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Imam Tahir

This is from Part 35 of “NakedGirl: the Story of Dareen”. He’s introduced in a long scene in Part 18.

She was wearing her burka, of course, and her veil. Jamal was in his best suit. When in Rome . . . after they entered and they left their shoes with everyone else’s, he meekly separated from Dareen with a nod and went to the men’s side. She had forgotten to tell him about having to separate but he took it in stride.

Imam Tahir seemed tired. And then when he saw Dareen he was very definitely nervous. There was that glint of recognition in his eyes, in fact everyone knew it was her -- Dareen Alkaras, a/k/a “NakedGirl”, the scourge of Islam and the hottest topic in mosques these days. Dareen had never gone mosquing in a veil, at least not here, but when you see lots of women in veils you become able to recognize any person just by their eyes.

The Imam’s sermon was about being tolerant while still following the right path and not the wrong path. He spent a lot of time talking about his main example, correcting a child who makes a mistake. Be loving but still be clear. Maybe Dareen was being paranoid but it seemed like he was talking about her and everyone knew it. It was more of a “conservative” topic than he was used to speaking on and she imagined the Grand Imam had someone here watching him. She felt bad for Tahir, this good and kindly man. Under pressure just because of her. After all, NakedGirl was from his congregation. But what else could she have done? From time to time she turned in Jamal’s direction, a couple of times meeting his glance, and she could tell that he was thinking similar thoughts.

It was the after-service coffee time that was the hardest. She introduced Jamal to her friends Mojgan and Hari. It was a little awkward to bring a man back behind the counter but it would be rude not to do otherwise. Her friends greeted him but there was not much that anyone felt comfortable talking about. Mojgan and Hari smiled sympathetically and shrugged, motioning towards the people milling around in front of them. Dareen whispered, “Call me. I’m lonely.” With a little smile.

Back in Jamal’s car, Dareen took off the veil and shook her head. “Oh Jamal, I hate what’s happened. I’m an outcast now. I used to love going there. I needed it, it used to be so soothing to be part of, once a week, looking forward to being with my people. And Tahir is so good. Now I can’t go.”

Jamal tried to put the best face on it. “He didn’t say anything about NakedGirl.”

Dareen rolled her eyes. “Of course not, Jamal. Not with me there.”

Remembering the American flag he had seen displayed so prominently outside the mosque, Jamal said, “Your brother is a U.S. citizen who is stationed in Iraq. It’s important for the people in that mosque to be true Americans and they know you’re from a good family. The NakedGirl thing is just a shock, that’s all. They’ll come around.”

It was clear even to Jamal, of course, that it was more than just a shock. Modesty, especially female modesty -- this was a basic tenet of Islam, as he knew. After Jamal’s failed attempt at comfort, they drove across town back to his apartment in silence.

The next day Dareen got a number to call from Elly. Elly had gone back to the old apartment and patiently sat through the dozens of messages on their answering machine, mostly from reporters which she didn’t write down. But the most recent message was from Imam Tahir and it was for her to call him to set up a time to see him during his office time at the mosque.

* * *

“Thank you for coming, Dareen, I know this is a difficult time. I wish I could say more about it, I’m an Imam and have been trained to have words for any occasion, but I can’t think of how to put it.” Imam Tahir’s “desk” was actually a folding table with some boxes of papers on one side, filled mostly with cards with names of his congregation. He and Dareen were sitting across from each other on metal folding chairs. His office was very spare. Three shelves of books, a big stand with an open Koran on it, rugs on the walls, and that was it.

“My heart is pure,” Dareen said. “I have not strayed.” She looked down. “No matter how it looks.”

“I’m not questioning that, I know you, and I’ve met your parents, you are a good girl, honest, smart, with your own mind, which I still think is a good thing,” Tahir said. He was clearly under stress, the stress of a mid-level bureaucrat under pressure. “In fact this appointment was not requested by me. I was told to speak to you. I will get right to the point. There have been calls for a fatwa and the Grand Imam and his council have agreed to issue one.”

A fatwa. That rarest of things, an official ruling as to what Muslims were to think, similar to an “ex cathedra” pronouncement from the Pope. The regional council hadn’t issued a fatwa in decades. She had read about the council’s fatwas once in one of the monthly newsletters. The last one was in 1963 after the Birmingham church bombing and it pronounced racial segregation “an abomination before Allah” and ordered Muslims to shun businesses that hired only whites. There was one a few years before that, about whether Muslim women should exercise the right to vote. The issue was highly contested but the council finally decided yes.

“Well,” Dareen said, looking down, “there’s not much doubt as to what the fatwa is going to say.” She looked up, her eyes wet. “I’m going to be banned, right?”

Tahir wanted to be more comforting but resisted. “You should not assume that. Because the Grand Imam and his council want to interview you first. That is a good sign. I’ve been assigned to tell you that you will be told of a time and place when the Imams will gather. It will be in Charlotte.” That was where the Grand Imam’s mosque was.

“I will go.” Not that they could do anything to her if she refused, aside from simply banning her from mosques. After all this was America. Still, nervous though she was at being questioned by the Imams, Dareen welcomed the chance to explain herself. So she said, “And thank you. Here is where I have been staying.” She gave Tahir two numbers, one for Sherry’s apartment and one for Jamal’s.

As she was about to leave she had a terrible thought. “Imam . . . What if I am on mission? As . . . ‘NakedGirl’?”

Tahir seemed to spring a migraine headache. He covered his eyes. One of the council Imams had brought this up as a “worst possible scenario”.

“Call them before you get there. They will arrange it so that you are behind a screen.”

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