Fatimah in Arabic means “the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad”.
Everyone in her life always made a point to remind her of that. It was a daunting bar of expectation that seemed to rise higher every year.
“How could you dress that way?” her mother said once. “You’re shaming your namesake, child.”
“There’s nothing perfect about you, girl!” her brother used to tease.
“I thought girls named Fatimah were supposed to be more respectful,” the case officer said during her first arrest. “You’re lucky, in another time we would have cut your hand off for stealing. Now you just get a few lashes.”
“Whatever,” she said before telling him to eat shit and die.
Fatimah wasn’t like most girls in Saudi. Most girls at sixteen didn’t receive twenty lashes for shoplifting eyeliner and a candybar. It was five, originally, but the judge added fifteen more for what she said to the case officer. And to the judge.
They weren’t the only ones who were outraged by her behavior, however.
Many of the people attending the gathering were shocked and not just because of the punishment or the fact that it was being carried out against someone so young. No, they were shocked because she laughed when she received her punishment. It was an odd mixture of loud screaming and laughter that no one was really prepared to hear. An odd response from an odd girl, many would say later.
A video of the event made its way online. In it, Fatimah was dressed in her yellow hijab while a man in a black balaclava and a long beige salwar kameez presided over her punishment and administered the lashes with a short wooden whip.
She spent a week in her room after word got around about “the girl who laughs”.
Threats of rape and death followed. There were letters stuffed under the front door of the house, the occasional rock coming through the living room window or the phone calls at random times where a man would scream at her and call her a whore. To say nothing of the emails and the comments that existed anywhere the video was posted.
But Fatimah was different than most girls her age. After a week of hibernating in her room, she left a different person.
She was someone who felt emboldened by the outrage of others around them. In America, they would have called her a “rageaholic”. In France, they may have called her a provocateur. In Saudi, they just called her blasphemous.
She found courage online from some who didn’t condemn her for what she did or how she reacted to it. Foreigners, mainly. Many of them girls her age or older.
“Be yourself,” said MPhilly1968. “And don’t apologize to anyone for it.”
She began dressing differently. Her hijab gone, she would leave the house in v-neck shirts, tank tops and torn jeans. The typical make-up she wore was gone, now replaced with black lipstick, heavy eyeshadow and foundation that gave her paler complexion.
At first she was able to get away with looking like that in public since she stuck to leaving mostly at night when her parents were asleep. A few people made comments here and there but there were no major confrontations on the streets. It was different when, months later, she went out in broad daylight.
Her brother, Ali, tried to stop her before she left the house. First he demanded to know what she was doing “going outside like that.”
“This is me,” she said. “Fucking deal with it, ok?”
“You’re going to get whipped again!” he yelled after her.
Not good enough, she thought. The daughter of Muhammad had to do better.
On her seventeenth birthday, Fatimah was accosted by a group of men and women at a local market square when she broke into a parked car and tried to steal it. Using a rock wrapped in her hijab, she shattered the car’s driver’s side window. This immediately activated the car’s alarm, temporarily paralyzing her with surprise.
That wasn’t supposed to happen, she thought.
She climbed into the driver’s seat after overcoming some of her fear and began looking at the fuse box underneath the steering wheel but stopped and quickly looked up and over the dashboard when she heard the sounds of shouting. There were people standing and looking in her direction. Fatimah decided to ignore them and step up her efforts to start the car.
The beeping that the alarm emitted brought on a flash of memory and a strange sense of deja vu. It stopped her again after she found the two wires she needed. She remembered being in some kind of accident, she wasn’t sure. Impossible, since like most women in Saudi, she never drove anywhere because of the law that prohibited her from doing so.
Someone pulled her out of the car and threw her onto the floor as she had begun scraping together the two wires needed to hot wire the Audi.
An altercation followed involving the owner, the owner’s brother and his wife.
Fatimah left the woman with stitches along the bridge of her nose and bottom lip. The brother’s finger had been fractured and the owner suffered contusions to his groin and face, robbing him of a few teeth. Fatimah herself was beaten bloody, some of her clothes having been torn off of her body.
Later, at the police station, the same desk officer from before stared at her bloodied face as she was carried into the station by two officers, arm-in-arm, her clothes in tatters. She smiled through bloody teeth at him as they brought her directly to detainment.
Weeks later, a new video was posted online. The title read “BLASPHEMOUS LAUGHING THIEF WHORE LOSES HAND”. In it, Fatimah screamed and cried.
“If Fatimah the daughter of Muhammad stole, I will have her hand cut off.”
Bukhari Vol. 4 : No. 681