“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 without delay a extremely particular story and a common one, touching themes that embrace 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 gives an incisive glimpse into what it means to reside with political repression and the near-daily indignities of racial, non secular and ethnic bias.
It’s an emotionally wealthy and revelatory portrait, set in a publish 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 pals, between members of the family, 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 dwelling 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 once I graduated in 2009, I needed 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 group; it’s one of many first locations individuals go after they’re newly arrived. They arrive to AAANY for all the things, from assist studying their mail, to assist making use of for a inexperienced card, to enrolling in English as a Second Language courses. The work is finished with such humility. Being at AAANY gave me a closeness to my those that I had been craving. I labored there for a yr and did youth programming.
Bader: Had 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 other people remained in my creativeness for the 11 years it took for the novel to come back collectively.
Bader: I’m guessing that there have been many drafts!
Gawad: After I began the tales, I used to be writing about two women who had been pals. Over time, I made them cousins, then sisters, then, lastly, twins. I used to be actually within the bonds, the closeness, between women.
In some methods, the ebook displays my very own development.
I’m 35 now however I began writing the ebook once I was in my early 20s. At that time, I felt that, as a younger Muslim lady, I used to be continuously 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 prefer to develop up feeling that method.
I used to be actually within the bonds, the closeness, between women.
Aisha Abdel Gawad
Bader: You arrived in Bay Ridge eight years after 9/11, however the novel illustrates the pervasive surveillance that was nonetheless occurring at the moment. Are the main points you current correct? In that case, how did you be taught a lot about what the New York Police Division (NYPD) and FBI had been doing to watch Muslim/Arab communities?
Gawad: After I was at AAANY, it was well-known that the group was being watched and that there have been vegetation, 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, in actual fact, we had been continuously 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. Studies 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.
Because the 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 all the things Muslims and Arabs do is seen as menacing, suspicious.
Regulation enforcement has used this suspicion to stress individuals to turn into informants and spy on the group. Persons are scared. Because the Patriot Act was handed in October 2001, numerous Muslims have been rounded up and imprisoned. Some have been held for years with out fees. These prisons exist everywhere in the U.S. and the abuses prisoners expertise are just like the abuses in Guantanamo.
As a group, we’ve got 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 incorrect and was by no means a risk or hazard to the U.S. I hope readers will see Faraj for example of a younger American-born Muslim who feels betrayed by the promise of America. He’s additionally at odds together with his dad and mom, who’re in Pakistan, as a result of they imagine within the American dream and wish him to prosper.
Bader: The truth that regulation 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 group so that is now a degree of solidarity between Black and non-Black Muslim communities.
For Arabs, an necessary a part of our tradition is hospitality, welcoming strangers into our houses and mosques. The existence of informants has impacted this and we now surprise if a brand new particular person is secure or is a risk to us. Most individuals locally see this as a violation of our heritage, and regardless that there are variations between, say, Yemenis and Egyptians, individuals have come collectively. Our concentrating on has been unifying since no matter our ethnicity, we’re all seen as issues.
Bader: Has the group continued to prepare opposition to surveillance and spying?
Gawad: When the information broke about NYPD infiltration, there was a number 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 difficulty 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 listing and a surprising variety of names on it sounded Arab or Muslim. This made clear that surveillance is not at all over.
Bader: The novel consists of 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 rivalry since 11th of September and have been a focus for Islamophobia for many years.
@knopfdoubledaybooks Aisha Abdel Gawad, creator 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 completely different ways in which girls and boys are socialized is one other massive theme within the novel. Lina and Amira might have benefited from complete intercourse schooling, however nobody appears to be offering this, not their public college and never group companies. Is there any effort to alter this?
Gawad: Sadly, there are nonetheless a number of taboos relating to sexuality and speaking about our bodies extra typically. 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 be able to ask the questions that bother her.
I train English at an all-girls college and know that the scholars have deep inside lives however they will’t all the time categorical their ideas, questions, and concepts. They know that there are looming threats on the market and I feel women like Lina take dangers as a result of they reside with a sense of imminent violence and try to manage it by inflicting hazard on themselves.
On the identical time, most youngsters can discover fashions of wholesome relationships and friendships which might be open, supportive, and powerful. I’ve been inspired by comic Ramy Youssef, whose TV present Ramy talks in regards to the warped concepts some Muslim-Individuals have absorbed on matters like courting, sexuality and relationships.
Bader: Mariam, the mom within the novel, has a number of her personal baggage relating to sexuality and household life, however it takes a disaster for her to share her experiences together with her daughters. I discovered this fairly shifting.
Gawad: Mariam is attempting to shelter her youngsters from hurt and finally realizes that this can be a mistake. I needed her to be unable to see what her daughters are going by way of as a result of she is so targeted on her son’s ache. She was a tough character for me to jot down. I started the ebook lengthy earlier than I turned a mother or father and it was solely after I had my first little one 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 needed to discover what it’s prefer to be a Brown boy in America. He’s not White and he isn’t Black which leaves him attempting to determine what’s potential for him. Many first-generation Individuals—like me, Sami, Lina, Amira and Faraj—have been advised that being in America means we are able to turn into no matter we wish to turn into. Once we uncover that this isn’t true, we frequently turn into indignant and I needed the ebook to point out that.
Boys, notably emotional or delicate boys, don’t all the time know how one can categorical their emotions or their rage. I needed Sami to be on his personal with these emotions. His sisters have one another however Sami is fairly remoted. I needed 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 desires to feed him and maintain him secure. This was a giant change for her.
Bader: Sami, Amira and Lina are additionally experimenting and attempting on completely different identities.
Gawad: I needed to point out Muslim youngsters as typical youngsters who problem at the very least among the guidelines they’re given. I additionally needed to point out them attempting to determine how they really feel about rule breaking. Moreover, it was necessary 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 occurring 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 group that has gone by way of a number 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’d like your assist, Help Ms. as we speak 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.