“My hope is that Arabs and Muslims will really feel seen.”
Aisha Abdel Gawad calls her first novel, Between Two Moons, “a love letter to Arab and Muslim communities.” The story facilities across the Brooklyn-based Emam household: American-born twins Amira and Lina, their older brother Sami, and their dad and mom, Mariam and Kareem.
It’s directly a extremely particular story and a common one, touching themes that embody the gendered nature of coming-of-age and the influence of immigration on each U.S.-born youngsters and their newcomer dad and mom. The ebook additionally supplies an incisive glimpse into what it means to dwell with political repression and the near-daily indignities of racial, spiritual and ethnic bias.
It’s an emotionally wealthy and revelatory portrait, set in a put up 9/11 world that’s nonetheless feeling the aftershocks of that unprecedented assault. However regardless of this grim overlay, humor and pleasure exist within the struggles Gawad paperwork. What’s extra, love is ever current: between buddies, between relations, and between every particular person and the religion they cherish.
Gawad spoke to Ms. reporter Eleanor J. Bader a number of months earlier than the ebook’s launch.
Eleanor J. Bader: Bay Ridge, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, N.Y., is house to one of many nation’s largest Muslim communities, with many immigrants from Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and Yemen. Is that this the place you grew up?
Aisha Abdel Gawad: No. I grew up in northern Virginia, in a suburb of Washington, D.C., however I attended New York College and after I graduated in 2009, I wished to remain within the metropolis. I used to be capable of finding an AmeriCorps place with the Arab American Affiliation of New York (AAANY), a grassroots group in Bay Ridge and I fell in love with the neighborhood and the work AAANY does.
The employees are a lifeline for the neighborhood; it’s one of many first locations individuals go after they’re newly arrived. They arrive to AAANY for every thing, from assist studying their mail, to assist making use of for a inexperienced card, to enrolling in English as a Second Language lessons. The work is finished with such humility. Being at AAANY gave me a closeness to my people who I had been craving. I labored there for a yr and did youth programming.
Bader: Have been you additionally writing?
Gawad: Sure. I’d began writing tales, or fragments of tales, and continued to work on them for greater than a decade. They had been the seeds for Between Two Moons. Bay Ridge was the setting for many of them and its streets and folks remained in my creativeness for the 11 years it took for the novel to return collectively.
Bader: I’m guessing that there have been many drafts!
Gawad: Once I began the tales, I used to be writing about two ladies who had been buddies. Over time, I made them cousins, then sisters, then, lastly, twins. I used to be actually within the bonds, the closeness, between ladies.
In some methods, the ebook displays my very own development.
I’m 35 now however I began writing the ebook after I was in my early 20s. At that time, I felt that, as a younger Muslim lady, I used to be continually being watched by the federal government. I felt as if I used to be seen as a possible enemy. As I wrote the ebook, I used to be additionally processing what it’s wish to develop up feeling that means.
I used to be actually within the bonds, the closeness, between ladies.
Aisha Abdel Gawad
Bader: You arrived in Bay Ridge eight years after 9/11, however the novel illustrates the pervasive surveillance that was nonetheless happening at the moment. Are the main points you current correct? In that case, how did you study a lot about what the New York Police Division (NYPD) and FBI had been doing to observe Muslim/Arab communities?
Gawad: Once I was at AAANY, it was well-known that the neighborhood was being watched and that there have been crops, spies, in our neighborhoods. Then, in 2012, the Related Press broke a narrative about an NYPD unit that was spying on Muslims. For lots of Arabs and Muslims, this was vindication that we weren’t paranoid—that, the truth is, we had been continually being watched. Worse, brokers provocateur had been attempting to entrap individuals to commit crimes.
I devoured the paperwork that the AP uncovered and was shocked by the quantity of element. Reviews listed the library books individuals checked out, the variety of chairs in a restaurant, and what channel performed on their TVs. They even reported on the variety of mattresses on the ground of residences shared by recently-arrived immigrants.
For the reason that story was revealed, the surveillance unit has been shut down however we all know that surveillance has not stopped. It has modified form and type, however it continues. It’s as if every thing Muslims and Arabs do is seen as menacing, suspicious.
Legislation enforcement has used this suspicion to stress individuals to turn out to be informants and spy on the neighborhood. Individuals are scared. For the reason that Patriot Act was handed in October 2001, numerous Muslims have been rounded up and imprisoned. Some have been held for years with out expenses. These prisons exist everywhere in the U.S. and the abuses prisoners expertise are just like the abuses in Guantanamo.
As a neighborhood, we now have requested ourselves what it means to be labeled a terrorist. The character of Faraj has been wrestling with this since his older brother was deported to Pakistan. Faraj maintains that his brother did nothing flawed and was by no means a risk or hazard to the U.S. I hope readers will see Faraj for instance of a younger American-born Muslim who feels betrayed by the promise of America. He’s additionally at odds along with his dad and mom, who’re in Pakistan, as a result of they consider within the American dream and need him to prosper.
Bader: The truth that legislation enforcement entices individuals to snitch on each other is one other story line within the novel. Author Alexandra Natapoff’s 2022 ebook, Snitching: Felony Informants and the Erosion of American Justice, estimates that the FBI and Drug Enforcement Company make the most of roughly 30,000 confidential informants. The novel demonstrates how this impacts Muslim/Arab communities. Are you able to say extra about this?
Gawad: The FBI and police first used these ways in opposition to the Black neighborhood so that is now some extent of solidarity between Black and non-Black Muslim communities.
For Arabs, an vital a part of our tradition is hospitality, welcoming strangers into our properties and mosques. The existence of informants has impacted this and we now surprise if a brand new individual is protected or is a risk to us. Most individuals in the neighborhood see this as a violation of our heritage, and although there are variations between, say, Yemenis and Egyptians, individuals have come collectively. Our focusing on has been unifying since no matter our ethnicity, we’re all seen as issues.
Bader: Has the neighborhood continued to arrange opposition to surveillance and spying?
Gawad: When the information broke about NYPD infiltration, there was a variety of organized protest. Organizations such because the Council on American Islamic Relations and the American Civil Liberties Union spoke out. A few of that momentum has fizzled because the challenge is now not within the headlines and the NYPD unit is gone.
However only a few months in the past, a European hacker discovered a 2019 No-Fly checklist and a stunning variety of names on it sounded Arab or Muslim. This made clear that surveillance is under no circumstances over.
Bader: The novel contains some heinous anti-Muslim violence directed at each an aged Imam and a mosque the place urine was poured all through the house. Did the latter incident really occur?
Gawad: Crimes directed at people and mosques have occurred everywhere in the nation. I set the ebook within the month of Ramadan so this desecration occurred in a holy place throughout a holy month. Mosques have been websites of competition since 9/11 and have been a focus for Islamophobia for many years.
@knopfdoubledaybooks Aisha Abdel Gawad, writer of BETWEEN TWO MOONS, on the challenges of celebrating Ramadan within the U.S. #booktok #books #bookworm #bookrecommendations #bookrecs #readinglist #readingrecs #muslim #muslimtiktok #ramadan #ramadanmubarak #americanmuslim #muslimauthors #arabtiktok #aishaabdelgawad #betweentwomoons ♬ Ramadan Mubarok – TonsTone
Bader: The totally different ways in which girls and boys are socialized is one other large theme within the novel. Lina and Amira may have benefited from complete intercourse training, however nobody appears to be offering this, not their public faculty and never neighborhood businesses. Is there any effort to vary this?
Gawad: Sadly, there are nonetheless a variety of taboos concerning sexuality and speaking about our bodies extra usually. This isn’t distinctive to Arabs or Muslims, after all, however it’s nonetheless problematic. Lina is basically self-destructive however she doesn’t really feel like she will ask the questions that hassle her.
I educate English at an all-girls faculty and know that the scholars have deep interior lives however they will’t at all times categorical their ideas, questions, and concepts. They know that there are looming threats on the market and I believe ladies like Lina take dangers as a result of they dwell with a sense of imminent violence and try to manage it by inflicting hazard on themselves.
On the identical time, most children can discover fashions of wholesome relationships and friendships which are open, supportive, and robust. I’ve been inspired by comic Ramy Youssef, whose TV present Ramy talks concerning the warped concepts some Muslim-Individuals have absorbed on matters like courting, sexuality and relationships.
Bader: Mariam, the mom within the novel, has a variety of her personal baggage concerning sexuality and household life, however it takes a disaster for her to share her experiences along with her daughters. I discovered this fairly shifting.
Gawad: Mariam is attempting to shelter her youngsters from hurt and finally realizes that it is a mistake. I wished her to be unable to see what her daughters are going by means of as a result of she is so centered on her son’s ache. She was a tough character for me to put in writing. I started the ebook lengthy earlier than I grew to become a dad or mum and it was solely after I had my first baby 5 years in the past that I used to be capable of fine-tune her character.
Bader: We haven’t spoken about Sami, the son within the story, but. He’s a sufferer, a form of tragic determine, betwixt and between.
Gawad: In creating Sami I wished to discover what it’s wish to be a Brown boy in America. He’s not White and he isn’t Black which leaves him attempting to determine what’s doable for him. Many first-generation Individuals—like me, Sami, Lina, Amira and Faraj—have been instructed that being in America means we will turn out to be no matter we wish to turn out to be. Once we uncover that this isn’t true, we frequently turn out to be offended and I wished the ebook to point out that.
Boys, notably emotional or delicate boys, don’t at all times know tips on how to categorical their emotions or their rage. I wished Sami to be on his personal with these emotions. His sisters have one another however Sami is fairly remoted. I wished to point out him wrangling with what it means to be loyal, what it means to be robust. When Sami comes again into Amira’s life, she is initially frightened, however as time passes, she needs to feed him and hold him protected. This was a giant change for her.
Bader: Sami, Amira and Lina are additionally experimenting and attempting on totally different identities.
Gawad: I wished to point out Muslim children as typical youngsters who problem at the very least a few of the guidelines they’re given. I additionally wished to point out them attempting to determine how they really feel about rule breaking. Moreover, it was vital to me that the ladies discover security of their religion. These are individuals who have a deep relationship to Islam and who really feel profoundly related to it. It doesn’t matter what else is going on of their lives, prayer is a supply of assist and luxury.
Bader: What do you hope readers take from the ebook?
Gawad: My hope is that Arabs and Muslims will really feel seen. I wrote it from a spot of affection for a neighborhood that has gone by means of a variety of trauma over the previous 20 years. I hope non-Arab/Muslim readers would possibly problem some assumptions or concepts they’ve been taught about Muslims in America.
U.S. democracy is at a harmful inflection level—from the demise of abortion rights, to an absence of pay fairness and parental depart, to skyrocketing maternal mortality, and assaults on trans well being. Left unchecked, these crises will result in wider gaps in political participation and illustration. For 50 years, Ms. has been forging feminist journalism—reporting, rebelling and truth-telling from the front-lines, championing the Equal Rights Modification, and centering the tales of these most impacted. With all that’s at stake for equality, we’re redoubling our dedication for the following 50 years. In flip, we want your assist, Assist Ms. right now with a donation—any quantity that’s significant to you. For as little as $5 every month, you’ll obtain the print journal together with our e-newsletters, motion alerts, and invites to Ms. Studios occasions and podcasts. We’re grateful to your loyalty and ferocity.