By Pamela Taylor

Sheikha Yasmin al-Binawi writes in the first chapter of her book, Culinary Etiquette for the Islamic Undead, “It is commonly believed among the living that the Qur’an forbids all Muslims from eating blood. What the Qur’an actually says, is ‘He has forbidden to you only carrion, and blood, and the flesh of swine, and that over which any name other than God’s has been invoked; but if one is driven by necessity–neither coveting it nor exceeding his immediate need–no sin shall be upon him: for, behold, God is much-forgiving, a dispenser of grace.’ (Chapter 2, The Cow, verse 173) Clearly, as the vampire requires blood for survival, it is completely permissible for him to consume his natural food, so long as he does not become gluttonous, gorging himself and going to extremes. God is indeed most Gracious, His Favor upon us Most Complete!”

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The woman smelled good–very, very good. Ibrahim trailed her scent through the Suq al’Ala, following her fragrance amid the stench of vendors who had been standing in the hot sun since dawn, the stink of rotting vegetables, the pungent odors of coriander and cinnamon hanging above tables of stacked apples and lemons, the fumes of oil and gas from passing cars, the musk of donkeys and camels and fowl destined to be dinner.

Ibrahim paused at a stall of watermelons, catching a whiff of perfume. It was late, and the woman was hurrying, leaving only the faintest of traces as she passed through the market. She was, he surmised, looking for merchants who had begun packing up their wares for the night, trying to get a good bargain, hoping to stretch her few guineas into a full meal for her family. His pulse quickened, agitated by the challenge of tracking her amid the riot of odors.

The adhan for sunset prayers rang out from a dozen mosques, echoing down the narrow alleys of Cairo, and a collective sigh seemed to go up from the suq. Evening was falling; soon it would be time to rest. The streets began filling with men hurrying to worship, a press of white thobes, sheesha smoke, and cologned mustaches. A cripple hobbled by, seeking alms, swinging a hazy censor of myrrh. For a moment, he lost her scent in the onslaught, and Ibrahim thought that he should let her go anyway. He knew better than to track such a woman. There were plenty of easier marks, and plenty more suitable. He could smell half a dozen men who would not trouble his conscience afterwards.

But, as he turned to follow the men, he caught a waft of her scent again. His nostrils flared, and his mouth watered at the thought of her taste. She didn’t just smell good, he knew. She was good. The good always smelled–and tasted–the best, their blood sweetened by devotion, by kindness and patience and pure intentions. He wavered for a moment, and then turned to follow her. He simply couldn’t resist, despite his better intentions.

He caught up with her near the edge of the suq. She had paused to purchase flat bread from a skinny, browned boy. He fell in behind her as she hastened down darkening alleys toward her home, picking up the hem of her abaya so she could lengthen her steps. He could have taken her any time he wanted. But he waited. He didn’t want to deprive her family of their food. And he knew that she’d come out of her house after dinner, if for nothing more than to throw the dirty dishwater in the street.

Besides, Ibrahim preferred not to pounce on his meals the moment he found them. It made him feel more virtuous, more devout, if he waited. If he was patient, he was able to feel that just maybe he had complied with God’s command not to covet his food.

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In the introduction to The Rules and Regulations of Halal Harvesting Sheikha al-Binawi writes, “It would seem ideal for the Muslim vampire to partner with the Islamic Butcher. After all, one of the essential elements of Islamically sound slaughter is the removal of all extractible blood from the carcass. And who better to remove said blood than a vampire upon whom one can rely to fulfill all the other Zabiha obligations! Unfortunately, vampires require human blood. That of chickens, sheep, goats, cattle and other humanly consumable creatures is of little nutritional value to the undead, and, naturally, human meat is completely unsuitable for human consumption. Nonetheless, the virtuous vampire can take much comfort in the knowledge that he has fulfilled his duty to God by taking life in accordance with Divine Law– pronouncing the name of Allah over the intended individual, making the kill quickly and compassionately, and completely draining all blood. Fulfilling the requirements for halal butchery can indeed ease the conscience of the devout vampire who worries that his very constitution propels him to sin!”

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The woman’s home was quite literally a hole in the wall of the grand compound where a branch of the Minshawi family lived, and her entire family served. She ducked into the hovel, and Ibrahim took a position across the alley where he could keep watch through the open doorway.

“Look, Safa, Marwa!” she cried out, greeting her children. “Chicken and bread and fresh mulukia!” Her haggling had gone well today, and tonight they would feast.

She turned to her parents and an elderly aunt, kissing them one by one on the cheek and receiving warm hugs in return. She pulled a blanket across the doorway, and Ibrahim lounged against the wall, listening to the rattle of pots as she helped her mother prepare the food, and to the soft rise and fall of her voice as she shared the gossip of the market. When her daughters complained of the spoiled and slovenly children they waited upon, the woman merely laughed, and teased them gently. “If we were as rich as the Minshawis, I dare say you’d be just as lazy as them, bossing around whole troops of servants.”

Ibrahim felt a prick of conscience when he thought about how the woman’s family would feel when they discovered her body. She was clearly the pillar that helped them all survive the deprivations of being poor and Egyptian. He turned to go, but a peal of laughter turned him back. The sound of her happiness was as irresistible as her scent.

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In Chapter Three of Ethical Eating: Seven Steps to a Godly Diet Sheikha al-Binawi explains, “Selecting the appropriate individual for dining upon can seem quite a daunting prospect. However, the Muslim vampire can take heart, for God does not leave us without guidance. The Qur’an, in a most appropriately titled chapter–The Table Spread–tells us that ‘whoever slays a human being, except for murder or spreading corruption on the earth, it is as though he had killed all of humankind, and whoever saves a life, it is as though they had saved all of mankind.’ Keeping these words firmly in mind, a righteous vampire can not only have his cake but eat it, too! His heart can rest at ease as he dines upon murderers, arsonists, rapists, philanderers and other nasty criminals, knowing that he is not only ridding the Earth of those who would corrupt it, but also saving innocent lives in the process! Truly, we must be deeply grateful for the double blessing the Lord has showered upon the Everliving!”

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Ibrahim was beginning to think he’d have to wait all night when the aroma of an overfed woman assailed his nose. If the woman he’d followed was a slice of basboosa, this woman was a bowl of flat beans and dirty rice. She lumbered down the road toward him and stopped in front of the hovel. “Lina,” she bawled, “Sidi Ahmed is calling for you!”

The woman–Lina–came to the door. Her dark eyes glistened in the light of the streetlamps. Her face was pale, and her long hair fell across her bosom in a mass of inky curls. Ibrahim realized that he hadn’t even noticed she was as beautiful as she was good.

“Tell him I have a headache. I worked in the garden all day in the ferocious heat.”

“Three days in a row, Lina! You can’t avoid him forever, you know. Already he is getting impatient. Your reluctance may have seemed charming and coy for a while, but if you don’t go to him soon, your defiance will anger him, and then things will go worse for you.”

Ibrahim stiffened, and so did Lina. She stared at the older woman in silence for a moment, and then choked out, “Just tell him.”

“It’s your hide,” Beans-and-Rice muttered. “Too bad you didn’t remarry after Hamza died.”

“Like that would stop him,” Lina said. “Just like it stopped him with Maha.”

The older woman shrugged, shook her head slowly, and headed back toward the main gate. Lina collapsed against the wall, sobbing. Ibrahim licked his lips slowly. He could solve her problem. One quick bite, a few moments of lightheadedness, and all her worries would come to an end.

If only it weren’t so unjust. Lina wasn’t the one who deserved to die.

Ibrahim grimaced. Sidi Ahmed was sure to smell like a slab of mutton forgotten in the back of the icebox, and to taste like a head of cabbage left too long in the sun. And worse, killing him wouldn’t really solve Lina’s problems. She would be spared the ignominy of an unwarranted beating, of being forced into this man’s bed, but her family would still be poorer than fellaheen. Worse, blame for his death might fall on Lina’s father, or her brother, or herself even, given the conversation with Beans-and-Rice. And then they would all be thrown out on the street or end up in jail. And if not, the man’s son would take over the household, or his wife, and there would be new depredations, or maybe more of the same old ones. He had to admit, no matter what he did, there was no way he could save Lina from the life God had chosen for her.

At least, Ibrahim thought, if he dined on Sidi Ahmed, he could take comfort in the knowledge that he’d ridded the world of one more scumbag. Except…what pleasure could there be in an act that might make the life of an innocent woman even bleaker than it already was?

Ibrahim scowled. He was tired of rancid blood and moral conundrums. He should go back to Israel, to Palestine, where the pious so often veered into extremism. Muslim or Jewish, he didn’t care; both sides were liable to self-righteous fury. If he caught them quickly enough after they turned, they still smelled sweet, and he had no doubt he was preventing murder–a noble end in itself. If only conditions weren’t so grim. It was hard to blame people who lashed out after missiles fell in their backyards or tanks bulldozed their homes.

Sometimes he wished he hadn’t been born with a conscience at all, that his heart didn’t so easily swell with empathy. At least that way he wouldn’t be standing in the dark, utterly ravenous and unable to decide which course of action would cause the least harm.

He should have known better than to follow Lina home. He had long ago promised not to take the good, to cull only society’s dregs. But temptation was strong, and this wasn’t the first time he’d stood outside the home of a good person, unwilling to take an innocent life. Nor was it the first time ethical quandaries had paralyzed him into inaction.

He turned to go. It would take six hours to reach the border of Gaza, six long, hungry hours, but at least he wouldn’t have to face the choice between killing the man and making Lina’s plight all the worse, or taking her life and damning his soul to hell in the process.

His foot scuffled against a loose paving tile, and Lina looked up toward him, her dark eyes wide and frightened.

“Who’s there?” she asked, her voice trembling, barely above a whisper. Her eyes found his in the dark, and she shrank back against the wall, so scared, so vulnerable.

Ibrahim knew he was in trouble. Deep trouble.

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Sheikha al-Binawi’s Until the End of Time, or, What the Qur’an has to Teach the Undying about Living begins with the following words, “Every vampire must come to terms with death. By this, I do not mean the death he causes–although that is a matter for serious moral contemplation–but rather his own death. Immortality, I’m sad to inform you, is not forever. Every human being, even those who have become vampires, will meet his Maker on the Day of Judgment. The wise vampire prepares for this meeting by sending ahead a wealth of good deeds, and by holding back his hand from all the sins that tempt us every day. To do otherwise is to court eternal damnation.”

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He couldn’t resist her. So helpless. So defenseless. Her eyes beckoned to him. Her voice. Her skin. Her blood. He wanted her. Wanted to sink his teeth into the softness of her neck, to taste the ferrous syrup of her in his mouth, to drink her down into the very core of his being, mingling her life with his own. And yet, at the same time, every fiber of his being wanted to protect her. To keep her safe, sheltered, at his side. Forever. Free from any harm the world could do her. To destroy and to preserve. The predator and the protector both welled up inside him, instincts grappling for supremacy in the fleeting moment before impulse impelled him forward.

He was at her side in an instant, his mouth upon her throat, his hands on her shoulders holding her against him, his canines piercing through to veins. He drew greedily at the wound. Oh God, she was good! After so many years of fetid blood, she tasted so incredibly good.

The thought pushed through the haze of desire, and Ibrahim jerked away. He mustn’t kill her! She was an innocent, as pure a human as he’d ever met. He stumbled down the street a few steps and leaned against the thick stucco of the compound wall, grasping his hair in his hands and pulling hard, hoping the pain on his scalp, the coolness of the wall would quash the thirst that threatened to overwhelm him again.

She made a soft gasping sound, and he turned back toward her. Her hand was on her neck, staunching the flow, her eyes wide with shock. The sight of crimson leaking between her pale fingers hit Ibrahim like a kick in the kidneys. He knew what it meant, what he had done. It was a horrible transgression, one he couldn’t take back, one he couldn’t even begin to atone for.

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Fatwa number 1: Do Not Despair! There is no sin so great that Allah will not forgive it. Does He not say “O you servants of Mine who have transgressed against your own selves! Despair not of God’s mercy: behold, God forgives all sins, for, verily, He alone is much-forgiving, a dis­penser of grace!’ (Surah Zumar, verse 53) Even if you have feasted on a hundred virgins, sent to their deaths a thousand imams, and reveled in the terror our kind is able to wreak upon the living, God will forgive you. All you have to do is admit your errors, beg for clemency, atone for the wrong you have done, and start living the life you know you should, the life of a Believer, the life of Good Deeds.

~From Sheikha al-Binawi’s 50 Fatwas for the Virtuous Vampire

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Ibrahim took a step toward Lina and sank to his knees. “I’m so sorry,” he said, covering his eyes with both hands. He couldn’t bear to look at her. “So, very, very sorry.”

She didn’t say anything, and when he looked up, she seemed to be dazed, her eyes unfocused, staring down the alley at the spot where he had stood only a few moments ago. She could have no idea what was happening to her, how the microbes that made him what he was were even now infecting her, swirling through her veins, altering her DNA irrevocably. It was the suddenness of his attack, the unexpectedness of his withdrawal that had stolen her voice and stunned her into passivity, he knew. He remembered.

It would take several days, a week perhaps before she realized what she had become, what he had done to her.

Maybe it would be better to kill her after all.

He shuddered in revulsion at that thought, the predator thoroughly suppressed, his thirst abated by the mouthfuls of blood he had taken. He wanted nothing more, now, than to fold her in his arms and keep her safe. How could he ever forgive himself for what he had done to her? How could she ever forgive him when she realized he had made her into a vampire, a killer of humankind, a drinker of human blood?

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“Whenever you bring a new vampire into this world–whether in a well-planned act of love or through a casual encounter that went in unexpected and unintended directions–you must fulfill the parental obligations required of all Muslim parents. Primary of these is providing a sound moral and religious education. Without proper guidance, a newborn vampire, like any other human child, is liable to fall into a spiritual morass, to develop a multitude of unsavory habits, an unhealthy deficiency in self-esteem, an unwholesome attitude toward the Divine, and an entirely amoral dietary regimen. Thankfully, Islam is a complete way of life and offers direction for every detail of human existence, making the education of the newly undead much simpler than you might imagine. Nonetheless, such an education should not be taken lightly; indeed, the responsibility for moral and spiritual guidance is a lifelong obligation, the right of the child over the parent for as long as you, or he, should live.”

~From Sheikha Al-Ninowi’s Family Dynamics for the Undead Mom and Dad chapter 1, “The Cultivation of Character”

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He stepped forward again, touched her shoulder briefly, respectfully. “I want to help you, Lina,” he said.

Confusion clouded her eyes, and she reached vaguely toward her neck, where the trail of blood had already dried.

“You what?”

“I want to help. I can protect you from Sidi Ahmed.”

“You know about him? What he wants?”

“I overheard.”

She was his responsibility. And she would need to feed soon enough. Sidi Ahmed could be her first kill. He had an unexpected vision of the two of them hunting together, the thrill of the chase, the cool, clean night air in their lungs, fresh, strong blood on their lips, blood shared lip to lip, tongue to tongue. A shudder of desire coursed through his veins. Her scent, her voice, the sweetness of her blood still in his mouth, the softness of her skin under his fingers, the joy in her laughter, the purity of her soul. He wanted her in more ways than he had ever known before.

“What can you do? We depend on him for everything. We’re completely under his thumb.”

“I can marry you,” he said, surprising himself. It was impulsive, unexpected, but the thought was a good one, a fitting one. He knew in his bones it was the right thing to do. “I can give you a good dowry. Enough for your family to open a little shop by the suq, or perhaps a taxicab operation.” He wanted so badly to please her, to see her smile.

“But you don’t even know me,” she protested.

But he did know her, he realized. Her scent, her taste, told him everything he needed to know about her. She was good. Profoundly, deeply, to the core. She could give him the peace he so desperately sought. The surety of her moral compass would guide him through his ethical dilemmas.

“Even so, I want to make you an honest woman,” he said, and then gave a crooked grin. “Well, help you stay an honest woman.”

It was not just the right thing to do; it was the only thing to do. The attentions of an unknown male benefactor would certainly raise the eyebrows of the gossips. People would assume relations that did not exist. Even her family might assume she had given away what a good Muslim woman did not give.

Besides, they were bound together by blood, by fate. He had made her a vampire; it was his duty to stand by her, to help her. The idea of a lifetime with Lina at his side was growing more and more appealing by the second. He hadn’t realized how lonely he’d been since he’d run away from the vampire who had made him. Yousif had not been a good man; he’d delighted in his own depravity, sinking further and further every day into decadence and vile, corrupt behavior. Despite the many shortcoming of Ibrahim’s moral probity, he had known from the start that he would live his life as a vampire much the same way he had lived his life as a normal human–trying to be good, even if he failed miserably most of the time.

Lina squeezed her eyes shut and shook her head lightly as if he were a dream she could chase away.

“This is just so sudden,” she said when he refused to disappear.

“We have all the time in the world to get to know one another.” She’d find out soon enough that he meant that quite literally.

“Lina? Who are you talking to?” a man’s voice called from within the house.

“No one, Baba.”

“Is that Sidi Ahmed?”

“No, Baba. I was just talking to myself. Go back to sleep. I’m coming in soon.”

Ibrahim touched her shoulder fleetingly again. “Get some rest, Lina. And don’t go to work tomorrow. I…I couldn’t bear it if he tried to…to harm you in any way. I’ll come for you after dinner. I’ll talk to your father, and we can go for a walk in the park, get to know each other better.” There was no need to rush her, or her family. As he’d said, they had all the time in the world.

“I have to go to work or my whole family will lose their jobs.”

“Once we’re married–” she gasped again, but he ignored the sound “–they won’t have to work here anymore. None of you will. I’m going to take care of you, all of you.”

It felt so right that, for once, Ibrahim had no second thoughts.

Pamela Taylor’s stories have appeared in Citizen Culture Magazine, Tales of the Slug, and A Mosque Among the Stars. Her speculative poem, Foreign Thoughts, was nominated for the 2006 Rhysling Award. Her daytime job is as a panelist for On Faith (http://newsweek.washingtonpost.com/onfaith/ModernMuslim).

1 Comment

  1. This was amazing! The way Ibrahim struggles with his “affliction” while trying to keep himself within the boundaries of religion, I think, can easily depict the struggles of so many other Muslims around the world today, not only challenged by physical ailments by psychological, social and financial difficulties as well. I can’t wait to read what happens next!

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