I met Aafia while I was working as a sales clerk at the M.I.T. student center. She was finishing her graduate studies at M.I.T. and would often sit with others at a table in the common area offering Qurans and tracts on Islam to whoever showed an interest. While I was on my lunch break I would go out and talk with her about her faith. She was a congenial young woman who always smiled and shared freely her thoughts about theology and science, particularly creation and genetics, two subjects which to her were inextricably woven together. Not having found many non-Christians who believed in God, or the Creation, I was interested in hearing what she had to say about Islam and its perceptions of the matter. When you talk to individual believers you often don’t receive dogma or theology as much as you do a personal witness to matters of faith and hope which have been born and nurtured through experience. She could have given me a small tract or a copy of the Quran (which she did) – yet she also gave me her time and thoughts, something far more valuable and intangible than that which might be measured against historical canons and doctrines. We crossed paths frequently and she would often stop in to give me something she wrote, invite me to gatherings of Islamic friends or just to see how I was. I still have all of her material on Islam, including essays on theology and creation as well as a one act play exploring the views of an atheist and a theist about genetics.
Aafia came in one day, dressed in the traditional clothing of her country
During the days and weeks following 9/11, while doing what many of us were doing – praying and trying to make sense of a world seemingly gone mad – I was watching the recurring news coverage of our entry into a strange battle with an ambiguous enemy. I had no faces or pictures to place upon this new threat other than the footage of terror played over and over again until it started to look like a scene edited out of a bad catastrophe film from the seventies. Below faint bomb flashes across a dim night time horizon on the television screen was the teleprompter feed giving breaking news about the war. F.B.I. officials were trying to locate several people suspected of having connections with al-Qaeda and the attack on the
The face that I was offered to place upon the effigy of our new collective fears was one of a friend with whom I’d discovered and shared a brief common bond of humanness. While I knew that much of what makes me who I am was being attacked along with others like myself, I felt I had little to be afraid of or uncomfortable about, yet still much to be saddened over. I didn’t lose anyone on the morning of September 11. No friends or family were caught up inside of that gigantic trestle of dreams and aspirations when it was struck, gave way and collapsed into itself, throwing off refractions and fragments of individual portraits. I didn’t personally lose anyone in
© emburke/ emberarts 2005