Fighting Trump’s immigration ban with love and laughter

Katy Lemay/The Globe and Mail

Katy Lemay/The Globe and Mail

Trump’s immigration ban as it affects one man and his son’s grave.

Hasan loved to hear me sing to him. This came as a bit of a shock to me. There was always a collective groan in the Farooq family household when I would begin humming an old country song. But my baby boy, my Hasan, loved it. Coming home from classes from UC Berkeley Law school, I would scoop him up into my arms and sing all of his favourite sleepy-time songs.

Hasan’s tastes were varied. He loved Imam al Busiri’s 11th-century ode to the Beloved Messenger Muhammad and he loved my a capella version of the Star Wars theme. He was a particularly big fan of Dawud Wharnsby Ali, a Canadian Muslim folk singer who sings about faith, flowers and cups of tea.

Born three-weeks prematurely on May 5, 2015, at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, Hasan arrived in my arms wheezing.

As I cut the umbilical cord, it became apparent to me quickly that he wasn’t breathing as he should have been. The pediatric nurses rushed him off to the neonatal intensive-care unit.

He was hooked into the CPAP machine to help him breathe and tears of fear rolled down my cheeks while his tiny fingers wrapped around my finger. With his breathing stabilized, Hasan turned his head to me and gave me a huge impish grin.

It was a grin that promised this was the first of many pranks, in cahoots with his brilliant, carefree mother, to be played collectively on his overprotective hypochondriac of a father.

I wanted to name him Yahya, meaning, “he who lives,” the Arabic name for the biblical John. My father, looking at my son’s blue-green-grey eyes, his light brown hair and his impudent smile, thought we should name him Hasan, meaning “beautiful.” It did not take much persuasion for my wife and I to agree.

As we prepared Hasan for his burial nine-months later, washing that beautiful, wavy hair, I realized the deep wisdom in my father’s words.

We drove down to California when Hasan was four-months old so I could start grad school in San Francisco. He was on the smaller side, as premature babies often are, but other than that, he was healthy, babbling and chattering all the way. As we drove past the border, through Idaho and then on the Oregon Trail, I had a distinct sense of a homecoming of sorts.

Hasan was truly a California boy. I could see the Pacific Ocean reflected in his sky-blue eyes. My wife would take him in his stroller almost every day for walks along the Bay while I was studying.

What I was studying seemed so at odds with the world around me. As Donald Trump’s presidential run began to pick up steam and an engine of hate, misogyny, Islamophobia and racism began to tear its way through Alexis de Tocqueville’s imagined American dream, I would come home and hold my baby tightly. Hasan’s laugh – often prompted by pulling off his tiny sock – would make me wonder how there could be ever be hate in the world.

Hasan passed away suddenly, with no real warning. I was only a month or so away from completing my thesis. I came home in late February from class to find that he looked exceptionally pale; rushing him to the hospital, we learned that he had a rare genetic disorder that had affected his immune system. Two days later, he closed his eyes – eyes that could stare into your soul – for the last time.

Two months later, as I graduated from UC Berkeley and drove back past Seattle to return to my Canadian law firm, the car seat in the back was empty.

President Trump’s immigration ban does not affect us at this time. But I worry that my wife – who still travels on a Pakistani passport – will one day not be allowed to visit our child’s grave in San Francisco.

And I wonder what Hasan would think of all this.

Our metaphysical separation, between heaven and Earth, is also tied to a political separation between borders. I think my son would have wanted me to respond to the “Muslim ban” with the same way he lived. With love. With song. With enormous hope. With a laugh that made my heart soar. With dignity and respect.

And so, we go on to work against these policies. I do it, maybe in a small corner of my heart, to ensure that my wife and I can visit California to visit my son’s grave without being turned away.

I do it more, however, to respect my son’s legacy. A legacy of light and laughter and love. It is a legacy that we will all need to hold onto in the upcoming days of uncertainty that we face. It is a song that we all need to sing to our children: “A voice was chanting, As the fog was lifting, This land was made for you and me.”

Mustafa Farooq lives in Sherwood Park, Alta.

From the Globe and Mail ‘Facts & Arguments‘ section.