HijabMan Out Of Character: Muslim Day At Six Flags

“The worst thing to call somebody is crazy, it’s dismissive. ‘I don’t understand this person.’ So they are crazy. That’s bullsh*t, because people aren’t crazy, they are strong people. Maybe their environment is a little sick.”

- Dave Chappelle, Inside The Actor’s Studio, responding to people calling him crazy.

“He’s pagal,” she chittered to an auntie-friend of hers. She was telling people I was crazy while assuming I didn’t understand urdu.

My friend Ibtisam heard her clearly, and she promptly corrected her, “He’s not crazy, Auntie.”

I’ve never seen an Auntie go so red in the face before. Then again, I’ve never seen an auntie get a little poke for her backbiting. Here I was making her child a balloon animal in the pouring rain. All of the rides are closed. Muslim day is cancelled. And that is all she has to say? Trying to make people happy, and all she has is some offhanded remark in another language. She doesn’t understand. So she says I’m crazy.

Muslim day at Six Flags

This may sound like I am tooting my own horn or even complaining. That is truly not my intention. I’m venting. God willing it is a productive and positive vent. Some of you may know me as the guy who sells t-shirts. To others, I am that annoying balloon-kufi’ed doofus standing on a table.

Sometimes I get the chance to not sell anything. I just go somewhere to make an honest effort to make people smile, and to make them laugh. To make them enjoy their day a bit more in this great society of unhappy, isolated, and depressed people. That may seem like an exaggeration, or an overdramatization, but why do all my friends keep telling me they were, are, or consider taking anti-depressants. I don’t know what to say about that, except that: I don’t know. I just hope the sight of me in a balloon hat makes them smile, at the very least. It’s really all I know how to do.

Sometimes I feel like I’m in the movie the Neverending Story, and I need to fight the great nothing: the apathy, the sadness, the hopelessness. Not that we are that way all the time, and not that I’m constantly jubilant and smiling. I have days when I’m down. I know, it sounds like I’m setting myself up to be Sebastian, the guy that saves the day. I’m not. In fact I just struggle to keep those good deeds ahead of my, well… stupid deeds.

A few days ago, I went to Six Flags Muslim Day. It was raining, and the park was closing early. Thousands of people who drove for miles all over the northeast were turned away. I jumped in a convertible miata with someone I’ve only known briefly. Her name is Ibtisam.

We arrived there amid emptiness. Oh, there were people there, but there were no smiles. Women remarked to me as I walked by in an almost-glued-to-my-head balloon hat, “This is no fun.”

I tried to get her out. Out and happy. “Come on guys, I’m cold, warm me with your smiles,” I pleaded, offering balloon doggies and smiles. I even danced. The only time I can dance in front of a group of Muslims is with that balloon hat. Praise be to God for the blessing of balloon hats.

Muslims are my comfort zone. They also happen to be my discomfort zone.

They were all frowning, but a select few smiled. Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) officials came by to tell me that it was against ICNA policy for me to hand out free balloons. What?!?! So much for Muslim organizations.

Praise be to God, just having that one person there with me to
reinspire with smiles, to encourage, and to ask for that first balloon doggie to break the ice was such a blessing. Thanks Ibtisam. And not only was that a blessing, but the thought of You backing me, that definitely helped. I truly appreciate it. I owe You big time. Thank You again for being my shield against the negativity.

I know you think this sounds way too dramatic, but it is ridiculously true. You see the best and the worst of Muslims from my perspective. You put yourself in the spotlight and you get hammered with criticism, you get hammered with praise, and in the end, you just hope that your head ain’t so flat from all that hammering. Or worse, it swells up after all the hammering and you think you are Sir HijabMan, coolest guy in the universe. When the fact remains: You are a computer geek who got lucky.

Really though, my bout with negativity is nothing compared to who I truly pull for: Muslim singer/songwriters. Imagine for a second that you make music that people say is forbidden because of the instruments you use. Next, imagine people freely ripping and trading mp3 tracks from your CD. Or how about just downloading them. You aren’t getting paid for your work, and worse is the direspect associated with that. Ask me or any other Muslim artists if it’s really about the money. Or is it about pushing a message? And the only way they can continue pushing that message is if you support them. Buy their CDs. Dawud Wharnsby comes to mind, so does Sofia Baig, Amir Sulaiman, and Native Deen. Sorry if I didn’t mention you.

Back to Six Flags: I walked over to the dining area, where people were gathering to frown some more. When a 10 year old saw me. “I…,” she pointed. “I… KNOW YOU!”

Finally, a refreshing youth, sharing her happiness liberally. Boy, was this girl all about the glass half-full. She was ridiculously optimistic even in this rain, without any rides open. She’s the kind of girl who likes an extra scoop of icecream. May God
grant that girl heaven. We spoke, and laughed for a good 15 minutes. Lets hope her parents won’t be too mad at me for telling her to do what she loves, instead of the usual MD path.

I saw a young man I may have wronged and jumped at the chance to hand him a balloon hat. While it poured down on us. He looked at the balloon hat, looked at me and he smiled. My heart danced. It was true life Bollywood movie. He put on the balloon hat.

You know, it takes an amazing amount of courage for anyone to stick out in a crowd of Muslims. You know its true, and I don’t even have to give you an example, just refer to the woman calling me crazy at the beginning of this post. Around 12, right as the park closed, I persuaded Ibtisam to put the top down on the convertible. We proceeded to drive around the parking lot to groups of Muslims, while I twisted balloon animals. We sped up, turned around, spinned in circles and delivered balloons.

As I was saying, for that young man to accept the balloon hat, a pink one, no less, and to put it on… was nothing short of a victory for me. The more small victories, the less I focus on the big nothing.

Then, to top it off an old uncle recognized me. “I smile whenever I see you,” he said sweetly.

“Uncle, my job is done. Because I came just to make you smile.” I patted his arm with my rain-soaked hand and left a mark. He didn’t mind.

This is not about being crazy. This is about love! And to keep us from going crazy!

I just wanted to thank You and you. And recount this blessed, rainy day, in which some Muslims smiled, some Muslims grimaced, but we pray that they all care.

Now, go be crazy.