By Umar Abdul Qadir
2nd Place Winner, Writing Competition, 2022 MSA LSC Showdown
Editor’s Note: Muslim Youth Musings had the honor and opportunity to collaborate with the MSA Lone Star Council for their 2022 MSA Showdown Competition and publish selected entries in the categories of Writing and Performance Poetry following the theme of “Restart. Refresh. Reignite.” We congratulate all of the competitors and winners on producing high-quality work that is now being shared with Muslims across the world.
“We don’t think you would be a good fit for our daughter.”
“Why is that?” Hamzah muttered to himself. He sat at his desk, staring up at the ceiling, deep in thought, recalling the words he had heard only a few hours before. Crumpled up pieces of paper were littered around him, failed attempts at him trying to put his thoughts in words. His therapist said writing down how he was feeling would help, but pen and paper seemed to be in some sort of disagreement with each other today. Nothing was coming off quite the way he wanted it to.
One might expect this—not many people feel particularly inclined to do anything for the rest of the day after a failed marriage proposal. He sighed and tossed another paper ball into a trash can in the corner of the room. He needed to do something else. His eyes darted to the mouse and keyboard at the corner of his desk. Within moments, they were in front of him, and the glare of his computer monitor reflected off his square-rimmed spectacles.
Hamzah complied and clicked a program on the bottom corner of the screen. The fan of the computer’s monitor whirred to life as it coped with the demands of the strenuous application. As it booted up, Hamzah again reflected on his situation. Why did they turn him down?
His grades could not have been an issue. He had a well-paying job lined up for himself right after he graduated. Hamzah involved himself in the community, worked weekly with a non-profit, and was president of a youth club. He went to the mosque almost every day, at the very least for one prayer. What could it have been?
He looked down at his dark brown hands. It couldn’t have been that, could it? No, no, their daughter Hafsah was an incredibly sweet and kind person—she had to have gotten that from her parents. He shook the thought and concentrated as the program finally loaded onto his computer.
Hamzah entered another username and password and found himself looking at a character of his own creation named “yllwtreebranch.” It was a game, specifically a “massively multiplayer online,” an MMO, as it was known as, and meaning that it was a game that was primarily driven by interactions with other players. You would perform the actions in the game with others and could form bonds and relationships with them almost like in the real world. Unlike the real world, however, you were not judged by characteristics you did not choose. The real world, as Hamzah noted, was a court and every person around you was the judge and jury. Things about you that you had no say in often were the pieces of evidence used as others laid down their sentence. Your race, your religion, who your family was, how you looked, how much money you had—these all were taken into account as you wondered whether someone would judge your worth. This was not anyone’s fault in particular, but experiencing it to some degree every day became exhausting.
Hamzah needed an escape, and the game was often his freedom from the world.
The online game felt very liberating for him—every time he logged on felt like a fresh start. Things like class and occupation were more superficial than they were in the real world and were things one could easily change and choose with a few clicks of a button. No one would judge for having a different one than theirs, and if anything, being different meant one might be appreciated and be invited to do an activity in the game. His appearance was entirely of his own choosing, and no one thought of him any different no matter how he looked. If he was a six-foot-tall monster with horns in the game one day or a blue-haired elf, it did not matter at all to any of the other players. The only thing that mattered was how well you played the game, and whether you showed that you tried your best, even if you were unsuccessful on your mission.
Judgment was nowhere to be found.
Several miles away, a girl drummed away at her own desk. Apparently, when her parents had met with someone earlier in the day, they had turned him down. They told her something about him not being a good fit for her. She was disappointed. Hafsah had met Hamzah through a mutual friend a few months prior and had thought that he would be a great choice if he ever proposed. She tried to push the thought out of her mind. Somehow, it was not her biggest concern at the moment. No, a much larger concern to her at the moment was staring at her from her computer screen. It was a face that haunted her dreams frequently, giving her many a sleepless night. It would not leave her alone during the day either, constantly appearing whenever she would check her email, be it on her computer, her phone, or even the one instance she tried it on a friend’s smart fridge. She stared at it, a familiar feeling of dread seeping in.
It was blunt and to the point. That was a positive, at least. She could not stand when they used flowery language and long paragraphs to say the same thing; it only made her feel worse. She had anticipated that she would be turned down for this program as well, mostly because the last ten or so she had applied for had done the same. She knew why, she knew it would come, but Hafsah could not help but feel disappointed. Sure, there were gaps in her resume, owed to long periods of poor health and a bout of poor mental health that caused everything in her life to deteriorate, but she had done well recently. She had good projects to show in her portfolio and the people she knew were all impressed by her work. She hoped the program she applied would see it as improvement, that she had gotten past all her setbacks, but it seemed no one saw it that way.
Hafsah closed the email and sighed. She didn’t feel like working on another application at the moment. She stared out a nearby window at some children kicking a soccer ball around in the cul-de-sac, wondering what she should do for the rest of the evening. She was caught up on assignments. Studying could wait another day. Going downstairs and being asked to help out around the house felt like it might keep things off her mind, but she knew they would want to talk about the proposal and explain things to her, and that was not a discussion Hafsah wanted to have today. Her eyes slowly drifted to a logo on the top right of her computer screen.
“Well, I do have some free time right now,” Hafsah said, justifying her decision to herself. She double-clicked the logo and waited as the game booted up and updated. She had not played it in months. It was a big part of her life for a long time. Entering her username and password and seeing her character again—a goblin named “prpleswordhilt”—felt like coming home. She moved her character to a nearby lobby, where she joined a few random other people from around the world in a “raid.”
A “raid” is essentially a cooperative mission within the game where a few players would join in on a common goal and if they were successful, would be heavily rewarded. It required skill, teamwork, and sometimes, a little bit of luck. She took a deep breath as her character was thrown into the raid, and began. Hafsah had forgotten how it felt to play the game. She played a few raids, joining a random lobby of players every time. Whether she succeeded or failed, the next raid was a new start. What she had done, good or bad, did not matter in the next raid she participated in.
The real world scrutinized her every misstep, every single thing that had happened to her, whether she was in control of it or not. Here, none of that would matter. The next raid was a new beginning, a new chance to try and claim a prize. No one looked at her for the times she had forgotten to heal a fellow player or had her character defeated far too early within the raid. She had only planned on playing one raid or two, but the feeling of being set free reignited a long-lost love she had for the game. A call for dinner was responded with that she would eat later and her engagement with the raids continued into the night.
A few hours later, Hafsah decided that this would be her last raid of the night. There had been failures and successes of differing degrees, but she enjoyed every moment of it with no regard for the result. She moved her goblin character into the lobby once again and waited as others joined her. This particular raid was for a party of five players. She was joined by a dark elf, an archer, a strange-looking pile of goo, and a large monster. The dark elf and archer would certainly be useful for the long-ranged prowess that her own character did not possess. She did not know what the goo was, but she assumed that it must have some useful characteristic. Her eyes lingered on the monster. It was named “yllwtreebranch.” Something about it felt oddly familiar to her.
Hamzah joined yet another raid. He was no longer thinking about the events that transpired earlier in the day. The only thing on his mind was trying to succeed in one more raid so he would have enough of the reward currency to buy his character a new pair of shoes. He squinted at his screen to see who had joined him. He was impressed by his fellow players. A dark elf, a goblin, an archer, and best of all, a pile of goo were going to be part of the raid. He hoped that he would be able to keep up with the members of his party. As he sat back in his chair, his eyes drifted to the goblin called “prplswordhilt.”
Did he know that name from somewhere?
He had barely a moment to ponder the thought before the game announced that the raid was beginning. “Okay, guys, let’s do this!” they said together.