I descended the mosque steps calmly after the prayer, talking to a friend of mine. The school year had started a few weeks earlier, the university students arriving from their hometowns and the students at the schools returning from their vacations. At the Jam‘iya Shar‘iya mosque—the Jama‘a’s main mosque in Asyut—the number of worshipers was huge, larger than any I’d seen throughout the summer vacation. This was my first school year as a committed Muslim with the Jama‘a. The atmosphere in the city was tense; the government had decided, as it did on occasion, that Islamist activity had gone too far and had to be stopped. At such times, the mosque would be surrounded by thousands of Central Security troops, who would prevent some preacher or other from giving his sermon or terrorize those who frequented the mosque in the hope that they would decide not to take the risk of going. The huge number of those attending the prayer could act either as a stimulus to the police to interfere or a deterrent.

On this occasion, it was a stimulus. The buzz of people talking, the sound of their footfalls, the cries of the stall keepers, the attentive expression on my friend’s face—all froze, and then suddenly everything exploded. Two agitated hands pushed me from behind, feet stepped on the backs of my shoes, dragging them off my feet. Shots were fired in the air and people knocked into one another like bowling pins, moving together this way and that as though by previous agreement. An acrid smoke got into my nostrils and added to the atmosphere’s other ingredients. My face burned, my whole body apparently bursting into flame, just as every atom of the air around me had taken fire all at one go.

I yielded to my instincts and ran away from the shooting, but the roaring of the Central Security soldiers and the deafening sound of thousands of feet pounding the ground to an irregular rhythm started coming from all sides and I didn’t know which way to turn. I had the feeling that our house existed in a different world, one separated from me by frightful obstacles. I would run like a madman and enter a building, then retreat and flee again when the residents refused to open their doors and give me refuge. There seemed no escape from the police with their thick, electrified batons. I ran from street to street, forgetting that my age and my face, without beard or mustache, would be enough to hide me from notice so long as I walked normally. One brother from the Jama‘a was holding high a crutch belonging to another brother, a cripple who sold perfumes in front of the mosque. He was yelling in the face of the fleeing people, “Stand firm! Your religion is under attack! Defend your Islam!”

I saved the scene in my memory but wasn’t strong enough to answer his call. I kept running till I reached our house, where the windows were closed tight to stop the tear gas from the grenades. Through the slanting wooden slats of the shutters I could see the final moments of the battle. The security forces dispersed the people and began chasing those who couldn’t run fast enough to get away, beating them viciously while herding them toward the security trucks. My tears weren’t because of the gas now. I went to my bed and lay down on my back in the darkened room. I remembered the movies I had watched with the brothers, depicting the first Muslims and their confrontations with the tyranny of the unbelievers. I fell asleep before my tears had dried.

I found myself in a dark, deserted place divided equally into narrow paths that all came together at a circle in the middle. Precisely at the center stood a white dog, which was barking. Dogs had always frightened me, and this dog was barring my return route. I looked all around in the hope of finding a path that would allow me to avoid him. I felt a crippling fear in my legs. I couldn’t move. The only light on that dark path was on the other side, but I didn’t have the courage to walk past the dog and get to it. Gathering all my strength, I walked on, trembling, impelled only by the certainty that I would perish otherwise. Walking toward the dog, hastening my steps, I said in a loud voice, recalling a song we sang at the mosque, “No, we shall not die cringing for fear of the dogs. No, we shall not die cringing for fear of the dogs.”

I woke from my dream still weeping.