In October 2001, I read an article about a 13 year old Afghan girl named Naheed. “Beating is nothing if we only can learn” is a direct quote from Naheed. So stunned was I by the statement, that I wrote a poem about it.
I thought of the poem in July 2014, when I visited Seneca Falls, New York. I was there during Convention Days, the annual celebration of the original Woman’s Rights Convention, which was held in Seneca Falls in 1848. The theme of the celebration in 2014 was a celebration of rights for Muslim women.
The processional began at Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s house. There, Stanton’s great, great, great granddaughter, Coline Jenkins, introduced the theme and a group of Muslim women who were joining us. Then Coline donned a bright blue burqa. A friend who worked for the State Department had bought it for her. Some were commenting about how restrictive the garment was. Coline said, “Ah. But I have a friend who is a teacher and she is able to hide books under her burqa.”
On a wave of pleasant chatter, the procession made its way from Stanton’s house to the First Presbyterian Church, where Alice Paul first introduced the Equal Rights Amendment in 1921.
At a gathering in the church’s sanctuary, Coline reminded us of the young girl–walking to school in a burqa–who was assaulted with acid. Coline wept.
At the Presbyterian church, an organization for Muslim women’s rights read the declaration they had written for Muslim women.
As we continued our journey from the Presbyterian Church to the Free Methodist Church–where the Woman’s Rights convention was held in 1848–Coline stopped the procession and handed the burqa she’d been wearing to a young woman who’d just immigrated to the US from Iran. Holding the burqa, the young woman paused. She said, “This is hard.” Then she told us she left Iran because she had not been able to go to school there. “I did not go to school for six years,” she said.
Our journey continued to the lawn beside the Free Methodist Church. There, we all signed the Declaration of Rights for Muslim Women.
As Coline donned the burqa outside her great, great, great grandmother’s house, I remembered the poem I’d written in 2001. Later that evening, the poem began to form itself into the song you just heard.
This week, as I watched Kabul fall and as I read about the uncertainty of what Taliban rule will mean for women and girls, I thought again of Naheed.
I began to wonder where she is now. She’d be 33 now. What is her life like now? I wrote Naheed a letter.
Where are you now? What fruit did your learning bear? Are you a teacher? Are you a doctor? Are you a mother? Are you alive?
When I first read about you in the paper in 2001, I thought things couldn’t get worse. “Beating is nothing, if we only can learn,” you said. I had to read the statement several times for the truth of it to sink in. “Beating is nothing, if we only can learn.”
Working on a PhD in education, I could not mentally grasp that a reality existed where girls were beaten for learning, where women were stoned to death for being raped, where women were required to erase their identities with burqas. I couldn’t imagine a world worse than the one you inhabited, Naheed. My God. My God.
But today, glimpsing images from your country on all my screens, I see that it’s worse. It’s so much worse.
In part, it’s worse because now we know. Now we know what is happening. Our government suspected what is happening now would happen. Knowledge of coming disaster did not divert them from their plan.
Oh, Naheed. What have we done? What have we done?
In my scripture, it says that “God is near to the brokenhearted.” I believe that God– Allah–is with you, but, Naheed, I want so much more for you… I want freedom from fear for you. I want freedom for you to be who you are–a strong woman. I want you to vote and to learn and to teach and to drive and to walk down the street and feel the wind against your face.
Yes. That is my deepest hope for you, Naheed: That you will one day feel the wind against your face.
I pray that you will feel Allah’s nearness to your broken heart, Naheed. I pray for your wholeness. I pray for justice. I pray for wisdom to know how I and every American can act you and your country into wellbeing.
I thank God for you, Naheed, brave woman that you are. I am grateful for all you have taught me these last 20 years…for all you continue to teach me. I pray peace, salaam, shalom for us all.
Yes. God is close to the brokenhearted; God rescues those whose spirits are crushed. Certainly, it is our prayer that God, Allah, be near to those who are suffering in Afghanistan right now, especially girls and women.
But as a justice-seeking community of Jesus’ followers, I direct your attention to the first verse of today’s passage: The eyes of God are on those who do justice, And God’s ears are open to their cry. The just cry out, and God hears.
How will we as a community of faith respond to what’s happening in Afghanistan? Valerie Kaur suggests that one way to respond is to work for more compassionate immigration laws in our country. What other ways might we do justice, as the psalmist suggests? What will we justice-seeking people cry out to a God who, we’re assured, will hear us?
How will we act the world into wellbeing today?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
© 2021 Kimberleigh Buchanan