<< From the AltMuslimah Archives >>
As part of our exploration of relationships and the quest to find a mate, Altmuslimah presents a fictional story based on one woman’s real life adventures in her search for a husband in the late 1980’s, before the internet and online dating services. The men – introduced through friends, Muslim families, and letter-based marital services – are actual, the conversations factual. The names have been changed to protect the not-so-innocent.
“Si-i-sster,” Aisha practically oozed the word, “this brother is PERFECT for you–he’s educated, just received his Masters in Engineering; He’s never been married so he doesn’t have any of that baggage; he’s from Egypt, so he speaks Arabic, AND, he is good looking. I already told him about you and he’ll be over tonight for dinner. Can you come?”
How many introductions will this be– 12, 13? I’ve lost count. I was really not in the mood for the inevitable stiff conversation, the winks back and forth between Aisha and her husband, my wali, who each time KNOW they have found THE brother for me.
“Aisha, I’m really not up to this. And to tell you the truth, I am getting really tired of meeting all these brothers…”
Aisha grew stern. “Are you Muslim or not?”
“Of course, but…”
“Is my husband and by proxy, me, your wali?”
“Do you want to get married?”
“Yes, I do Aisha, but…”
“Well then,” Aisha softened and smiled, “these excuses of yours are nothing but Shaitanic whispers and,” she paused for effect, “you never know when Allah will bless you with that perfect match… this could be it.”
I sighed and relented. Aisha is technically right. They do go through a lot of trouble, more than most walis, to search and arrange meetings for me to meet a husband. The least I can do is show up.
“OK Aisha, I’ll be there…I assume the usual time?”
“Yes,” Aisha beamed with expectation, “and don’t forget to bring Rahim—did I mention the brother loves children?”
That evening I prepared to go. As I washed the dishes and folded the laundry, I got the first meeting jitters. It happens every time. Masha’Allah, here I go again, meeting my ‘huzzzband,’ i thought sarcastically. I made a quick dua to calm myself: “Allah, please help me make it through this. I’m getting really tired. Please let the brother I know you have for me come soon…”
I looked at my son Rahim and reminded him, “And I hope you don’t overreact again, little man.”
“What did you say, mommy?” Rahim looked up from his current art project of tracing his hands and drawing faces on them.
“Nothing Boo, we just have to hurry and get ready to go over to Uncle Solomon’s for dinner.”
“Are we going to meet a man?” He said it drolly, looking back down as he continued tracing…
“Yes, I will be talking to a brother for awhile, but you can play with Saeed while I do.”
“I don’t like these mens mommy,” he said with grim finality.
“I haven’t liked most of them either Rahim–but one day, Insha’Allah, Allah will introduce us to a brother we both like, and who will like us, and we can add him to our family? How’s that?”
Rahim is 3 and the perfect radar. A lot of his reactions are out of jealousy—he’s never seen me with another male since me and his dad divorced when he was an infant—but I’ve come to rely on the rest of his reactions as a type of “nut barometer.” He can smell a crazy man a mile away. I laughed out loud thinking back.
It was just two weeks ago when Solomon and Aisha introduced me to Farouq, a friend of Solomon’s brother who was visiting from Philadelphia. The conversation was decent, and Farouq seemed quite the nice potential. Then he had to lean over the table when Aisha and Solomon went to the kitchen…
“I really don’t want to marry anyone. I just want to collect as many concubines as humanly possible. Are you interested?”
He actually had the nerve to wink! I could only stare at him, wide-eyed, unable to respond. But Rahim, my man, picked up the plastic bowling pin he was playing with, walked over to Farouq and began to beat him about the neck and head. I took my time pulling him off as Farouq jumped away from the table protecting the back of his head with both hands. I halfheartedly apologized for Rahim’s behavior and then let Farouq know that I was not, in any way, interested in his proposal. Actually, I shouldn’t have been so shocked. He did tell me earlier that his hobbies were fine dining and beautiful women. Anyway, Rahim had the right idea.
I put on my hijab and recalled some of the other men I’ve had the ”pleasure” of meeting these last few months. Some I met through Solomon and company, and others through an Islamic Marital Service I belong to. At this point, I can write book entitled “Men: Where Have all the Sane Ones Gone?”
There was Habibullah I met through the marital service. He seemed good on paper so I called him:
“As salaam-alaikum, is this brother Habibullah?”
“Wa alaikum salaam yes, it is.”
“How are you brother? I’m Asma Abdul Rahman and I just received your data sheet in the mail. I thought I’d call and introduce myself.”
“Brother, are you still there?”
“Yes, I’m just a little taken aback, that’s all–I thought the man is supposed to contact the sister first.”
“I’m sorry, but I’ve never heard of that–I just wanted to make contact so we can get acquainted and decide if we want to continue to communicate, that’s all.”
“Well sister,” he paused again, “isn’t it a sin for unmarried men and women to talk over the phone?”
“Isn’t that considered a form of fornication?”
I wanted to say it would be a sin to continue this conversation, but I went for higher ground.
“As Salaam Alaikum brother, never mind.”
There was the Sudanese brother Solomon met at the masjid. He insisted I get “circumcised” and cover my face if I were to marry him.
There was the 5-percenter who called last Monday (from the Marital Service). He actually believed that 5 percent of African American Muslims are gods themselves….well, to make a long story short, HE hung up on me as I let him know in none-too-Islamic terms what I thought of “hislam.”
And how could I forget Khalil, the really sweet 16 year old who wrote me and said he was ready to get married because he had a paper route and his own bike…
Even though hindsight, all this was comical, I had to close my eyes and ask Allah to give me strength. I know He will provide me with a compatible mate, one day. But right now, I won’t be making any predictions as to when that would be… As Aisha says, I will have to “break a lot of eggs to make an omelet.” It’s a bad metaphor, but I get her point.
It was 7:00pm, time to go. I looked in the mirror, adjusted my scarf one more time, smiled and vowed to remain positive.
“Come on Rahim! Ikimashoo, let’s go,” I called as I picked up my purse and walked out of the bedroom.
“AS -SALAAM ALAIKUM, COME IN!!!”
Aisha practically took my breath away with her bear hug. She kissed me on the cheek.
“Salaam, Rahim,” she said as she bent down to kiss my son.
“Saeed is in his room, sweetie. You can go upstairs if you’d like.”
“Where’s the man?” Rahim peered up at Aisha.
“His name is Amir, and he’s inside,” Aisha winked and pulled me aside, “Girl, he is absolutely wonderful—I personally think, this is it.” She hugged me again, very pleased with the prospect.
“We’ll see Aisha, I’ve heard that from you before. Remember Farouq?”
Aisha clicked her tongue and waved one hand as if shooing a fly.
“Forget about him. Those Philly Muslims are strange—we should’ve known.”
“So,” I teased, “you’re saying that your husband is strange too?”
“No I am not, although he has his moments. Actually, he’s one of the three from Philly who isn’t.”
I laughed. I realized just how much I appreciate Aisha’s concern and determination in helping me to re-marry. I’ve known her for 8 years. She helped me to weed through many of the culturisms Muslims often claim as Islamic after I took Shahadah, and she was there for me when my first marriage ended. I really love this woman.
“Let’s go meet Amir,” I said as I grabbed her around the shoulders, “you can’t be wrong all the time.”
I had forgotten about my nerves up until then, but as we walked down the long hallway, my bare feet sinking into the thick shag carpet, I could clearly hear my heart beating. Aisha ran slightly in front of me as we reached the living room. She called for Amir who was in the kitchen helping Solomon prepare the lamb.
“Ameeer-er,” Aisha practically whistled. Her voice reminded me of one of those childhood chants we used to screech at each other in 3rd grade….”Asma is here; ready to meet you! Please brother, don’t worry about the meal and come here!”
Rahim hadn’t left my side and grabbed my hand. I was glad he was there.
“Amir, this is Asma and her son, Rahim, and Asma,” Aisha winked quickly in my direction, THIS is Amir.”
“As Salaam Alaikum Rahmatullahi Barakatuhu sister, and As Salaam Alaikum to you my young brother Rahim.” His voice was deep, with a distinct but understandable accent. Amir smiled fully at me, displaying perfectly straight teeth, and dimples. He had the deepest, darkest brown eyes I had ever seen.
Then, he squatted so that he met Rahim face-to-face and extended his right hand. Rahim slowly reciprocated. They shook hands, and Rahim broke out in a huge grin, looking very pleased that, for once, a “mens” had addressed him with respect.
“As Salaam Alaikum brother Amir,” I said as he arose, “I’m very happy to meet you.”
Ya Allah, could I have sounded any more lame? But honestly, I was at a loss for any other words. Giving salaams was the best I could do.
Solomon came out of the kitchen drying his hands. He always looked so serious during these times—like he was my father and me his only daughter on my wedding night. He greeted me stiff backed, slightly frowning. He quickly nodded for me and Amir to sit down in the chair and couch, respectively. Solomon sat on the other end of the couch facing me. Aisha had disappeared.
“Yes, crmm, crmm..” Solomon began, clearing his throat, “you two have already met, alhamdulillah…” Amir looked at me and smiled. “….and I assume, so far, you wish to continue. I must say that I met brother Amir on campus and again at the Mosque. And I can without hesitation vouch for his upright Islamic demeanor and behavior—he is a good brother.”
“Oh Solomon, good grief,” it was Aisha who had returned from the kitchen with refreshments, “you’re making ME nervous now. Let’s just have a nice informal get-together and just talk.”
Solomon actually looked relieved and exhaled. Aisha placed the tray of papaya and fresh squeezed juice on the coffee table and sat on the floor next to me. She kept elbowing me in the leg…
“So Amir, tell Asma what it is you plan to do now that you’re out of school,” she ordered.
Amir, relaxed and pleasant, turned fully towards me and told me of his plans to work for a major company for a few years—that he already had 3 job offers–and then how he planned to return to Egypt to visit his family before moving back to America to help with the dawah effort here. And, of course, now that he can afford to, he said he’d like to get married and start a family. He said he preferred having an American wife as he felt they were more educated in Islam having actively converted to the religion, and therefore usually much more progressive. He said he wanted a wife unafraid to work side-by-side with him in spreading the message of Islam.
I noticed that Rahim, who was standing near the staircase observing, finally went upstairs.
Then it was my turn. I explained to him that I planned to continue to work as a Speech Pathologist, maybe going back to school to qualify to teach the deaf. I agreed that it was a good thing for a husband to be willing to help with housework and one given to “mutual consultation” as Quran says.
Amir smiled (those dimples!), nodded and actually agreed with me. He said that he liked women with educational goals and an ambition to serve humanity.
“What about children?” It was Aisha elbowing me again. She smiled at her husband who was now sitting back comfortably, nodding his head and grinning. He winked at her. I blushed.
“Of course, Aisha, children would be the number one priority, even now with Rahim, I’d prefer to work and school part-time so I can be there for him. And if possible with any other kids, I’d like to stay home full time til they were older after which I’d go back to part time work. Ideally, I would be a consultant and be able to work from home. I want to be able to give my children the time and attention they need. I’m not talking career versus children.”
I didn’t think it was possible, but Amir’s smile got even bigger, those dimples deeper, and I found myself, smiling back. I didn’t feel nervous anymore either.
Dinner went by quickly–the food was delicious, as usual. But even more amazing was that Amir and I conversed easily, laughing now and then, oblivious to everyone else at the table until Aisha gently kicked my foot.
“It’s time for prayer you two.” She looked ecstatic.
Amir led the prayer and his recitation of Quran was impeccable. I found myself wondering, really thinking, that maybe, maybe, Aisha is right about this one: he was intelligent, cultured, fluent in Arabic, educated, polite, helped in the kitchen, preferred American women, he didn’t trigger Rahim’s alarm and actually impressed him; and as much as it shouldn’t make a difference, he was F-I-N-E, with dimples.
During the dua, I asked Allah to make it easy if Amir and I are to be; to give me a sign indicating if it was indeed true, or not.
It was getting late, and as is Solomon and Aisha’s custom, they went to the kitchen to clean up and prepare the tea. I knew it was their way to give us some alone time. Amir and I were sitting on the same couch now, at opposite ends, facing each other. He spoke.
“Asma, I feel very comfortable with you, really. It seems like we are old friends and can talk about anything. I really like this—in fact, I don’t think i’ve ever felt this way before!”
“I feel comfortable with you too Amir and I have to admit this is one of the few times I have felt this way, so soon.”
“Asma, I would like nothing more than to continue talking with you, to get to know you better. Masha’Allah, I already feel we would make a good team.”
I couldn’t help it, but I had to look down. I really didn’t know what to say. A ‘good team’ meant a “good husband and wife,” and while it was not an unpleasant thought, I suddenly felt very shy. Amir laughed lightheartedly, looking smitten by my reaction.
“I’m sorry Asma,” he said, “I didn’t mean to embarrass you. It’s just that in Egypt, marriages happen fast. If you like the woman, and she likes you, and you two are both striving to be good Muslims, that is enough reason to marry, even after the first meeting. We look for compatibility–Allah guarantees love afterwards.”
“I know Amir,” I responded, “and I agree that it can work that way. But being American and knowing myself, and having been through a divorce, I need more than one meeting to make such a decision. In fact, I think I need many more.”
“I understand. I think these days, it is best.” He nodded in agreement and looked at me again.
“Do you mind if I ask you a personal question?”
“No, go ahead.”
“Can I see your hair?”
I wasn’t sure if I heard him right…I think he said he wanted to see my hair.
“Can I see your hair?” He was flashing that smile again.
“What, are you testing me or something? You know I can’t remove my khimar for any unrelated man.”
I thought a “good brother” would know that.
He continued to smile, but impatience traced his eyes, and as matter of factly as you please, he explained, “Before I marry you, I want to know how kinky your hair is. I would prefer not to have kinky haired daughters.”
Now, I have a pretty good sense of humor and was trying to catch the joke, but very soon realized that he was not kidding. My disappointment quickly turned to anger.
“No, I’m not gonna show you my hair. And what the hell kind of question is that anyway? My God, hair is hair.”
“Sister, all hair is NOT the same.”
“My point IS, no one type of hair is better than another.”
“Women should have straight hair…”
“WHAT? Then why did Allah make entire people–men and WOMEN—with curly, “kinky” hair, as you call it? I don’t think Allah makes ugly—-and YOU have got a LOT of nerve worrying about it when your hair is “kinkier” than mine!”
“Don’t you sister me, and don’t you try to pass off some man made value system as a God revealed fact!”
Amir jumped up, his fists clenched and his eyes red. He bellowed at me in Arabic and then remembered I didn’t understand a word he said.
“NO woman talks to me like that. NO woman tells me about Islam and what I want and NO woman raises her voice to me!!!”
I stood up and returned his glare, feeling equally furious yet surprisingly calm.
“Well, THIS woman just did.”
I looked out of the corner of my eye and saw Solomon and Aisha. I didn’t know how long they had been standing there, but they stood in the living room entrance frozen in horror. I couldn’t tell whether they were more shocked at me or at Amir. Rahim and Saeed stood at the bottom of the stairs, equally shaken.
“Brother,” Amir addressed Solomon, hissing through gritted teeth, “Brother, my warmest and since thanks for the meal tonight, but I do not think me and the sister will be seeing each other again.”
I assumed the position–left knee bent, right hand on hip–, “You got THAT right…brother.”
Amir glared at me once more, turned and stomped out the door.
Everyone was in shock. It was silent for a long time. Finally, Aisha shook her head and walked to my side.
“Well, if we had known the brother had such a hair fetish, we would’ve introduced him to a Swede.”
“I’m sorry about the outburst Aisha—I couldn’t help it.. But you know, Masha’Allah, I asked Allah for a sign after salah—and got one, in a BIG way…”
“You’re always getting these first meeting signs, huh?” It was Solomon wearing a puzzled grin.
Inhaling and exhaling a deep breath, I had to laugh. “Yes, I do, my wali—and it IS a blessing. Why waste time dealing with a man who is really not for me. Why go through all the games?”
Solomon shook his head and threw up his hands in mock surrender. “I don’t know what I’m gonna do with you.”
“Don’t worry about me Solomon, Allah will provide me a mate when it’s time—-I’m not worried.” And I truly was not.
Rahim was at my side now. He grabbed my hand and searched my face for any clues that I was still upset. Finding none, he smiled and said, “Momma, let’s go home.”
Weeks later, I was at the library checking out phonology books. I had filed my recent “XY Adventure” for use as material to include in that book I planned to write. Amir, I heard, had accepted a job in Iowa and was engaged to a farmer’s daughter who recently converted to Islam.
“ASMA!” It was Aisha. “I’ve been hunting all over for you.”
“Salaam Aisha, what’s up?”
“Girl, there is a NEW brother in town. Solomon and I met him at the Masjid. He’s African-American so has none of those cross cultural quirks; a pediatrician so he can relate to children; and he was married once before so he knows what that’s all about. He also dresses sunnah and is good looking and, honestly, he’s the best we’ve met yet. He’s been over for dinner already and we told him all about you. He’s very interested in meeting you. Oh, he also has a great sense of humor. He’ll be over for dinner again on Saturday—can you come?”
I could tell she wasn’t going to take no for an answer so I figured, Masha’Allah…
“Of course I’ll come Aisha. You know me, how can I pass up yet another episode of ‘what next?’ But wait,” I frowned at her, “does he have straight hair?”
Aisha looked at me, twice and paused.
“Oh, shut up,” she laughed..
Bent over from laughing, I stood up and hugged Aisha. I told her I had nothing planned for Saturday and couldn’t wait to see what would happen this time.
“I’m telling you Asma, this is not a crazy one, he’s got it all together—this could be the one.”
“Insha’Allah, we’ll see.”
“Insha’Allah, we definitely will.”
(Photo: Steve Wampler)
Asiila is a 52-year old midwife, mother of two man cubs (12 and 24), and procrastinating writer living in southern CA. She finally found the man perfect for her two years after this story was written. This story was first published on AltMuslimah on August 26, 2009.