“FITNAH”: Arabic word denoting a trial, tribulation, difficulty, chaos, hypocrisy, confusing truth with falsehood, disagreement among people, persecution. Fitnah can be a situation, a thing, and even a person.
“RUMOR”: A currently circulating story or report of uncertain or doubtful truth.
The rumors in this episode began in earnest on Reddit, the root of much fitnah, in the form of one “sachabacha”, who wrote in ALL CAPS THAT ADNAN IS A PSYCHOPATH. Between sachabacha, me, Saad, and Yusuf, it escalated. It’s natural, when someone talks smack about someone you love, to step up. We did, and then we stepped back, pulled Yusuf off of the sub, and decided to let the guy get it out of his system.
I know when I first saw “sachabacha” post that Adnan would steal from the mosque collection box, I gasped and read the post out loud to my husband. He shrugged and said so? Its not uncommon for young boys to do, and then they grow out of it. Apparently including hubby himself. The only reason I bring that up is because hubby is a Muslim chaplain, volunteer Imam, and haafiz Quran (memorized the entire Quran in Arabic). He deflated my concern when he didn’t even blink at the accusation. I guess he turned out ok, and that was pretty much the end of my short-lived anxiety over it
(Ok, full disclosure here. Confession is good for the soul. So, dear aunty and uncle who ran the Indian store in Sam’s plaza in 1995, I owe you about $9. I pocketed three Bollywood cassette tapes from your store. I also once stole a can of Coke from the UMBC bookstore, urged on by my dear friend Anu, who was a really lame criminal, focusing solely on cans of soda from time to time. It was my year of living dangerously, i.e. it was also the year I took a single, terrible draw of a cigarette – thanks Suja – and barely survived hacking my lungs out, so pristine were my organs, undefiled, virgin. I confess to the thefts because it was pretty hypocritical of me to get all judgey about Adnan stealing petty cash, because that’s what my brother told me it was, and not the thousands the guy on Reddit was alleging. Unlike Laura though, I actually still have those three cassettes, because dammit, I love Bollywood.)
Then word got to me that Sarah was calling around the neighborhood, asking questions about his allegations. I thought, ok, cool, do your due diligence, that’s important. Though I was intrigued as to WHY Sarah was taking the allegations so seriously.
I got my answer when she said, “These communications came in the form of phone calls, many phone calls, sometimes one on one, sometimes conference calls. Also texts and nervous emails, I can’t tell this one I’ve spoke to that one and then that one gets worried that I’ve broken my word, which I promise I haven’t. When Person 2 doesn’t confirm the thing Person 1 told me and I report that back to Person 1, Person 1 often tells me Person 2 is lying to me.”
Think about that for a minute. Two guys making repeated phone calls, texts, emails. Not because they have information about the murder, or about anything Adnan did or said that had any bearing on the crime itself, but because they had deeply troubling information that included things like “he took my Calvin Klein pants”. There is little to say about the allegations when Adnan has already admitted that yes, he swiped a twenty here and there, when he was fourteen (FOURTEEN? HIS LIFE OF CRIME BEGAN SO SOON!)
I was also told, as the grapevine came to life, that Sarah said that Deep Throat was alleging Adnan stole upwards of $100,000. We both had a good laugh over that, as did Uncle Patel I heard.
Anyway, back to my armchair analysis of Deep Throat (after all, I do have a bachelors in BioPsychology). Though I may be totally unqualified to diagnose the mental and emotional pathologies of another human being I’ve never even met and basically don’t know WTF I’m talking about, I won’t let that stop me. From what I know of at least one Deep Throat (I’ll call him Deep Throat Prime, or DTP), the one who calls himself “sachabacha” (which literally means in Urdu, “the truthful child” – no that’s not weird at all), he is suffering from a deep seated and corrosive inferiority complex which manifests as extreme jealousy and attention-seeking behavior. I would consider him a fitnah.
By all accounts of his peers, he was not one of the cool kids (which I totally get, because I was never one of the cool kids – you really can’t be as a bespectacled 148-pound 13 year old), but Adnan was still nice to him. The way Adnan was nice to everyone. Except this guy saw all the nice things Adnan said and did in most negative way possible.
There is an Urdu saying that translates as “thieves see all others as thieves”, meaning what we see in others is a reflection of ourselves. DTP is a figurative thief (literally too I guess since he said he was doing the same thing as Adnan), at his core he is a suspicious, negative human being who views the goodness in others through a pretty dark filter.
That, coupled with always being a bridesmaid and never a bride (tip: being kind and positive like Adnan will help make you more popular too), was simply intolerable. He had to get to Sarah, and Sarah, knowing how much of hullaballo he created on Reddit, and because he kept contacting her repeatedly (and of course in the spirit of journalistic integrity), had to check his stories out. So, while tons of people listened to that episode and thought “ok why did we just waste time on meaningless allegations”, I understand why Sarah had to do it. And I’m so glad she did, because it can put that bit of crazy to rest and because now the listeners can add one more name to the ever-growing list of “let’s figure out who the psychopath is”.
And that question is one I refuse to entertain. No one has to be a psychopath to be a murderer, a pathological liar trying to save his own ass, or an attention-seeking Deep Throat with insecurity issues. No one in this story needs to be a psychopath. If ever there was a red-herring, this is it. A nonissue. And one I will never address again.
I come now to what I think was the heart of this episode, which is community. What it means to be a community, and what it means to rely on a community.
Sarah pulled back the curtain ever so slightly on the inner-workings of what most insular religious communities are like. People deeply connected to each other, but not always liking each other, spreading rumors quietly, doing things secretively, coming together in times of crisis, but not always being in solidarity. There should be no surprise when things like this happen in any group of people, on some level all communities operate like the Jersey Shore. Its just a bit of a shame when it’s religious community.
And it was not just a shame but deeply painful for Adnan when, after he was convicted, the community interest and support waned. I’ve gone on the record a few times and called the community out (it’s easier for me to do because I wasn’t raised in that community and my ties aren’t so deep) for abandoning Adnan. I’ve gotten some pushback and my mom has told me people in the community don’t like my stance on it.
As you can tell from my response (and we communicated after this too), I don’t feel too charitable about what happened when he was convicted, but I’m not the kind of forgiving person Adnan is. In the 15 years he has been in prison, he’s never once mentioned any ill-will towards the community. I don’t think he has any, but I also think he’s internalized what he feels is their judgement of him. How else can he explain why everyone just dropped off other than they must think he’s guilty. That’s not true though. It’s that they mostly were apathetic, lazy, too busy with their own lives to challenge the verdict (and yes I know I’m being really judgey again, but I also think that’s the sad truth) and find out what really happened.
Since the show started, friends and old acquaintances have been coming forward in droves, approaching Adnan’s family, messaging me, visiting and writing to Adnan. Many admit feeling ashamed for having forgotten about him. But the fact that they’ve returned, and most have offered to do anything they can to help, means they are still community. And in community things like that happen.
I reached out to some of Adnan’s good friends from the mosque, guys he was raised with, to join a Google hangout and talk about Adnan, when he was arrested, how they feel about the show, and anything else they want to offer. This is the first time most of them are speaking publicly about the case, and many were thankful to be able to finally lend their voices to support Adnan. A few of them, three brothers in fact, weren’t able to be on the hangout but wrote messages that they wanted to share.
Thanks to the Awan brothers for their comments, and below is the google hangout video of the other friends who joined. I asked Pete to facilitate the conversation because he’s great at it, and we managed to pull together the core group of Adnan’s mosque friends. I admit it was a bit like herding cats, it took a good hour just to get everyone on and settled (during the course of which Fahd gave us a continuous tour of his house by walking around with his phone, Saad made the first of two “white boy” jokes about another friend Adeel who is off camera but on the call, and there was a lot of “heyyyyyyyy haven’t seen you in forever” kind of stuff – all in all, heartwarming to see them get back together).
Then there were lots of technical issues, Pete’s connection was not playing nice, Fahd kept getting notifications, others had their cameras in weird positions, the list goes on. Pete and I deliberated editing it for smoothness, cutting out the parts where he dropped out (a few times) and other buggy things were happening, but I decided to just keep it raw. Much like our community, the video is messy, not smooth, a mix of low and high quality, and really really awkward in places. But here it is, unfiltered and in the buff, with all its glorious imperfections:
I really wish Adnan could see this video, it would probably crack him up and give him comfort. Unfortunately he can’t, so I’ll try and see if can get it transcribed and send that to him – or he watches it once he gets home, God willing. But I do print and send him my blog, and so this last part is addressed to him and others who have felt the weight of the judgement of others.
What Sarah told us about how Adnan felt about her digging into his lack of judgement at age 14, I already knew. He vented that frustration about her with me too. He knew the treatment she had given Jay and Jen in the show, and he wanted to know why their records, their actual adult criminal records, were dismissed and never mentioned even though they would be much more relevant to Hae’s murder than Adnan stealing $20 as a kid. I don’t have an answer to that, its something Sarah would have to address. But I told him that all this information was public anyway, internet sleuths had dug it up and posted it all over the place, including Reddit. So people know.
Adnan’s angst goes beyond that though. Its about his relationships, and the relationship he has with Sarah. He doesn’t know how to define it. He doesn’t understand its contours, and its boundaries. He fears how she’ll interpret every word he says, the inflection of his voice, the pauses in his conversation, the order of his sentences. He fears it with most people, not just Sarah.
Though I’ve never felt the weight of that kind of self-consciousness, I’ve had a taste of it, and I know it’s terrible. I’ve written on lots of controversial subjects and been the target of plenty of attacks. Some rather vicious ones. I used to try and engage those attacks by explaining, “no, that’s not what I mean, no that’s not why I did that, no that’s not how it happened” and so forth.
Then one day I had epiphany. And its an epiphany, Adnan, that should ring true for you. Because like me, you’re a person of faith. You believe in scripture, in the words God sent mankind, and you believe in Prophets, messengers that God sent to mankind. But there has been no revelation and no Prophet that wasn’t challenged by people.
When people can misconstrue, twist, misunderstand, misapply, and outright reject God’s own words, then we should have no expectation that they respect and accept our words. If people can witness Prophets walk on water, raise the dead, part the sea, split the moon, and commune with God, but still refuse to believe in their sincerity and truth, then there should be no expectation that they would believe in your sincerity and truth. Who are we, and what weight do our words and character have, compared to Prophets and scripture?
So throw all those expectations, and the pain and grief that comes with them, out the window. You don’t have to weigh your words, and worry what others think they mean. You don’t have to worry what others think about you. No one, not even divinely appointed Prophets, not Martin Luther King Jr, not Malcolm X, not the great saints, scholars, healers of the past, no one has even been immune to others thinking badly of them. Flawed mere mortals like us certainly will never be.
Falling into that rabbit hole is a fitnah. And when encountering fitnah our religion tells us one thing alone: to be patient. You’ve been patient for 15 years, have built a life for yourself as the circumstances have allowed, and have been grateful to God despite what’s been done to you. Have a little more patience, patience with others as they enter your world, and go easy on yourself. Say what you feel, when you feel, as you feel. And leave the rest to God.