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a tribute to junaid alam

just found out that junaid alam passed away a few days ago. he was 31 years old, an incredible writer and activist. in may, i was briefly in touch with him when he shared on fb that he had been diagnosed with stage 4 cancer. heartbreaking…

Khury PS: Our world, and the struggle to make it a just one, lost someone great – and way too soon. I met M. Junaid Alam when we were in college. We were part of a small generation of young radicals in dark times – the immediate aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks and the beginning of the series of wars that the US has been fighting since. A defining part of those times was the wave of anti-Muslim racism, which had terrible consequences for Junaid’s South Asian, Muslim, and outspoken family. Always trying to seize opportunities for our side, even in bitter times, Junaid helped found Left Hook, a news and opinion website whose content was written by young radicals. To me, the most striking things about Junaid were his sharp mind and his unwavering seriousness. He devoured ideas and had an encyclopedic knowledge of the Left. I don’t remember him talking just for the sake of talking. He really wanted to know what you thought, and he wanted to know what you thought about his thoughts. He was always seeking collaborators in the fight against oppression and for liberation. Toward the end of his short life, Junaid was especially focused on writing about the experiences of Muslims in the US, and US imperialism and freedom struggles in the Muslim World. Junaid died of cancer at age 31. I am sorry, Junaid, that your passing came in such dark times in this country, for the Muslim World, and really for so much of the world. But we know that after the darkness comes the dawn. We will never forget you, and we will remember you into the promising and hopeful future. One of Junaid’s last posts on his facebook wall says so much about the kind of person he was: “You cannot choose cancer, but you can choose how to engage the dozens of people in the hospital who in ways big and small are trying to cure you and help you. Learning so much about so many inspiring, supportive, and dedicated people.”

A poem on cancer by M. Junaid Alam

An unwelcome interlocutor interrupted
an exchange between my brain and my back:
Its incessant bark quieted
my body’s conversational knack.
A senior’s suite of walking aides
spills out of my closet in spades.
My legs budge only when pressed hard,
like old jam stuck to sides of a jar.
This intruder resided between
the T4 and T5 spinal lumbar.
That’s where it left its mark–
just below the heart.
So after angry and impotent protestation
I started a new conversation:
for what is the heart but a verbose sage
when with fellow minds engaged?
I flash a smile, and discourse with a new universe
illuminates empty spaces within:
constellations of stars flicker, by way of smiles
and grins.
I alight on a question, and my curiosity
kicks off excited answers and laughter
that travels farther than legs will carry
and can be savored long after.
I ask ‘how is your day?’ and nurses understand
it’s no rhetorical wave of the hand.
Through more banter their loads seems to lighten,
and all our days by a little do brighten.
I am thawing out numbness
within this stubborn heart.
How much I’ll relieve is still unclear,
but I do think beginning was a good start.

M. Junaid Alam

M. Junaid Alam