Wednesday, 1 February 2012


Source: Open Library
This was my birthday present to myself two years ago, but I only started and finished reading it recently. Alhamdulillah, it's just the kind of book I was looking for to start off another reading year. Something for both the heart and the mind.

I was drawn to this book because I've always been curious about the Muslim Americans. I consider myself very blessed to befriend Puan May. She is one of the most dedicated Muslimah I've ever met. She moved from the US from to Malaysia many years ago after marrying a Malaysian entrepreneur. So far she has helped setup an Islamic kindergarten, began learning Arabic, enrolled her son into a tahfiz, and currently pursuing an online Master degree in Islamic Studies for University of Madinah.

The US is now home to about 2 million Muslims. When your own country and its people aren't fully supportive of Islam, often challenging and questioning your faith, you start hold on tight to Islam. This is one of the many reasons why converted Muslims are sometimes more determined in their practice of Islam compared to born Muslims. Allah reminds us in chapter Al Ankaboot verse 2,
Do the people think that they will be left to say, "We believe" and they will not be tried?
In Zeitoun, writer Dave Eggers chronicles the true events that spiralled out of control during and after Hurricane Katrina, one of the largest natural disaster to have struck the US in recent history. Abdulrahman Zeitoun, a Syrian-born American and his wife Kathy thought the hurricane would be the biggest test heading their way that fateful September in 2005. They were very wrong.

I don't much about what happened during Hurricane Katrina. What I heard was there were many allegations about mishandling in the rescue and recovery efforts carried out by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). This book details just a small portion of what went wrong.

As Hurricane Katrina ripped its way through Florida and Louisiana, Abdulrahman did what he thought was the right thing. He was a business and property owner, but importantly a husband and a father to three small daughters and a teenage stepson. He sent them to the nearest relatives while he looked over their house.

Elsewhere, chaos was spreading. The numbers crimes including looting, murder, and rape escalated to an unprecedented level as the state drowns in water and disorder. The mayor of New Orleans declared a mandatory evacuation order to the citizens of the city for the first time in history of the state. Thankfully, Kathy and the children made it safely to her family's house in Baton Rouge after a gruelling and tiring trip.

Abdulrahman knew that floods was a possibility so he took the second-hand canoe had bought years earlier out of the garage and put it inside the house. As he retreated to the second storey of his house, Abdulrahman thought about the destruction around him. He just had to go investigate. The canoe turned out to be the perfect transportation for him to move around in the flood.

His decision proved to be a blessing to a few people. Abdulrahman found a few elderly persons who were unable to get out of the area quick enough and had gotten trapped. A few dogs were left in the houses by their owners, starving. With the help from a few friends and neighbours who stayed behind, Abdulrahman did what could. Until they ran into FEMA.

One of the concerns of the US government during Hurrincane Katrina was stopping so-called terrorists hiding within in the US from taking advantage of the chaotic situation. The US Army along with FEMA, paramilitary forces including security firm Blackwater, and other government agencies were sent into crisis areas to look for suspicious persons and activities. They ran into Abdulrahman and his friends at one of Abdulrahman's rental houses and immediately thought they in possession of some stolen goods. This was when Abdulrahman's real nightmare began.

For two weeks, Abdulrahman was held in a mini Guantánamo Bay, a makeshift prison right in the middle of the city's bus terminal, before being shipped and imprisoned at a correctional centre. Kathy fought to free Abdulrahman, but due to nature of his detainment, he was nearly listed as a classified detainee, which meant his name couldn't be found easily in the records.

Abdulrahman's story reveals a new side to America's war on terror, that even Americans aren't safe from being hunted down and detained. He was detained on suspicion but he was treated as though he was a convicted terrorist. And was not the only one. Many others, Muslims and non-Muslims, were falsely charged and detained without any evidence. And angering them even further was how their released was poorly managed by the authorities.

Despite the horrifying ordeals he had to endure, Abdulrahman remained a steadfast Muslim. The adverse conditions and a cramped dentention cell never stopped him from performing his daily solat. He paddled his canoes to houses where there were starving dogs and fed them food he from his home. I'm reminded me of the hadith about the person who earned the right to enter heaven after he or she gave drink of water to a thristy dog. Dogs may be considered as impure animals in Islam but that doesn't mean Muslim should deny them of kindness.

Abdulrahman's wife, Kathy, is equally iron-willed. She has her share of struggles in her attempts to remain a good practising Muslimah, especially when she is new to the religion. Her family repeatedly told her to take off her hijab whenever Abdulrahman was not around because they thought she was wearing it for her husband's sake. But this and the other incidents did not deter her from holding on to Islam.

I think it's quite a shame that many people haven't heard of this book. I'm also glad that with book, the voice of the American Muslims is slowly gaining attention. People like Abdulrahman and Kathy Zeitoun, and Puan May, and Imam Suhaib Webb remind me that despite everything that is going on in the global political stage, the US is also home to many of our brothers and sisters in Islam.

Source: Creative Muslims


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