Sex, intimacy, and religion are woven into Hareer Al-Qaragolie’s, ArtSci ’21, experiences as an Arab Muslim woman.
In her debut poetry anthology released this August, The Face of the Earth examines the trials and tribulations faced by immigrants, Arabs, and young women. The Face of the Earth is meant to inform readers about Al-Qaragolie’s experience with race, religion, and womanhood while attending a predominantly white postsecondary institution.
“I was grappling with the idea of being an Arab Muslim in a space like Queen’s that’s predominately white. I was having a difficult situation where one of my friends was a bit Islamophobic, and I felt like I had no one to talk to about that,” Al-Qaragolie said in an interview with The Journal.
Her feelings of isolation made her turn to poetry to express her emotions. Despite majoring in English and psychology, Al-Qaragolie didn’t explore creative writing until her third year at Queen’s, when she experienced Islamophobia firsthand.
Al-Qaragolie felt she couldn’t express the magnitude of her hurt among the people she viewed as friends. Instead, writing allowed her to validate her own experiences of pain from Islamophobia.
“I was like, put everything you feel into that paper, bringing in some Muslim and Arabic inspired words to really encapsulate my existence and [that’s] what I was going through,” Al-Qaragolie said.
The weight of prejudice and racism made Al-Qaragolie feel heavy, and writing about the pain in prose made her feel like she could breathe again. Due to the personal nature of her writing, Al-Qaragolie feels she holds back when being vulnerable.
“Writing comes with a lot of vulnerability, and you have to shed a lot of skin for [it] to be completely transparent. I was extremely worried about how my audience would take this book or understand [it] because it does have Arab and Muslim influences,” Al-Qaragolie said.
The poetry encapsulates the tension between giving voice to her immigrant origins while keeping her truth hidden for fear of judgment. Even in the face of these fears, Al-Qaragolie wants the reader to feel freedom in the writing—regardless of how they perceive the work.
At the end of the day, Al-Qaragolie said she doesn’t mind if the reader loves or hates the work.
“I want the reader to understand they’re not alone. These experiences that can isolate you come with integration with being the person of colour. Especially living in a predominately white space.” Al-Qaragolie said. “I just hope it gives the audience a hug.”
The themes of love, grief, and heartbreak are universal, and Al-Qaragolie hopes people understand their significance when looking at the intersections between race and religion.
The anthology’s opening poem “Blind Safety” encapsulates what it means to weave Al-Qaragolie’s Arab life with her immigrant upbringing. She uses Arabic words in her poetry in addition to writing in English to reflect the Canadian and Arabic parts of her identity.
“It’s delving into exactly what I experienced but making it a little bit hard to see with those Arabic words with the religious significance that comes with it.”
Writing about sex, intimacy, and love doesn’t correlate with the ideals espoused in Al-Qaragolie’s Arab and Muslim community. The communities stigmatize certain subjects, making it hard to publish everything on her mind.
“I think as I grow as a writer, hopefully in the near future, I shed my skin bit by bit and understand the art of my craft. It needs to come from me, it’s not my responsibility, how someone perceives it,” Al-Qaragolie said.
Her favourite poem shares the book’s title. Detailing the multigenerational challenges her family faces as immigrants, “The Face of the Earth” was inspired by her father. Al-Qaragolie connects her father’s struggles as an Arab man and former soldier to her view of him as a father.
“His experiences correlate a little bit intergenerationally with mine while talking about the love and grief we both experience.”
Al-Qaragolie wants people to understand the raw intimacy in relationships while having them feel her unspoken words and sentiments.
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