My sister was sitting up in her bedroom one day working on something or another, with the windows open and the sounds of the street outside floating in with the afternoon breeze. The sounds of dogs barking, leaves rustling and children playing. A group of the latter were in close proximity to our house, and the sound of their off-key, broken and out of tune singing floated in with the rest of the sounds, as they engrossed in what small children usually do as an essential part of passing time. Maybe they were singing some annoying poem from school/kindergarten, or possibly an advertisement. Whatever it was, they were enjoying their time, albeit at the expense of any sane person who was unfortunate enough to listen to their horrible voices. Then suddenly, like a crack of thunder in the midst of daylight, the sound of a woman cut through the afternoon:
‘YA AWLAD! TAL3ABO MA3A AL3ABEED AWLAD ALGHOFARA?! DA MOSTAWA LEKOM?!’
Needless to say, the singing stopped immediately, and did not resume. I have an idea who those kids were (3 small boys who live across the house opposite ours and practically live on the street 24/7), and another small boy who is, indeed, walad alghafeer posted in an empty house at the end of the block. I have no idea, however, who the woman was, and I’m quite curious as to her identity. Because she can’t be from outside the neighbourhood otherwise she wouldn’t know that fourth child was walad alghafeer, simply because he looked like all the other kids (in terms of colour, clothing, etc). She also couldn’t be the children’s mother or grandmother, because these children are, as I mentioned, on the streets 24/7, to the extent that anyone who didn’t know who they were would assume they themselves are ‘awlad ghofara’, or at least street children (no offense intended here). Based on which, the fact that they occasionally play with walad alghafeer who lives 2 houses down the street from them (and who incidentally is a very cute, VERY friendly and very clean little boy, whose name I don’t know but who sometimes stands next to me and chatters about life in general as I top up the water in the car) is nothing new. I also doubt that she was one of the other women in the neighbourhood, because people around here couldn’t care less what their neighbours’ kids are doing, as well as the fact that their grandfather (whose house they live in) is not someone that any sane person would cross in any debateable issue, no matter how small. So, who was she? And more importantly, what in God’s name was she thinking?!
Of course, we don’t need to think too hard about the second question. Because this attitude is one that is not new to us no matter what we choose to believe. It’s also something that, try as we might, is not going away anytime soon. However, I still find it disquieting that she should choose to portray her primitive and ignorant beliefs and methods of instruction on a group of children, and directly to one of those children’s face (walad alghafeer). Although too young to feel hurt or ashamed, the insult is still one that must have reached a certain depth. Also, the terror of being screamed at by a much larger person is something that ALL children are affected by, and probably carry with them for quite a while. And I’m pretty sure that the child’s mother who was probably at home just 10 meters away from the incident, heard every single word.
A few days later I was driving home from work, and passed by the same collection of kids. The boys were playing on one side of the street, and walad alghafeer was standing on the other side looking at them. At one point he attempted to come over and say something, only to be snapped at by the other boys, an act that made him abruptly turn around and run back to his house. If I hadn’t heard the above mentioned story, I would’ve made nothing of it. But I had, and so couldn’t help but feel sad and angry and helpless at this expected outcome: the boys, acting more out of fear of reprimand rather than an actual understanding that this child is beneath them and hence should not be seen with them, now actively shun him. And the child, whose crime is nothing more than being born into a family that, out of crushing financial circumstances have nothing better to do that guard houses and live in rags rather than beg, has now been introduced to a reality that a few days ago was beyond his wildest imagination: that he is a) a 3abid, and b) walad ghafeer. Two things that will define him for as long as he lives. The fact that his mother probably has and will continue to raise him with better manners than those far above him is irrelevant. The fact that he might grow up to be a responsible and hardworking man, may even break through the norms of his ‘class’ and get an excellent education and probably even a well respected job, is even more so.
He is now a part of our society that is beneath us, is to be avoided, and is no longer allowed to play with not-3abid, not-awlad-ghofara children.