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Ava DuVernay, I love you. But please stick to making documentaries like The 13th, because this adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time was utterly absurd and undeniably one of the worst films I’ve ever seen. Don’t get me wrong, because I am a huge fan of you. I integrate your film The 13th in every single one of my classes when teaching about mass incarceration- to the point that I’ve probably seen it about ten times by now. I have practically memorized lines from your work.

And yes, I had been so excited for Wrinkle you don’t even understand. I was even excited for the diversity. It looked different from the book but I thought I could appreciate the vision of the film as its own entity distinct from the book. But the essence of the story was COMPLETELY ERASED. The tone and setting of the book captures the Darkness, and it emphasizes quirkiness, almost in a Tim Burton- way. The book incites such deeply entrenched philosophical questions and engages scientific thought, to the extent that when Madeline L’Engle tried to publish it, publishers couldn’t tell if it was a book for adults or children. The film, on the other hand, was glamorized to the point that glitter and glitz were more prominent characters than anything else- while cutting out actual characters that enlivened the story in the book. I kept hoping and thinking that it would get better- at least by the climax, by the time we get to Red Eyes. But, nope, the scene was a joke. If I wasn’t watching the film and someone showed me that scene, I would have thought that it was a mocking parody. I kid you not.

I am a sucker for interracial couples and families (like Meg and her parents in the film). I am a sucker for diverse representations in art, media, culture and the public space. But I realized DuVernay tried way too hard to diversify it up – AT THE EXPENSE of the story. It felt forced. And that is when you need to take a look and question how we are approaching this whole “diversity” plan. Diversity simply for the sake of diversity doesn’t do much. Part of the movement for diversity within art is telling diverse stories, not just merely inserting a diverse cast in place of otherwise supposedly white characters. This could have even worked as a completely re-imagined story/spin-off of the original, to integrate the experience of diversity and blackness and brownness with the themes of love and acceptance that is at the heart of the original story. But even that wasn’t the case. To really begin to spur the diversity movement, we don’t need to insert ourselves in the stories of white characters- we can create our own. But we can also continue to appreciate other stories – yes, even with white characters – for their own sake. Let the stories speak for themselves.

I left the film reeling with disappointment and to be honest, glad that L’Engle isn’t alive to see it. Ava, I look forward to your next work that hopefully isn’t with Disney. Until then, I’m going to go and hold on to my own vision of wrinkling in time.


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Many of you know that when I first started teaching at Staten Island, it was an incredibly difficult experience at first. Many of you were even concerned for my safety and suggested I get out of there. Somehow, I ended up staying. And what I’ve realized is that teaching there has been one of the most enlightening experiences I have ever had. When I first wanted to be a teacher of literature since the age of 6 when I was still in Bangladesh, I had no idea that when I would finally teach my first class, it would be across the world in a time in which America was electing a president who vilifies, degrades, and seeks to persecute Muslims. Nor did I know that I would be teaching at the heart of a community that overwhelmingly supported this man and his policies. And thus, nor did I know that my simple dream of teaching would become so much more than I ever intended – just because of the hijab I wore on my head.

For many of the students in this Staten Island community, seeing me up there in my hijab all semester long, every single week, talking to me, engaging with me, was the most interaction they had ever had with a Muslim, especially a Muslim woman wearing a hijab. And these interactions were based on often controversial issues – in which they had the opportunity to openly contribute. In my desire to teach, I never intended on any political purpose – but, social issues are inherently political, and thus politicized inevitably and unfortunately. Even my hijab is politicized in this current world. That seems to instantly make my very act of teaching in a hijab political. And I teach in a way where I risk making my students uncomfortable in our discussions – because discussions of race, prejudice, police brutality, mass incarceration, war, or historical injustices are always uncomfortable, and it is necessary to therefore make people uncomfortable if such discussions are to be had. More than anything, my purpose in teaching is to enable students to see from perspectives other than their own, other than what they are used to. And of course, nowhere is that more possible than through literature. Most people fail to see that. But never had I been more aware of the importance of enabling students to see different perspectives than when teaching at SI and getting to know these students.

To have a space where people’s views are not shut down simply because of political inclinations and biases, but to engage in a discussion without malice, respecting each other’s perspectives no matter how different they are. Because understanding between conflicting perspectives do not come about through denigrating each other through political labels. Because what I learned from these students is the reality behind their perspectives. For example, for a significant portion of them, their parents are police officers and law enforcement. If your parents represent these very fields, if it creates the whole entire value system you have ever known, then you are automatically going to be defensive about anything that seems to challenge it, and therefore never really be willing to consider anything else. But to have an open discussion about it without anyone denigrating the very values others hold is the first step in engendering a dialogue. Because that is how I perceive teaching – a dialogue. Not between just me and the students, but the students themselves. Many of them have been raised their whole lives to see through black-and-white lenses, and that is all they know. Most of them do not know people of color or minorities on a personal level. So it takes that open dialogue for them to see the grey areas which they don’t even know can exist.

I had a student that first semester whose goal was to join the military, who had staunch military views, and wrote a successfully cogent paper arguing for the advantages of drone use – for the soldier. Yet, as the semester progressed and in class we discussed both advantages and disadvantages, in his final paper he switched perspectives entirely to now consider the effects and perspective of civilians in the path of war casualties. In his presentation he explained why he had chosen to switch perspectives, and how he would be aware of these perspectives when he joined the military, and would strive to make others in the military aware of the consequences of their actions. I could not stop thinking about how it was the ultimate embodiment of everything I strove to do in my work, subhan’Allah.

I had another student, while I was teaching on gender inequality, who asked/implied that I did not or could not possibly believe in women’s equality (because of course it makes total sense that I am a Muslim woman teaching and yet believe that women should be oppressed). But for him it was inconceivable that I could possibly believe otherwise. This and many other instances (more positive ones) made me realize that for many students, just by my very presence in a hijab, it confounded their perceptions of me and what they thought they knew of who Muslim women and Muslims supposedly are.

Since then, I have been teaching at another campus that is the complete opposite of the demographic at SI – mostly underprivileged students and minorities. And yet, the confounding remained here as well. Teaching, for me, has always been about more than just teaching reading and writing – it has always been a means of breaking the boundaries between the us vs. them mentality that resides in our societies, in human nature and human history. But I did not know that simply by the very act of standing in front of a classroom in a hijab day after day for whole semesters would be an act of enabling the very thing I hoped to teach. In a way, teaching right in the heart of a place that perceives me as something I am not became more than just teaching. It became, unintentionally, unexpectedly, in ways I could never have anticipated, a way of breaking the boundaries, the misconceptions of who I am and what I represent, simply through my hijab.

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Excerpt from one of my current works from the perspective of a young disillusioned character:
I was looking at the moon the other night, luminescent in its orb, suspended in the sky. But it was of course New York City, and it was one of those nights when the moon is bright, yet the stars are nowhere to be seen, no matter how hard you scrutinize the sky. And it made me think about the beauty of people – how everyone walks around with a misty, veiled smoke around them, a facade they put on for the sake of society, pretending they’re so bad-ass or so darned brilliant or confident or sane or okay. Just okay. But by the unwritten, unspoken laws of society, everyone must hide what makes them truly beautiful – their flaws, their quirks, their sadness, their insecurities, their insanities, their frustrations, their urge to scream. To be real, or show emotion, or be different, is social suicide. And so they hide this beauty behind their veils of smoke like the way the beauty of the stars are veiled by carbon dioxide and monoxide and nitrogen and I don’t even know what other oxides in this city of a thousand lights and smokes.

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Yet again this is one of my many attempts to comprehend the nature of hate and social aggression. Just two chapters in and I am already blown away by how much Staub’s every precise word is saturated with insight into the psychological inclinations in conflict, on an individual and societal scale.It is a manifestation of the irony of our times, of the declaration of the mantra that we as a human species are the utmost epitome of civilized, advanced beings.

So far the most intriguing element that I’ve broken down is this:

-Continuum of Destruction: The reason extreme “evil” is possible, that even seemingly “regular” people are capable of committing atrocities towards another outgroup in a conflict, is not because they commit it outright. But because there is a gradual accumulation of minuscule, less harmful acts, which builds slowly until it reaches an ultimate form that no longer feels unnatural to the individual, but natural; until it reaches an established systemic proportion. Because we must remember that such things do not occur simply by the machinations of a power structure/government/system but functions precisely when it is enabled by and carried out by other people within the society.

This can be applied not only to the larger scale of forms of conflict that Staub attributes to such as genocide (which we must remember is not merely in the past but still continues to this day in such as with the Rohingya people and other similar forms). But it can be attributed to other systemic persecution as well such as systemic racial injustice- gradual, slow accumulation until reaches grand systemic proportion. In some ways this to an extent can be similar to the birdcage metaphor that Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow) mentions, where a few different bars, brought together in a certain structure, creates the overarching systemic structure of oppression. 
One of the other things that I find most interesting about this Continuum point that Staub makes is that this is described in the Hadith (Islamic narration) as one of the major concerns of Prophet Muhammad s.a for his ummah (people)- not that we would be committing massive large-scale wrongs and sins, but that gradually, slowly, minuscule sins that we would brush off as nothing would accumulate and build until it changes our hearts and our souls until we feel dead inside, until it becomes the norm. And this happens to so many of us. This is such a reality for us now from this perspective as well.

I totally veered off but this concept is applicable on so many levels. 

Just as when I attempted to read Philip Zimbardo’s The Lucifer Effect, I know this will be a difficult, excruciating read for me. But even as I try to comprehend the nature of hate, I will always be seeking for the corners and crevices where love and compassion hide as well. 

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“I scanned my eyes furtively over my fellow patients. There was a woman in about her late 40s, with soft, dewy-looking eyes that seemed like they were ubiquitously watery, like she was always on the verge of tears. She was sitting there, looking down and fidgeting with her hands. Mid-life crisis? Anxiety? Depression? Or the latter two as a result of the former, or vice versa? You never can tell, these emotional and psychological things can get quite tricky. At least, I think so. If biological factors get in there too, it gets trickier. You never can tell where the personality ends and the illness, disorder, disease, whatever you wanna call it, begins. That’s the real reason why people find mental stuff so scary, I tell you. That’s the real reason why they don’t understand it, don’t want to understand it, or are in denial when someone they love or know begins to crumble underneath the weight of whatever chaotic mess the chemicals in their brains become entangled in. Because when the invisible, phantom illness begins to mesh with the personality, and you can’t tell one from the other anymore, people begin to define you by the phantom. The phantom becomes you.”

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We live in our secluded worlds, our phones, our houses, apartment buildings, and every day rush through the door, down the stairs, and about our daily lives. It is incredible that many of us do not know the very neighbors around whom we live. And yes, I am guilty. As an introvert all my life, it is something that rarely occurred to me when I was younger. But I regret not interacting with my neighbors now that I’ve gradually come out of my shell a bit more now.

In my building, there is an elderly lady who lives alone, across from my apartment. I’ve said my hellos and how are yous and in middle school once asked whether she wanted to buy any sweets for my school fundraiser. That is about it. For the first time today, I had the opportunity to help her with some groceries, and she invited me inside. 

The commonly held notion of “old people” is that they ramble on about their times, the good old days, meandering words that seem arbitrary and people say/think “What is he/she even talking about?” Because we never take the time to really listen. If you listen closely, it is usually always about the aspects of their past that they are most proud of, their accomplishments and their kids’ accomplishments, and so on. And what I noticed today is that it is an attempt to retain the life you had – the life you lived. It is an attempt to retain a sense of dignity and pride when you are at a stage of your life in which you’re incapable of or feel deprived of “dignity” and a fulfilling life brimming with activity. It is an attempt to grasp onto those memories and accomplishments when you live every day with the knowledge that at any moment, you will expire and all of it will be gone. 

Lately I’ve been becoming more cognizant of the transient nature of life. I mean, really aware. Not just understanding the mere words, the mere concept. The extent to which the entirety of our individual lives are merely one short life in the midst of time. In the pages of history, we are all but merely just a blip in time. 

When we’re on the threshold of being/starting a new stage of life where everyone and everything changes, it all seems to be happening all at once: getting a job/starting a career, getting married, starting a family and all of that – at the same time seeing your parents/grandparents age. Right now for those 20-somethings my age, it feels like we’re already getting older and haven’t accomplished enough, but at the same time it also feels as if we have so much time left, like we are just beginning to really take on life – yet the older generation must have felt that way too when they were our age. But time crept up on them before they knew it. One generation withers away while another generation replaces it, over and over and over again throughout history, for all of humanity.  

Listening to my neighbor made me realize just how much we neglect the elderly – they who are testaments and witnesses to history and to a life lived. We neglect their words. They hold such rich histories within them, such rich stories – like a treasure trove of memories. And I think acknowledging them is so essential, for the sake of being human, and for the sake of recognizing what such a transient existence means.

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From the ashes of decayed ink and dusty fluttering leaves

From the long-dried pages

Of hesitant words hiding behind their walls of fear

Tiptoeing in trepidation from page to page

Of lines riveting in a glance and mortifying the next

Should I? Will I? Can I? –

I hope they can survive

Past the cages of my brain

And onto a stage, a world, a page,

A seat on a bench next to a stranger,

From which they can communicate

(And whisper and laugh and tell their tales – and even scream if necessary)

With the creatures of the realm of three dimensions –

A world itself not always so dreary.

What realm, I pray, do the creatures of thought exist in?

If not one or two or three or more?

They must, surely, if we can weep and laugh with them and for them

And converse between one dimension and another,

Between worlds and realms vying to comprehend

How? What? Why?

The ever-revolving, ever-inscrutable questions of existence

The ever-elusive, ever-boggling wonders and horrors

Of the nature of man



And beat on, whether you stumble or stagger or falter

Onto the next word, the next line, the next page

And the next

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