Running for the Hills: Dispatches from Muslim Homesteaders "Refuge from the Critters"



First, it was the mice. They were the advance guard, the scouts. They ran the recon maneuvers. I thought they had a pretty sophisticated operation for bunch of high-strung rodents with no weaponry and only razor sharp teeth and night vision in the way of special ops skills. But I was wrong. They were stone cold mercenaries. They were in it for themselves. Every mouse went solo when it ran the mousetrap mission. Some made it through to the cabinets. We'd find  crumbs and cardboard shavings the next morning. Most never made it out alive, the quick, sharp 'snap!' evidence of a fallen comrade. The cabinet wars saw heavy collateral damage on their side, so they passed the word down the chain of command and retreated. We'd won the war. We got a cat.

But bears aren't afraid of cats. Or people either, actually. It's not that they're so big, bad and snarly vicious. It's just that they don't really care enough about you to put out the energy to harass you. Unless you mess with mommy bear's cubs. Or... there is a cooler. With food in it. And we had one.

Since we've been building our cabin we've been living in a travel trailer. It's got a kitchen, but no fridge, so we kept our food in an ice-filled cooler. And with all our stuff packed into the trailer we had no room for the cooler inside. Now, Allah does what He wills and He has given bears an awesome sense of smell. It's a fact confirmed by the Colorado Department of Wildlife that bears can smell food       up to 5 miles away, which is to say that our cooler was to bears what a flashing neon all-you-can-eat-buffet sign is to a Muslim just coming out of Ramadhaan.



In July 2011 alone we had 11 visits from bears. We set up motion detecting alarms so we could get to them first and run them off by shooting blanks from a rifle. One night the alarm goes off again and we find this mini bear, probably not quite a year old, digging head-deep in the cooler, little bear rump in the air. My husband, Tariq, runs at him, gun at the ready just in case, shouting to run him off. Little Bear doesn't move, just keeps rummaging in the cooler. So Tariq shoots a blank up in the air to let Little Bear know he means business. Little Bear lifts his head from the cooler and looks at Tariq like, “WHAT?!! I'm busy here!!”, with one paw still grabbing at stuff! A second shot finally sends Little Bear scampering off, along with two or three of his bear cub cohorts who'd been hiding behind trees waiting to split up the booty.

While these little guys were more of an annoyance than a threat, if a bear coughs at you, that's a definite threat. It's kind of like a rough cough sound, except it's not a cough because why would a bear be in the woods with a cough? I mean, I'm sure bears get sick and everything, too, but they certainly shouldn't be stomping around in the woods not covering their mouths and spreading bear germs all over the place. That cough is actually a I'm-standing-my-ground-so you-better-leave-because-things-might-get-ugly kinda cough. So unless you have a cough drop with you, just back away and give him his space. And if you have the presence of mind at that moment, remember the du'a from Sahih Muslim: A'udhu bikalimaatil-laahit-taammaati min sharri ma khalaq. (I seek refuge in the perfect words of Allah from the evil of what He has created.)

Mountain lions, on the other hand, will not cough. They won't even politely clear their throats. They are masters of stealth. Ask the deer who never saw it coming. Watch your cat the next time she's stalking her squeaky toy. Did you hear her pounce? No. You only heard the pitiful 'aak!” as the toy succumbed to her attack. Mountain lions are like that. You never hear them. Or see them, for that matter. Neighbors of ours who've lived in these parts for generations have told us they've seen maybe one in 15 or 20 years. We saw four in one day.

We were having dinner in our trailer on May 31, 2012, right before sunset. I was facing the door and admiring the rust and gold hues spreading over the grassy slope of ground about 30 feet away. A movement of tan caught my eye and then my breath snagged in my throat. Coming down the slope, as nonchalantly as a mother leading her children home after a day of romping in the park, was a lioness with two not-so-little cubs behind her. As she went just out of view behind a bush, a third cub emerged from the trees and brought up the rear. Silently, but excitedly, I waved my hand at Tariq, then pointed out the door. He turned in time to see the last cub pass by. He quickly stepped outside, without his gun mind you, and across to the slope. I followed and we watched as the lioness and the first two cubs crossed the dirt road at the bottom of the slope and vanished into the scrub bushes. In awe, we saw the last cub stop at the road, then as deliberately as you can imagine, turn and look us square in the eyes before it, too, retreated and melted into the shrubbery. Ghost cats. Subhaaaaanallah.

Then there's the dogs. We don't know if they're wild dogs, coyotes, some owner's loose pets, or maybe it's just the Phantom Devil-Dog and his Canine Minions out for a romp in the woods. But we often hear them right after dusk, yapping and barking in a frenzied, restless clamor, and always just out of view. My husband will rush out with his rifle, determined to confront the beasts and put a stop to the cacophony. But the sounds move farther away, as if the dogs are playing some lunatic hide-and-seek game. Tariq will start heading back to the trailer and the barking starts up again, closer, or somewhere in front of him. You remember the hadith about who spreads out at dusk, right? “And when you hear a dog barking or a donkey braying at night, then seek refuge in Allah from them, for surely they have seen what you see not.” (Abu Dawud)  A'udhu billahi min ash-shaytaan-ir rajeem!