When we were kids, everything we did was a mistake. Dancing was wrong, singing and make-up was a sin, running and even laughing had to be done in a certain way.
In 1999, at one of our useless family gatherings, my cousin had the latest (Free Mix 3) cassette. Then, music companies released mixtapes because not every house had music channels, ours included. The radio streamed only three transmissions (News, Quran, and one that was always blurred). Together, we brought our cassette player and gathered in the living room to listen.
We would usually lock the door, so my grandmother wouldn’t hear us. That day we invited the whole family to dance with us—it was the latest cassette! Everyone should celebrate the update. The small living room had fourteen happy dancing souls; the excitement raised our temperature and one of my cousins took off her shirt and tied it around her waist, pretending to be a belly dancer. My grandmother was clapping with joy until she saw my cousin with a tank top, ‘GIRL! Turn this off! Satan came to the sound of music! He led you to do this sinful act!’ Their faces were filled with shame, mine, and my sisters weren’t, they believed every word that came out of her mouth, we didn’t.
I don’t blame my grandmother for what she grew up to believe. At the time, we were constantly reminded that those were heresies. We were taught to excuse my grandmother and understand where her claims came from.
In 1979, while everyone was free and cinemas were all over the country, when life was simple and safe, a crisis happened; Johayman happened. My mother was fifteen years old, ‘I was in grade seven or eight, I can’t remember. After finishing Alfajr’s prayer we were getting ready for school, we sat at the kitchen table for breakfast, helicopters were roaming above us, and we heard her blades whooshing. We looked immediately at our mother, and we knew. We knew that when they showed up, something serious was happening. Our building was built on a mountain called Jyyad, it was next to the mosque where you could see the minarets. We ran to the windows to see what was happening and heard gunshots and people screaming. Men were running up the mountain, and smoke was covering the skies. My mother asked us to close the window and follow her back to the kitchen, she raised the volume of the radio and a man was giving a speech, claiming that he was the Messiah. We knew then that someone called Juhayman took over Al-haram (the holy mosque) and locked everyone inside. He seized all the gates and started shooting people inside and out.’
After the Juhayman Incident, my grandmother, and every citizen in the country, changed—there was mass trauma. The mosque was released from the cult’s grip, but people’s minds were trapped. From walking around the street in dresses to locking themselves indoors or covering entirely. New laws were set—not laws, superstitions—restricting international concerts and banning media coverage. Cultural norms were evoked by unknown individuals to control and prevent future catastrophes. The Islamic world was shaken, and the cracks were filled with misleading beliefs.
In 2019, at one of our useless family gatherings, we asked my grandmother if she would go to Mohammed Abdu’s concert; ‘How much is it?’, would be her only concern.