Just one conversation at a mutual friend’s cookout would change everything. The two of us had attended the same college and when we spoke that day, I immediately felt drawn to a kind of gentleness and light that emanated from his character. He was the quiet, confident type that people wanted to be around, especially me. A true gentleman by any definition, he would surprise me with thoughtful, rather than extravagant, gifts. He abided by all the rules of chivalry my father had taught me to expect from a man: when we went out together, he gallantly opened doors for me, carried all our bags, and made sure I stood inside of him and away from the traffic on the street. Tweet This! I never had to give him a distrustful side eye for looking at another woman, because he seemed perfectly content with and focused on me. Before I knew it, I had been swept off my feet.
After having known so many disappointing men, I had grown guarded, but I let the walls down with him. Never in a million years would I find another man like this in my generation, I thought. Our relationship lay on a foundation of respect, honesty, trust, and above all friendship. Our families melded beautifully as well. I grew close to his sister and nieces, and his family became a home away from home for me. He earned my parents’ approval when he remained confident and authentically himself around them. To this day, they respect him because he never seemed intimidated by or desperate to impress them. I knew he had won my father’s endorsement when my dad said “this boy isn’t a punk.”
Some time after we met, I had been sitting in the ICU, watching my grandfather fade away. I spent so many grim days and nights looking out of the window in that drab room, just waiting and thinking. Death has a way of forcing us to reflect, to prioritize, so I played my entire life in my head like a film reel, dissecting every act, every character. He was the only person who seemed able to comfort me during this time.
He was my best friend, my love, and life was better with him. There was just one problem. A problem that I had overlooked when I fell in love—he was not Muslim. Tweet This! When I imagined our future together, my heart would often sink. He was the type of guy who would talk about his interests and ask questions. He never once asked me about Islam. He never even mentioned religion at all. But Islam was my core, my existence, my life.
I found myself asking him more about his faith than he inquired about mine. He had been raised a Jehovah’s Witness, but as an adult, he chose not to align himself with any specific, organized faith. In a way, I respected this isolationist stance more than if he had simply continued running through the motions of what he had been taught, but no longer really believed. Still, it left us in limbo.
I didn’t believe in coerced conversions. I wondered if I should wait until he expressed an interest in Islam. Would he ever? Should I conspicuously sprinkle a bunch of books on Islam around and hope he picks one up? His chivalry, patience and generosity put together embodied the qualities of a Muslim. I figured he would naturally incline towards Islam. But, he didn’t. Born and raised in a Muslim family, I was always taught that “Allah makes Muslims, we don’t.” I think he sensed my keenness to know how he felt about my faith, so one afternoon he ended the suspense and speculation. “Islam is a nice faith, but not for me.” He laid down those polite words with such ease–words that sliced through my hopes for our future in one swift motion. I imagined a lifetime of lonely moments before me: fasting alone, praying alone, standing in front of the Kabbah alone. Would he even pray for me or my family after we died?
I had to speak with him face to face, because I needed for him to look right into my eyes and know that it was because I loved him that I had to let him go. I wanted him to find someone he could grow old with on his terms. He and I would never last a lifetime. When I finished speaking, he sat with no words. Later, I found, he blamed religion for the way we ended.
The breakup was the equivalent of a punch in the stomach. A fierce, unexpected blow that knocked the wind right out of me. I called my father and sobbed into the phone. My dad sat on the other end trying to soothe the excruciating hurt, but he and I both knew it wasn’t going to be that easy. My father told me how proud he was of me for making such a difficult, heartbreaking choice. My family had never intervened, as they trusted his respect for me and my respect for myself.
Ever so often, doubts drift into my mind: Did I give up on him too soon? Most of the time though, I don’t carry regrets. Tweet This! Although, I loved him–maybe more than I loved myself—there is a certain contentment, even joy, in knowing that my love for my Creator was larger, more powerful than my love for a man or my desire to find companionship. I have proven to myself that I am willing to sacrifice the greatest happiness I had experienced in this world thus far to attain an eternal happiness in the afterlife.
To this day, I’m still plagued with the challenge of meeting a Muslim man who compares to him, because too many Muslim men have lied to and betrayed me. Tweet This! I am now 29-years-old, still unmarried, but hopeful. And I find comfort in Allah; there is no greater love than His.
Imani Abdel-Malik Bashir was born and raised in Prince George’s County, Maryland. The middle of 5 siblings and product of a Muslim household, she has always kept faith at the center of her life. She currently lives in Cairo, Egypt where she teaches literature to high school student
(Photo Source: Yes-news)