Cocooned Worlds, A Muslim's Journey
Cocooned Worlds, A Muslim's Journey
I was born in the Culver City section of Los Angeles. My mother was devoted and loving, very dedicated to religion and committed to doing her best to keep her family together. My father was not ready to be a husband or a father. He was careless, neglectful, unstable and very destructive. I had four older siblings, three sisters and a brother, all spaced two to three years apart. My parents divorced when I was around three. My oldest brother went to live with my father and did not prosper. He ended up in prison. The rest of us stayed with my mother who tried her best for us. She drove us to a private school some distance away. It was an Islamic school. I had a difficult time due to the many concerns at home that I was aware of. I played with the other kids, participated in class, did homework and extra work in art and creative writing. Aside from school, I remember cooking an omelet filled with cheese, having a pet named Wilbert, listening to rock music until I was numb, hanging out at the laser tag arcade and Penny Lane music. I took long walks alone and secretly built model ships. I loved to watch videos. I watched X-men, Alice in Wonderland, and The Sword and the Stone on television, and once, my mother took me to see Titanic. It was just me and ummi (mother) who went to see the film. I had developed a fascination with the history of the Titanic, and mother knew that. My family was Muslim American. My parents had converted in their teens. I was moved by watching my mother cling to the religion through her struggles by herself as a single Muslim woman with five kids. My mother made sure that we children knew certain chapters of the Quran. She would come sit on the edge of our beds at night and make us repeat after her the chapters for protection and guidance. I have remembered them over the years, and, in hard times, I cling to them.
When I was fourteen, the family moved to Kentucky. The reason was my mother wanted to tend her mother who had been diagnosed with lung cancer and was due to pass away. Also my mother was having a rough time paying bills and dealing with the family alone. She loved California and really did not want to leave. I disliked life in Kentucky and also wanted to go back to California. For one thing, there were real winters in my new home; I missed the beach and palm trees. My mother told me we would return as soon as her mother died. In public school I realized I was still interested in art. In 8th grade my English teacher read my whole poetry notebook to the class. In high school I had Melissa Goodson; she had a lot of faith in my artistic talent, and she understood I was having trouble adjusting to life in Kentucky. She told me I could be a great poet and to hang in there. I also became active in art class, painting, drawing and doing projects. School was a good place to be; I would hang out after hours talking to the teachers. However, my relations with my mother and siblings deteriorated. I watched my older siblings take advantage of ummi's motherly love. They did a lot of foolish things and would not take responsibility for their actions. Also my mother's family took advantage of my her gentleness. We moved continually. My ummi's mother died, but we did not go back to California, and fate piled on more hardships. My art work was stolen, I was hit by a car as it left a drive-through liquor store, my grandmother in California died, and my father didn't bother to tell me. I desperately wanted to get away. I looked through college magazines and dreamed of going to some beautiful campus and being successful there far away from Kentucky. My interest in practicing Islam had broken down, due to the influence of my siblings and no one encouraging me to care about it. When a jinn (demon) breaks up a husband and wife, Satan will tell that jinn to come sit near him because that jinn has truly broken up that home. I felt like I lived through a similar situation; my home was truly broken.
I decided to go to New York. I imagined I would be happier there and fulfilled; I had a romantic idea of things just working out there and life taking off. My mother was hurt but not surprised that I was leaving. New York was both wonderful and terrifying. I loved seeing Italian girls on Fifth avenue say “chao” and French girls say “bon jour.” There were models in their natural habitat. I fell in love at first sight and had my heart broken. I moved continually from one place to another. I thought about jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge. A few years later, I walked into traffic on Lexington and 60th Street while talking to my mother on the phone and suddenly the world went silent and seemed far away. I saw the driver of a car pressing down on his horn, but I heard nothing. I was hospitalized for a while. When I got out it took some time to figure things out and move forward with my life. The stress over the years had built up. Eventually, in 2013, I went to Kingsborough, and there I made a Muslim friend. He took me to the Muslim Students Association, and there I met other practicing Muslims from much stronger families than mine with both parents at home. Now I take courses at the college and work, and my interest in art has grown ever stronger. Kingsborough's Art Department was very therapeutic and encouraging, and I was able to get my first two publications at the college. It felt wonderful seeing my writing and name in print. I still need to take a math class to complete my Associates Degree in Graphic Design. Then I want to go to a four-year school for my bachelor's degree. Besides the writing I had art work in three or four shows at Kingsborough, and that felt healing. My Muslim friends at the college were so good to be around that I grew in my love for the practice of Islam. It felt strange to have this support from people who were not family. It was bitter and sweet at the same time. It made me wish I was family with most of them.
All artistic expression is powerful for me. It helps me free myself from the darker memories of my father. It helps me express my appreciation for my mother's struggle to do the job of a mother and father, to teach me the five daily prayers for protection. Creative writing helps me to say what I can't say otherwise and gives me freedom from the painful parts of my life.
– Muhammad Abdullah