Book Review: Love, Insha Allah

Book Review: Love, Insha Allah

The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women


Though Islam is growing in America, one bumps up constantly against ubiquitous incompatibilities between Islam and Western culture. Nowhere is this incompatibility more prominent than in an American Muslim woman’s search for a mate.


The stories in this book reveal the problematic position of American Muslim women who would like to get married. They must either make compromises, or take a hard line with respect to their religion, further limiting their chances for finding a mate in a society that is still composted of mostly non-Muslim residents. Some of these writers have shaved the edges off Islamic teachings , even to the extent of doing haram behavior, knowingly, deliberately. The instinct to find a mate and establish a family often takes precedence over familial and religious dictates regarding how to do so.


Islamic customs, which relied heavily on community relationships, now operate in an anemic facsimile of their original effectiveness. American customs for dating, sex and marriage, are not officially available to these women.To make matters worse, Muslim communities in the United States are composed of people from varying cultural and linguistic traditions. American Muslim women sit between a rock and a hard place; even men tiptoe across a loose tightrope when courting them.


When the Abrahamic religions were being codified, the human life span was much shorter. Young people did not have to navigate a prolonged period (named adolescence) between childhood and adulthood.  Mating occurred at  physical maturation. These days, physical maturation plays second fiddle to religious mores that were not written for adolescence or homosexuality. Add to that the economic and educational demands of today that also postpone marriage well beyond the best physical stage for it.


At least one of my readers will remind me that Islam is applicable to all peoples for all times, and to that reader I say, “Then it will have to find a way to reconcile human nature with the unnatural frustration arising out of modern  adolescence. It will also have to accommodate an increasing incidence of homosexuality.”


Homosexuality, by the way, does not recede when it manifests in a Muslim, and several of these writers are brave enough to talk about it. One would think that if Allah hated homosexuality enough to forbid it, He would give us better tools for coping with it in a halal manner, but this is not the case. Homosexuality will prove to arise from physiological  and genetic predispositions, and therefore will never be responsive to blame or volition on the part of those who find themselves claimed by it.


I respect the women who’ve told their stories, and I admire their courage in trying to find a third way, a way to live as Muslims and as Americans, partaking in the blessings of both identities and navigating the inherent troubles. Some women have tossed Islamic teachings out the window, while others have have cut themselves off from the benefits for which people choose to live in America.  None, however, have turned their backs on Islam, itself, and most have become stronger in faith as a result of their trials, regardless of whether they succeeded in finding a mate.


Not all the essays are marked by conflict or frustration. Several of the women met their husbands in the traditional Islamic way, through the help of parents and relatives, without having to date and sift through a succession of boyfriends. These women are the lucky minority. Several others met their husbands by means unconventional in either American or Islamic cultures; their stories prove that finding a mate need not conform to a strict prescription.


The women represented in this book are pioneers, and through them, especially with respect to how they raise their children, a stable American Islam will develop.  Oh, I know. There’s no such thing as “American Islam” or “Saudi Islam” or, or… Well, yes there is. How do you suppose Islam, or any other religion, survives over the centuries, migrates to different continents, and serves populations that have never have heard of one another? An Islam that thrives in the West is still evolving.  This book forms a link in the process, and will eventually be regarded as an historical document. I hope the children of this book’s authors will read their mothers’ stories with a sense of relief because they will not have to blast through the moral and social difficulties endured by their parents.





Pronounce Your Name Correctly, Please

The Muslim families in my community want to build a mosque. They are tired of driving thirty minutes to the central mosque downtown; they want a mosque in their neighborhood. They convened and bought a piece of land, drew plans and submitted the project to the city for a conditional use permit. Naturally, some of the surrounding non-Muslim families objected.

Tonight I attended a City Hall meeting regarding whether the project should be granted its permit. Several hundred people attended, many of whom stood at the podium for as long as three minutes each, voicing their support or objection. For two hours, the people took turns speaking their minds. Three local television stations swung their cameras around to catch the action.

I sat in the middle of the room and listened. I was pleased to hear nearly ninety percent of speakers urge for approval of the permit. Most speakers were Muslims, but of the non-Muslims, most of them, too, voiced approval and even welcome of the addition of a mosque to the neighborhood.

Two people gave strong objections. Those two were featured on the television news broadcasts later.

Watching TV, one would think that a mosque on the magnitude of the Grand Mosque in Mecca was being considered. In reality, the mosque will be small, with only 114 prayer spaces (including the women’s section). Our community has 100 Muslim families that would use the facility. Many of those families were in attendance tonight. Each person who spoke introduced him or herself.

I was appalled to hear some of them mispronounce their own names. Men named Ahmed called themselves Amed. One named Hassan called himself Hassahn (accent on the last syllable.) A woman named Suhair became Sue Hair. Khalid became Kalid, Iman became Eye Man, and Quraishi became Kereshi. My poor ears nearly curled up and folded over!

Several years ago, I met the wife of one of the Ahmeds, and even she pronounced her husband’s name, “Amed.” I asked her why, and she gave me the predictable answer, “Americans cannot pronounce Ahmed.”  I wanted to say, “But you can pronounce it!” I wanted to tell her not to cave in to poor pronunciation simply because the majority of people in this country cannot pronounce the names. I wanted to tell her that many people here can, indeed, pronounce the names correctly, especially if they want to do so. They need a little tutoring, and then they’ll pronounce just fine! As a native-born American who did not pronounce my first Arabic word til the age of thirty-six, I disagree that most Americans cannot pronounce Muslim names, or  any names in a language other than English. A name is just a short sound that can be learned in a matter of minutes.

Well, I didn’t tell her all of this; that would have been impolite. I’m telling it to you now, you who read this and might have a name you think,  “Americans can’t pronounce.” You may be right. Some non-Muslims, non-Arabic speakers may never be able to pronounce your name, but you must make them try. They’ll respect you for it, and you’ll respect them because they will try. Some of them will actually learn their first non-English word– your name!

Learning names is a first step in forming relationship. Muslims are missing out on an important step in building relationship when, in their eagerness for acceptance, they do not teach their names, but instead pick up the incorrect pronunciation of native English speakers. I wonder whether the people who objected to the mosque in question had ever met a Muslim person, let alone been taught a Muslim name.

Agitated

Sunday, August 29, 2010

I allowed myself to get embroiled in a blog conversation with someone whose objective was only to inflame, ridicule, provoke, and insult. See:
I bent over backwards to accommodate A’idah’s points, give weight to her accusations, and maintain objectivity at the same time. In the end, I had to extricate myself, and I’ve been agitated for two days.

Why? What sort of emotional complex gets activated, not only in me but in many people, when religion is on the table?  This question seems more important than the conversation we’d had in the first place. The topic was Islam, of course. What other topic, these days, inflames to the extent that Islam inflames?

Islam is the third largest monotheistic religion in the world. It’s been around for centuries. Something is right with it. The best way to address troublesome issues regarding Islam and the West is to admit that something, indeed, is right with it. That “rightness” underlies all else, and needs to be acknowledged before any of us– Muslim or non-Muslim– will be able to purge Islam and cultures of the deviations have taken hold and drawn us all under the rubble.

A’idah and I were at cross purposes, and I knew it from the start, but why did I yield to the bait? The answer lies not with the conversation, but  with me. It goes all the way back to my conversion to Islam in 1987. No, it goes back further, to my rejection of certain aspects of Christianity. No, it goes back further than that, even. Maybe it goes all the way back to birth, when my cozy world spit me out into cold, noisy air and assaulted me with tactile irritations, blinding brightness and speed-of-light motion that induced a most terrifying vertigo, followed by prodding and rubbing and the shock of my own first breaths.

Then I heard my mother’s voice.

Religion is a response to birth trauma?

Does that sound far-fetched, or atheistic?

Even as a believer in Allah, I can accommodate the idea that religion could be a response to birth trauma.

Well, be that as it may, I remain agitated, angry even, at how Islam has been kicked and slugged and stabbed and blasted by people who take pleasure in the attack, who do not ask the hard questions, do not even pretend to dig into the substance of the matter, but condemn with sweeping verbosity, and polish their skills at sarcastic dialogue with bitter, lip-licking delight.




In the Beginning…

In the Beginning…

During my eighth month in Riyadh, 1986, I fell in love with an Egyptian man. He was Muslim; I was Christian. Neither one of us allowed that to get in the way of the natural course of events.

He worked at KFSH, in the Emergency Department, and I worked in the lab. I met him when I started working third shift; he used to bring specimens to the lab.

Third shift at KFSH was indeed a graveyard shift. Only one person was needed to cover my whole section on third shift.  During the day it needed ten people. I worked twelve hours, seven PM to seven AM, four days a week, and spent most of that time alone.

The quiet, slow atmosphere of routine evenings in the hospital gave third shift workers time to talk to one another about subjects other than work. Because none of the supervisors were there, nor any of the Saudis, men and women didn’t maintain as strict a separation as they did during the daytime. Therefore, Ahmed and I talked to each other, sometimes at length. We started seeing each other on days off.

We’d sit in the hospital lobby, just talking. We’d take the hospital bus downtown to the suq, and walk around for hours, until the same bus came back to get us, along with whomever else had come downtown that night. People noticed immediately that Ahmed and I were spending too much time together.

If I had taken up with a man from any of the Western countries, no one would have raised in eyebrow, but Ahmed was Egyptian, and I was American. I had been warned, just as all newly arrived expatriate women are warned, to stay away from Arab men.

Well, I didn’t travel half way around the world to burrow into a pack of Americans, no offense to my compatriots. I simply thirsted for expansion.

We knew each other for just a few weeks when he started talking about marriage. In my still naive American mentality, I was impressed that this handsome, exotic man wanted to marry me. We agreed on a two year courtship.

That alone should have given me pause, but I knew nothing about Islam and little more about Arab men. I decided that I needed to learn about Islam. I believed (and still believe) that a married couple should observe the same religion. The Muslim people I met at the hospital had impressed me with their positive attitudes, their emotional warmth, dedication to their professions and families, sense of security and of purpose. If Islam had anything to do with such development, I wanted to discover the process, and try it for myself.

So began my inquiry into Islam, primarily because I thought I would become the wife of a Muslim, the wife of Ahmed. I wanted to see if I could observe Islam with him.  The two year courtship passed, during which I suffered an earthquake of changes, the magnitude of which threw up the foundations of my most basic assumptions. Everything fell back down all mixed up, and when the dust settled, I was a Muslim.

Eventually I did become the wife of a Muslim, but not Ahmed’s wife. That’s another story. Suffice it to say that when Ahmed exited my life, Islam remained.