A Pakistani-American family man is driven to extremes in this complex, conflicted novel about what it means to be a Muslim in America.
About the Book
Raised in urban Jersey City, Musa is the typical American father, focused on his family and career. Yet after the tragedy of September 11, 2001 across the Hudson in New York City, his life has been plagued by distrust and racism toward his religion.
As a Pakistani Muslim, he is constantly on the defensive with current events, co-workers and authority figures, until he meets Wasim, a doctor who becomes his confidant and mentor. However, this new friendship, which promises to lead him on a path of new piety, may be more dangerous than expected.
Jahaada is a multi-layered psychological thriller of what it means to be a Muslim in contemporary America. Musa only wants the American dream for his family, but he ends up almost destroying those he loves the most.
First Few Pages:
Before I even met my wife, I wanted a daughter. Sons grow up to become men and husbands, while daughters are the all-important wives and mothers of the world. When we knew our first-born would be a girl, my excitement surprised even my wife, Aisha. Yet I knew the day would come when I would disappoint my daughter. She would see that I'm not her hero. Her innocent love would be lost. But I didn't think it would happen at six years old.
We saved over a year for this trip, a birthday surprise for our daughter, Zohra, whose name means blossom. We packed carefully, but one toy, her favorite, is missing. I've looked under every crevice, all the closets, but I cannot for the life of me find her toy.
I run out to Mike’s minivan, where the long faces of my family stare at me. Mike, my co-worker and friend, is sitting patiently behind the wheel. My wife looks like she’s concealing her frustration, but the children’s eyes are wide and optimistic.
“Did you find it?” Zohra asks.
“No, honey, I don’t see it. We should go. We’re going to be late if we don’t leave soon,” I explain, defeated.
“Yes, that’s a very good idea. The lines are going to be so long. You don’t need another toy. Your bag is full of them,” Aisha says.
“Daddy, please. It’s my zebra, my favorite zebra. I was going to sit next to it and play with it on the flight,” Zohra pleads, unbuckling her booster seat. “Daddy, I know where it is now. It’s under my bed. I’ll get it, please, Daddy?”
“No, we must go, Zohra. Mike is kind enough to drive us to the airport, and…” replies Aisha.
“Please, Daddy. Remember last time, when you never found my baby dinosaur at the playground? It’s gone forever, and I don’t want my favorite zebra to be lost, too,” pleads Zohra, causing me to regain momentum.
“I will look one last time. Under your bed and no more,” I say. My soon-to-be-seven year old smiles joyfully. Sometimes I think I fear the wrath of my daughter more than God. Our two year old, Haider, yawns in his car seat, oblivious to my dusty sweat and anxiety. Back inside our brick, split-level Jersey City home, with a mortgage I try my best to keep above water, I dive under the pink bed skirt below Zohra’s pink comforter.
Dust bunnies, as my daughter calls them, don’t actually have long ears or a fuzzy tail. They’re clumpy bits of a mysterious grey substance with stray dark hairs and fragments of white paper, which tickle your nose. I blow a few away in this cave beneath the bed. I find a penny, a legless pony, an old grocery list and a purple tissue paper flower with a green pipe cleaner stem, gathering in a corner. I remember when Zohra brought the flower home from school. She gave it to me as a gift, and I cherished it by placing it on my bookshelf. I’m not sure how it made it under here, and the zebra is still missing. Brushing off the grit from my pants, I think of some excuses for my daughter: I looked everywhere. I’ll buy you a new one at Disney. You can have ice cream at the airport for my failure.
Before leaving our house, I perform a final check-through, which Aisha calls my OCD leanings. All the lights are off, the stove and oven are off. Our living room bay window is locked. The light sensor nightlight in the playroom is plugged in, and the timer is set for a small radio tuned to a local talk radio station to ward off burglars.
I bend down to look under the child size sofa for no apparent reason. The zebra, the one I want and have been searching for nearly an hour, is tucked underneath the right side. Rescuing it, I kiss the toy creature because now we can leave a happy family. I run out of the house, the hero of the day, almost forgetting to lock the front door. I raise the fuzzy, black and white zebra, which can sit on its hind legs, in the air like a trophy. My daughter screams with joy, while my wife speaks without words that our daughter is completely spoiled.
“The line looks like a long cobra,” our daughter Zohra says enthusiastically at Newark Airport, which causes her younger brother to squeal with joy.
“Yes, it’s quite long. Let’s stay together and be good, you two,” Aisha replies.
I’m happy. I’m with my family on summer vacation. We’re going to Disney World in Orlando, Florida. Zohra and Haider are bouncing off the walls, they are so excited.
After twenty minutes in the stifling security line, I just want to get on the plane and depart for our trip. Aisha is holding Haider, who is restless for his nap. Zohra, my angel, stands patiently with us, carrying her rhinestone pink purse, wheeled carry-on and backpack. The straps of the purple backpack keep falling off her small shoulders, and I take hold of her shiny pink purse like a proud father, to lighten her burden.
After placing all our carry-on things onto the airport security X-ray conveyor belt, I hand the TSA officer, who looks like he just graduated from middle school, Aisha’s and my driver’s licenses and all our airline tickets. He scrutinizes them and stares into my eyes, as if I may hold life’s answers in my soul. We pass through, and I help my family gather our belongings.
“Excuse me, sir?” I turn around and the young TSA officer is standing with a middle-aged, female officer. “Sir, do you see those chairs over there to the right? Please wait there. I’ll help you with your belongings, and your family can meet you at the gate,” she says, gravely.
“We’ll stay with you,” Aisha responds.
“I’m just following procedure, ma’am,” the TSA officer says, in an unpleasant tone.
I walk my family silently to the plastic molded chairs near the TSA offices.
“What are we doing?” asks Zohra, impatiently. “Aren’t we going onto the plane?”
I look to Aisha, powerless.
“They need to check some things for the flight. It won’t take long, okay?” Aisha says, strongly.
I watch other passengers walking away free to their gates, business trips and vacations. Some whisper and stare, while most are too busy with their own plans to notice us. Before I can sit down, the young man and older woman appear, taking my carry-on items. I’m holding Zohra’s purse, and I mistakenly try to hand it back to her.
“No! Hold it right there. I need to inspect that, sir,” the TSA officer demands.
Zohra sees the bag and starts to complain. “It’s mine. No, Daddy, I need it,” Zohra cries.
“I’m sorry, dear, I am required to inspect it. Now please all of you wait here,” the TSA officer says. “The family should sit on this side to the left and, sir, you sit over here to the far right.” Then turning to me, “Do you have any other form of identification?” “Uh, yes, wait.” I look in my messenger bag for my travel wallet, and I pull out my blue American passport packed specially for this kind of occasion. She takes it, looking neither impressed nor sympathetic.
“Please wait here.” We sit as we are told. Even the children understand. We can only obey. Aisha is busy holding Haider. Zohra stares at the ground. This is the start to what was supposed to be a perfect vacation.
Risks and challenges Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
When Charong Chow and Nomi Khan decided to work together on Jahaada, they understood the challenges and difficulties of presenting a Muslim-American viewpoint to a mass audience. The subject of Muslims in America is a sensitive issue. "Muslim" has become a word with mostly negative connotations, and Islam is associated, at least in the popular media, with terrorism and drone attacks.
First of all, Charong is not a Muslim, but she was born in Asia, like Nomi, and grew up in the United States from a very young age. Sharing this similar immigrant experience, Charong, who is the primary writer on this project, is using her background as a Chinese-American to help write Jahaada.
One of the biggest challenges for her has been researching Pakistani culture and Islam. Charong and Nomi are determined to write a book that is factual and truly brings a Pakistani-American perspective to the reader. Under Nomi’s guidance, Charong has read The Holy Qur’an and many books about Pakistan and Islam. Every important idea and phrase in the book is thoroughly researched and fact checked.
Charong and Nomi have been working on this book for almost a year and hope to finish by early 2013. There is always a risk of not completing a book, if the pressures of day-to-day living and financial survival interfere. Writing something that is fresh and compelling is hard work. Also, there is a risk that this controversial book will not find a publisher.
Charong and Nomi knew of the challenges going into the project, but both believe that Islamophobia is an important and relevant subject that needs to be tackled. They feel the best they can do is to write from the heart and with great passion, and use Charong’s contacts in both literary agencies and publishing to find the right people to represent and publish the novel.
Our title, "Jahaada," is actually a made-up word, intended to be evocative of preconceptions about Muslims.
Our book is not about extremism, but about giving a Muslim perspective to life in America after 9/11. Musa, the father in the story, is like other first- and second-generation immigrants trying to achieve the American Dream.
We are asking for support because there are a lot of misconceptions about Islam and we feel it is relevant to our time.
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