Many types of Muslims gather in “Halal If You Hear Me”—“the sisters of every color,” from the United States, Pakistan, Somalia, Egypt, Malaysia, Tunisia, the United Kingdom. They are women, queer, genderqueer, nonbinary and trans. They write about prayer, kinks, love, belief, identity and the many ways of being Muslim. Editors Safia Elhillo and Fatimah Asghar have created a community on the page that is so far from the narrow view shown in media that it may be unrecognizable to readers without connection to Muslim worlds. Elhillo says this is the community she didn’t know she could dream of, where her child-self could have blossomed. Fatima Asghar invites us to join in, “Let us create a poetics that recreates the hamaam, where we can come in our real, naked skin, sit in the water and talk openly.”The writers present different perspectives of faith. Aisha Sharif writes “My Islam be bean pie black, / sisters cooking fish dinners / after Friday prayer black,” while Ladan Osman says “Paradise is to ask whatever you like. A tea with God.” Sheena Raza Faisal’s god is “so type B,” a liar, fickle, a breaker of promises, but “still, there is no god but God / so i make do with this one” and Zeina Hashem Beck writes “Sometimes heaven is when I’m away from you, god. / Sometimes heaven is only the two of us.” In Randa Jarrar’s essay on BDSM, she describes her Islam as “more of an identity than a practice,” but to be a believer is to submit.
This is the third volume of Haymarket Books’ popular “The Breakbeat Poets Anthology Series” and another hit in the making, for readers of the Muslim diaspora, people with Muslim families and anyone interested in listening in on a contemporary conversation with writers from the fastest growing religion, around two billion worldwide.
If I could go back in time, “Halal If You Hear Me” is a book I would give my mother when she was young, when she had no idea how to navigate life as a brown woman with a hidden Muslim side, in a hostile environment where she was often harassed. How wonderful to be in this space, to be “just seen… just be heard… be celebrated.” (Toni Nealie)
“Halal If You Hear Me”
Edited by Fatimah Asghar and Safia Elhillo
Haymarket Books, 186 pages, $19.95
Fatimah Asghar and Safia Elhillo read and discuss the anthology on April 14 at 6pm, Women & Children First Bookstore, 5233 North Clark, (773)769 9299.
Toni Nealie is the Literary Editor of Newcity and the author of the essay collection “The Miles Between Me.” A Pushcart Prize nominee, her essays have appeared in Guernica Magazine, Rust Belt: Chicago, The Rumpus, The Offing, Essay Daily, Chicago Quarterly Review, Hobart, Entropy and elsewhere. She worked in magazine journalism, politics and PR in her native New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Singapore and now edits, writes and teaches in Chicago. Find her at toninealie.com and on Twitter @tnealie. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.