Sûrah XX
"And loose a knot from my tongue..."


1. I cannot do this.

2. Will not do this; let a man, a fool, protect me.

3. One whose motives are transparent, fashioned clearly to despoil.

4. Like Pharaoh's minions, oh so obvious is this Franchone with his fondling—which corrupts by causing sleep to cloak misbehavior.

5. The evidence I feel between my legs with every step, the shameful discharge of iniquitous agitation.

6. Complex words. Yes, I know the English, Turkish, and Arabic for immoral thoughts and deeds.

7. The staff of Moses—by way of Allah's Might—proscribes them.

Unobserved, Z leaves the transitory safety lent by Franchone's dank apartment for environs even danker, fog at large through the city streets; a gray leviathan, wet and wooly, mute and lumbering, cool of breath, defines the mist infusing shivers into summer's sea-spawned breeze.

8. Debauched by greed.

9. Beware the precious-metal costumes worn by Westerners. All that glitters clothes America with a promissory sheen. It is no wonder people covet what their eyes mistake for riches.

10. Only Allah can inform them how they err, that wealth is meaningless, when compared to All Eternity.

11. Will they come, one day, to see?

12. Or will their lucre, like this fog, forever blind them?

High-born, privileged, Z once lived a life of luxury with her family

  • household servants,

  • personal dadi,

  • private tutors,

  • use of a chauffeured limousine,

a life she spurned in vocal protest out of principle, bred of guilt upon her recognizing opulence thrives on deprivation—noticed first on trips to her father's lush estate. An Eden, to her young mind's eye, "underneath which rivers flowed," the spacious grounds and fertile fields afforded opportunities... to till, to plant, to harvest, to feed her soul on fruits of labor far removed from urban enterprise and obsessions fueled by oil—its crude exigencies turning nations West to oblige voracious appetites, then to swivel, five times daily, to address the truth of Truths: a dismal fate awaits all knaves and feckless disbelievers.

Thicker still, the fog obscures a narrow corridor through what feels like an aisle of park... en route to nowhere, by appearances; flight has caused Z's path to veer; from Franchone's refuge she has fled to a sanctum of the self.

13. I am strong-willed.

14. Yet California tempts unfairly with its beauty and diversity. How discriminate right from wrong among such deviant points of view—be they attractive or bizarre, inclined to comfort or confuse?

15. A land of questions lacking answers is this Godforsaken state.

16. And slaves of Allah—the Exalted One, the Beneficent One, the Wise—withhold their tolerance for a people gone astray. For me, as well?

17. "Our revelations came unto thee but thou didst forget them." Yes, Lord. Guilty. "In like manner thou art forgotten this Day" of Judgment.

Lost, afraid, Z crosses streets patrolled by traffic lights that blink at programmed intervals, ever deeper midst the brooding murk that blurs the city's glare, the noise of revelers duly dulled like trumpets blown through mutes.

18. "And strain not thine eyes toward that which We cause some wedded pairs among them to enjoy"...

Beyond the narrow footpath Z traverses she hears moans.

19. "...the flowers of the life of the world"...

A pair, in silhouette, embrace, their coupling backlit by a sweeping beam of headlamps passing by.

20. "...that We may try them thereby."

Z stops short, averts her face.

21. "The provision of thy Lord is better and more lasting."

22. Is disgraceful!

Thus reminded of the flesh—and Allah's counsel—Z forswears.

23. I was asleep when I was handled; my transgression was imagined!

Unaware of any presence save their own, the lovers fuck, their grunts and groans a lewd assault on Z's emphatic chastity. Had she climaxed? Whether dreaming or dissembling she had nonetheless responded. Franchone's fingers had aroused her, irrespective staunch denials, her clammy panties unequivocal. Could her wounded womb have healed, its withered threshold—singed and seared—returned to carnal life?

24. "She who kneels before her mate will spare herself much labor," is a saying from my country, I recall. Is crude, but apt.

25. And yet my knees are not for kneeling, save to Allah. Wants are vulgar. Women bleed. Our blood reminds us that to couple is to spawn. For sex is functional. To forget this is to substitute vice for virtue. Of obsessions in America—youth and power and fame and fortune—sex is foremost. Sex rules everything.

26. Sex, of course, deserves its place. But those who worship fornication doubtlessly are doomed.

The moans subside.

Evoking Homa, Z continues, pulled invisibly toward the coast, her steps uncertain if inevitable, as compulsive as the tide, as prone to gravity's timeless tug as a shipwreck is to sinking.

Contradiction? Was it sisterhood or perdition that united Z and Homa? Could their minds have been so close without their bodies intertwined? Or were their bodies mere impediments that their spirits overcame the way ones Faith surmounts the realm of mundane Reason?

27. Pray! Submit! Is it not folly to inquire, among such atheistic people, after concepts Al Qur'ân explains by proofs beyond dissent?

28. Profound, profane? Each time I bow my head to Him, whose sight is Perfect, mine betrays me. All my visions seem mirages... empty ruins unattained. My love for Homa blown asunder, my convictions in a shambles, my religion called to question, my allegiance split, disdained, my family hostile, friends contemptuous, comrades screaming for my blood, while I, in exile, wander rudderless.

29. Aimless and alone.

Z halts, amazed. Illumined softly through the frosted night is a mosque-like, fairytale structure, white as lace and just as intricate in its filigree. Z approaches. Dew has carpeted vernal grounds; broad swaths of lawn and beds of flowers—forming symbols vague yet visible—share an over-spill of light, as does a stand of massive trees caressed by the building's aura.


"Ar - bo - re - tum."

Z sounds out the word and runs a memory check for meaning.

30. Is so beautiful, so like home and yet more splendid.

31. Like a dream.

32. Like when I close my eyes and think about our family's pristine acreage. I would garden with my father, those few times he slipped away.

33. How much he loved the land our kinsmen had bequeathed!

34. How much he suffered when abandoning his hoe for an attach— case!

35. Oh, Father, with your eyes so wise, how could you fail to see that East and West are incompatible—Middle East and West much worse—and that America, most especially, is an insult to Islam?

36. The earth foreshadows. Though technology is most wondrous when applied to Mankind's struggles, to apply it without guidance from above is surely vain. We live in Allah's mortal garden as a prelude to His Heaven. Can we hope to gain admission There if we desecrate landscapes here?

37. Religion humbles men and women who are otherwise disregardful. Much like children without parents, Godless folk will misbehave.

38. And misbehavior, as an adult, can be dire. Consider me. With ears gone deaf to Allah's Call, my life is forfeit.

On her knees, Z faces Mecca, brings her forehead into contact with the grass, performs al 'isha—strictly, raptly, undistracted by the air, the cold and damp of no concern, as she devoutly worships Him for Whom the self is but a shell to house one's soul.