holds the status of being a war veteran, and though the circumstances of the war in Afghanistan – and indeed war itself – are anything but glamorous, I’m proud of him nonetheless. And I’m ever grateful to my Lord for allowing him to come home alive and well. After having lost my mother back in October, I don’t think I could have handled losing him too.
In fact, he had to deal with lots of red tape just to get home for my mother’s funeral.
“I need to take some leave.”
“Didn’t you just have your vacation? Why?”
“Cause my mom’s f*cking dying of cancer, that’s why! I need to get home before she dies!”
“Oh! Well, you gotta have the Red Cross send a message, otherwise we can’t let you go.”
“How long is that gonna take?”
“Could take a week or so.”
“Man, she’ll be dead by then!”
[He made it to the funeral, but he didn’t make it to see her last breath.]
During his tenure there, he saw some…interesting things, like I knew he would. However, some things even caught me off guard. (I’m going to break my tradition of not expurgating dialogue. Even I have my limits…)
“You know what the motto is here, dawg?”
“That women are for babies and that animals and children are for pleasure.”
“Wait a minute. Huh?”
“Nigga you serious?!”
“Dead serious folk. For some reason, they like donkeys dawg, male donkeys. Not even female donkeys, as if that would make it any better. It’s the most disgusting thing I’ve ever seen and smelled. I threw up one time. And the chai boys man. Don’t get me started on the chai boys.”
“Chai boys. You mean the little boys that those dudes…”
“…yes. That’s exactly it. I saw this one dude with a chai boy on his lap and I came this close to…”
“Why they call’em chai boys?”
“Cause they serve chai tea. And they also get…”
“Oh my God! Damn! That’s like some sh*t straight outta Kite Runner.”
“Man, you have no idea. And I’m not even telling you the half of it. I don’t know. I guess it’s an Afghan thing.”
“I can assure you, it ain’t no Afghan thing. Those people weren’t always like that.”
“Well, they sure as Hell are like that now. And you know what? Some a**hole tried to tell me that bestiality is part of Shari’ah law. That Islam supports bestiality.”
“Fo real folk! I was like, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty sure it does not‘.”
Let me indulge a bit in describing my younger brother to you because he’s quite the character, masha’Allah, having been forged fatherless, like I was, in the furnaces of the Tan Yard and Mayfair and having been tempered by the austere rearing of my martinet mother and grandmother. I don’t think my mere words will do him justice in the least, but I hope to give a scant picture of him for this entry. I seldom doubt people chance upon individuals like him: he’s one of those souls where, if you meet him, you’ll never forget him for as long as you live. Believe me.
In many ways, he takes after me and likewise take after him; we’re a classic example of the siblings mimicking each other. Like me, he’s profane – more so than myself actually, if you could believe it – and sarcastic – way more sarcastic than me – to the point where sometimes you just want to slap him. Like me, he’s a Southern without the dialect: we both talk “proper,” “non-accented” English, like “how White people talk,” a charge our peers in the hood launched at us while growing up. Like me, he’s all things nerdy: video games (I’m so gonna own him in Marvel vs. Capcom 3 when he gets it!), graphic novels, anime, cartoons, etc. Like me, he virtually has no filter and no tact whatsoever, a candor which makes for some hilarious shenanigans. Like me, he’s sincere and genuine, a product of my mother no doubt, who, like Holden Caulfield, disdained all things phony. But unlike me, however, he possesses a sense of humor that only Allah could have been created: he’s a very funny fellow, one who turn almost any situation into a good joke.
Two Desis and my younger brother walk into a Publix. The eyes of an old White women follow them accusingly, stares them down. People are abound, hustling to and fro.
“What the Hell are you looking at lady?!” says my brother aloud. The people halt what they’re doing and look. “This ain’t no damn circus show! This ain’t no damn freak show either!”
The old woman scurries off into the store.
And like me, he’s also a Muslim. He converted to Islam two years after I did at the age of sixteen while still in high school. I like to think I was a conduit for his accepting Islam so readily: my younger brother always looked up to me, and to large extent, I think he still does. That he decided to take on such a monumental task at such a young age, even against the auspices of my mother, who was, at the time, not happy with his decision, should be enough to earn one’s admiration, but what’s all the more admiring is that he remains a Muslim to this very day, despite the hardships of being Muslim in the Army without any support from other Muslims besides myself and a few close associates. Given the geo-political climate and the stereotypes about Muslims in the media (especially in conservative media circles since most people in the military are conservative), I’m sure you can imagine what those hardships might be.
“We can’t let you go to the mosque.”
“Why not? I have to go to the mosque for Juma’ah. It’s part of my religion.”
“You might turn on us.”
“Hold up. I might do WHAT?! What the f*ck are you talking about?!”
“Well, I mean, these are YOUR people. You are one of THEM. You might betray us.”
“What the f*ck do you mean these are MY people? Yeah I’m Muslim, but I’m an American b*tch.”
“Here ya go.” [Hands my brother a plate of bacon and eggs.]
“Sir, I can’t have bacon.”
“Cause I’m Muslim. We don’t eat pork, so I can’t have that sh*t.”
“Y’all don’t eat bacon? What’s wrong with y’all?
“Look, do you have anything other than bacon?”
[He hands my brother a piece sausage.]
“Sir, what the f*ck? I can’t eat this either.”
“This sh*t is made of pork too!”
“Sausage is made of pork too?”
“Oh my God! You know what? – just, uh – I’ll just take the damn eggs.”
…and of course, there’s always the trials of dealing with stupid people in general…
“I’m gonna start taking protein shakes after I work out.”
“If you haven’t been taking protein in the past, why would you take it now?!”
“…because protein is good for you?”
“Have you ever tried crack?!”
“So why the f*ck would you try protein?!”
“…” [Silence, quizzical expression on face]
Apparently, protein shakes are equivalent to crack in the Army.
What perhaps you can’t image is that the tribulations actually come from both sides of the fence, from the faces of Muslims too. Upon hearing my young brother is a Muslim in the Army, many Muslims, mostly Immigrant Muslims, ask me why he would join the military in the first instance.
“As’Salaamu Alaikum, brother.”
“What is your name brother?”
“Oh! You are a convert. Masha’Allah. (I’m not White or White-looking so the “masha’Allah” is usually half-hearted). Do you have a Muslim name, brother?”
“Yeah. ‘Anthony’ is my Muslim name.”
“Oh. Uh. That’s good. Uh. Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“No sisters. I’ve got two brothers, one older, one younger.”
“Are they Muslim?”
“My older brother isn’t. He’s Catholic. My younger one is Muslim though.”
“Oh! He converted as well!? Masha’Allah (once again, half-hearted). So, what do they do?”
“My older brother is an electrician. My younger brother is in the Service.”
“He’s in the Army?!”
“And he’s Muslim?!”
“Really?! It must be really hard for him. Why the Army?”
“He needed money for school.”
“But there wasn’t anything else he could have done?”
“I’m sure there was. But brother/sister, I’m from a poor family. And you don’t have a lot of options when you’re poor.”
“Yeah, but I’m sure there’s other stuff he could have done. You didn’t try to stop him from joining the Army?”
“No. I encouraged him in fact. He saw the military as his best option at the time, and I wanted to offer him my support.”
“But brother, don’t you know what they’re doing over there? They’re killing us!”
“I know very well what they’re doing over there, but I wanted him to go all the same.”
“I don’t understand. Why?”
Sigh. “Maybe you’re just not meant to understand…”
“You know he’ll never get married, right? No one will ever want to marry a Muslim who’s been in the military killing other Muslims.”
“You know, I’m beginning to think that might actually just be a good thing. He might be better off that way…”
I hear many Muslims speak out against the wars, against the the atrocities therein, but when it comes to the complex of which thrives off of the young, the minorities, and the poor, which sucks them into the military bases with promises of money and healthy insurance, the same voices are silent. In the entire time I’ve been Muslim, I have only heard two Muslim leaders even mention the military-industrial complex, and those were Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Zakir, may Allah preserve them both. The whole institution is convoluted, replete with competing arrays and labyrinthine intersections of government and private interest. Poor people – people who don’t have access to decent education, people who can’t afford health insurance – are caught in the middle. Some see the Services, like my brother, as a means of getting an education, of breaking the cycle of poverty, so they become the strong men of the State, evincing both the wills of greedy, corrupt politicians and equally avaricious defense contractors and oil tycoons. It sucks, but you do what you gotta do.
“You know Anthony, can I tell you something?”
“Go ahead man.”
“I know killing other Muslims is haram and all that stuff, and I didn’t join the Army to do that. There are some crazy mothaf*ckers that do that sh*t though, but not me. You know me man: I don’t wanna kill anyone, especially other Muslims. If there was another to get money for school, I’d do it. But man, I feel like I don’t have a choice. I mean, I could’ve done better in school, like you, got scholarships and sh*t like that, but – man! – nobody ever told us about college, or the SAT and ACT, all that stuff!”
“That’s ’cause they didn’t expect ya’ll to go. Poor niggas generally don’t go to college.”
“That sh*t sucks, dawg! Now I’m stuck in Afghanistan doing some bullsh*t work. And NOBODY knows what the f*ck we’re doing here.”
“Look man, the whole situation is complicated; it’s way bigger than you and me. You just do what you gotta do, keep your prayers as best you can manage, and remember Allah. Alright? It seems every Muslim convert has to go through some crucible. I’m still going through mine. Maybe Afghanistan is yours. They say that the more severe the test is, the more Allah loves a person. So who knows? Maybe Allah loves you more than me because of this big a** test you got on your hands, and I’m the one that showed Islam in the first place! I could certainly see that.”
[We both laugh.]
In any case, I’m just glad my brother is home. He’s officially seen more of the world than me, more of humanity, more of Muslims, both the good and the bad. He’s always looked up to me for me being “the smart one.” Now it’s my turn to look up to him.
“As’Salaamu wa’Alaikum, my nigga! Man, it’s good to hear your voice and it not be from some crappy satellite phone in Afghanistan.”
“Wa’Alaikum salaam mothaf*cka! Man, it’s good to not to be in Afghanistan period! It feels good to be back.”
“I love you man. For real bro. No homo.”
“I love you too bro. No homo.”