The knock comes in the middle of the day. Not an ordinary knock; rather, a loud, insistent pounding at the door accompanied with the gruff voice of the man who guards our building, raised and excited. For a minute I am not sure what to do. Mujaahid, my thirteen year old son, usually answers the door, but he is gone to the store downstairs to buy a few things for supper. I begin pulling on my hijaab, preparing to open the door just a crack and stand behind it, hoping to understand at least some of the man’s rapid-fire dialectical Arabic.
Before I can tie on my veil I hear my husband’s voice in the hallway. A few words, then a few more from the guard, and the door flies open. My husband runs past me to the bedroom and begins digging through his coat pockets.
“Have you seen my wallet?” he asks, his calm voice belying the quickness of his movements. “I need our papers.”
A bit frightened now, I start looking through the small file folder that holds our passports for the laminated copy of our ijaaza, our permission to be in the country. I hear the guard’s voice again, speaking to someone outside the door. I hear Mujaahid’s name, and instantly go into panic mode.
“What is it?” I ask, grabbing Khalil’s arm. “What happened to Mujaahid?”
He pulls the card out of his backpack and sticks it into his pocket.
“The police have him. They picked him up in the store a few minutes ago. The guard saw it.”
I sit down at the edge of the bed, holding a pillow in front of me.
“Why didn’t he do something? Say something? He could have stopped them. He could’ve at least tried to…”
“It was the police, Khadijah. He didn’t dare get involved, so he came and got us right away.”
The police. Growing up in Wisconsin, the police were the good guys, the ones you could trust to come if you heard a noise downstairs, or to help you out if your car stalled at the side of the road. Our local policeman knew everyone’s names and you could be sure that he kept our parents informed about what we were up to when he saw us at Todd’s Quick Stop late at night. I still had trouble understanding that in Yemen it was a whole different story. My friends from the inner cities weren’t surprised by the fear and awe in which many held the police, having experienced a similar condition in the States. But to me, it was something I had to get used to.
In Yemen, it is not unusual for the police to stop foreign men for no apparent reason and take them into custody, often putting them in jail and eventually causing them to be deported. Having papers is no protection against this, as if they decide you are leaving, you simply leave, no questions asked. The stories I have heard about the state of Yemeni prisons are pretty terrible, and they lodge in my mind as I think about my son being held in one.
Khalil runs out the door, and I hear him and the guard talking in hushed tones outside the closed front door. In a few minutes, their footsteps echo through the stairwell as they go down the four flights of steps to the bottom floor.
I do what I am becoming accustomed to, and wait. The baby I am carrying does a slow somersault and I rub my stomach, hoping to calm him down for a bit, anyway, afraid that the wild beating of my heart is keeping him awake. I wait, as the shadows grow longer across the bedroom floor, and I pray.
Eventually I hear voices again, not panicked this time, but loud and laughing. The door opens, and Mujaahid and Khalil come in. As soon as it is shut, I rush out and check to make sure he is whole and unhurt.
“I’m fine, Ummi, Alhamdulillah, No problem.” I turn to Khalil.
“How did you get him out?” He laughs.
“I didn’t get him out. The guard told me not to go to the station, that he was going to call someone to help us out.”
I look at him, narrowing my eyes.
“You didn’t go to get him out?”
“They said not to, in case the police took me too.” I file this away for further thought later.
“So how did you get out?” I ask Mujaahid. He looks at the ground, and Khalil tells me the story.
Apparently the police saw Mujaahid in the store buying vegetables and told him he had to go with him to the police station. Once there, they began to question him about his family, his beliefs, and why he was in Yemen. They asked him if he was Muslim, and he said that of course he was! Doubtful, they started to question him on that, so he sat down and recited Sheikh Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahaab’s “Thalaathatu al-Usool” for everyone in the station house. Apparently they were all thrilled to hear this, and he became an instant hero. They kept him there just to talk to him and apparently he left the station house with several new friends and admirers.
I sit and think about this for a long time after Khalil and Mujaahid leave to finish buying the groceries. In America we were vilified for our beliefs, our adherence to the Qur’aan and Sunnah and our religion, and our desire to live Islaam in every aspect of our lives. Here, this is what has saved us, Alhamdulillah, by the grace and mercy of Allaah. I picture my blonde, blue eyed son sitting calmly amongst the blue shirted policemen, sure of himself and his right to be here, and sure of his connection to these men due to the common thread of Islaam that ties them together.
I bow my head in thanks, once again, that we are able to live in this beautiful land of Islaam.