Where faith meets art

Monthly Feature - Essay

Each month we feature a piece of creative non-fiction from one of our previous issues here on the website.

There are Rivers of Honey in Heaven and Rivers of Cholesterol in the Artery

by Jannah Yusuf Al-Jamil

There are two scenes that are stuck in my head. One: heaven. Two: hell. One: Eve in the dirt. Two: Eve eating the fruit. One: breaking fast. Two: the papery skin of the date. One: a garden. Two: a storm. When I imagine the future, neither heaven nor hell, I think of laying on a twin bed with a t-shirt rolled up to my bra and showing peachy-pink stomach rolls and a map plastered on the ceiling, throwing push-pins up. What was it Surah Naba said? The mountains as pegs? The sky as a blanket? I hope the pins stick and that they don’t fall onto me, get absorbed into my skin. I am full of metal already, keeping me on Earth, stuck in its magnetic field.

One: the Prophet turning away the blind man from his service. Two: his wife collecting his sweat and saying it smelled like musk. When Gabriel cleaned the Prophet’s heart, I wondered if there was cholesterol, or just the black of sin as he lowered it into the golden basin of zamzam.

One: holy water. Two: hating how it tastes. There is a history to a family, and mine is poked through with heart issues and brain issues and diabetes type two issues and a migration from Yemen. I wonder if they went by boat or by land or if anyone had a heart attack on the way, like my uncle with a pacemaker in his chest.

The doctor said, gently, so gently, you’re perfectly healthy, honey, despite the fat on my stomach, and then they pricked me with Pfizer, pinching the thickest part of my shoulder. The nurse asks my mother if there were any changes to the family history. One: the Prophet eating the meat of a dead whale washed ashore to prove it’s halal. Two: beer-battered fish on the beach. My mother says no, only the regular myriad of cancers and the plethora of pain. I think the white girl who speaks up in history class will never understand how things slide in my blood: heady with cholesterol, heavy with ancestral pleas.

One: the rivers of milk in heaven. Two: the fire of hell, where sweetness leaves us. There are two scenes that are stuck in my head. One: heaven in pitch black. Two: hell in pitch black. There is nothing in my mind but fatty acid. Heaven and hell both taste like fresh pakora and gulab jamun in rose syrup: heaven, when it hits your tongue; hell, the morning after. Here’s the pin in my stomach. It said to go to Mangalore and eat parathas, dip it in the monsoon water from the side of the street. It’s no zamzam, but a homeland is holy all the same. Heaven and hell and homeland all look the same in omega-three: scrawled in India ink, tar-black. The whale's stomach left Jonah in the dark. God fed him fruit afterwards; let the sweet juice slide down his throat.

Praise be

for the stomach and the tongue and clogged arteries –

I think it's all tradition in tar.

Jannah Yusuf Al-Jamil is a Muslim-American writer and a cofounder of antinarrative, a zine for youths of color (@antinarrativeZ). They are on a quest for many things, namely the perfect shawarma. Please talk to them about vigilantes. Find their work in Overheard, celestite poetry, Pollux Journal, and at jannahyusufaljamil.carrd.co.