Late Saturday morning I stepped out the passenger side door of Sumayyah’s car feeling an air of confidence that permeated every part of me. Part of my confidence, I knew, was due to the outfit I had chosen so carefully. Heeding the advice of Sumayyah, I chose something that covered my body modestly; however, I could not completely abandon the sophistication with which Anita and Felicia had indoctrinated me. My jean skirt was fitting around the hips but was loose at my ankles. My feet bore the string ties of my white open-toe sandals that revealed meticulously applied maroon nail polish that matched my fingernails. My long sleeve white shirt too clung slightly to my form, but it was the low neck that I loved most. The gold crucifix William had given me glistened from the thin gold necklace against my brown skin, and I felt an air of both African and Christian pride as I took in the crowd.
The sight of so many cloth-covered heads made me conscious of my thin braids that fell to my shoulders and lifted gently with the breeze, inspiring in me a renewed self-assurance that I would indeed stand out in the crowd. It didn’t occur to me, at least not then, that I should feel uncomfortable, or even ashamed, dressed like I was amid so many Muslims. It was most likely the festive, as opposed to religious, atmosphere that dulled my sensitivities where they would have normally been heightened. There was a moon bounce, pony rides, cotton candy, and tables of vendors. Music was coming from a portable platform where a group of young men performed songs and raps. In a way, I felt right at home.
Sumayyah handed me a program and I learned that at two thirty that afternoon, there would be a lecture entitled “Jesus, the Bridge and Divider of Monotheistic Religions Today.” The topic interested me more than I let on, and I only vaguely noted that, following the lecture, there would be a panel of new Muslims sharing their journey to Islam. I knew I wanted to hear the talk, but I also knew I’d have to make up some excuse to leave before the panel. I had heard enough in College Park, and I was beginning to get a bit irritated that Muslims felt the need to make a public announcement every time someone left his childhood religion and accepted Islam.
Sumayyah introduced me to so many people that later I couldn’t recall any of their names except a young woman named Shazia because she reminded me so much of my Hindu friend from high school. The only thing I recalled about the rest of them was that they had grown up Christian but converted to Islam. It did not escape me that each of them emphasized this point quite eloquently, as if the information would somehow inspire me to do the same. To be honest, I was offended and told them, frankly, I was happy as a Christian and was just here to enjoy the occasion. I decided against mentioning the “Ask About Islam” volunteer who had really inspired my desire to attend today’s event. I hoped we wouldn’t miss his performance.
As it turned out, I had no cause to worry, as Sumayyah primly seated herself, and me, in the front row opposite the portable stage fifteen minutes before he was scheduled to perform. I had already tired of perusing the items on the vendors’ tables, and my stomach was full from barbeque chicken sandwiches and hot dogs that tasted better than any I remembered eating at home. I had even stood in line with children half my size to get cotton candy and tried my hand at the kiddy carnival games. So I was relieved when she tugged at my arm and guided me to the seats. I was becoming exhausted in the heat, surprised that it was already this warm in mid-March.
“Yusuf is up next,” Sumayyah said to me in a whisper as we sat down before the platform of children performing what appeared to be martial arts.
“The brother who did the monologue at the open house.”
Oh. My heart beat quickened, and I was surprised by how nervous I’d become all of a sudden. I found myself growing irritated at the childish flips, kicks, and tumbles the children performed at the calls of a man standing with his arms crossed authoritatively at the side of the stage.
When the time for Yusuf’s performance grew near, I was taken aback by how packed the seats became all of a sudden. I was impressed. Apparently, he was well known in the area. I was grateful to Sumayyah for reserving our seats early on.
Yusuf was introduced as a renowned poet who had been featured in Essence and Ebony magazines, had won numerous oral and written poetry competitions, and even had a modest professional acting resume. Currently, he owned and operated Ihsan Productions, a Muslim performing arts company that donated most of its proceeds to Nourishing the Heart and Mind—NHM—a non-profit organization, which he had co-founded, specializing in giving minority youth the leadership, educational, and creative expression skills they needed to excel in society.
I was speechless by the time Yusuf finally stepped onto the stage. I barely noticed the three men seated at the rear of the platform, the one in the middle holding a small drum. But after Yusuf reached the microphone, their voices resonated in a harmonizing tenor above the gentle beating on the drum, reminding me of native music from South Africa. Yusuf wore a long white thobe that lifted and clung to him slightly with the wind, revealing his athletic form beneath the thin fabric. Yusuf’s voice blended in with the men’s even as it overpowered theirs, and it took me a second to realize he was singing.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” He paused, the background harmonizing continuing.
“Amazing.” This time he spoke instead of sang, and the word came out as thunderous.
“Amazing,” he said again, this time more subdued but the word still carrying the weight of his previous utterance.
“Amazing.” It was a reflective whisper now, and his eyes narrowed in deep thought. “I once was lost. I once was blind.” He drew in a deep breath and exhaled. “But now, now, I’m free.”
Amazing that this grace that I sang about in church wasn’t found until I was free.
Amazing that its sweet sound that I sang for you wasn’t so sweet coming from me.
Amazing that when I was singing about not being blind,
I was wondering what it was like to see.
Amazing how sweet grace really is once its sweetness graced me.
As I listened to his poem, which was part-song, part-monologue, I was entranced and moved at once. I could feel the pain of finding in adulthood the amazing grace of childhood only to feel the censure of the family who had taught him of grace. I was immediately reminded of what Sumayyah had said about her family and wondered if his family too viewed his conversion to Islam as the worst thing he could have possibly done.
After the performance, I wanted to approach Yusuf to ask questions, but before I could mention my intentions, Sumayyah said that it was time to pray and led me into the building on whose lot the festivities were being held. The coolness of the air conditioned indoors soothed me and I wondered why Sumayyah hadn’t taken us inside earlier.
After using the bathroom, I emerged from the stall to check my appearance in the mirror while Sumayyah wet her hands, face, and arms in preparation for prayer like a few other women were doing at other sinks. When she removed her head covering to smooth down her hair and readjust the cloth, I did a double-take, having not seen her hair before. I was surprised to find her head full of small twists pulled back by a ponytail holder. I don’t know what I expected her hair to look like, nor was I aware that I had expected anything at all, but I could not deny my intrigue as I realized how she looked fully African-American without the cloth on her head. She could have easily been a classmate of mine at school. Suddenly, I saw her as Simone and could relate to the heartbreak her parents must be enduring in the knowledge of her abandoning the church.
The sound of her voice interrupted my thoughts, and I found myself staring at her as she wrapped the cloth neatly around her head, transforming into Sumayyah.
“You can sit on the seats in the hall until we finish.”
I nodded, wondering if there were any Simones-turned-Sumayyah at the school I had graduated from. The possibility lingered in my mind and remained as an intriguing possibility though I couldn’t imagine how any of the personalities behind the confident, shy, and goofy faces in my high school yearbook could actually hide something as profound as converting to Islam.
I seated myself in the hall as directed and watched nonchalantly as scores of men and women passed me in preparation to pray. I had seen some of the Muslim prayer while I was at the open house and had wondered at the quiet contentment of so many different ages and races standing in solidarity next to each other with one arm folded over the other.
When a familiar face passed, I didn’t realize I had spoken Yusuf’s name aloud until he turned and searched the faces behind him for who had called him until his gaze met mine.
I smiled, feeling my heart pound as I realized he was looking at me.
“Hi,” I said as if we’d known each other forever. “It’s nice seeing you again.”
I was only vaguely aware of others staring curiously at us, looking from Yusuf to me and from me to Yusuf, before entering the prayer area. One woman actually wrinkled her nose at us and said something I didn’t understand at the time. Later I learned it was the Arabic expression astaghfirullaah, invoking God’s forgiveness. However, I was too excited about my opportunity to talk to Yusuf to register that my greeting had broken any rule or offended anyone.
I do recall Yusuf quickly lowering his gaze and creasing his forehead in confusion. It was then that I realized that he didn’t remember me.
“You too,” he said hurriedly and disappeared into the prayer room.
I felt stupid and only then did I become aware of people’s looks of disapproval that they were doing a poor job of hiding. It was the first moment I was self-conscious of my appearance. However, my discomfort was short-lived. A few minutes later, I spotted at least six other women uncovered, some with less shame than I. I exhaled in relief and dismissed the earlier looks as nothing, although I had a harder time downplaying Yusuf’s eager exit after my greeting him. My face grew warm as I finally admitted the sentiment his face had displayed—embarrassment. I didn’t understand why he had any reason to be ashamed, of all things. Had I said something wrong? Sacrilegious? Perhaps it was my greeting of hi instead of the Arabic greeting they exchanged that caused his shame in responding to me.
After prayer I had a difficult time finding Sumayyah. When I finally found her, I saw her talking to someone near the top of the steps that led outside. The crowd hid from me the person opposite her, and as I approached her, I kept losing sight of her behind the droves of people. But I knew where I had seen her, so I approached the stairs.
“Sumayyah,” I called out when I saw her less than ten feet in front of me. She turned and tried to locate the voice when I waved. As she recognized me, she waved me over to her.
“This is Renee, who I was telling you about,” she said as I reached her.
I turned and found myself staring into the face of Yusuf, whose eyebrows rose slightly in recognition, though I sensed he still didn’t recall me from the “Ask About Islam” table. He immediately dropped his gaze and nodded politely.
“Nice to meet you.”
I laughed uncomfortably. “We already met.”
“Really?” He glanced up briefly and held the polite expression of one trying to place a face but unable to despite his greatest efforts.
“You probably don’t remember. But I met you at Maryland when you were at a table during Islamic Awareness Week.”
His expression softened somewhat as he nodded, remembering being at the table, but not in meeting me. I felt slighted and insignificant but hid my feelings with a broad smile.
“Congratulations,” I said. “You’re a really good poet.”
There was an awkward silence.
“Is it…” I didn’t know how to finish my question. “Is it, uh, based on your conversion to Islam?”
“Yes, this one is.”
I nodded, unsure what I felt safe saying with Sumayyah standing right there. I wanted to know if we could keep in touch, if he didn’t mind my calling him sometimes, but my senses told me that wasn’t exactly proper etiquette for the moment. So I resigned myself to nodding, feeling stupid at not being able to think of anything else to say.
Sumayyah saved me from having to speak when she said we’d better get going. I wasn’t quite ready to leave, but I could find no rational reason to protest, so I fell in stride next to her as she descended the steps. We still had thirty minutes until the lecture, she said as we approached the door, and she wanted to look at some clothes.
At two thirty, I sat in a chair in the third row opposite the podium in what looked like the building’s cafeteria turned auditorium. To the right of the podium was an empty table with three vacant seats that I assumed were to be occupied by the panel of Muslims telling of their journey to Islam. However, my peaked interest was due to the topic of the lecture.
Delivering the lecture was, to my surprise, an African-American woman who had spent nearly twenty years as a Christian preacher before accepting Islam. I had been a bit taken aback by the former preacher who spoke at the open house, but for some reason, this woman’s story really interested me. I was slightly disappointed when her story was abandoned to introduce the topic of the view of Jesus according to the three “Abrahamic faiths.” I didn’t think of Jesus as being a central point of belief for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, but the woman’s talk made me see that he was. For Jews, it was their rejection of him as a Messiah that divided them from the Christians historically. For Christians, he was central to their belief system, but in time had become God himself although he never claimed divinity himself. According to the ex-preacher, it was only Muslims who believed in him as he believed in himself. Muslims accepted him as the Messiah prophet born of the Virgin Mary, but rejected the newly introduced concept of his divinity and God’s fatherhood of him. What appealed to me was the historical proof she gave for her arguments, though some of them I recognized as similar to ones mentioned at the open house.
I was still reflecting on some of her points when a man stood before the microphone and introduced the panel. We were told that we were able to ask questions of the former preacher and the panelists once the converts had shared their stories. I was torn between remaining in the room and capitalizing on the opportunity to ask questions, and leaving to avoid sitting longer than I wanted.
The first panelist, a woman of Korean descent, approached the podium, but I had difficulty concentrating on her words because I couldn’t decide whether or not I wanted to hear her story. As if mentally counting down until the end, my eyes grazed the panelists, and I saw that, naturally, there were only two speakers after her. I noticed that the last two were men, one White, the other African-American, and I felt as if I were at the open house all over again.
When the woman finished, which was sooner than I had anticipated, the White man approached the podium. If I hadn’t known this was a session on people accepting Islam, I would have assumed he was Arab although his skin was white and his eyes blue. He wore a small white skullcap, a long white robe like the one Yusuf had worn, and the beginnings of a beard shadowed his cheeks. I didn’t understand the significance of the robe, which seemed Biblical to me, but I couldn’t keep from feeling a sense of admiration and respect for the men who wore it. It made them appear righteous and dignified.
Since there was only one more speaker after the White man, I decided that it wouldn’t be too torturous to sit through the rest of the panelists. I reluctantly relaxed and listened to the man tell of his journey to Islam, but it was his mention of Yusuf, the poet, being instrumental in his accepting Islam that made me pay closer attention. Yusuf had done an oral poetry performance on the man’s college campus, after which the man had approached Yusuf due to the intriguing racial and religious turmoil expressed in the poem. They kept in touch, and slowly the man took baby steps to accepting that it wasn’t only Yusuf’s poetry that had captivated him, but Yusuf’s spirituality.
The mention of Johns Hopkins being where the performance took place made me think of William, but only vaguely. It was then that the man’s blue eyes held a distant familiarity, and the intonations of his voice, though foreign in their content and use of Muslim jargon, inspired a connection that was so intense that my breath caught. I sat forward and studied the contours of his face that were barely visible beneath the beard and suddenly his nose, his smile, even the gentle creases around his eyes made my heart quicken at the possibility.
When he mentioned growing up in Indianapolis and his reading of The Autobiography of Malcolm X as a project for class, I nearly stood up and screamed from the shock I felt at the realization. There was still a thread of doubt in my mind because he hadn’t said his name, at least I didn’t recall his saying it, and the Arab appearance made it difficult to confirm my suspicions.
I thought of Darnell and how I had so often felt I’d seen him, was so convinced that he was alive and well, only to walk up to a complete stranger and gawk at them for several seconds before Darnell’s features faded to give way to the unfamiliar features of the stranger’s face. Was it possible I was hallucinating about William too? If I was, it made no sense. No tragedy was connected to him, so there was no reason for me to mentally create him through the presence of another person. If anyone, it would be Reggie I’d see in my mind’s eye, or was there some unknown connection I felt between William and myself that inspired the mirage?
I dropped my gaze and leaned back in my chair, realizing that my grief over Darnell’s death was distorting my reality severely. I wondered if I was feeling nostalgic for home even. How often was it that I longed for connection to something familiar?
“Are you okay?”
I turned to the sound of the whisper and saw Sumayyah’s concerned expression as her hand rested on my arm and she leaned close to me to keep others from overhearing.
Embarrassed that my internal turmoil was apparent, I sat up and turned my attention back to the speaker, who was now concluding. He left the podium, and my eyes followed him. But I was unwilling to trust my mind. It had failed me too many times. It was possible that he hadn’t even said Indianapolis but Minneapolis for all I knew. And how popular had the reading of Malcolm X’s autobiography become, for Black and White alike?
When the last speaker finished and the floor was opened for questions, I felt my heart throbbing in my chest. I had forgotten about the questions I had for the ex-preacher. I now had only one, and it was to the White man. Are you William Garret, Reggie Matthews’s good friend from Indianapolis?
But I couldn’t bring myself to take the risk. I sat through the question-and-answer session fighting the urge to raise my hand and convincing myself I could at least ask Sumayyah to ask for me. The host asked if there were anymore questions, and I felt defeated. When his hand pointed to me, I felt my face grow hot as I realized I had my hand half-heartedly raised as if I were unsure I wanted to participate.
Sumayyah nudged me playfully, apparently noticing my nervousness, and on shaky legs I stood. I had no idea what I would say, although I had no doubt what I wanted to know.
“My name is Renee Morris,” I said, hearing the shakiness in my voice. I held on to the back of the seat in front of me to steady myself. The person in it was turned around facing me, so her back was not against its frame. “I’m from Indianapolis and I’m Christian, but I’m really interested in learning more about Islam.” I tried to keep from looking at the White man, but it was difficult. I was hoping for some sense of connection, but from the corner of my eye, I saw none. He sat listening politely for my point as if my introduction did not faze him in the least. I decided against addressing him. “And my question is for the preacher.” I fixed my gaze on her. “I heard what you said about Muslims following what Jesus taught, but how can you be sure of that? Every sect of Christianity claims the same.”
I sat down, perhaps too quickly, and realized that my question sounded more like a challenge than an inquiry. But I also realized that what I had said was what I was feeling in my heart right then.
She approached the podium. “Thank you, Renee,” she said. “I’m glad you asked. This is a very important question.”
I stole a glance at the White man, but he was listening intently to the ex-preacher. My heart fell as I realized my mind, and eyes, had betrayed me, again. I returned my attentions to the woman, feeling a sense of obligation to at least feign interest in her answer since I was the one who had asked the question.
“Like I mentioned in my presentation, there is a lot of historical evidence to support the theory, if you will, of Jesus not claiming divinity or any blood relationship to the Creator. As I said, neither concept is traced to Jesus himself, but to other figures and councils in history.” The sides of her mouth creased in the beginnings of a smile.
“But to respond to your question specifically: How can I be sure that the Muslim belief about Jesus is correct?” She rested her hand on her chest in emphasis of reference to herself. “I think what you really mean is, What evidence can I bring to make you or anyone else who is not Muslim convinced that the Muslim belief is correct, given that all religions claim ultimate truth?” She paused and lifted her eyebrows as she gestured a hand toward me. “Would you say that’s a fair rephrasing of your question?”
I felt the eyes of the audience on me, and I willed myself not to look at them. I nodded my head, keeping my gaze locked with hers. “Yes.” The confidence and challenge in my voice surprised me, but I remained calm as I folded one arm over my chest and rested the other’s elbow on it with my chin resting on a loose fist, awaiting her response.
“It’s not for any human to convince you of anything.” She wore a smile of self-conviction, but her tone and expression suggested that she respected my conviction although it was different from hers. “In the Qur’an, God tells us to invite.
“As for the evidence of the truth of Islam,” she said before pausing momentarily. “After studying from authentic sources, hearing Muslims share their journeys to the religion, and sincerely praying to God to guide you to His Truth,” she said, her last words making my heart skip a beat as I recalled my prayers to God, “the answer to your question is simply this: Consult your heart. It is there you will find your answer.” She paused. “If your intentions and prayers are sincere.”
There was a roar of applause as she took her seat after whispering a thank you and a prayer that God be with me in my search. For some reason, I felt my eyes burn, as the urge to cry overtook me. But I didn’t understand the feeling and fought it as I continued to smile and brought my hands together to join in the applause of the audience.
The crowd filed out the room to return to the outside festivities, which were drawing to a close in an hour, and I remained in my seat trying to get a hold of my emotions. I was relieved when Sumayyah stood and left without bothering me about joining her. It wasn’t until several minutes later that I noticed her near the table with a small group of audience members talking to the ex-preacher and panelists, who were all standing now and gathering their notes as they carried on conversations with the questioners who remained in the room.
I looked up and saw Sumayyah next to me with her hand resting gently on my shoulder. She wore a smile and she pointed behind her, where she stood in the narrow aisle of chairs.
The ex-preacher reached around her and extended a hand in greeting. Taken aback, I sat up and reached for her hand, standing with the motion.
They stepped out of the aisle, and I followed behind them until we were a small huddle next to the chairs.
“I just wanted to formally introduce myself,” the woman said. “I know Sumayyah from working on projects with her and Yusuf. And she tells me that you are her guest.”
I smiled. “Yes, I am.”
“Welcome. I’m glad you could come.”
I studied the walnut brown of her round face and the mole on her cheek and the dark green cloth on her head, trying to place her in a church before a congregation. I couldn’t. It was too surreal.
“I’m Hadiyah, by the way.” She chuckled. “Formerly Dr. Reverend Pauline Gregory.”
I laughed, unable to escape the humor and unlikelihood of such an introduction. “I’m glad to meet you.”
“My Muslim name means one who guides to righteousness, now that I can rightfully make that claim.”
She paused as she opened her purse and withdrew a card. She handed it to me. “Feel free to call me any time, day or night. I don’t mind late night calls. Whenever you want to talk, I’m here.”
I didn’t understand why I would want to talk to her, and so urgently, but I remained cordial. “Thank you. I appreciate it.”
“I look forward to talking to you. You’re free to stop over, even for dinner.”
I continued to smile. “Thank you.”
Hadiyah turned and shook Sumayyah’s hand, exchanged the Arabic greeting, and excused herself. My eyes followed her retreat, unable to comprehend what could have convinced a studied reverend to change religions. I thought of my father and became even more perplexed by Hadiyah’s journey.
“Sumayyah.” It was the sound of a male’s voice, and I turned instinctively although it was not my name being called.
Sumayyah turned and greeted Yusuf, saying, “Hey, what’s up?”
“I have someone who wants to talk to you. Both of you,” he added.
Her eyebrows rose and she grinned at me teasingly. I didn’t understand her expression, but it was contagious, so I grinned back, suppressing a giggle.
My grin faded as the White man stepped forward.
“I believe you know each other,” Yusuf said.
I could feel my heart in my throat. “William?” My eyes grew large and I was overcome with joy for some reason. I couldn’t contain the happiness I felt for him right then, though it wasn’t until later that I reflected on the reasons for that feeling. I could feel the tears stinging my eyes and I wanted to hug him in congratulations, but I withheld. Instead, a broad smile formed on my face as he nodded.
“Yep, it’s me.”
I laughed. “Wow. I don’t know what to say.”
His gaze was lowered, as if he were shy to talk to me. But he did a double take as the crucifix glistened and caught his attention.
Immediately, I was embarrassed. I had forgotten I had it on.
“You still have that?”
Instinctively, my hand went to my neck and I toyed with the pendant self-consciously. I shrugged. “Yeah, what can I say?” I laughed. “I like it a lot.”
“I have to get you a star and crescent now.”
A smile lingered on my face, but I didn’t understand the joke that evoked their collective laughter. “A what?”
He waved his hand. “Never mind.”
He changed the subject. “You still at UMD?”
I nodded. “Yes. And you’re still at Johns Hopkins, I hear.”
He creased his forehead. “Who did you hear that from?”
I laughed. “You. You mentioned it in your speech.”
He laughed too.
“Are you really interested in Islam?” he asked a few seconds later, lifting his head to look me in the eye briefly, his eyes narrowed like he used to do in childhood.
I shook my head before I realized what I was saying. “Not really. At least not for myself.”
He grew quiet and nodded.
“She’s interested,” Sumayyah said with a laugh that suggested we were good friends sharing a private joke. “She just hasn’t admitted it yet.”
I grinned and stared at her playfully. “Says who?”
“Says nobody. I just said you haven’t admitted it yet.”
They laughed and I nodded, chuckling, unsure what to say.
Someone called Yusuf’s name, and he glanced back before excusing himself. Apparently feeling out of place, William excused himself too, and I was left feeling excited, curious, and fearful at once. But I understood only the first two feelings because their cause was easy to pinpoint: William. It was my fear that I didn’t understand for another few weeks.
Because he was a friend of William’s, I felt more comfortable mentioning Yusuf’s name and asking about him whenever Sumayyah called or stopped by the room. When I finally felt comfortable with Sumayyah as a friend and mentioned my personal interest in Yusuf, she stared at me as if seeing me for the first time. It took a moment for her to recuperate, but when she did, her words were controlled but the message was heartbreaking in more ways than I could comprehend at the time.
In all words, she told me that Yusuf was interested in only Muslim women, and even amongst them, he considered only those who covered in Islamic garb, “hijaab.” There had been many women, and still were, who were interested in him, but he refused to deviate from his conviction: His future wife would be one who wore hijaab. It was the one heartfelt advice his mentor had repeated over and over after Yusuf accepted Islam: “Never marry a woman who doesn’t cover, no matter how beautiful she is to you.”
I didn’t understand why Sumayyah was sharing all of this with me, and I was offended that she felt I wanted to marry him. That was the furthest thing from my mind. I only wanted to talk to him on the phone and get to know him better. But I couldn’t escape the stinging pain I felt in my heart upon realizing I didn’t even stand a chance at attracting his attentions.
What Sumayyah didn’t say right then, and what I would learn soon after the conversation, was that she and Yusuf were engaged to be married. After I was Muslim, she apologized for being so brusque with me that day. She said that my words of interest in Yusuf had cut her more deeply than she had let on. She then shared with me the cause for her emotional response. My words had evoked a pain that was felt by many Muslim women.
At the time of the initial conversation I wasn’t Muslim, so I wouldn’t have understood her sentiments, even if she had explained them to me. But as a Muslim, they resonated with me on some level although I must admit that, at the time of her apology, I viewed the mentor’s advice as overly simplistic and superficial. As she spoke, I thought, But there are many women who don’t cover who are better Muslims than those who do.
Today, my faith and knowledge have matured such that I can appreciate the advice of Yusuf’s mentor, especially as I see in my own life the divine wisdom in Allah’s commandment for women to wear hijaab.
In retrospect, I know I would not have viewed the mentor’s advice as overly simplistic if he had said the same about a woman who drinks alcohol or is lax in her prayer. Even today I cannot completely explain this contradiction in my logic. But I think, at the time, my spiritual foundation was too weak to understand that Islamic wisdom is one. Upon hearing Allah’s commands, the believer simply says, “I hear and I obey.” Surely, anyone who is willing to openly say, “I hear your command, O Allah, and I disobey!” is not someone a mentor should encourage a Muslim to marry—regardless of the open sin he or she is committing.
I know now, too, that if I am guilty of open sin and point at others and say I am better, this is a clear indication that my understanding of faith in God is distorted—I’m measuring my piety by what others are doing and not by what my Lord asks me to do.
Sumayyah didn’t mention any of this during her apology, but in retrospect I can see that it was implied by what she shared. For Sumayyah, it was merely irksome that Muslim men would date non-Muslims, teach them about Islam, and then marry them, or even marry non-Muslims themselves, effectively ignoring available Muslim women. It was also bothersome to her that Muslim men would marry non-practicing Muslim women in hopes of guiding them to religiosity, all of this in direct contrast to the prophetic advice to marry for the religion.
It was this sensitivity that my inquiry had sparked in Sumayyah, my words incensing a response from her that would normally have been more guarded and kind. However, at the time, I didn’t understand any of that. But there was one thing that did not escape me as I slowly registered Yusuf’s desire to marry someone so unlike me—the irony of the different responses that my dress had evoked at the metro station and before a Muslim man. Clearly, this was a sign from God to take heed of my father’s lessons that I had begun to ignore.
When you put yourself out there as bait, you’ll only catch what likes what you’re offering.
Next… Story 9 of 11 Posted every Friday
This series is derived from the UZ novel by the same name and does not feature the full book. To read the entire novel CLICK HERE.
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