salam sisters n brothers The Stranger A few months before I was born, my dad met a stranger who was new to our small town. From the beginning, Dad was fascinated with this enchanting newcomer, and soon invited him to live with our family. The stranger was quickly accepted and was around to welcome me into the world a few months later. As I grew up, I never questioned his place in our family. In my young mind, each member had a special niche. My brother, Bilal, five years my senior, was my example. Fatimah, my younger sister, gave me an opportunity to play big brother’ and develop the art of teasing. My parents were complementary instructors- Mom taught me to love the word of Allah, and Dad taught me to obey it. But the stranger was our storyteller. He could weave the most fascinating tales. Adventures, mysteries, and comedies were daily conversations. He could hold our whole family spell-bound for hours each evening. If I wanted to know about politics, history, or science, he knew it. He knew about the past, understood the present, and seemingly could predict the future. The pictures he could draw were so life like that I would often laugh or cry as I watched. He was like a friend to the whole family. He took Dad, Bilal, and me to our first major league baseball game. He was always encouraging us to see the movies and he even made arrangements to introduce us to several movie stars. The stranger was an incessant talker. Dad didn’t seem to mind but sometimes Mom would quietly get up while the rest of us were enthralled with one of his stories of faraway places, go to her room, and read her Qur’an and pray. I wonder now if she ever prayed that the stranger would leave. You see, my dad ruled our household with certain moral convictions. But this stranger never felt an obligation to honor them. Profanity, for example, was not allowed in our house-not for some of us, from our friends, or adults. Our longtime visitor, however, used occasional four letter words that turned my ears and made Dad squirm. To my knowledge, the stranger was never confronted. My dad was a teetotaler who didn’t permit alcohol in his home, as good Muslims should. But the stranger felt like we needed exposure and enlightened us to other ways of life. He offered us beer and other alcoholic beverages often. He made cigarettes look tasty, cigars manly, and pipes distinguished. He talked freely (probably too much, too freely) about .... His comments were sometimes blatant, sometimes suggestive, and generally embarrassing. I know now that the stranger influenced my early concepts of the man-woman relationship. As I look back, I believe it was the grace of Allah that the stranger did not influence us more. Time after time, he opposed the values of my parents. Yet, he was seldom rebuked and never asked to leave. More than thirty years have passed since the stranger moved in with the young family on Wangee Road. He is not nearly so intriguing to my Dad as he was in those early years. But if I were to walk into my parents’ den today, you would still see him sitting over in a corner, waiting for someone to listen to him talk and watch him draw his pictures… His name you ask? We called him TV.