Gender & Identity, Life

I tucked the Libyan revolution under my breath

For those three weeks, the gravity of my own mortality hung heavy on my shoulders. I was constantly whispering prayers.

Jasmine Riad’s previous work for Coming of Faith can be found here.

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Photo: AP

I became more religious during my three week stay in Libya to visit my in-laws. I wore darker and looser clothes to blend in with the more conservative clothing choices of the women. On the car radio I would listen to Quran recitations and Islamic lectures on one of the many stations airing the religious programming. I participated in Ramadan worship with the overwhelmingly Muslim-majority country as it broke its fast and prayed as a rare, unified entity.

I didn’t feel like any of these outward, ritualistic forms of worship contributed to my newfound religiosity, though. The religiosity wasn’t even necessarily spiritual. It was a desperate religiosity. One that I grasped and clung to when I became aware of my own mortality, as I wondered how and why I was spared the horror and depravity that had inflicted other humans, just as mortal and vulnerable as me.

For those three weeks, the gravity of my own mortality hung heavy on my shoulders. I was constantly whispering prayers under my breath because I had nothing else to say, and didn’t know what else to do. I found myself muttering the curses and blessings of the revolution under my breath.

On roads in a city with no real government capable of enforcing safe driving laws, I visualized high impact collisions any time I got into a car. It would happen like in the movies: we would be talking about something trivial, perhaps what we would eat for  breakfast tomorrow. Then, mid-sentence and in slow motion, an SUV would crash into the side of the car, glass shattering, blood splattering. Except I didn’t know what to visualize after that. So whether on an errand to the local supermarket or a road trip to a faraway city,  I would utter the shahada, declaration of faith on car rides. I made my tongue wet and brain fresh with those words every few minutes, as I waited for the moment a negligent driver trying to drive across the opposite side of the road would surely crash into the side of our car.

The Allahuakbars, God is greater, were for every time a zooming truck, indifferent to any speed limit signs, flashed passed us without harming us.

Bismillahs, in the name of God, were an oral embodiment of my paranoia. When I didn’t know if booming sounds in the distant sky were fireworks for the Eid holiday or the gunshots that were rumored to be quite frequent and common now that guns were highly accessible in a post-revolution Libya.

Alhamdullilah, all praise is due to God, embodied relief and the placation of the violent rumors for each time the booms were just fireworks. Alhamdullilah for the contentment and peace in standing on the sidewalks, admiring the exploding colors in the night sky while drinking a hot cup of almond tea.

Hasbi Allah wa nama al wakeel, a prayer for justice in this life or the next, when I would sit with my in-laws during late hours of the night and listen to graphic stories about Gaddafi’s cruelty and frustrated political discussions of post-revolution corruption and incompetence.

Allah yerhamhom, asking God to have mercy on their souls, when we would drive through Tripoli Street. Bullet holes were still visible in many of the street’s buildings. Broken glass windows remained shattered. Mismatched paint attempted to cover up blackened buildings from explosions during the revolution. Walls of buildings graffitied with the names of martyrs to honor the fallen, ensuring their souls were still tangible and visible to the city they fought for.

AuthubilLah, asking for refuge in God, upon hearing of the tragedy of two young friends, rebels who had fought against Gadaffi during the revolution. Both were drunk and weaponized when one accidentally shot the other, and when he took him to the hospital he put the gun to the doctor’s head and manically begged him to save his already dead friend.

SubhanAllah, glory be to God, upon seeing the red-orange desert sky scattered with silhouettes of date palm trees while flocks of birds circled above the city of Misrata, from the rooftop of my in-laws’ home.

InshaAllah, God willing, for when people recognized things were difficult now, and would be for a long time, before they got better. But they would get better, inshaAllah.