A Halal Love Story

Pregnant with anticipation, the air swam slowly around us. Tinkling china punctuated the low buzz of summer insects hanging fatly in the weary sun soaked air. The well-worn wicker of dated patio furniture wore a faint tattoo into my backside, my hair lay wetly across my temple as I felt my makeup worn face bake gently in the heat. The young man sat across from me was slender of stature and fervent of countenance.

“Well?” said my would-be suitor, “do you have any questions for me?”

“Just one, could you- uh- could you clarify the last thing you said?” the words politely drip along the sides of a long since empty tea cup. The cicada song rolls between us.

“Sure.”

I was beginning to find the upward lilt of his voice jarring, and immediately pictured a dozen identical children with equally irritating voices. I shivered.

“It’s like this. In salah you can only have one imam leading the prayer, and the rest follow suit-right? Now it wouldn’t make sense to have two imams leading the prayer! We only need one. It’s like that in marriage, only the husband needs to lead- you know take charge, and his wife follows. Of course like in salah if an Imam makes a mistake, you just politely correct (of course you have to be absolutely certain of your correction and his mistake). Just so in a marriage, I make a mistake- my wife supports me and I carry on leading. That’s all really.”

He inhales; I imagine his head slowly inflating along with his chest.

My smile tugs hard on my jaw.

You should get married young, that’s my philosophy. When you’re young with limited life experience you’re just stupid enough to believe the myth of love. The young would-be husbands and wives of our community know that marriage may be hard- but only in the abstract. They think hardships in their marriage may arise from not liking the same pizza toppings, or wanting to name their child Ibrahim instead of Yusuf. You know, big problems.

The older you get the more jaded you become, the more desperate your parents become, the more appealing your cousin from Pakistan looks. It’s no big secret that in the Muslim community we do get married young, most of us are happily married by our mid-twenties and having children before we hit our thirties. For the rest of us, like myself, we are instead beleaguered by parents who think we’ve passed our sell-by date, and the onslaught of ‘engaged’ and ‘married’ statuses that litter our social media.

I was 20 when I first asked my parents to find someone for me. I, being the eldest in a largely traditional Pakistani household, thought that this was the best course of action. My parents were slightly clueless on how to proceed- they themselves never got married through the traditional rishta process. Eventually, I was introduced to three young men before I called it quits. I came to their homes dressed presentably (no indication of the previous struggle with my mother evident as she attempted to apply lipstick on my face through means of brute force), and I was met with the angelic and positively preternaturally good natured presence of a potential husband.

What do you mean you want to change everything about me before I meet him?

They were, without exception, polite, well dressed and charming. It was of course when we were sat together alone (the door always suitably ajar) that the real qualities began to ooze out. It was through the clever little phrases, the smiles and the expectant glances that would clue me in to one fact. Most men who tried to find a wife through their mums were in fact in want of a good looking maid/child bearer. I remember how Facebook searches of the respective suitors name led to photo after photo of wild partying, drunken antics, and scantily clad women dripping from their arms. As for my own aspirations, I felt that I should aim a little higher. My parents agreed.

I moved out of my home for work, this was the first time I was on my own and not beholden to a curfew or demands to know who I’d been out with. I decided to start dating in the traditional sense; thing is- no one really decides to ‘start’ dating. It sort of falls into your lap, and there’s no real guidance. I, at this point, had tarred all men of my racial background and faith, as hypocrites of the highest order. I remember being asked out on my first proper date, sat in a coffee shop, a young good looking man approached me. He reminded me of Roger Federer, and his accent was disarmingly German. I went on three dates with him, but the lingering expectation of sex and commitments hung heavily between us. And it was entirely one sided. I sent a polite text, and moved on. This pattern soon established itself: one date, two dates, three dates- none. I found myself unable to commit to activities; relationships and bonds that I felt should come after marriage. Unfortunately, the current dating scene doesn’t really accommodate for women like myself. I wanted to avoid the Male Muslim Hypocrite, but found myself wedged against the Lasciviously Loquacious Lotharios. It seemed there was no in between. I begrudgingly resigned myself to the fact that I was to be a spinster, and sadly (though not uneagerly) began to peruse cat adoption websites.

Where all of my dreams are meant to come true?

That is until Ahmed came along.

Ahmed was tall, bearded and Muslim. He was well spoken, practicing, of the same moderation in faith as myself, and interesting. He took a keen interest in me, and instead of asking for my number- he asked for my dad’s. I gave it to him after much thought, and found myself quickly hurtling down something akin to the Muslim Tunnel of Love. That is to say, I was in the dark but it felt right, it felt halal, it felt possible.

Ahmed was educated, he was kind hearted, he was funny- but above all else, he liked me. He didn’t like the possibilities I held, the potential I had. He liked me as I was, and as I am. After three months of very proper courting, he surreptitiously inquired about my ring size and a plan was put into motion. We were to be engaged in a few months time. We would live together, he would work, I would continue my post graduate studies and continue on in my career, we would both wait approximately 5 years before thinking about children. It was perfect.

Except it wasn’t.

And it turned out that Ahmed wasn’t a Lascivious Lothario or a Muslim Hypocrite. He was somewhere in between. It soon came out that he didn’t want any of the things he had promised me, that as soon as we got engaged he began to renege on everything. His demands became grander, his latent (almost primordial) sense of ownership became readily more apparent. Ahmed liked the idea of me, and he was only ever interested in someone who’d be his sidekick. Not his partner. Not his equal. Someone to warm his bed and his food, a pretty young thing and not much else. His possessive jealousness and habitual lying led to me calling it off. It wasn’t pretty, but I handled it in the way I thought was best for myself.

I call it a near miss now. But it seems after Ahmed the telephone calls to my parents home inquiring about ‘their lovely daughter’ who could perhaps meet their ‘handsome son’ had dried up. No one was asking me out, I felt like a pariah. At first I couldn’t work out what had happened- and I still can’t. Was it because I was past my mid-twenties? Did I look old? Was I too highly educated? Was I not pretty enough?

I spent a good deal on this train of thought before a friend brought me back to reality and told me how silly I was being. She was the same friend who encouraged me to put up a muslim dating profile. I’d heard about such things, had heard that they were a magnet for people looking for greencards and thought it best to avoid them. Until I did some research and found a website called Ishqr. It had been popularly branded by young Muslims as ‘Hipster Shaadi dot com’. Pejorative as the moniker was, I felt like I’d found the right place for me. Muslim oddballs just looking for someone to stymy the lonliness with.

This is pretty much where my story ends, it’s a ‘to be continued’ I suppose. I haven’t found anyone yet, and maybe I never will. But the one thing I’ve learnt throughout the entire process is that no one should measure their worth by their ability to find a spouse. It’s silly, it’s arbitrary. I find it difficult to believe, but I still try to anyway- I know there’s someone out there for me. And even if I don’t meet him in this life, I hope we’re united in Heaven. And that’s O.K.

Jenny Khan


Originally published at tmvmagazine.tumblr.com.

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