Allah is Great
“Has God forsaken me?”
The question ran through Dana’s crazed mind as she hastily packed her bags to the deep, destructive rhythm of bombs dropping in the city of Damascus.
At 20 years old, Dana has experienced more than a lifetime of horror and pain. A natural-born American citizen, she and her parents lived in Syria peacefully for 13 years until civil war hit in Damascus. As refugees, they escaped the country to harbor in the United States, She survived a civil war that plagued her city, watched and heard helplessly as her people died, and traveled across the country to escape death. The love of her faith and tremendous value in education has brought her the “Land of Opportunity,” where she pursued a new life and career goals.
Born in the United States, she and her parents decided to move to their hometown of Damascus, Syria when she was two years old. Dana’s parents proclaimed it was best for her to receive the same cultural upbringing they had as children. They lived in the countryside, where they tended to a small farm that consisted of chickens, donkeys, and horses. Dana lived comfortably in a two-story home and had her own room, and remembers that her father painted it in a special shade of purple that reminded her of the country sunset during summertime. During the weekends, she would visit her aunts, uncles, and cousins for family reunions, where they would gather under the familial customs of love for one another. They would pray in unison five times a day as the call for prayer echoed throughout the city from the city mosque.
“The call at sunrise was my favorite,” said Dana faintly, as her dark, hazel eyes glimmered with the memory, “my parents would take us outside and we could feel the love of Allah throughout the early, morning air. I cannot describe the feeling so easily.”
Dana tousled her golden curls with her free hand as her arm wrapped around her stomach. She looked away, trying to hide her emotions as her chest rose heavily with deep, shuddering sighs.
“My favorite memory was coming home with my school friends,” she muttered, her small, rose lips quivering, “we would walk to my house and my parents would make us sandwiches, and we were allowed to watch television for 30 minutes before we had to do homework.”
Dana’s parents made sure that she valued education right behind family, and her belief in Islam.
“My parents always said to me that I had to prove people of my worth,” said Dana passionately, “just because I am a woman does not mean I am not intelligent, incompetent or lazy. Unfortunately, many people in Syria expect girls to become stay-at-home mothers. I wanted to become a pediatrician.”
When Dana was 15 years old, she prepared for a bar exam that would determine her math and language skills. Depending on her placement, she could either fail miserably and remove her chances of becoming a doctor or pass to continue school with a focus in biology and medical sciences.
“I remember I would study for hours every single night,” Dana said, her already pale face becoming whiter with the memory, “I put in so much effort, I would even cry and pray to God so he could give me strength to pursue my dreams.”
Around the same time, civil war brewed under hushed rumors and faint declarations of violence. On March 2011, the first attacks were publicly made in Damascus.
“People were rioting in the streets, men would become savages, killing women and children mercilessly” sobbed Dana, her curls hiding her face scrunched in pain, “the military attacks were horrible, you could hear the screams of children silenced by the sounds of guns and explosions.”
The attacks commenced after the current Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, refused to step down from his presidency, and sent troops to violently silence protesters.
Dana paused and remained still in horror, reliving the memory. Her long, amber eyelashes were coated with silvery tears, and her hands twisted like snakes as she tried to comfort herself.
“He is a pig,” she spat in disgust, referring to al-Assad, “he caused so much pain and suffering to many innocent families. He is going to burn in Hell.”
Dana’s parents decided it was time to leave the country when their neighbor’s car was rigged with a bomb and burned their only child to death.
“The attacks were spreading farther into the countryside,” explained Dana, “the rebels wanted to make a bold statement to the government. Only families were crying out for peace. No one was on our side. Not our people, not our so-called democracy.”
Dana’s father decided the safest way to leave the country was to travel by car to Lebanon, where they could buy their plane tickets and go to California. Thankfully, all of them had dual American-Syrian citizenship, which would make the process easier.
“As I was packing my bags, I remember my mother singing a song about Allah’s greatness” whispered Dana, “I felt dead inside; my people were dead, my dreams were dead, even our chickens had been beheaded by the rebels. Everything reminded me of death. Allah was dead to me.”
Bombs thundered throughout during the day. Dana’s family asked God for forgiveness as they could not properly pray for the sake of their own lives. They could hear the deafening march of Syrian soldiers overtaking the city with their rifles and the rebels yelling prayers from the Quran as they attacked with homemade bombs and black-market weapons.
“They were raping the word of the Quran,” she growled, “they are not Muslims, they are terrorists.”
Dana and her family left in the dead of night, with only a few bombs sporadically exploding into the far distance.
“I left my education, my friends, my home, and my family,” Dana whispered through quiet sobs, “my heart belonged there, seeing my home disappear into the darkness of the countryside was like a knife driving deeper and deeper into my stomach. I felt betrayed by the country I loved.”
It was a four hour trip to the border of Lebanon. When they arrived at the border station, Syrian armed forces pointed their rifles at Dana’s father and demanded the reason for leaving the country.
“We are leaving to go to my cousin’s wedding,” Dana’s father lied calmly, “we are supposed to arrive by sunrise to our hotel.”
“Get the fuck out of the car,” ordered one of the armed men, gesturing him with his rifle to get on the ground.
Dana’s mother prayed silently as tears rolled down her face. She clutched onto her hijab. Dana sat in the backseat with her sister, in complete horror.
“I remember feeling very small,” said Dana, almost inaudibly, pausing to remember the memory, “so insignificant, like an ant. I remember thinking that God had definitely abandoned us at that moment.”
“Are you lying to me?”, yelled the soldier, kicking Dana’s father in the ribs.
“No, I swear to you,” he gasped, “please have mercy on me, I am a husband and father, my family needs me.”
“Scum! You are lowly as the maggots digging through the flesh of the dead,” screamed the armed soldier, spitting on Dana’s father, “Coward! You decide to leave the country for your own safety, but refuse to fight for what’s right!”
He cocked the gun and pointed it at his head.
“Let them go,” demanded a voice from behind the car.
Dana described an older man with silver hair and deep frown lines emerged from the small border office and peered into the car.
“I thought he was gazing upon us, measuring us up as if we were livestock he was going to purchase,” said Dana, trembling, “I was thinking the worst, I asked Allah for forgiveness, to please spare my mother and sister.”
The younger soldier kicked Dana’s father once more and shoved him into the driver’s seat. They were given permission to leave the country by the officer in charge.
Dana’s father drove for what seemed like a lifetime, the blood dripping consistently from his mouth and nose, covering the steering wheel and his lap. No one said anything for hours.
“We were all crying,” said Dana, “no one spoke for a long time, I think we were afraid to break the silence because it all felt so unreal. I felt numb from crying; the tears refused to fall from my eyes anymore.”
At sunrise, they arrived in a small village, abandoned their car and took a train, a bus and finally, a taxi to arrive at the Beirut International Airport.
Once on the plane, they washed off in the bathroom and took a well-deserved 15-hour nap. Dana said she woke up in a panic every time there was turbulence. It reminded her of the all-too familiar, horrible rumble of bombs that would rock the very core of her soul as she would struggle to fall asleep on her bed back in Damascus.
Upon arriving at the LAX Airport, Dana’s uncles and aunts greeted their family passionately, clutching onto their clothes and sobbing onto their shoulders, thanking Allah that He brought them alive. Tears stained their clothes and sobs echoed between onlookers as they held one another.
“First, they thought we were not going to make it across the border,” explained Dana, “second, our flight was delayed by an hour, so when we didn’t arrive on time, our family assumed the worst.”
Dana and her family immediately settled in a small home in Upland, California.
Starting a new life in the United States was not something new to Dana’s parents, but she personally struggled with the culture shock.
“I was glad I was alive and breathing,” she said, “ but my life was in Damascus, I had no friends here, barely any family and I had to practice my English more than usual. It wasn’t easy. American people are very superficial and quick to assume,” she continued, “I even had a few boys in high school call me a terrorist.”
Dana regained her faith in Islam after attending Upland High School her sophomore year.
“I prayed for His forgiveness for so many nights,” she sighed, “I prayed that I would find solace in this country that I was so unfamiliar with, and He listened. He saved me.”
Dana quickly assimilated into the American high school scene, she took honor and AP classes, joined clubs and attended football games, rallies, and school dances.
“I made so many wonderful friends,” she smiled through tears, “they taught me new values, especially tolerance and acceptance.”
Her parents encouraged her to pursue her career goals that she abandoned in Syria.
“They told me that they did not raise me to become a quitter,” she said proudly, “I think they’re right. I was still going to prove myself of my worth, regardless of what happened in my past.”
Dana graduated high school in 2014 and is currently pursuing her dreams of becoming a medical practitioner by majoring in Biology at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona.
Sara, Dana’s mother, is incredibly proud of her daughter.
“I am so happy Allah gave us the chance to start anew in America,” she said, her voice quavering, “Dana has shown so much potential and He has given her the blessing to get into school and continue what she left behind in Syria.”
Dana’s father, Malu, agrees with Sara.
“She is quite the smart one,” he laughed, his great, black beard whipping, “both in the head and mouth; she always has something to say.”
“I would like to think of her intelligence as both a blessing and a curse,” he said gruffly, his black eyes twinkling.
“Though I did not take the bar exam in Syria, I would like to think I am quite successful here,” Dana giggled, her curls bouncing, “the American education system is so much more relaxed.”
“Without my faith, I don’t think I would have persisted as hard as I did to get good grades and leave my past in the past,” Dana said, rubbing her temples, “I will always acknowledge where I come from because I am proud of being Syrian. I am happy because He never abandoned me.”
“Allah is Great,” she concluded, with a confident smile on her lips.