Kubra from Turkey wore a midnight blue hijab. Under the florescent lights of our classroom, night’s magic was draped around her. She had a lot of headscarves, but she had an even greater sunglasses collection. It was Ramadan and she ran up to me the moment class finished.
“Come," she said. "We are having a celebration tonight. Please come. You will be my guest.” Kubra began to scribble the address on the back of an extra vocabulary quiz. Then she put on her sophisticated shades and bounced away.
It was a Friday night. I knew I’d be exhausted. But I also had something to pray for and it couldn’t hurt to pray. When I arrived at the rental hall, I inquired for Kubra and a woman quickly ushered me to a prayer room. All were facing Mecca. The women stood. The men were kneeling, placing their foreheads on the floor and then sitting up again. Like a beautiful dance, their heads moved up and down.
My walk towards Kubra was silent, but my movement seemed too loud for this space. Kubra’s eyes fluttered open. She saw me and smiled. I took on her position of prayer. Eyes closed, chin down.
“Please God,” I began to pray. “I need your help.”
After several minutes, Kubra prodded me toward the door. When the door closed behind us, she hugged me.
“I’m so glad you came. Come. Let’s eat.”
The hall was full of circular tables and white paper tablecloths that ballooned in the breeze from children running by. It looked like a wedding reception. We must have been celebrating our marriage to God. Plates of food served as the centerpiece at each table. My paper plate became heavy with rice and dolma as the women at the table insisted I try everything.
One woman scooted her chair next to mine. “I’m Kubra’s friend, Zehra. They will begin the presentation now. I can translate for you as best I can.”
The words of the Koran flashed on the screen in the center of the room. The slides advanced and my translator’s lips came close to my ear. She whispered, “During the entire month of Ramadan we must fast and pray, but it is believed that one night, perhaps it is this night, is the most special night of Ramadan. Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, had the holy Koran come to him on this night and that is why it is so special. It is called Laylat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power. All the angels descend from heaven and listen to our prayers closely. If our hearts are pure and we pray with all that we are, then a prayer on this night is magnified hundreds or thousands of times. We are connected to all the angels and to the heavens tonight.”
“Beautiful,” I whispered.
When it was time for me to leave, I embraced Kubra.
“Thank you so much. Next time, you can come with me to my church,” I said.
That night, I lied in bed with my hands on my heart. Please, angels, hear me. Please, God, hear my prayer.
I picked Kubra up on Sunday morning and we drove to the First African Methodist Episcopalian Church of Los Angeles. It was the church where I had been baptized several months before. Yes, it was a black church. And yes, I was one of about three white people per church service. And yes, I do love me some gospel music. I had special needs, you see. I required a church that had spirit and soul.
The choir was at the front with their blue and gold robes swooshing. We slid into a pew. Women in big colorful church hats swarmed us. They hugged Kubra. Men reached out to shake her hand. How they gushed over a girl in a hijab.
Kubra stood perfectly still as if she were still praying in the silence of the mosque. She took in the voices and the crescendo of the drums. Then, she couldn’t hold still any longer. She began to clap. She danced. She laughed. The preacher’s sermon was a song, rising and falling. The cymbals clamored underneath the word of God. The choir hummed as one soprano voice cried out. We swayed. The preacher beckoned those who needed God to come forward. A woman in the front row of the choir stumbled. Then, her heart jolted towards the sky.
“What’s happening?” Kubra asked. “Is she having a heart attack?”
Her body bent all the way back and two others rushed to catch her before she hit the floor.
“No,” I said. “She’s overwhelmed by the holy spirit.”
Her eyes were closed, but you could see her ecstatic face, her lips turned upward. She was carried off.
“She’s going to be fine. She was just touched by God,” I said.
“Sometimes I’ve seen imams do that in prayer.”
Kubra resumed dancing. We kept on dancing after the service and out into the parking lot.
“That was so fun!” Kubra said. “Do you mind stopping at TJ Maxx? I’ve got to pick up some sunglasses for my friends in Turkey. My flight is tomorrow.”
“So, that’s where your collection of sunglasses comes from?”
“They have the best sunglasses there.”
“What will you do when you go back to Istanbul?”
“I have to finish my dissertation.”
“What’s it on?”
“Why did you choose that?”
“Well, my boyfriend is Kurdish.”
“Oh my! Does your family know?”
“They don’t know. They wouldn’t approve. He is an activist for the Kurdish cause.”
“Do you think you will marry?”
“I don’t know. We haven’t figured that out yet. It will probably not happen.”
“But you love each other?”
We drove in silence. But it was so loud…that ringing of two women’s longing hearts.
At TJ Maxx, Kubra got to work checking out fake Chanels in the small mirror.
“Did you understand most of the sermon?” I asked.
“Well, some bits were hard to make out. He talked so fast. They kept on saying, ‘Hey man, hey man!’ I got that part.”
“It wasn’t ‘Hey man’ it was ‘A-men.’”
Amen. Shalom. Salaam.
P.S. My prayer on Laylat al-Qadr-- that special night during Ramadan---was answered. Praise be to God. Praise be to Allah. Praise be to the Universe. Use what name you will. Or do not use a name at all, just love. Just. Love.