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Hasan Namir

Nia King: Hi!

Hasan: Hey, how are you?

Nia: Good. How are you?

Hasan: Good.

Nia: Sorry Im late.

Hasan: No, no worries at all.

Nia: Thanks so much for doing this! I really enjoyed your book. I have it here. [laughs] I dont know why
but it really stuck out to me that were both born in the year 1987.

Hasan: I saw that too on Skype, 1987. What month were you born in?

Nia: June.

Hasan: Ok, Im September 9th.

Nia: Ok, yeah, June 27th.

Hasan: Thats awesome.

Nia: I feel like I havent really met a lot of published authors who are the same age as me, so Im excited
to be interviewing one. [laughs]

Hasan: Thank you so much, Im very excited myself.

Nia: So the book came out in 2015, is that right?

Hasan: Right, in October 2015.

Nia: Ok. Whats the reception been like? The response?

Hasan: It was really good, for sure. At the beginning we had a book launch party and we had it at one of
the venues for Blueprint, because Im friends with one of them there. It was really nice and a lot of people
came out to support and stuff and I was very happy and excited. Some of my teachers at SFU [Simon
Fraser University], from my university, they came as well, so its been really great. And then I got my first
review, my first official review came out from Vancouver Sun, and they liked a lot of things about it but
they didnt like how it became a little bit melodramatic at the end. I was like ok, its good that I can take
some of that feedback, as it can help me grow as an author. But then I started getting a lot of amazing
reviews after that, from Globe and Mail, I think it was one of the top 100 from Globe and Mail, and then
a lot of other reviewers that wrote about it that really enjoyed it, and I was just like, Oh wow, thats
amazing. Then the Lambda, and its just been an amazing roller coaster ride and Im very thankful for
Arsenal Pulp Press for giving me this opportunity. Its been very amazing, and Im very happy with all the
response. I especially appreciate the criticism, because as an author I think were always growing, and it
helps me a lot when people point out what I could work on for my next book, so it definitely made me
really appreciate it.

Nia: Are you working on the second book already?

Hasan: I am, actually just before talking to you I was just doing some writing on it. Ive been writing
every day on it.

Nia: Thats awesome.

Hasan: Yeah, I work from an outline and then I started writing it, so Im about 30,000 words in right
now, I still have a long of ways ahead, so, its a big book, so [laughs]

Nia: Thats so cool. Ok, so lets backtrack a little bit and talk about sort of the process of how you came
up with God In Pink. Did you start with an outline for that as well? Is this a story that was kind of
percolating in you for a while before you put it on the page?

Hasan: Yeah, it was like about 8 years ago when I first started coming up with this idea. Actually
originally it was a screenplay because I, I went to VFS [Vancouver Film School] as well and I did a lot of
screenwriting, so it was originally a screenplay love story between an American and an Iraqi in the US,
and then

Nia: Which is completely different than what it ended up being. [laughs]

Hasan: Yeah, very different! And then it kind of like, it switched back, so then I started coming up with
different ideas. I did a lot of workshopping at SFU, so originally it was called God Wears Pink, and I
came up with that title because I definitely wanted to bring in this idea of religion, but in the original
script it wasnt there, it was just kind of like a Romeo and Juliet story, but then as I thought, hmmm
maybe I should turn it into a novel, because after I started seeing what was going on in the world,
especially like after Saddam Husain went out of power, and then there was a rise of Islamists, and I was
noticing that Iraq was going through this chaos, and then I started to kind of like, gearing toward that I
thought maybe I should turn this into a novel.

The idea of the sheikh didnt come until later, Sheikh Ammar. It was mostly Ramy, so it was mostly told
from his story and the struggles that he was going through, and in a way it was kind of like mirroring my
own like struggle growing up, especially like my teenage years, around when I was 18 I started working
on it, kind of had my own voice of struggling and everything, and then later on it started shaping up, it
started becoming more set in Iraq, and then Sheikh Ammar came into play. and Sheikh Ammar came into
play as a result of a part of my life when I sort of became really religious at one point, I thought that if I
can become really religious I can actually change who I am, and I could be normal. I consider myself
normal now but at that time I was still struggling with that idea, because you know, when you face a lot of
pressure from your family, especially telling you, you know, you have to marry a woman, you have to be
this and that, and then I was kind of at a loss in a way, I was just really struggling. So I then decided I
would become religious and then through becoming religious, God could help me change. But ironically,
Nia, through that process is when I actually came into acceptance with my own sexuality and my own self
because I realized that God accepts and loves us for who we are.

I was in contact with this imam that was gay, and he had wife and kids and everything, but he had his
other side. Im not going to mention his name but I will say that it was through this experience that it
really helped me understand the purpose and my purpose and who I am. And so, thats when Sheikh
Ammar came into the play of this novel, and the novel took a whole new level and shaped up to become
two stories, but in a way they are one story, and they started intersecting.

And I guess you could say the way its written, going back and forth, kind of was inspired by my script-
writing history, because I kind of wanted to like, make it like a film in a novel, and I didnt want to do
chapter headings because I didnt want these voices, these silent voices to have to stop, because I wanted
it to fall back and forth, back and forth between that, almost like a debate if you think about it like that,
and thats how I shaped up my novel. A lot of it of course, a lot of the help I received when I was going to
SFU I was studying English literature with a lot of writing classes that I took. A lot of my peers helped me
with some of the ideas, they helped me workshop it and Im very indebted to them and to my mentors
Jordan Scott and Jaclyn Turner, so its been, thats how the process came about. And then of course
through editing it and working with Arsenal it shaped up even more, to a much more stronger book and
Im very thankful for that, for sure.

Nia: Ok, weve covered so much already, I want to sort of like go back and try and dig in to what youve
already said.

Hasan: Yeah, absolutely.

Nia: So, I apologize if youve answered this already but what made you move away from the sort of
Romeo and Juliet, American falling in love with an Iraqi the original concept?

Hasan: Yeah, sure, I felt like its maybe because I felt like the screenplay itself was not the right medium
for it. I felt like as a novel it would be much stronger, and then the reason why I kind of didnt want to set
it in the USA anymore was because I saw that there was a lot of conflict going on in Iraq and a lot of
conflict for the LGBTQ community there. During Saddam Hussein, the situation was a lot better believe
it or not. They had more freedom. I knew of a few people there and it wasnt as bad, they were protected,
they weren't getting killed or anything.

But then after Saddam Hussein went out of power, with Isis coming into the picture, with Al-Qaeda, the
rest of the Islamists and extremism, thats when a lot of gays were being killed, and transgender [people],
unfortunately it was just a very sad situation. So thats what inspired me to veer away from the Romeo
and Juliet story in the US and kind of like focus on this war-torn country, and kind of highlight two
different kinds of wars; a war between ones self and the communityactually a few wars, so; the war
between ones self and community, the war between ones self and religion, the way between ones self
culture, and then a war thats going on in Iraq, the second Iraq war. So I kind of wanted to highlight these
war-torn conflicting ideas and set it in that country. Thats when I started veering away from that Romeo
and Juliet story.

Nia: And did you grow up in Iraq?

Hasan: Yeah, I was born in Iraq and I lived there until I was 11. I actually left the day of my birthday
because we left on September 9th, 1998, and it was a very bad day for me, like [laughs] they bought me a
cake and we were crying because that was the last day I got to see my Grandmother and then after, she
stayed there and she passed away sadly later, and then I left. I came to Canada when I was about 11 years
old and went to grade 6, but the most significant first years of my life were in Iraq and I still remember a
lot of things there, thats why I still have a lot of appreciation for the country for sure.

Nia: To what extent are the characters based on you and people you know?
Hasan: The character of Ramy is inspired by sort of my own life story but also inspired by other peoples
stories as well. I visited by the Middle East by the way in 2010, I went with my family, I visited the
Middle East and I got to hang out with a lot of gay guys there and hear their stories, so that definitely
drew a lot of inspiration.

Nia: What part of the Middle East were you in?

Hasan: Jordan, Amman. I also went to Syria as well, before the way started in 2010, and I met with a few
gay guys there and they were telling me their struggle, and to be honest it was kind of like, it was OK at
that time. For the gays, they were meeting there and stuff and it wasnt as bad as it is now. But of course
they were all obviously living that double life, which is very common for gay Middle Eastern men. A lot
of Middle Eastern men that marry women, have kids, but they have this double life, and I met a few men
in Jordan who Ive had sexual relationships with and they now are married to a woman and have kids, so
its very common in that part of the world and even common with people in Middle Eastern communities
in the US and Canada and other parts, theyre gay but they end up marrying woman because thats what
has to happen, you know? So as for Sheikh Ammar, Sheikh Ammar was inspired a lot by that imam that I
was telling you about that I had met and stuff, it was very, of course it was just the idea of it that youre an
imam but you have your sexual life, its different and you somehow can't balance the two. The imam that
I met didnt know what to do and he lived a double life as well, and no one really knows about him, so
thats what the inspiration came about.

Nia: The imam towards the end, its not just that hes questioning his sexual orientation. It seems like,
hes also questioning maybe some stuff around gender?

Hasan: Gender for sure, yeah, definitely. Theres subtle hints throughout the novel that you can see,
where it kind of suggests of his own gender idea of the de-masculination, the idea where, at one point I
think Gabriel removes his mustache and beard and then he freaks out, the imam and stuff, in a way, and I
feel like the reason why he freaks out is because he has his own insecurities that kind of like highlights in
the novel all throughout. And obviously its not like out there out there, but its very subtle moments
where it happens, and I think both characters go through that, the idea of gender and masculinity and what
is masculinity? So yeah definitely the imam, Sheikh Ammar, has that when he starts to question his own,
not only his own sexuality but his own gender.

Nia: I feel like his trajectory is so interesting, because I feel like, with the protagonist, I feel like hes sort
of being conscripted into compulsory heterosexuality right?

Hasan: Mhhmm, mhhmm.

Nia: One of the things I think your book captures really well is how little choice he seems to have in how
his own life plays out. Its like, I feel like Ive heard a lot more about women not really having a choice as
far as getting married and having kids, but it was interesting to like hear about like, his brother is going
to get him married.

Hasan: Yeah, exactly.

Nia: Theres no question.

Hasan: And thats why he fears his brother in a lot of ways, he loves him but he fears him, and its that
fear that like holds him from being truly himself. So its that struggle, and of course, when he loses the
people he loves, and he sees this as signs of God, like maybe this is not the life that I should live. And in
Iraq, I imagined myself if I had lived in Iraq, this is what would happen to me, I would not really have a
choice and that marriage would be forced upon me. I would have to get married to a woman and I would
have no choice in that, you know?

Nia: Yeah. I mean, he has a choice, but the choice is between three photographs basically. [laughs]

Hasan: Yeah exactly, yeah. [laughs] Exactly, and it almost like, holds him down and puts him in these
traps, and he has to deal with that struggle.

Nia: I think another thing that was really interesting to me about the book was the sort of sympathy for
the female characters that I feel like it was written with. Its not really about them so theyre not
necessarily as well developed, but like, talking about, I think her name is Shams?

Hasan: Shams, yeah. Ammars wife.

Nia: Right, how she didnt particularly want to start wearing hijab or take her meals separately from the
men. Her life seems like you know how the main character is, hes worried about what it would be like
for a woman to be married to him, and the imam is actually like Shams is actually in that situation.

Hasan: Totally. Shes a very interesting character, and throughout the final stages of writing it, her voice
came even more stronger, what she has to deal with and what her life was before. I imagined her, she
came up in a very open-minded family and stuff and then she had to marry into this traditionalist,
Islamist, conformist sheikh. For her, to have to kind of adapt to this lifestyle was very challenging for her,
but then I think what keeps her strong was her son, Jafar, and also I guess the love she has for Ammar,
and you can see from the ending, that reaction that she had was very, very interesting, just to show how at
the end despite what she sees that she still loves him.

Nia: I think the scene that was most poignant to me with her in it was when the imam decides to resign,
seemingly with no regard for like, how that will impact his family, and shes like, How are we going to
eat? And its never really answered I dont think.

Hasan: No, its not really like answered because at the end, with Sheikh Ammar, hes just pushed over the
edge, he almost like, a part of him was lost, and hes just like acting irrationally because he just let loose
to the point that it pushed him over the edge and he was doing things without taking into consideration
how that would impact his own family. I kind of wanted to leave it open ended to let the readers wonder
whats going to happen to them and heck, whats even going to happen to Ramy? We know what his life
is going to end up but then whats going to happen after that? Because as we saw through Ammar, where
he was before and where he was now, what about Ramy? Where he was before and where he is now,
where Ammar was before and where would he be after?

Nia: I want to know what happens to Jafar. [laughs]

Hasan: [laughs] Yeah, for sure.

Nia: Do you have thoughts about that?

Hasan: I definitely thought about that as well too, I think in a way Jafar is going to be a little scarred, but
then at the same time hes going to be strong enough to kind of like start to be independent and be there
for his family and kind of like bring his family together when they fall apart at the end. I saw that Jafar is,
even though he is a very scared character, you know he has his fears and he has these dreams and
everything, but at the same time, I feel like hes going to overcome these and kind of like find strength
and kind of like bring his family together. Thats how I imagine it to be.
Nia: Ok. So I realized we kind of jumped in without really giving any context, so for people who havent
read the book, Jafar is the ten-year-old son of the imam.

Hasan: Yep, yep, yep, of Ammar, yeah.

Nia: And he is depicted as being just very faithful and obedient, but also confused, because his dad is
going through some stuff. [laughs]

Hasan: [laughs] Yeah, very confused, for sure, and nervous I feel, at times hes a little nervous and hes
wondering whats going on. I wanted to depict him because children, they see sometimes and they dont
know whats going on but then they know in a lot of ways without them being told. I feel like in a way
Jafar is observant, he sees all these things and he knows some things, he doesnt know other things, but
his heart tells him other things. I dont know, thats how I had envisioned him. He sees whats going on
and he knows that there is a bit of trauma that his father is going through, that his mother isnt happy, he
sees that, you know?

Nia: Yeah, ok I guess I want to talk a little bit about the pacing of the book. [laughs]

Hasan: Yeah, for sure.

Nia: Its so intense, so much happens in such a [short period]. I mean, its kind of, I dont want to say its
a small book because I feel like that downplays the amount of work that went into it, but likeless than
200 pages?

Hasan: Its short, yeah.

Nia: And so much happens. [laughs]

Hasan: Yeah, so much happens.

Nia: But a lot of it is at the beginning and at the end, like by page 20 two of the characters that I thought
were going to be really important are dead.

Hasan: Yeah, exactly. I kind of wanted to, its shocking, you know, for sure.

Nia: You kind of wanted to what?

Hasan: I kind of wanted to, yes so much goes on and in so little, if you look at it, by page 150 right? And
the reason I wanted to kind of highlight that is because the way that I and a lot of these gay guys go
through this trauma, its their life is like, I kind of wanted to make the readers feel that claustrophobia, the
idea that just so much is happening, and its like whats going on, whats going on?

Well, imagine these are the lives of gay men in these countries, thats how it is, its like an ongoing thing
and its just like, so much happens for them in so little time that they go through this claustrophobia and
strong emotions in very little time, and I wanted to highlight that through that. The idea of going back and
forth, like take these readers, I didnt want my readers to feel comfortable, I wanted them to feel
confused, because this, these stories of men can never be fully understood just from what you know in the
media, what you see, what you know about these stories, what you know about how gays are treated in
the Middle East, these stories can never be known fully and I wanted to kind of highlight that, you know,
kind of make these readers a little uncomfortable, you go back and forth in such a very short amount of
time, you know. Yes, its a very short book, I understand some of the time people got pushed away from
that, they just like, well, they wanted more. I definitely liked the idea of the readers wanting more, putting
less but making more, thats what my goal is.

In comparison to my second book, my second book is a much bigger novel because it deals with a bigger
scope than this one, but for this one in particular I wanted to focus mainly on these two characters and of
course the characters in the background, but I kind of wanted to like, still make them empathetic and keep
them strong as well, but I wanted to focus on these two characters and I wanted to almost put them in like
a box, and like bring these readers and make them feel these claustrophobic emotions, this intensity, you
know, because believe me, in real life thats a lot of these characters go through that intensity, you know,
and so much happens to them in such a short time, and yet at the same time theyre boxed in, because
they choose to live that double life. So thats why, thats my explanation why its so short but so much
happens, you know.

Nia: Im hoping you can, you said that you wanted your readers to be confused [laughs] and I was
[laughs], and I wasnt sure how much of that was because of references I wasnt getting, especially the
stuff around, like I just dont know very much about Islam, so the parts about the angel Gabriel and,
whats the womans name?

Hasan: Ah, Abaddon.

Nia: Right, were especially hard for me to grasp, but I think I eventually got it. Im hoping you could
talk both a little bit more about why you wanted the readers to be confused and then a little bit more about
Gabriel and Abaddon.

Hasan: Yeah, for sure. Ill start off with the idea of why I want the readers to be confused. Because at
times as I said, its hard to grasp these stories, you know, you cant fully understand them, so I wanted to
like show this idea, like, well my body, I can only understand it but others around me cant fully
understand it. Kind of like, I wanted to make this book like, this body, and to fully understand something,
its like, you gotta look at these two points of views, and I also wanted to showcase this idea of Islam,
because in media Islam is like, its highlighted in very different ways with very different perspectives, so
theres a lot of confusion and all that, so I kind of wanted to feed off that confusion by reiterating that, by
adding these like you know, especially through Sheikh Ammar when he says these Islamic words.

I mean, Ramy is more like, he kind of like grew up with inspiration from the western culture, he loved
that. So Ammar on the other hand, Ammar a lot of his voices include a lot of the prayers, and sometimes I
do like, add like a description or word that explains what it is, but a lot of times I wanted to leave it like
not there because I wanted to kind of reiterate that idea of, how do you understand a text, how do you
understand this whole concept of Islam? You dont, its hard. So I wanted to almost reiterate that fact in
the book for me to understand that yes, some of my readers will be confused, but its ok to be confused I
think, because youre never going to really understand like, understand it fully.

But if you look throughout the book, I do leave English translations of these things, but I dont put it out
there, its scattered, to kind of like give the readers a little guidance at times. But I accept and I kind of
want that idea that its ok to be confused, because its, you know youre never going to fully understand
something, unless you know you can read it or you can go to Google and try to figure out what does this
word mean? And I assume nowadays with technology people can go and find that. But at the same time I
kind of like that idea of not fully understanding something because even I dont fully understand my own
self. I still havent fully understood it, and I think the idea of reading is to try to find answers, so the idea
of reading is to try to interpret something.
So its like, when you pick up the Quran, like the holy book of Islam, I read it twice and I came up with
my own interpretations, so like, I kind of want the readers to pick up this book and read it and come up
with their own interpretations and accept the fact that its ok to be confused but then make their own
assumptions of what does this mean. Like, oh I read it as such, does that mean its not such as that? No,
your interpretation of it is as right as someone elses, you know what I mean?

And coming from a background where I grew up being told, Islam says this, Islam says that, Islam tells
you that you have to be this kind of person, and this is the only way, theres no other way around it, but
sadly you see other people interpret it as different, so coming from that kind of background I really
wanted to highlight that idea of trying to find answers through interpretation, how do you interpret a text
through in that book? And thats where the metaphysical characters come. The idea of Gabriel and
Abaddon, I kind of had a dream once a long time ago while I was writing this, because they weren't even
included in the original draft before. I had a dream once that I dreamt that an angel came down and
mentioned to me that one day the gays and the lesbians and the LGBTQ communities will have a better
life in the Muslim world, and it was just a little dream I had. So then I came up with the idea that I wanted
to write, bring in that metaphysical world to kind of like, and at that point I was also inspired by Angels in
America, the play, so kind of bringing in this angel, a pink little creature, that will throw the world of
Ammar and Ramy into turmoil and kind of like in a way it will bring them through a way where they can
redefine their own voices, especially Sheikh Ammar.

Abaddon came about with that as well. Abaddon is actually, the name is a very beautiful, inspired by the
Assyrian culture in Iraq because Iraq has a very diverse religious backgrounds, we have not only Muslims
and Christians and Jews we also have very different kinds of sects of like Assyrians and other kinds, and I
wanted to bring that culture in a way and the characters of Abadon and Gabriel in no way, it can be very
different, in the sense that like they for example, some people can view the angel Gabriel as an antagonist,
because he came and he almost ruined Sheikh Ammars life, where as others say Abaddon as, oh shes a
good guy, shes trying to bring him back to a straight path, if you may. Some people actually, didn't like
the angel Gabriels role, they liked Abaddon. Ive gotten different responses, again it's how you see it, and
that's where they came about when I started to kind of get inspiration to kind of bring in a metaphysical
world, you know, and thats what inspired me to write these characters.

In the beginning they were very over the top, I felt but through working with Arsenal, thank God we
brought them back, because I kind of imagined them as very, not comical but fantasy-like in a way, and so
we kind of just wanted to like tone it down a little bit to make it you know, to ground them. Im very
thankful that the characters were a lot better, more well-realized after the edits for sure.

Nia: And I think I actually looked up Abaddon, because I didnt know anything about Abaddon or Gabriel
before I read the book, and so I was trying to like, you know, locate myself within the text. And Abadons
not supposed to be a good guy, right? I mean you say its up for interpretation, but Abaddon is somehow
in the Quran related to the Devil, is that right?

Hasan: Abaddon as I said is an Assyrian character, its not mentioned in the Quran at all. Its not, thats
what I kind of wanted to bring in the Assyrian culture, but in a way its connected, Ammar saw her as the
Devil, wearing black and everything, but shes not really the Devil. I wanted to kind of leave her, like not
bring a definition to her. Like, shes another kind of angel in a way, but the black angel. Originally she
was a black angel, I had her depicted, but I changed it to Abaddon. She didnt have a name before, in the
earlier drafts she was just known as a black angel, not the devil. In no way did I insinuate her as a devil, I
never saw her as a devil, I saw her as another type of angel who was trying to help Ammar get back into
the root.
Because do you remember the scene where they go and talk to the knowledge of tree and through the tree
theyre talking to God? If it was a devil, in Islam, the devil was just a fallen angel where God doesnt talk
to him anymore, but they were talking to him, they were both talking to him, so in a way, Abaddon I just
saw her as another angel, and she was just the black angel, in a way.

Nia: Was she originally Black or an angel in black?

Hasan: She was dressed in black, I wanted to contrast, because color plays an important role in the book
if you noticed. I really liked the idea of using color, and the reason why I used her wearing a burqa and
stuff was because it kind of like plays on Ammars insecurities, in the sense that, Shams when she goes
out has to wear all black everything too, so she came in as an angel wearing all black as a way to signal
on Ammars insecurities. So its all in black, you know.

Nia: Im sorry, what does the black have to do with his insecurities?

Because she like, you know like in Islam women wear burqas and stuff? They wear black to cover them
head to toe. So Shams for example, if shes going out with someone, she has to wear all black. So the
reason the angel came wearing black is because she almost reminds him of Shams and it kind of
highlights on his insecurities towards Shams, his gender insecurities so when she came out shes trying to
guide him back to his original self, to be better, and thats why I put her wearing black and everything, to
kind of signal a woman wearing black and trying to bring him back to the straight path. Does that make
sense to you?

Nia: I think so, yeah. I would love to talk more about the significance of color in the book. Could you tell
me a little bit about the significance of pink in the book?

Hasan: Yeah for sure, definitely. You know like, growing up in a culture where I was told that pink was
associated with femininity, I wanted to kind of like bring that color and juxtapose it throughout the book
in the sense that, the idea of the angel Gabriel coming down, I wanted to highlight that pink doesnt have
to be associated with femininity.

I also wanted to show kind of like throughout that the significance of pink highlighted for example in the
painting that Jameela discusses, the hijab that she wears, so these ideas that color can be associated with a
stereotype. I wanted to kind of steer away from that and just show, no it doesnt necessarily have to be
with a femininity that thats this idea of sexuality and, God being, understanding religion and belief, and
pink representing sexuality, I wanted to, by playing on that stereotype that the characters saw, because
Jameelas wearing pink but you never see Ramy wearing pink, I wanted to kind of like hope that this
would juxtapose that stereotypes, so I kind of wanted to show these stereotypes, but I kind of wanted to
steer away from that by juxtaposing these stereotypical definitions of colors.

Its something that I grew up being told that I couldnt wear pink because pink was effeminate, but pink is
one of my favorite colors you know, I dont see it as being just effeminate you know, I see it as having
power, and I hope that through the knowledge it can show that power, power and also strength within
oneself. I think that Jameela found her own strength through that, and I think that Ramy was trying to find
answers and find that strength through these colors, through the association with that you know, I found,
when he discussed a painting, and he saw that she was wearing pink, and the angel Gabriel is pink, that
there is strength, and we shouldnt just stereotype it, so I juxtaposed it with that in mind.

The color black also plays an important role through Abaddon, and also the mosque. You know, a lot of
mosques are, they have a black background and its a very significant color. But did you know that when
someone passes away, obviously its common to wear black when someone passes away, but in the
Middle East its common where they have to cover with abaya. Abaya is the dress for women that they
have to put to cover their hair from top to bottom and it has to be all black. So I kind of wanted to show
that the black could be a representation of grief and sorrow as well as insecurities, because when Ammar
kept seeing the angel Abaddon in black, he gets nervous in a way and he gets insecure I feel.

Nia: The other thing I wanted to talk about in the book is theres a lot of violence, but also sexual
violence specifically. I guess, Im interested to hear your thoughts on like, sort of like how and why
sexual violence was used in the book, like the purpose of it. Does that make sense?

Hasan: Yeah, for sure. Sadly sexual violence happens a lot in the book and its almost like, to show the
reality that goes on in the Middle East. Unfortunately I know a few people that this happened to, and even
worse. Do you know what they do in Iran for example? In Iran they, for gay people, they put this glue you
cant remove on their bum holes, so they cant excrete, and then they die afterwards. Thats one of the
things they do to gay people. ISIS throws people off a high bridge or a high building, they throw them off
a high bridge. In Iran they publicly hang them as well. In Iraq, I know a few people got beheaded and
everything.

What I wanted to specifically focus on, in the scene were talking about where the sexual violence does
happen with the police, is to show that hypocrisy that, these characters are hypocritical because they will
sleep with guys and stuff but then they do it and they kill them after and so forth. And thats what happens
in ISIS and I know this for a fact because I know friends that know about this in Iraq, ISIS will sleep with
these men, theyll find them on Grindr or hookup websites, theyll sleep with these guys and after theyll

Nia: Im sorry, they have Grindr in Iraq?

Hasan: Yeah but its very private, they dont show pictures and stuff. Yeah, Grindr and I think Manhunt.

Nia: Ok.

Hasan: So thats where they meet guys and stuff, believe it or not. And Grindr is actually in Jordan and
Lebanon too. So then ISIS will target these people, theyll sleep with them and stuff and then after they
sleep with them theyll go after them and everything, you know? So I kind of wanted the sexual violence
to show how hypocritical some of these people are, these police in the story in this case. I wanted the
readers to get it, to make it really vivid in their mind, so I didnt hold off on the violence, I really wanted
to show the violence to make the readers stomach churn, to make them feel a little bit whats going on,
because you know, it happens all over the Middle East. Its hypocritical, where guys will fuck around
with other guys and then theyll go after them, theyll just pretend, Oh, Im straight, or theyll like
commit violence against them. Its a really sad reality and I wanted to kind of highlight that. There was a
lot of violent moments in the book but its a lot less violent than what goes on out there. Its a lot worse
there for sure.

Nia: Yeah, theres definitely, I think one of the strongest like I had just read Intolerable [by Kamal Al-
Solaylee] right before I read your book

Hasan: Oh yeah, I love that book. Great book.

Nia:and one of the things that was similar, though Intolerable was memoir and this is fiction, is this
really intense sense of, I have to get out of here or Im going to die. There is just no way to be gay here.

Hasan: No.
Nia: So in the beginning of the book, Ramy is the main character?

Hasan: Yeah.

Nia: And he has this lover Ali who wants to run away with him to Turkey, and at the last minute Ramy
realizes that he cant leave even though his family is just his brother and sister in law because his parents
are both dead, he cant leave his brother. Even though he doesn't seem to like his brother very much or
living with him very much. Why does he stay?

Hasan: Out of fear, I think. Fear of what the future holds, the love and fear of his own family. He loves
his brother very much, its not that he doesnt love his brother, hes just scared of him, you know? Its
like, hes just so scared, and also he feared the instability. He just didnt know, whats going to happen to
him? Wheres he going to end up? He just didnt know. Also, they go to Turkey, whats going to happen to
them? He had doubts for sure, doubts and everything. In a way Ali knew that, because he saw that in him.
Its a very powerful thing, the scene with Ali, but its also in a sense a reminder because all these
characters, theyre all wishing to be somewhere else. You see Ramy mentioning New York and
mentioning Turkey, and they want this freedom, but then little do they know that in reality, these countries
have their own struggles.

Like in Turkey, I dont know if you know whats going on, with a lot of LGBTQ violence going on right
now, so then its not even any better, but they think if they escape for another country its going to be
better. At one point even Sheikh Ammar mentions that to him. He mentions countries like the US and
stuff about freedom, but what is freedom there? Hes like, dont focus on just trying to escape. But in a
way these characters focus on that because they just want a better life, they want to find hope, they want a
place of sanctuary for them, you know? They just want to be acknowledged, they want to be accepted,
they want to be loved, and its hard in these situations. So thats why Ramy just wanted to go but he was
scared, he was scared for his own life because he doesnt know where theyre going to end up. He loves
his brother, he loves his brother and he fears him at the same time. He loves his family, he loves [his
sister-in-law] Noor, they have a very strong relationship, and he just didnt know what to do. So he
decided he stays, and that caused more trauma in a way.

Nia: Yeah, it seems like he cant win no matter what he does. You know when you were talking about that
claustrophobia in the beginning, its like, he tries to stay and that doesnt work so well, and then he tries
to leave and that also doesnt work so well, so what is he supposed to do?

Hasan: Yeah, exactly. Its terrifying for him, its terrifying. Even at the end, the reason why, when I was
writing I was like, ok this is where hes going to end up, but is he happy after all? Are any of them happy?
I dont even know.

Nia: Its definitely not like if youre looking for a happy ending this is not the book for you. [laughs]

Hasan: No, its not, no. Its like, how do you define happiness? What do they need to do to be happy?

Nia: That was kind of the fundamental question of this book, I guess.

Hasan: Yeah. But another question I asked myself, because I wrote this book thinking what would my
life be if I was in Iraq still? Thats why it became the inspiration you know. If I stayed there I probably
would have been just like Ramy, you know. The sad part is that I know a lot of people, a lot of men get
married, they have kids and stuff, but theyre not happy with their sexuality. They end up hooking up with
other guys on the side. I didnt want to live that double life, I didnt want to be like that, so I chose
happiness. I chose. I am very lucky to be married to my husband, its been great. I feel sorry for
characters like Ramy and Ammar and many many others, thousands of others that have to deal with this.
Where do they find this hope?

Nia: I want to hear all about your new book that youre working on now.

Hasan: Yeah for sure. Its called Son of Sodom

Nia: [laughs]

Hasan: [laughs] and its set in a very post-apocalyptic world, in an unknown Middle Eastern country. I
wanted to show like this unknown, because in a way, its set in a time where there is a rise of radical
Islam. So Im going to focus on characters that come from a terrorist organization, so its a fictional
terrorist organization, meanwhile theres a struggle of men who prostitute themselves, and then of another
character who ends up the son of a terrorist organization lord, as he grows up he becomes this, in this
organization where theres child prostitution in the Middle East. So it deals with the idea of prostitution, it
deals with the idea of radical Islam, I wanted to bridge this idea and bring it even further, to show these
characters and how these characters fall into these terrorist organizations and what goes on within these
things. It also focuses on child prostitution in the Middle East, with boys specifically.

Inspired by, Ive done a lot of research of this that happened in Afghanistan and other parts, so its
through these characters. The next one, the novel, as Im writing it its character-driven, so its not so
much a lot happening, its character-driven. As you know with this one a lot of things were happening in
very little time. The next one, its much more slower paced and a much bigger scope. Its going to be a
450 page book, Ive envisioned it to be, so a lots going to happen but a lot is just the characters are
driving the actions. Thats what it is, and its showing how these characters become, how they became,
like one of them for example how they became part of the terrorist organization and how did one of the
main characters, how he falls into it. Another character, how they became the leader of a child
prostitution, and what goes on and how these stories intersect. Its going to be very interesting.

Nia: They sound like very complicated characters. Im already not sure how I feel about them and I
havent even read the book. [laughs]

Hasan: Yeah for sure [laughs]. Trust me theyre very complicated characters for sure, and theres going to
be a lot that goes on. Theres going to be a lot of strong female characters in this one specifically that Im
working on. A lot of it deals with what happens in the past and what happens in the future, and its very
interesting, a very interesting book.

Nia: Well, I look forward to reading it.

Hasan: Yeah for sure. Think Game of Thrones, but in the Middle East, but without the fantasy. Theres
more than one character, its not like, in this one theres two protagonists. In the other one theres more
than one character but its

Nia: Kind of an ensemble cast?

Hasan: An ensemble cast in a novel, its very interesting.

Nia: Cool. Well Im excited to check it out.

Transcribed by Nadia Abou-Karr