(Based on a true story) Several years ago, Miriam called her cousin Donia for advice. Miriam was newly married and the blissful honeymoon with her husband Mahmoud was not so blissful. Donia’s parents had immigrated to the United States before she was born and it made Donia the world’s authority on most anything related to relationships. Well, so her family thought. Donia spoke with Miriam quietly. She didn’t want her parents hearing the conversation she was having with her cousin. Families speak, sometimes quite suspiciously, about the wrong subject.
Miriam was sobbing miles away. She didn’t understand what was going on in her marriage-her husband would not touch her. She lost weight, bought lingerie, and did everything she had read about in Harlequin romance novels. But Mahmoud avoided home anyway he could.
Donia thought to herself, he’s gay. But she would never tell Miriam. Miriam was of the opinion that gay was a life choice, a perversion of nature, and something boys did with each other. If they were caught with girls, they would be punished severely. So they chose to be with other boys, no one talks about boy love.
Donia recommended to Miriam to let Mahmoud have some space. Space was a foreign concept to Miriam. She laughed at Donia, chastising her for becoming cold like Americans. But Donia insisted. Miriam was putting too much pressure on Mahmoud. Let him figure out what it means for him to be a husband. Miriam and Donia’s conversation ended but replayed in Donia’s mind repeatedly. To tell her cousin that her husband may be gay or may be asexual was not something Miriam wanted to hear. Donia also knew Miriam wouldn’t want a divorce-Mahmoud’s family was affluent. She had a nice flat in an upper class suburb. It was traditionally furnished and nothing was forgotten. She wouldn’t hand over gifts of jewels or a sizable mahr. She hit the jackpot.
Donia couldn’t explain how she knew Mahmoud was gay. Maybe it was the first day she met Mahmoud-the proverbial gaydar went off. Donia hated the idea of gaydar, it made her feel like Hitler sniffing out the Jews. Was it instinctual? Was it due to being neighbors, colleagues in school, friends, or co-workers with gay men and women? She didn’t know how she knew, she just did. She wanted Mahmoud to cancel the engagement. She wanted him to escape from a situation that would see no happy ending.
Donia was single. She knew any words spoken against Mahmoud would be construed as jealousy. Jealous for not being married, not being engaged. Jealous that there was no man in prospect. Even if she told her parents, they would want proof and she would not provide it.
Donia’s trip down memory lane ended with a dua for Miriam and Mahmoud. Years went by and they were still together. Eventually, they had a child. And not long after that, she caught him with text messages and emails to a man on their child’s second birthday.
Miriam blackmailed Mahmoud-if he divorced her she would declare him a homosexual in open court. The text messages and emails were enough to convince a judge and she would also happily turn over the computer, full of gay pornographic files. Or he could provide for her and their child but keep his private life extremely private. Otherwise, he would face lashings and imprisonment for his behavior.
Mahmoud went along with it for a while. That was until he started drinking and smoking hash and opium. In his drunken rages, he would beat Miriam with anything he could. He would drag her by her hair through the house. He would defile her in anyway he could imagine.
The final battle took place on Eid al Fitr. Miriam asked Mahmoud for money to get their child new clothes and toys. Mahmoud locked the child in the bathroom and told Miriam of his hatred toward the child. He felt coerced, raped, and abused by Miriam and the womb that bore the thing. The child wasn’t a child, it was evil.
He beat Miriam with a belt. She struggled away from him and ran for the bathroom. Mahmoud grabbed Miriam and held her down on the floor with a knife to her throat. He told her she had a choice, she would either leave with the child or he would kill them both. Miriam pleaded and eventually gave in. She would leave.
Miriam called Donia not long after she moved back in with her parents. Miriam’s mother spoke of the shame she felt now that her daughter was divorced. What would the family think, what would the neighbors think? What would she say at events? No one would want Miriam at their weddings or engagement parties, the jealousy that she would carry with her would destroy every happy couple.
Donia asked Miriam what was so wrong about saying it just didn’t work out. Miriam would laugh at Donia telling her how American she was. Muslims don’t have marriages that don’t work out. Someone has to be at fault. Mahmoud was an abomination of humanity and his reputation should precede him. Wherever he goes, everyone should know he was a khawa.
Donia felt a life lesson could’ve been learned. Mahmoud’s family was well aware of their son’s preferance. Instead of being shamed by a bachelor-they preferred him married. It was the best, he would eventually stop seeking men and be happy with Miriam. They believed a degree, money, and beauty was enough to fix him.
And Miriam’s family believed that Miriam made Mahmoud seek out men. She was too seductive, too fat, too thin, too white, too brown, too short, too tall, and wasn’t appreciative of men. Her mother and aunts shamed her into believing her physical nature was unappealing, too aggressive. Men want sex, not women. Her mother cried that she should’ve had her cleaned when she was young-they wouldn’t need to discuss their daughter’s divorce. Then no one would have to feel shame.
(Photo: Fabrizio Lonzini)
Katherine Wilson is working on a BA in Justice Studies with a focus in women’s issues. In her spare time, she volunteers for a grass roots domestic violence program and is a parent volunteer. She lives in Providence, RI.