An essay by Lauren Alwan (fiction, ‘08) appears in Catapult:

“The family legacy included silence as a way to belong.”

In the years my grandparents lived in their rambling, Spanish-style house in Southern California, they kept a Koran and a prayer rug in their bedroom hidden behind an ornate armchair. The chair, from Damascus, stood in one corner, grandly unused, its cushions upholstered in silk and the walnut frame set with mother-of-pearl. I never saw my grandparents use the Koran or the prayer rug. By the time I was born, they had fallen away from their practice of Islam.

My grandparents were Sunni, but after decades in the United States they’d become secular Muslims, with an identity lodged in the language, culture, attitudes, and customs they brought when they immigrated. After Islam, what remained was this: the Arabic spoken between my grandparents and their four sons; the meals we ate; the house with its Persian rugs and heavy Moorish Revival furniture; the letters scattered across bureaus and side tables, pages sent from Damascus and Beirut with their lines of Arabic script, and photographs of relatives I never met, at the beach, in a garden, or at home posed around a damask chair not unlike the ones in my grandparents’ house. [ continue reading here.]

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