Being Muslim In The Tenderloin

September 27, 2015 - storage organizer

This article, combined by Tom Carter, was creatively published in Central City Extra’s September 2015 issue. You can find a paper distributed around area cafes, nonprofits, City Hall offices, SROs and other residences, as good as in a periodicals territory on a fifth building of a Main Library.

Part 1: Clash Of Values

In a sunlit Curran House courtyard, 13-year-old Nada Kaid sits with her mother, Nabihah. Muslims from Yemen, lowest of a Arab countries, they wear normal dress. Away from Curran House, it causes them some grief.
Nabihah’s chador is a black dress that covers all yet her face and hands. Nada wears separates of lighter dim colors, highlighted by her blue hijab, a scarf. As with her mother, usually face and hands show, a pointer of righteous tact in Islam that, accompanied by a lowered gaze, commands honour among believers.

Sharen Hewitt stands nearby. She’s a Extra’s monitor for a array of profiles of residents of TNDC’s remarkably different Curran House, 67 units of nonprofit understanding housing in an elaborating retard of a Tenderloin. Hewitt lives here.

“Muslim women can’t be photographed given of their eremite restrictions,” Hewitt says. Interviewing anyone in Yemen—let alone a woman—would be deliberate “invasive and unacceptable. And this is a unequivocally private family.”

Nabihah Kaid did not concede her face to be photographed, in gripping with her
Muslim faith. 

Nada, her honeyed face a design of concentration, interprets her mother’s replies to a reporter’s questions. She speaks fluently, discerning and intelligently, over her years,
seamlessly adding her possess comments to her mother’s Arabic. Despite 7 and a half years during Curran House, Nabihah can't pronounce English; she usually knows a few words.

Jamal, 45, conduct of a Kaid family, is divided working. He’s lived in San Francisco for 26 years, yet trafficked frequently to Yemen. He was married and started his family there. Now he has six
children: 5 live here during Curran House, and one is in Yemen, where some-more than half a race lives in poverty. 
Jamal sent income to his family in Yemen until he could move them here in Jun 2006.

A few days earlier, in a run of a Curran, a Extra’s stating organisation initial met a mom and daughter. News from Yemen, that was on a margin of collapse, was worsening. Nabihah’s mother’s residence was cleaved in twin by a bomb; luckily, no one was injured. Nabihah was distraught, Nada was agitated. Their kin were in grave danger. Airports were close down, ports were blockaded. Starvation was a daily threat.

“$25 for a bottle of water!” Nada exclaimed. “Children buried by buildings falling. There are no some-more schools. It’s so sad.” Nabihah’s eyes were far-reaching with fear. She kept relocating her fingers adult to her mouth, and down, as if eating popcorn.
“Food,” she said. “Wa-tur.”

Nada is her mother’s beam and indicate chairman outward of the 22-year-old Islamic Society of San Francisco. 400 Muslims frequently attend a mosque during 20 Jones St., a largest of 5 in a city and a usually one where a khut-bah (sermon) is in English.

The mosque has a repute for doubt aged beliefs. Some years ago, it took a magnanimous step of stealing a assign in a masjid (sanctuary) that traditionally separates organisation from women.

Nada, who avidly reads a Quran, has been unprotected to some-more assimilating influences than her mother, interjection to her fluency and a organisation of her cheeky, pubescent American classmates.

But her training has come during a price, generally during school. Because of her dress, boys provoke and gibe her. As a Muslim girl, “we are not even ostensible to demeanour during boys,” Nada says. “The African-American boys call me ‘bomb-thrower.’ They are bullies.”

“Here, we am famous around a building, and during school,” she says, now during home and during palliate in Curran House. She has schooled she contingency “stick adult for yourself—act like I’m brave.”

The path irreverence riles her father up. “He unequivocally gets aggressive,” Nada said. Her mom won’t even travel Nada’s youngest brother, Muhamed, 7, a retard and a half to Boeddeker Park—widely supposed as a safe, open place for families.

Nada, active in a Curran House community, gives a area outward an F. “Dogs pooping in a street, people urinating, women reaching down in their pants for dim drugs, people smoking.”

There is many to provoke any immature person, let alone a Muslim who aspires to spin a high-level interpreter, or a chef, or a pediatrician. Those are dreams her kin encourage, yet that would be impractical if she were in Yemen, where a preparation rate for women is 35 percent and frequency some-more than a third of school-age children, even before a stream troubles, attended delegate school.

“The area needs changes,” Nada concludes. “Boeddeker Park is good now. And Glide does good things. But it’s not enough.”

Part 2: Isolation

Jamal Kaid, sap from work, is relaxing on a cot in a Curran House lobby. He’s skinny and handsome, with chiseled features, a trim mustache, and dim eyes that don’t equivocate looking. He wears a fresh, long-sleeved, dim blue string shirt and frail jeans. Jamal is a father of six: in further to Nada and Muhamed, there’s Bilal, 25; Jamil, 21; and a twins, Alma and Omar, 18.

Jamal Kaid.

Except for Bilal, a whole family lives in a three-bedroom unit on a fourth floor, with an open kitchen confronting a small vital room. Bilal is still in Yemen, perplexing to get out.
The nation is in patches and Bilal is evading with his profound wife, clearing roadblocks in a outpost with Americans who have a kind of tactful immunity, headed over a Arabian dried in 120-degree feverishness to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital. 
There, he expects to get papers to move his family to San Francisco.

“He got into a van,” Jamal said. “His wife, too. With a lot of Americans. He came from a dangerous place. Went opposite a country. A lot of stops. Nobody touches Americans. If you’re with them, you’re safe.”

Jamal doesn’t know what will occur when Bilal arrives in San Francisco with his wife. He would like to put them adult in his apartment, yet that would make 9 people, and it’s opposite building rules.

The Kaids have had an open highway to citizenship, Jamal says. His grandfather was a U.S. navy captain who was killed in a Korean War. As a result, a U.S. supervision awarded U.S. citizenship to his grandfather’s family in YemenJamal’s father came to San Francisco and got a immature label in 1969; he shortly had twin citizenship, dividing his time between a countries.

Jamal initial came to San Francisco to live with his father in 1989, doing construction work and peculiar jobs. The estimated 7,500 Muslims in San Francisco mostly drive taxis, work in blue-collar jobs, and possess small businesses like grocery stores.

It’s a sheer contrariety to a rarely prepared Muslims in a South Bay, many of whom are ensconced in a tech industry. San Francisco is home to some of a lowest Muslims in a Bay Area: 39 percent acquire $20,000 or less, according to a 2013 Bay Area Muslim investigate on racial and residential demographics. Arab ethnicity information doesn’t exist for a Tenderloin, where Arab organizers contend Yemen has a many immigrants of all Arab countries.

The initial mosque in San Francisco non-stop in 1965 in Bernal Heights; a latest non-stop 3 years ago during 118 Jones St., a retard from a Islamic Society. There are 84 mosques sum in a Bay Area. In May, a Board of Education took one baby step toward inclusion: flitting a fortitude to try charity Arabic and Vietnamese classes for K-12 students, starting in 2017.


Jamal infrequently works 10 or some-more hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week, doing upkeep work for a organisation he won’t name given it doesn’t compensate overtime. He used to be a carpenter, he says, and dreams of carrying his possess small business with a excellent array of collection and a automobile or outpost for transportation.

Jamal married Nabihah in Yemen in 1989, and when he brought her and their flourishing family to a U.S., they lived in an unit on Geary before removing into Curran House.

Jamal’s father died 3 years ago, and a Kaid family’s enlightenment and Islamic sacrament have finished acclimatization a challenging task, even in ultra-liberal San Francisco. Hewitt says a family is removed in Curran House. “They’re vital in a abounding city yet a assistance of others. People don’t know where Yemen is, or about a culture.”

The fallout from 9/11 has combined a realistic symbol of bias. San Francisco has been delayed to tack Arab enlightenment into a city’s amicable fabric, yet Muslims have had a participation here for decades with a Arab American Grocers Association, that depends about half of a Tenderloin’s 70 dilemma store owners among a members. Citywide, membership is shrinking.

President Shakib Kaileh, who runs a small dilemma store on Union Square, says a organisation has 475 members, down from 650-700 a decade ago. Kaileh believes City Hall is “giving a giveaway palm to vast corporations” and chains, while augmenting regulations and restrictions and boosting a smallest wage. All that, and rising rents, are forcing dilemma store owners into other businesses, Kaileh says.

Sometimes even well-intended efforts to embody Arabs socially skip a mark, as with a double whammy that happened during a new Ramadan, Islam’s holy month that rums from Jun 17th to Jul 17th. That’s when Muslims worldwide discerning during illumination hours and boost their normal five-times-a-day praying. 

A kickoff celebration during Curran House, where there are 3 Muslim families, including a Kaids, also heralded a happy honour parade. TNDC circulated a pink, invitational poster: “Pride Ice Cream Social Ramadan Celebration,” Jun 17th, 5:30pm to 6:15pm—a time when Muslims are still fasting. Moreover, a Quran prohibits homosexuality, with Yemen one of 6 Arab countries carrying a genocide chastisement for gays.

Muslim men, comprising 90 percent of Yemeni immigrants, seem to cushion in a land of event improved than women, yet there are some immature women and girls who welcome preparation and find new and liberating pathways. When 18-year-old Alma, Jamal’s oldest daughter, graduated from Wallenberg High, she
became a initial womanlike in his extended family with a diploma. She starts during City College in a fall, attending a reopened campus in a neighborhood.

“I was good when Alma graduated, we was so proud,” Jamal says. “Such a good day. We all gave her a vast hug.”

By contrast, Alma’s mother’s era of Yemeni women exist in a whirl of mostly debilitating challenges, as Lucia Volk, San Francisco State University highbrow and informative anthropologist, wrote in an essay on a subject, “Feelings of Isolation and Distress Among Yemeni Women in San Francisco’s Tenderloin,” 6 years ago.

In a paper, Volk interviewed 15 Yemeni women in a Tenderloin about their health and well-being. (In a paper, the Yemeni consul afterwards estimated that 1,000 Yemenis lived in a TL, yet a associating source puts it during 50-plus, vital in a few buildings in a neighborhood.)

“A unchanging thesis is a clever clarity of amicable isolation, both from a mainstream enlightenment and other Muslims, including other Yemenis,” Volk wrote. The women’s inability to pronounce English and their Yemeni wardrobe were barriers that set them apart.

The building skeleton of their homes were even a factor.
“Their small apartments, with an open kitchen-dining room-living room plan, demarcate a women from receiving guests, according to Yemeni manners that need apart areas for organisation and women,” Volk wrote. “High crime rates on a travel stop a women from relocating around a neighborhood.”

San Francisco’s polyglot enlightenment has never illusory any home building devise shawl distant a women of a family from a men, so a Kaids contingency live in a some-more approved setting, with design reflecting a informative faith in gender equality.
But many revealing, Volk wrote, was when Yemenis distant from any other. That led to Americanization, that escalated isolation. “Everyone is looking out for themselves.”

The loneliness, Volk said, caused fatigue, basin and weight gain. English-language classes and educating non-Muslims about Islamic enlightenment were suggested as stairs to assuage these conditions. But Volk pronounced she hadn’t a idea how to counter, in a brief term, a issues of space and amicable isolation.

Jamal during Cool Supermarket on Taylor and Eddy.


Jamal, Hewitt and a Extra stating organisation visited a Yemeni grocery during Taylor and Eddy to accommodate some friends of Jamal’s. Adal Altahami’s Cool Supermarket is a grocery and accumulation store rolled into one — fruit and vegetables (in an area shortly to quadruple), toiletries, cigarette lighters, Giants t-shirts, and more.

“You have to have everything, if we don’t have liquor,” that is taboo in Islam, Altahami says. Even so, twin of a 4 other Yemeni businesses in a Tenderloin are wine stores; a other twin are a deli and a deli-grocery.


Cool Supermarket has spin a assembly place for Yemenis to trade news and empathize about a war.
Altahami recently let Hewitt and Jamal put a Yemeni service concession can on a counter. “We got $100,” Hewitt says. “That’s dimes and quarters, from a lowest area in a city. We sent it to a Red Cross.”

Jamal chats with Hashem Algahim, a clerk behind a counter, whose father is in Yemen. Nearby, Abdo Mohamed Ali Hussein, a new arrival, seems to be watchful for something to happen.

Abdo Mohamed Ali Hussein.


Hussein, 62, skinny and homeless, is a brief male whose English isn’t good. He indicates that he left Yemen a month ago, nearing in San Francisco, where his sister lives. Getting to America, he manages to contend in English, cost $3,000, a king’s ransom. He looks exhausted.
“Hard to me,” he says. “Hard time.” To move his wife, son and daughter with him would have cost an unfit $25,000.

Back during Curran House, a organisation takes a conveyor to Jamal’s apartment.
Inside, a child from down a gymnasium is personification with Muhamed. His mom is in a small kitchen with Nabihah. Alma and Nada lay on chairs personification with a boy’s kitten, Lucky.

Jamal creates discerning introductions and settles on a cot with a twin boys. On one wall is a 20-by-20-inch print display Bilal, feeling with Muhamed. The mom talks about holding food into SF General for Jamil, who has repeated health problems from being strike by a car. The Extra organisation is offering (and declines) sodas, afterwards bread Nabihah baked, half-inch-thick brownish-red discs of wheat a hole of a vast saucers. They’re tough to punch through, yet rewarding, with a eccentric and juicy finish. 

Part 3: Jamal’s Story

Jamal took off work currently to be interviewed by a Extra, and he is sitting in a run in his uninformed shirt and jeans. He’s articulate about his kids.

“Jamil desired dancing and wanted to be a famous singer. He wrote poetry, yes, both in Arabic and English.”
But his mind turns to Bilal and his wife, who fled Yemen with bombs ripping in a air. “With Americans, in a bus,” he says. “Very dangerous. But nobody touches Americans, it’s like they have, what is it, tactful immunity. He is in Riyadh now. He’s got his papers. He’ll get a immature card, and in 3 years he’ll be a citizen. When we married my wife, she became a citizen.”


It’s mid-July, and Ramadan is scarcely over, definition an finish to a additional praying, fasting and reading of a Quran’s 114 chapters. In twin days, it will be time for good feasting, and a resumption of normal days.  

“I’m not Muslim,” Jamal says. “I honour Islam. But given are Muslims always fighting?” He became a Christian about 8 years ago. He wanted his family to be “the initial Christian family in Yemen.” (According to Wikipedia, Yemen indeed has about 3,000 Christians, among a race of around 26 million citizens.) But his mom wouldn’t buy it.

“I wish all of them would be Christians. What do we get from Islamic religion? Bad reputation. I’m good about Muslims.” They are “only spiteful people. They mangle mothers’ hearts. And a aged ones with prolonged beards, they don’t do anything.”

His friends in Yemen could frequency trust it when he went with them to urge to Jesus during small mosques. “They suspicion we was faking,” he says. “They laugh. But I’m Christian given we trust in it.” He says he’d be in risk if he went behind now, given Muslims are murdering Christians and clamp versa. “I don’t caring if we scapegoat for Jesus. They can cranky me,” he says, referencing crucifixion.

Jamal is a good suitor of Dr. Michael Youssef, a Egyptian-American televangelist with a 3,000-member method in Atlanta. He broadcasts in 115 countries, and one principle he preaches speaks to Muslims and
fundamentalist Christians—that homosexuality is immoral.

“The initial time we’re in San Francisco, it’s a happy parade,” Jamal says. “We leave town. But afterwards we demeanour around, and people from all over a universe are entrance here for happy parade. So we stay. we don’t have anything opposite them.” What counts, he says, is “honor and dignity.”

On Sundays he goes to a Holy Virgin Cathedral, a Russian Orthodox church in a Richmond. It’s a overwhelming edifice, with 5 domes lonesome in gorgeous 24-carat bullion leaf. The interior, lined with icons, eremite paintings and mosaics, is bright by a saturated chandelier, a contrariety to a minimalist furnishings in a Tenderloin mosques.

Jamal has forsaken some of his Muslim ways. He’ll splash a splash spasmodic (though zero stronger), and he doesn’t discerning alongside his family during Ramadan. He thinks it’s foolish.

Jamal fits simply into a general fabric of a Curran House residency, and is beholden to be there. Everyone on a fourth building is his friend, he says, expressing sold thankfulness for Sharen. He also mentions his loyalty with Lozano Listana, a TNDC workman from a eighth building whose Filipino-American family was a Extra’s initial farrago profile.  

Just then, Listana bursts by a doorway to a square to contend hello and shake Jamal’s hand. Then another TNDC worker, Ryan Thayer, village organizer of a Corner Store Coalition, comes over, too.

“The Kaids have finished a lot here,” Thayer says, mentioning their work planting and watering a building’s vast roof garden. “And their daughter Nada is a innate leader.” 

“We’re all family,” Listana says over his shoulder as he goes behind to work.

Outside of Curran House, Jamal finds a area confounding. “Some people are nice, yet outward a building is no good. The Tenderloin is bad people. They splash ethanol and lay down in a street. Drugs everywhere. But they are victims. we asked one given he takes drugs. He pronounced he had zero and no one, and did it for a pain. But nobody tries to harm me or fire me. Not one.”

“At work, we have my trek and we know [the other workers] need money, and zero is taken. On a travel they say, “Hi, brother,’ and shake my hand. They consider we am Muslim. All a homeless know me. we ask my wife, ‘Please make some food for them.'” She did.

Jamal reveals his life has taken a sad turn. Nabihah, he says, has left him. He is flattering certain she took Alma, Nada and Muhamed with her, to live with her father in Detroit.  No note, no communication.
“And she took all my money, any cent. Left nothing.”

She even
emptied their assets account, that was 
considerable. Last year, a speeding military automobile chasing a drug play on a lam struck Jamal in a center of a Leavenworth Turk intersection. He postulated bruises and a bad arm injury, and was taken to a sanatorium around ambulance. The arm has given healed, and in December, he perceived a $40,000 allotment from a city. That, or what remained of it after 6 months, was dictated to be a bulb to kick-start his carpentry business.

“She took my dream,” he says, and pauses. “I wish we to write this.”

He figured she would give many of a income to her father and other Yemeni kin in Michigan, to assistance them along. He didn’t know when she would come back. She wasn’t responding her dungeon phone.

Later, he suspicion of Abdo Hussein, a homeless male during a store. He went over and offering him a bed.
“I had an dull bedroom,” Jamal said. “But he pronounced no. He’s staying in a storage room.” He frowned. “Sleeping between boxes.”

Part 4: Lonely But Coping

Jamal is off today, given his work was close down for a marriage in his boss’ family. With his mom and life assets gone, losing income comes during a bad time. “I can’t compensate a rent,” he says. “I’ll get a notice.” He looks worried.

Earlier, in a village room downstairs, he had picked adult food from a weekly Food Bank cupboard drop: a dozen eggs, twin pounds of spaghetti, a vast pouch of potatoes and a bag of vegetables. He lugged them upstairs to his apartment.

While warring factions strive for a tip palm in his country, Jamal remembers a good times. He’s from a family that had some-more land and income than any of a neighbors. It combined a standing that as a child finished him uncomfortable. His playmates deferred to him. “No, we said. we wish everybody equal, everyone,” Jamal said. “But we had a unequivocally happy childhood.”

He had a happy marriage in Yemen, too. Well over 200 kin came to celebrate. And a food? He ponders. “Ten sheep, 5 goats, 5 baby cows.”

Here, he even has excellent Yemeni cuisine nearby. One grill during Sutter and Hyde usually altered a name to Arabian Sky, after 6 years as Yemeni’s restaurant. “People didn’t know what it was,” says chef/owner Musa Amin. “They’d say, ‘What’s Yemeni?’ and pass it up.” Arabian Sky has broader appeal, hinting during Ali Baba, he says. “Once inside, we tell about Yemeni food. Americans wish something authentic.” A renouned choice is saltah, sharp baked
vegetables with lamb sauce, served in a clay volcano pot.

Amin admits his explain of being a usually Yemeni grill in California—according to a pointer posted outward by a door—is now outdated. He says there’s one in San Jose, and, his former co-owner and good friend, Abdul al Rammah, non-stop a hole-in-the-wall Yemeni grill twin months ago, during 219 Jones St. It frequency has room for 3 tables and 3 stools during a small counter. Roast lamb is a tip choice of his customers, Al Rammah says. Jamal drops in whenever he’s got a small additional money.


After depositing his take from a pantry, Jamal took a conveyor to a roof garden, anticipating a chair during a list in a middle. The garden was all around him: twin dozen china steel tubs bursting with abounding immature spices and vegetables, a practical Garden of Eden that vehement him.

He got adult and began weaving his approach around them, pausing during each.
“Take some, and a subsequent day there is more!” he exclaimed, trumpeting a inclusive growth. “Nabihah planted this, see?” he motions to a plenitude of packet in one tub,“and this,” he points to basil in another. “We do this,” he gestures to other tubs flourishing tomatoes. “Look, organic, and this.” He points to colourful beds of dark immature lettuce shimmering in a wind. “Oh, we skip my pleasing wife.”

Nabihah still won’t respond to his calls. But he has oral by phone to Nada and to his brother, Fuad, who lives nearby Nabihah’s father. The hermit says things will work out, yet Jamal contingency be patient. But it’s painful, and Jamal contingency remember a instruction his elders gave him as a child to “never get angry.”

“I skip her, yet a demon is personification with her mind,” he says. 

Nine days later, Nabihah is still in Detroit and Bilal is still in Riyadh.

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