How to mourn a girl you'll never know

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This piece was performed aloud by Farhat Rehman, the author's mother, at a candlelight vigil for Aqsa Parvez on January 10 at the Women's Monument in Minto Park, Ottawa. January 10 was the first day of the Islamic New Year; sadly, it also marked one month since the day 16-year-old Aqsa Parvez was killed.

Try to imagine what it would be like to be someone else. It's one of the hardest things anyone can do, pull themselves out of the infinite fascination of being themselves, and imagine that they are moving, stiff and unfamiliar, within a stranger's habits and dreams.

If you are a girl, try to imagine what it would be like to be a man, who once knew how to be happy but has forgotten, a man whose back hurts often, and who still cannot let go his grief about the death of his father when he was too young to lose a father, and who does not have words to speak about this sadness; who is convinced, in fact, that he does not have the permission or the right to speak of it, and so because he has had to get used to harshness too early in life, believes âe" perhaps without realizing it âe" that everyone else should, too.

If you are a man, try to imagine what it would be like to be the daughter of a man like you. Would you come to you with the fears and hopes in your heart? Would you feel safe and content in your company? Would you, if you were the daughter of a man like you, would you be free to choose your life, so you could share it with your father, with a willing and easy heart? Or would you be always convinced you weren't good enough no matter what you did, and so look for ways out as soon as you could?

If you're a girl, and you still know the meaning of joy and the meaning of what is true, gather your friends, paint your fingers with henna, and let loose your hair, and let music fill the room. To mourn a girl you'll never know, let music fill the room, and let no one enter who does not know you, and the meaning of joy and the meaning of what is true.

If you are a woman, and if your youth is past, and if you are comfortable, and if you wrote words, or spoke into a microphone, hurriedly, anxious that others should not connect your Muslimness with their Muslimness, Aqsa's and her father's. If you tried to deny that both were trying to be Muslim in their own way and that the questions we need to ask now are not the questions you want to ask. If you tried to name a vague social illness, to blame it on everyone or no one, if you tried to brush her death, that girl named for the farthest mosque (located in Jerusalem), away from your Muslimness like lint off your fine coat. Be silent.

If you are a man, and your youth is past, and you carry your piety before you everywhere, so that no one may look at you or approach you without fearful deference, and if you responded to the death of a girl you never knew, and you used words that increased fear, if you, in your fear, urged girls and women to wrap themselves up, tighter and tighter, in as much fear and blind obedience as possible, you have spoken where you had no right to speak, while a girl lay dead who should have lived, so now be silent. Be silent.

If you are a man who leads prayers, and preaches, in a land of hard winters and far mosques, and if worshippers come to you for guidance, ask yourself: do I live as if I believe in compassion and mercy, or do I make my listeners, when I preach, heavy with despair that it can never come to them? How can we convince anyone of this compassion and mercy, if our children are afraid of us, afraid to show us who they are, for fear we will reject and condemn them in anger? Where does that anger come from?

Ask yourself: have I encouraged that anger, or encouraged the strength of will and peace of mind to overcome it, to help parents love their children unconditionally? Vow this to yourself: not to speak of hell or punishment, but of compassion and mercy, compassion and mercy, compassion and mercy.

If you are a man or a woman, and your children baffle you, and you fear you have failed, and you no longer remember the name of the farthest mosque, or the way to reach it. If you fear being alone, or that in this bewildering crowd you will never get to be alone again. If no one ever asks what you most fear and what you most desire, ask yourself how you would like to be remembered after you die. Who was the person you hoped to become?

If you are a girl, and you know the name of the farthest mosque, and if you know the meaning of joy and the meaning of what is true, and if you know how to keep a straight back in the face of injustice, and if you say "La illaha" with a straight back, and if you refuse to bend until you say, with joy and fierceness, "illa Allah". Stand still a moment.

If you are a man who has watched your own child being born, tell someone who knows how to listen the story of that birth, of what it did to you, of the painful way your heart expanded in your chest when you heard that infant gasp with her first breath and cry; how you hoped you would never, as long as you had breath in you, fail to respond.

If you are a girl, and if you like to wrap a soft cloth around your head, stand still a moment. Stand out in the air and the light, still for a moment, and keep your back straight and your heart fierce and full of joy, and shake your hair loose, and feel rage that anyone should ever try to take this from you, the right to move in the world as yourself, the right to show the world your face, this gift of life meant for fierce girls to live, and stand still a moment. Say aloud the name of the farthest mosque.

Do not forget.

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