This is a profile for the other major character in my new writing project.
Brian and Aisha will be the two central characters, with Brian is the protagonist and Aisha the deuteragonist I suppose. I’m not 100% comfortable seeing her as simply a foil for Brian though. I think Aisha’s role in the plot goes beyond her relative importance to Brian. She’s the one who brings in the Fantastical elements. She’s very important thematically, and she’s a strong counterpoint to Brian. Where Brian (due to his lack of confidence and acceptance of tragedy) is often quite passive and carried along by events, Aisha is more proactive; she seeks solutions and resists what fate seems to offer.
Aisha is a slight woman with dark-olive skin and large, brown eyes. Her face is narrow, almost pinched, as if from being underfed. She often looks tired. Her fingers are always busy, she’s often fidgeting with things or chewing her nails. Occasionally she’ll give in and have a cigarette.
She was born in Northern Iraq, the only daughter of a smaller offshoot from the Al-Bayati clan. Her family was well positioned in Iraqi society and relatively wealthy. Her father was a moderate and progressive. He, frustrated by the limited opportunities for his daughter and dissatisfied with Baathist politics, emigrated to Britain when Aisha was 14.
They lived in London and Aisha was educated in Britain. She always considered herself Muslim, but was very moderate in her interpretation and it became a less important part of her life. She enjoyed writing and studied journalism at City University in London, graduating in 1997. While studying she met other Arab Muslim students and reconnected with the religion. She fell in love with Bilal Alawi, another Iraqi Muslim studying in London. Like her father Bilal had anti-Baathist philosophy, but he felt that educated Iraqis had a responsibility to return to Iraq and try to effect change from within.
Bilal and Aisha were married in Mar 1998 (aged 23). She kept her ‘maiden’ name in a pleasant confluence of feminist and Islamic belief. The couple returned to Northern Iraq in June that year. She struggled with the culture-shock. The Baath party was stronger than either her or Bilal had remembered and the loss of freedoms to which she had become accustomed in Britain upset her more than she had anticipated. She had few friends, being ostracised by the local women due to her perceived airs (being educated and having an English accent even in Arabic). Though she sometimes wrote English language articles for smaller news services which Bilal submitted under his name she regretted leaving her aspirations as a journalist behind.
Aisha and Bilal had her first son, Mohammed, on April 24th 2000. She welcomed the boy, but having him made her long for her parents and a return to England. Bilal disagreed. Since his return to Iraq he had become a lot less idealistic and more pragmatic. He still professed privately to her to oppose the Baathists but more and more often he was working with members of the party. This disturbed Aisha and they sometimes fought over her desire to return to Britain. With her young son Aisha began to feel trapped and isolated. Bilal assured her that things were on the verge of change.
After the Sept 11 attacks of 2001 Aisha became more active in discussions of Islam and terrorism online. She ran an anonymous blog detailing life in Iraq under the Baathist regime. She kept this secret even from Bilal. Through this blog she re-connected with some contacts she had in Britain and some of her writing appeared in newspapers and other mass-media, always filtered through British journalists or Associated Press.
In January 2003, aware of the impending US invasion, she sent reports to the west and a request for help from her British contacts. She finally shared her secret with Bilal. He was furious and didn’t want to leave Iraq. He felt that Iraqi loyalists should welcome the US forces and help defeat the Baathists. He armed himself despite Aisha’s objections. Somehow Aisha’s blogging was discovered by others, and shortly after the US invasion she was labelled a traitor and a spy by others in the neighbourhood. The accusations were to be brought before a local tribal justice system in which neither she, nor Bilal, had faith.
In early February Aisha prayed over consecutive nights for protection and guidance. Within a week Bilal finally agreed that she should get out of Iraq. Her British contacts though couldn’t help her, citing the US invasion and becoming difficult to contact. Bilal had contacts who could take her through Al-Mosul and Al- Ya’rubiyah to a refugee camp in Syria, but they had to go before the borders were closed. Neither of them knew at the time she was pregnant. Bilal was supposed to join her after the invasion.
She was in the camp for nearly a year. Feeling betrayed by her British contacts she instead applied for resettlement to the US. In April she heard that Bilal had been killed by US forces. She changed her request for resettlement to South Africa, Canada or Australia. Her youngest son, Kaden, was born in the camp in August 2003. In January 2004 she was granted refugee status in Australia and resettled with her two sons, first to community housing in Flemington and then independently to Brunswick.
She has been in Australia since 2004. She does some freelance writing for a local community paper under a pseudonym. English papers are not that keen to have her by-line and while she speaks Arabic she doesn’t write in Arabic to a publishable standard. Her main income is social security which barely covers rent, food, bills and school costs. When she does have a little spare she sends it to her mother-in-law in Iraq.
She is religiously observant and believes in a spiritual duality of good and evil. She believes the Quran has evidence of Jinn and instructions on how to summon a Jinni. She believes that she had summoned a Jinni in Iraq which whispered to Bilal that he should save his family and get them out of the country. She believes that the same Jinni protected her during her time in the Syrian camp, but that the Jinni could not follow her to Australia. Because of recent stress both financial and social Aisha again prayed for protection. The next day Brian arrived at her flats. Aisha suspects Brian may be a Jinni in human form.
Her sons are now 11 and 8. Mohammed will turn 12 later in the month. She is mourning the death of Bilal. She’s unsure exactly when he died but she heard the news on the 8th April 2003. That makes Easter Sunday 2012 the 9th anniversary of his death. She wishes to recognise the date, but her grieving is complicated by the lack of clarity in Islam over death anniversaries. An Imam advised her that any religious observance of a death anniversary would be bid’ah.
Aisha is a smart woman and a strong one. She has a deep faith which she claims she has witnessed in the events of her life. She is pleased to be in Australia for the sake of her sons, but the overt racism against Muslims, especially women in the hi-jab, worries her. She is also worried by some of the young Muslim men who respond to this racism with their own violence and the preachers who she believes distort the Quran to more extremist readings. As a result she encourages her sons to attend a state primary school, speaks most often to them in English, and encourages them to get to know ‘Australians’. It is perhaps this desire to demonstrate the advantages of ‘integration’ that she initially speaks with, and shows kindness to Brian.