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God and the Girl

26 February 2013 No Comment

Photo Credit: Samar Ghattas

Dima Saleh
Ramallah, Palestine

“When she awoke from her dreams in the morning she struggled with her fear of punishment by God, for breaking the rules and imagining him.”

***

She has known him since first grade. On the first day of school, she asked two of her classmates if she could play with them. To her surprise they asked her, “Are you Muslim or Christian?”

The question was as difficult for her as comprehending political jargon would be to a non- politician. She wondered to herself, “Muslim or Christian? Christian or Muslim? What do these two words mean?”

In her little mind she quickly pondered and decided to choose one of the words. She said, “I am a Muslim.”

One of the two girls replied: “Then, you can play with us.”

She sighed in relief, pleased that she had passed her first test at school.

She didn’t realize she was living in a land formerly known as Mahdia State and now known as the State of Sudan. She also did not know that Al Sadek Al- Mahdi followed the footsteps of his predecessor Jaafar Al-Nimeiri and implemented his vision of Islamic Sharia Law in the state.

During the period of Omar Al-Bashir, she was at the age when she was capable of understanding and sensing the social climate around her. She would look at the long, loose shirts and wide, loose pants matched with veils worn by government school girls. She felt disconnected from that experience, until the private school she went to was ordered to close by government officials, because girls and teachers did not follow their interpretation of an Islamic Sharia dress code.

Photo Credit: Samar Ghattas

Two weeks of school closure went by, and ultimately, students and the teachers had no choice but to accept the government dress code policy to be able to return back to school. Although she was a foreigner, she had to follow the same rules, and so she put on the long dress and veil when she arrived at her school’s door.

As the girls were not happy, they were determined to take action and rebel against what they felt was a restriction on personal freedom. They designed a different uniform and came up with creative uses of the headscarf; some used it as a fashion accessory around the neck and some used it as a belt around the waist!

She went home to her mother, looked her in the eyes and said, “Mum I want to know – am I a Muslim or a Christian?” With a smile and a surprised look her mother answered, “Muslim, but why are you asking this question?”

The young daughter explained that she was asked this question by two of her classmates and that she felt great that she gave the right answer. She asked, “But what is the meaning of a Muslim or a Christian?” Their conversation continued:

Mother: “People around the world have different religions, such as Islam and Christianity, but you are still young to be asking these kinds of questions. At your age it is enough to believe in God.”

Girl: “Who is God?”

Mother: “God is the creator of the universe.”

Girl: “What does he look like? Where is he?”

Mother: “God is in the sky and no one is allowed to imagine what God looks like, so don’t do that again, my dear.”

Girl: “Am I in trouble for asking? Is he going to punish me for trying to imagine him?”

Mother: “No, dear!  You are still young and God doesn’t punish children, especially since you didn’t mean it!”

Photo Credit: Samar Ghattas

On that significant day, she knew God and could not stop herself from thinking about him.  She also remembered that it is not permissible to think about or imagine him. He is the one who created the earth and the entire world!

She could not stop thinking about God and at night she dreamt of him. Once, she saw God as the sky, and once the fire, and another time as a huge great creature, but she could never see his face clearly. When she awoke from her dreams in the morning, she struggled with her fear of punishment by God for breaking the rules and imagining him!

For a long time, she was occupied by an obsession with imagining God, despite her repeated attempts to expel the thoughts from her head. During that same year, a new thing happened in her school life.  Her school took a new approach to teaching religious scripture and decided to divide students twice a week, when Muslims were placed in one class and Christians in another.

In the beginning, she didn’t pay much attention to the class divide, but she quickly became annoyed by it, because she was separated from her best friend Dalia for two hours each week. She felt sad and wished that there was one God for all the people. She wondered, “Why is there a different God for every religious group? What if all the Gods negotiated and agreed to have one God or one president?” She wasn’t old enough to understand the idea of God and different religions.

When her scripture teacher said that God can see all people on earth, her innocence and curiosity made her speak out, “Oh, it is impossible to believe that God can watch every person on this earth!”

Like a volcano erupting, her teacher yelled, “Ask God for forgiveness or you will be one of those people who he will be sending to hell!”

That night she could not sleep. She imagined herself burning in hell many times over, and apologized to God until sunrise.

As long as she stood on the terrace and looked at the sky perhaps she would see His face. Was God a person or a human? No one taught her what he was.

As time passed by, she solved her problem of imagining God and began to picture Him as sitting in the dark behind a desk in his office, which helped her to oust any forbidden images from being drawn in her mind.

God is the Creator who cannot be imagined.

***

More by Dima Saleh:

Butterfly without Fins, A Novel from Palestine

“Heik E7na” (We Are Like This): Some Sketches from My Society

Pardon Me, My Daughter, Who Is Your Guardian?

Dima’s Blog (in Arabic)

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The views and opinions expressed by the author do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Peace X Peace.

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