Wake Up Call (HOW Story 19)

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It all began with this widely popular short story series:

As we countdown to the  WORLDWIDE ONLINE PREMIERE of short MOVIE on January 27 & 28, 2018, we’re relaunching the 22-part series, one story per day:

Story 19Wake Up Call

“He’s terrible,” Mashael said, wrinkling her nose as she sat on the couch in Aliyah’s living room a comfortable distance from Aliyah Sunday afternoon. “I’m surprised he still works there.”

“What did he do?” Aliyah said, eyebrows drawn together curiously.

“You never heard about Dr. Stanley?” Mashael said, a disbelieving grin on her face.

Aliyah shrugged. “I tend to keep to myself. I hear things here and there, but I never really pay attention long enough to know who anyone’s talking about.”

“That’s good mashaAllah,” Mashael said reflectively, her eyes growing distant momentarily. “I wish more people were like that.”

Aliyah was unsure how to respond, as she sensed Mashael was distracted by an unpleasant thought. “Dr. Stanley and I are supposed to be working on a project together at work,” Aliyah said finally, making it a point to avoid mentioning Jacob. “So I just wanted to get an idea of what type of person he is.”

“He’s an excellent math professor,” Mashael said tentatively, “but he flirts with a lot of students. When I was there, girls were whispering about how easy it was to get an A in his class, if you know what I mean.”

Aliyah contorted her face. “Are you serious?”

“Unfortunately.” Mashael frowned. “One year I heard there was a sexual harassment suit filed against him by another professor, but I think the charges were eventually dropped. One of my friends said the college decided to handle the problem internally.”

“By the staff disciplinary committee,” Aliyah said aloud to herself, recalling that Jacob mentioned being a member.

“I guess so,” Mashael said. “But from what I hear, that didn’t really stop him. It just made him more careful. Last thing I heard, he focuses on girls who are loners and don’t have a lot of support.”

“Did you ever take any of his classes?”

Mashael nodded. “Two. But I never had any problem with him except when he made offensive comments about religion.”

“During math class?” Aliyah said, wrinkling her nose in disagreement.

“Yes, all the time,” Mashael said, her tone suggesting disapproval. “But he always found a way to relate it to what we were studying, so you really couldn’t say anything.”

Aliyah was quiet momentarily. “Is that where you met the guy who wants to marry you?”

“In math class?”

“No, at the college?”

“Yes.” A reflective smile lingered on Mashael’s face. “We’ve been together about three years now.”

Aliyah’s stomach churned in dread. She hoped Mashael wasn’t involved in a haraam relationship. “Do you need to pray Asr?” Aliyah said, feeling the sudden need for a spiritual mood before they talked.

“Is it in?” Mashael said, lifting her wrist and looking at her watch.

“It just came in,” Aliyah said, feeling relief that, whatever was going on with this “boyfriend,” Mashael hadn’t abandoned Salaah. “But I’m not praying, so you can go ahead.”

“Where can I do wudhoo’?” Mashael asked, standing and glancing toward the hall where Ibrahim was in his room.

“The bathroom’s the first door on the left,” Aliyah said, gesturing toward the hall.

Aliyah’s apartment phone rang seconds after Mashael entered the bathroom. As she stood to answer, Aliyah recalled leaving her mobile phone in her bedroom. Aliyah looked at the caller ID and saw Matt’s name and her former home number on the display.

As-salaamu’alaikum,” Aliyah said as she answered.

Wa’alaiku-mus-salaam,” Matt said before pausing briefly. “Aliyah…” He exhaled in apology. “Nikki and I just got home from the hospital, and the doctors put her on bed rest, so we need you to keep Ibrahim for a few days.”

Aliyah felt anxiety tighten in her chest. She had planned to arrive to work early in the morning so she could review the faculty handbook then meet with Dr. Warren before Dr. Stanley arrived. Where would she find a babysitter before then? Ibrahim wasn’t part of any weekday summer program, so she had no place to take him. “I’m sorry to hear about Nikki,” Aliyah said. “But I can drop off Ibrahim so she doesn’t have to drive. I don’t think he’ll be too much trouble. He’s become quite independent, mashaAllah.”

“The doctor suggested that Nikki keep her stress level down, too,” Matt said. “So she won’t be able to keep Ibrahim until she’s better.”

Aliyah tried to keep from getting upset. She had already been racking her brain on what to do after school started when she had Ibrahim full time; and she still hadn’t come up with any feasible plan. How was she supposed to come up with a solution overnight? It was aggravating that Matt and Nikki expected her to adjust to their sudden needs while they seemed to be completely oblivious to hers. If they wanted to keep Ibrahim during the weekend when he was supposed to be with his mother, they assumed that Aliyah would go along with it. And now when they wanted Aliyah to keep Ibrahim during the week when he was supposed to be with his father and stepmother, they assumed Aliyah would go along with that too.

Aliyah understood that it would be difficult for Nikki to care for Ibrahim while she was unwell, but how was Aliyah’s predicament any better than Matt’s? If Aliyah was capable of finding a last minute babysitter while she was at work, why couldn’t Matt do the same while he was at work? Then Matt could pick up Ibrahim at the end of the workday, as he was expecting Aliyah to do. Did Matt imagine that his schedule was more strained than Aliyah’s?

For a fleeting moment, Aliyah considered getting in her car and taking Ibrahim to his father’s house. But she dismissed the idea. When Aliyah was a stay-at-home-mother, she had taken care of Ibrahim on her good and bad days, even when she was too sick to get out of bed. Because that’s what mothers do. Calling in sick was never an option. If she was unwell, she mothered from the bed, and Matt took over when he got home. Why couldn’t Matt and Nikki do the same?

“So she’ll be better in a few days?” Aliyah asked doubtfully.

Aliyah heard Matt exhale. “I don’t know… We hope so.” That means no, Aliyah thought to herself in annoyance. So this was really about her keeping Ibrahim from now on. Even if Aliyah miraculously found childcare in the next few hours, she had no idea where she would get the money to pay someone for the rest of summer.

“Maybe Nikki can keep Ibrahim just for tomorrow?” Aliyah suggested hesitantly, hoping that Matt could understand the difficult predicament they were putting Aliyah in. “Then she can find a babysitter before Tuesday.”

“Like I said,” Matt said, apology in his tone, “she’s trying to keep her stress down. So that might be too much for her.”

“Then maybe you can find a babysitter?” Aliyah said, careful to keep sarcasm out of her tone.

“I have to work,” Matt said, as if that explained everything.

“Yes, of course.” Aliyah resisted the urge to say, “I do, too.” It just didn’t feel right arguing about the obvious. If Matt and Nikki were unwilling to take care of Ibrahim themselves or find childcare while Nikki was unwell, then Matt’s home probably wasn’t the best place for Ibrahim. No matter how frustrating this all was, Ibrahim’s emotional and psychological well-being took precedence over everything.

“Where’s the qiblah?”

Aliyah was holding the cordless at her side after ending the call with Matt when she heard Mashael behind her. “It’s this way,” Aliyah said, turning and using the phone to gesture toward a corner of the living room.

“Do you have a prayer garment and a sajjaadah?” Mashael asked.

“Sorry.” Aliyah forced a smile as she returned the cordless to its base. Instinctively, she wondered what Mashael did when she was not at a Muslim’s home. It was something that Aliyah often wondered about women who didn’t wear hijab. Did they keep a prayer garment or khimaar in their handbag? Or did they delay Salaah until they got home? “They’re in my room,” Aliyah said before disappearing down the hall and returning with the garment and prayer mat a minute later.

As Mashael laid out the sajjaadah to face Makkah and put on Aliyah’s one-piece prayer garment, Aliyah hurried to her room to call Salima on her mobile.

“I’m in a bind, Salima,” Aliyah said hurriedly after they exchanged salaams.

“What’s going on?” Salima said, genuine concern in her tone.

“I need a babysitter or a summer day camp for Ibrahim for the next four weeks,” Aliyah said. “And it has to be affordable.”

There was an extended pause. “Most summer camps ended last week…” Salima said, as if thinking out loud. “But most childcare centers are open year round.”

“I don’t think I can afford a childcare center,” Aliyah said, doubtful.

“Matt won’t be paying for it?” Salima asked.

“Eventually, insha’Allah,” Aliyah said, uncertainty in her tone. “At least that’s my prayer. But I need something for tomorrow morning.”

Tomorrow morning?” Salima’s voice rose in surprise.

“You don’t think it’s possible?” Aliyah asked in a small voice, her heart constricting in panic.

“I don’t know, Aliyah,” Salima said apologetically, her tone suggesting doubt. “Best case scenario, you’ll find something for Tuesday, and that’s only if you’re really lucky. But I don’t know of any place open on a Sunday evening, so you’d have to wait until tomorrow to even see if there are any openings.”

“Where do you take Haroon?” Aliyah asked hopefully.

“We have an onsite children’s center where I work.”

“That’s nice mashaAllah,” Aliyah said, sad reflection in her tone.

“Can you take Ibrahim to work with you just for this week?” Salima said. “He could just stay in your office.”

Aliyah’s thoughts went immediately to the fiasco with Dr. Warren that was awaiting her first thing in the morning. There was no way Aliyah could risk bringing her son to work. Even without the Dr. Stanley issue, Aliyah was still rebuilding her professional reputation following the Deanna incident. “I have spoken to you at length about my concerns about any family coming to our offices during work hours,” Dr. Warren had said during the meeting with Jacob and Aliyah, “and you assured me that it’s all under control. I hope this remains the case?”

“I know it’s not ideal,” Salima said. “But during the summer, a lot of schools are relaxed about staff bringing their children to work.”

“Not where I work,” Aliyah said regretfully.

“You don’t know any sisters who do childcare?”

Anxiety knotted in Aliyah’s stomach. “One…” she said hesitantly.

“Call her,” Salima said. “She might be willing to take Ibrahim tomorrow morning.”

“But that was a while ago…” Aliyah said, feeling humiliated at the thought of calling the sister for anything. “I’m not even sure she does it anymore.”

“Just ask,” Salima said. “Even if she doesn’t, she might be willing to take Ibrahim, at least for tomorrow.”

“We’re not exactly friends though…” Aliyah said weakly. “I don’t even think she likes me.”

Aliyah heard Salima chuckle. “Ukhti,” Salima said, “it’s normal for sisters to watch each other’s children, even if they’re not friends otherwise.”

“Not for me,” Aliyah said, sadness in her tone. “Those privileges are usually only for married women.”

Salima was quiet momentarily. “I forgot about that… But it can’t hurt to ask, can it?”

Aliyah paused doubtfully. “Do you know Juwayriah bint Abdullah?”

“The one who’s always posting about marriage on Facebook?” Salima asked, confusion and disapproval in her tone.

“Yes…” Aliyah said hesitantly. “That’s the only sister I know who does childcare.”

There was an extended pause. “You might not want to go there…” Salima said.

“I don’t think she’ll harm Ibrahim or anything,” Aliyah said for clarity. “But I just don’t feel comfortable, you know?”

“Look,” Salima said as if an idea had come to her suddenly. “Let me make some calls, and if I can’t come up with anything, I’ll call Juwayriah myself. I don’t think she’ll say no to me.”

Aliyah’s stomach churned in apprehension. “But won’t she think you’re calling for Haroon?”

“No,” Salima said matter-of-factly. “Because I’ll tell her I’m calling for Ibrahim.”

Aliyah was still unconvinced. “But call me first,” she said reluctantly. “I may decide to take my chances with keeping Ibrahim in my office.”

Mashael had finished praying and was sitting on the couch thumbing through a book when Aliyah returned to the living room with her mobile phone in hand. Aliyah’s prayer garment and sajjaadah were folded neatly on the floor table in front of the couch.

Mashael looked up and smiled when Aliyah came in. “This is pretty good,” Mashael said, holding up the book she was reading. The Purification of the Soul.

Aliyah smiled hesitantly, an embarrassed expression on her face. She had left the book in the living room a couple of days ago when she had been looking for another self-affirmation quote to hang on the wall.

“Where’d you get it?”

“Probably from the masjid sooq,” Aliyah said, resisting the urge to take the book from Mashael as she sat a comfortable distance from her on the couch. Seeing someone she didn’t know well holding a book she had been reading made Aliyah feel vulnerable and exposed. “But sometimes I order my books online.”

“I usually don’t like religious books.” Mashael opened the book to a page and read from it briefly in silence, making Aliyah cringe. “But this one seems interesting.”

“You just have to find the right ones,” Aliyah said, an awkward smile creasing the corners of her mouth. “Personally, my favorites are tafseer. But anything by Ibn al-Qayyim Al-Jawziyyah, I’ll read. It’s not always easy to find a good translation though.”

“Maybe Reem has it in Arabic,” Mashael said as she nodded approvingly and put the book back on the floor table. Internally, Aliyah exhaled in relief. She was tempted to take the book to her room right then.

Aliyah chuckled self-consciously. “Oh yeah, I forgot you can just read the Arabic, mashaAllah.”

Tazkiyatun-nafs?” Mashael said.

“Yes,” Aliyah said, feeling relieved as she sensed that Mashael was genuinely interested in the book. “And you’ll probably like Patience and Gratitude, too,” she added. “Sabr wa Shukr.”

Mashael smirked. “If I tell Reem about the Islamic books you suggested, she just might change her mind about Americans.”

Aliyah smiled uncertainly. “What do you mean?”

“She says Americans trivialize religious scholarship.” Mashael shook her head humorously.

An awkward smile lingered on Aliyah’s face. Aliyah had no idea if Mashael’s comment was related to her directly, but Aliyah wasn’t inclined to defend herself. Years ago, she would have tried to explain that she valued religious scholarship greatly. But her repeated experiences in some of her Islamic classes dissuaded her.

Respecting religious scholarship is how I came to accept Islam and avoid shirk,” Aliyah had told a sister once. “Where do you think I learned how to pray, fast, and recite Qur’an?” Aliyah had asked. But because Aliyah asked questions during class, requested prophetic evidence for a sheikh’s position, and was unwilling to commit herself to a single spiritual teacher or madhhab, her Islamic faith was constantly questioned.

It was only recently that Aliyah had come to accept that there was a major difference between how she understood her duty to Allah and how other Muslims understood theirs. So she decided that her time was better spent focusing on pleasing Allah rather than constantly trying to find the right words to express appreciation for something to which only a person’s life could bear witness.

“Does Reem know you’re here?” Aliyah asked, intentionally shifting the topic of conversation to why Mashael had come.

“Probably not,” Mashael said with a shrug. “But it’s not a secret. She knows I plan to talk to you about Sheldon.”

“That’s his name?”

“Yes.

Aliyah felt uncomfortable all of a sudden. “Mashael…” Aliyah’s thoughts trailed as she searched for the right words for what she was trying to say. “I’m probably not the best person to talk to…”

“Like I said yesterday,” Mashael said, slight annoyance in her tone. “I’m not expecting a fatwa or anything. I just need another perspective.”

“But would your family be okay with you talking to me?” As much as Aliyah wanted to help, she was wary of getting involved in something like this. Aliyah, like other American Muslims she knew, had had negative experiences with offering relationship advice to immigrant Muslims. Most situations ended with her being branded a bad influence or being cut off from the immigrant family entirely. It never made any difference whether or not the scandal or dilemma existed long before her advice was sought. In the eyes of the “good Muslim family,” if an American was involved at any stage, the moral corruption was somehow his or her fault.

“Of course not,” Mashael said, contorting her face. “That’s why I can’t talk to them about anything. They’re already calling me a kaafir for having an American boyfriend. How are we supposed to have a conversation about marriage?”

Aliyah drew in a deep breath and exhaled. “Okay, Mashael…” she agreed tentatively, warning in her voice. “But I’m not a scholar, so I really don’t feel comfortable sp—”

“Aliyah, it’s fine,” Mashael said, frustration in her tone. “I just want to talk to a human being for once. Every time I even mention Sheldon’s name, my family gets angry and refuses to speak to me.”

“I’m sorry,” Aliyah said sincerely. “It’s just that I don’t want to make matters worse.” She coughed laughter, embarrassment in that sound. “You said yourself that they don’t trust Americans.”

“But isn’t that wrong?” Mashael met Aliyah’s gaze with her eyes narrowed angrily. “Aren’t we supposed to accept everybody as equal? What difference does it make if Sheldon is American or Saudi? It’s not like Allah segregates us based on nationality. He looks at our hearts.”

Aliyah was silent momentarily. “But Mashael… Sheldon isn’t Muslim.”

“And?” Mashael snorted. “He’s a good person. That’s all that should matter.”

“But you can’t marry a disbeliever,” Aliyah said hesitantly, hoping she wasn’t offending Mashael. “Maybe that’s what your family is trying to say.”

“He’s not a disbeliever,” Mashael said, folding her arms in a pout. “He’s a believing Christian. Doesn’t that make him from Ahl al-Kitaab?”

Aliyah was overcome with dread. When Mashael had first mentioned her “recovering Christian” boyfriend, Aliyah had feared the conversation would go in this direction. It was commonplace for some Muslims to label Jews and Christians as “believers” if they felt they were good people. In Aliyah’s experience, these Muslims were either unaware or dismissive of the Qur’anic verses and prophetic statements that differentiated between the earliest Muslims who followed the prophets Moses and Jesus and those who committed shirk and disbelieved in Prophet Muhammad.

Aliyah sighed. “Mashael…” she said, hoping her reply wouldn’t lead to a longwinded discussion on Islamic aqeedah, as conversations on correct fundamental beliefs never seemed to go well. Most Muslims Aliyah knew were quite dogmatic in their incorrect beliefs, especially if the beliefs stemmed from love or admiration for a non-Muslim or if they stemmed from the teachings of a revered spiritual teacher. “…even if he is considered one of the People of the Book, you aren’t allowed to marry him.”

“You’re saying only men can marry People of the Book?”

“No,” Aliyah said. “Allah is saying that.”

“So you’re saying Allah favors men?”

“Mashael,” Aliyah said, exhaustion in her tone, “I’m not going to argue with you about Allah. As far as I’m concerned, marrying non-Muslims isn’t a privilege. So I don’t see it as favoring anyone, except maybe the children who get to be raised Muslim.”

Arms still folded, Mashael was silent as she appeared to consider what Aliyah was saying.

“But how do you know it’s only men who can marry Jews and Christians?” Mashael said finally, frustration in her tone. “A lot of verses in the Qur’an apply to everybody even when Allah uses the masculine.”

“I don’t have the authority to reinterpret the Qur’an,” Aliyah said. “So all I can tell you is, as long as Sheldon isn’t Muslim, you aren’t allowed to marry him.”

“But that’s not fair,” Mashael said. “Women should be able to marry whoever they want, just like men.”

“No one can marry whoever they want, Mashael,” Aliyah said. “Men can’t marry atheists or Buddhists or Hindus, or even Jews and Christians who don’t fulfill certain conditions.”

Mashael’s expression conveyed annoyed disapproval. “But why does religion have to dictate our lives like that? It’s so frustrating.”

“Mashael, religion is a choice just like marriage is a choice,” Aliyah said. “So if you’re frustrated with anything, it should be with the person who feels that neither you nor God is important enough to make any changes for.”

Mashael bit her lower lip as her eyes became distant momentarily. “I never thought about it like that,” she said honestly.

“If a man is asking you to give up your beliefs to marry him,” Aliyah added, “then it’s just you converting to his religion instead of the other way around. So in the end, the real question is, who is your Lord?”

Mashael nodded thoughtfully. “I just feel like love is most important, you know?”

“It is,” Aliyah said. “But only love of Allah.”

“But does it really matter if he loves Allah or not?” Mashael said after a thoughtful pause. “My parents are saying Sheldon will never be a real Muslim, even if he converts.”

Aliyah furrowed her brows. “Why would they say something like that?

“They said if he becomes Muslim, it’ll only be to marry me, so our marriage won’t be valid.”

“We can’t say what’s in anyone’s heart.”

Mashael snorted. “Tell that to my parents. When I told them that, they said most Americans aren’t real Muslims anyway.”

Aliyah tried to conceal her offense. “But is Sheldon interested in Islam?”

“He’s asking a lot of questions, but my family refuses to help.” Mashael shrugged. “I know I can just find some American Muslims to teach him, but he really wants to get to know my family.”

Aliyah drew in a deep breath and exhaled. Despite how disturbing all of this was, as the one offering advice, Aliyah had the obligation to look at the situation from all angles. At the end of the day, Mashael’s family were humans like everyone else, so they couldn’t be blamed too harshly if they didn’t like Sheldon. Besides, Aliyah had no idea who Sheldon was. It was possible that Mashael’s parents had very good reason to protect their daughter from him.

“Mashael,” Aliyah said, her tone soft with empathy, “I know it’s not right what they’re doing, but if they think Sheldon has ulterior motives, they’re not going to want him around, even if it’s just to learn about Islam.”

“Why is marriage an ulterior motive only when it’s an American?” Mashael blurted, her face contorted. “My family doesn’t refuse dinner invitations of Saudi families whose sons want to marry me.”

“But Sheldon isn’t Muslim,” Aliyah said.

Mashael rolled her eyes. “Do you really think that makes any difference?” she asked, meeting Aliyah’s gaze challengingly. “If he became Muslim tomorrow, do you think it’ll change how they feel?”

“Maybe they’re upset that things didn’t start off right,” Aliyah suggested noncommittally. “Having a boyfriend isn’t allowed in Islam.”

“I never said it was,” Mashael said flippantly. “That’s why we’re trying to get married.” She snorted. “And just so you know, he doesn’t believe in sleeping with anyone before marriage either. Muslims aren’t the only ones with morals.”

Aliyah nodded thoughtfully. “MashaAllah,” she said. “But maybe you should see if—”

The chime and vibration of Aliyah’s mobile phone interrupted her midsentence, and she quickly reached forward and picked up the phone, anticipating a message from Salima. “Sorry,” Aliyah muttered to Mashael, smiling apologetically before looking at the display. “I’m trying to find a babysitter for Ibrahim before tomorrow.”

“That’s fine,” Mashael muttered, but Aliyah sensed that Mashael wasn’t happy with the interruption.

Do you mind if it’s a brother who takes care of Ibrahim? Salima’s text message said.

Aliyah typed a quick reply. As long as he’s trustworthy. Do you know him?

He’s a friend of Jamil’s.

How much does he charge?

He said he’ll do it for free.

Aliyah couldn’t keep from grinning as her index finger swiftly tapped the keypad: Are you serious? But before she pressed send, the phone rang, and Salima’s name appeared on the screen.

“Jamil says it’s Larry,” Salima said after Aliyah answered.

Aliyah’s heart sank. “Larry?” she repeated, defeated.

“Before you say anything, it was Jamil who made the suggestion.”

“But why Larry?”

“Because he’s keeping Younus and Thawab during the day now,” Salima said. “The summer program they were in ended last week, and Jacob can’t keep them because he’s helping with Deanna’s case.”

Aliyah didn’t know what to say. Had her childcare choices really been reduced to Juwayriah or Larry? This was beyond humiliating. She wondered if she should just take her chances with bringing Ibrahim to work.

“He’s really not a bad person,” Salima said sincerely. “I know he may not be your number one marriage choice, but he’s good with children, mashaAllah. I even left Haroon with him a few times.”

Aliyah glanced uncertainly in the direction of Mashael, whose stiff expression thinly veiled her impatience to finish the conversation they’d started. “Let me think about it.”

“If you decide to leave Ibrahim with him, Jamil can call Larry if you want,” Salima said.

“No, it’s okay,” Aliyah said, as if exhaling the words. “I just need to give it some thought.”

After ending the call, Aliyah bit her lower lip and stared off into the distance for some time, still holding the mobile phone.

“Is everything okay?”

At the sound of Mashael’s voice, Aliyah forced a smile and reached forward to set the phone down. “It’s fine,” she said. “I just have to decide who should keep Ibrahim tomorrow.”

“Your family doesn’t live nearby?” Mashael asked.

“My family?” Aliyah said, drawing her eyebrows together as she met Mashael’s gaze.

“Your parents,” Mashael clarified.

“They’re two hours away.”

“That must be hard,” Mashael said sympathetically.

A sad smile lingered on Aliyah’s face. “It is,” she said, unable to temper the melancholy she felt at the assumption that her parents would help with Ibrahim even if they lived closer.

***

Aliyah woke early Monday morning with a sense of dread in the pit of her stomach. What had she been thinking when she decided to bring Ibrahim to work with her? Even if she arrived early enough so that no one saw her and Ibrahim come in, was it fair to ask her five-year-old son to sit quietly in a closed office all day? And what would she do when it was time to leave, or when he had to go to the restroom? And what if a student, or Dr. Warren, stopped by her office? Aliyah sat up in bed and tossed the covers from her body before going to the bathroom.

As she washed her hands, she wondered if it was pride more than judiciousness that had motivated her decision to refuse Larry’s offer. While Juwayriah had shown Aliyah open contempt such that leaving Ibrahim with her would be unwise, Larry had only been annoying. Nothing he’d said or done suggested that Ibrahim shouldn’t be around him. And even if Aliyah had other options, it was probably best for Ibrahim to be in the company of Younus and Thawab as opposed to complete strangers. So had her decision really been about Ibrahim’s best interests?

On her way back to her bedroom, Aliyah peered into Ibrahim’s room and watched the rhythmic rise and fall of his blanket as he slept soundly. He deserves the company of friends, not a cramped office, she thought to herself. Was it too late to call Salima to say she changed her mind? she wondered. Feeling mortified and regretful that she had inadvertently put her needs before her son’s, Aliyah dragged herself to her room and wondered what she would say to Salima—and Larry.

“Call me first thing in the morning if you change your mind,” Salima had said last night. “I leave for work around seven o’clock.”

Aliyah glanced at the clock on her nightstand. It was 5:33. She picked up her mobile phone and bit her lower lip indecisively as she sat on the edge of her bed. Aliyah wanted to leave for work in an hour, so if she was going to arrange childcare, she needed to do it now. She powered on her phone, and her heart pounded nervously as she waited for the main screen to load.

Pray Istikhaarah first, a voice said in her head.

Aliyah set her phone down and raised her hands in prayer. Because she was unable to offer formal prayer due to her menses, she recited the Istikhaarah supplication without first offering two units of voluntary prayer.

Allaahumma…” Aliyah muttered, her head bowed. O Allah, I seek Your counsel by Your knowledge and by Your power I seek strength and I ask You from Your immense favor, for verily You are able while I am not and verily You know while I do not and You are the Knower of the unseen. O Allah, if You know this affair of me leaving Ibrahim with Larry to be good for me in relation to my religion, my life, and end, then decree and facilitate it for me, and bless me with it, and if You know this affair to be ill for me towards my religion, my life, and end, then remove it from me and remove me from it, and decree for me what is good wherever it be and make me satisfied with such.

Aliyah lowered her hands and immediately felt the indecisiveness leave her heart. I should leave Ibrahim with Larry so he could be with Younus and Thawab every day, she realized. Though a sense of shame at her predicament still lingered, it was not as strong as before.

Aliyah drew in deep breath and exhaled as she picked up her phone and scrolled to Salima’s name before putting the phone to her ear. Her hopes were deflated when the call went immediately to voicemail. Salima was probably still sleeping. As Aliyah prepared to leave a message, she heard an automated voice say that the voicemail box was full. Defeated, Aliyah ended the call and mentally kicked herself for having told Salima that she couldn’t accept Larry’s offer. Now what would she do?

Call Larry, the idea came to her just then. The thought filled Aliyah with dread. Perhaps Jamil had mentioned the idea to Larry, but there hadn’t been any confirmation. So how would Aliyah explain herself, especially calling so early?

“Bismillah,” she mumbled, mentioning Allah’s name to mentally block out her doubts. She had prayed Istikhaarah about this, she reminded herself. Aliyah scrolled to Larry’s name and pressed call before she had time to convince herself that it was a bad idea. She put the phone to her ear and listened to it ring three times before it went to voicemail. But Aliyah couldn’t summon up the nerve to leave him a message. A sense of helplessness enveloped her as she ended the call.

Should I just call Matt? As Aliyah considered the question, her mobile rang, causing her to start. She looked at the phone, and her spirits lifted as she saw the name Larry Bivens on the display.

As-salaamu’alaikum,” Aliyah answered after the first ring, apology in her tone. “I’m sorry to call so early,” she said as he replied to the salaams. “But I was just wondering if—”

“Jamil and Salima already told me,” Larry said, slight exhaustion in his voice as he cut her off. “Do you need me to pick up Ibrahim or you’re dropping him off?”

“Whatever is best for you…” she said hesitantly. “Where are you?”

“Right now, we’re at the masjid,” Larry said, no trace of characteristic smugness in his tone. “We just finished praying Fajr, so we can pick up Ibrahim on our way home if you like.”

“We?” Aliyah repeated in confusion.

“Jacob and I,” Larry clarified. “We’re here with Younus and Thawab.”

Aliyah felt self-conscious at the thought of Jacob stopping by her apartment. “Where will the boys be today? Maybe I can meet you there.”

“Now we’re heading to Jacob’s insha’Allah,” Larry said. “Then I’m taking the boys to a soccer field close to the house.”

Aliyah was even more uncomfortable going to Jacob’s home than she was with him coming to hers. But if Larry was going to be taking care of Ibrahim, then she would have to get over her apprehension. “I guess, for today you can pick up Ibrahim and then we can talk later about what to do for the rest of the summer.”

“Okay,” Larry said, “then we should be there in about thirty minutes, insha’Allah.”

“Okay…” There was an awkward pause. “Larry?”

“Yes?”

“Thank you.”

“It’s no problem,” his voice said sincerely through the phone. “This is the least I can do after all the trouble I’ve caused you,” he said, lighthearted humor in his tone. “I’m sorry about that, by the way.”

“You didn’t cause me any trouble,” Aliyah said. “It’s just…”

“You don’t have to explain,” Larry said. “I haven’t been the best Muslim brother to you. I realize that now.”

There was a thoughtful pause. “But just so you know,” Larry said with characteristic smugness, but Aliyah sensed he was trying to sound cordial, “Jasmine is not my girlfriend.”

“You don’t owe me an explanation,” Aliyah said, not wanting to talk about Jasmine right then. It was still a sensitive subject for her, and she didn’t want to ruin the glimmer of affability they’d maintained so far. “I was just—”

“No,” Larry interjected, apology in his tone, “I do. Salima told me about your run-in at the mall, so I just thought you should know that it’s Jasmine who still considers me her boyfriend. But when I became Muslim, I ended the relationship.”

“Well, mashaAllah,” Aliyah said cordially, unsure how to respond. “At least she’s thinking about becoming Muslim now.”

Aliyah heard Larry cough in laughter. “Is that what she said?” he asked doubtfully, sarcasm in his tone. “Because last I knew, my family had given her the assignment of luring me back to my so-called senses.”

“Oh…” Aliyah didn’t know what to say.

“As in back to Christianity,” Larry clarified, reflective disappointment in his tone. “But like the hypocrites Allah talks about in the Qur’an, she’s Yasmeen whenever she tries to reconnect with me, but when she’s around my family, she’s telling them that she’s really on their side.” He grunted. “So I shouldn’t be surprised they’re inviting her over every second they get and telling me we should get back together.”

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Aliyah said sincerely. “I thought…”

“Don’t be,” Larry said. “I explained everything to Salima last night when she told me about Ibrahim.” Aliyah heard Larry laugh, but it was clear he was not happy. “And don’t worry,” he teased good-naturedly, “Salima already apologized for painting me as a womanizer. So I accept your apology too, for believing her.”

Aliyah coughed laughter, embarrassment in that sound. “We didn’t think you were a womanizer…”

“Just not a one-woman man?” Larry finished knowingly, humor in his tone. “Well, I can’t speak about the future, but so far, that’s all I’ve been. That’s how I was raised, and that’s how I intend to remain in marriage.”

“I’m sorry,” Aliyah said again, unsure what else to say.

“It’s okay,” Larry said sincerely. “I can see how I gave off that vibe. So I accept part of the blame. I’m still learning all the Muslim social codes, you know?”

Aliyah laughed in agreement, immediately reminded of her own confusion in that department. “I can definitely relate to that,” she said. “I still haven’t figured them out.”

“That’s encouraging,” Larry said jokingly.

“I’m sorry,” Aliyah said humorously. “You’ll probably catch on faster than me. I’ve never been good at socializing, even before I became Muslim.”

“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Larry said. “Because I was quite the socialite before Islam,” he said in a playful brag.

Aliyah laughed. “I can see that,” she said sincerely, humor in her tone.

There was an extended pause.

“But you don’t have to worry about me bothering you anymore,” Larry said, his tone reflective and subdued. “I think you deserve someone better than me.”

Aliyah started to reply but realized she had no idea what to say. “MashaAllah,” she muttered in embarrassment.

“And with my brother back on the market,” Larry said in lighthearted humor, “I’d rather we clash on something other than a woman.”

MashaAllah,” Aliyah said again, feeling self-conscious and flustered.

“So I’m just going to keep praying that Allah sends me a righteous Muslim wife.” He coughed laughter. “Whoever she is,” he added. “So if you have any good friends, let me know.”

“I will,” she said sincerely, surprised by how much she genuinely hoped Larry would find a good wife.

When Aliyah hung up the phone, she couldn’t help feeling a bit ashamed of herself. “O you who believe,” Aliyah recalled reading in an English translation of the Qur’an, “if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate [and verify it], lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful.” This ayah from Surah al-Hujuraat would probably forever remain a lesson for both Salima and Aliyah. While Salima should have known better than to believe Jasmine’s version of the story, Aliyah shouldn’t have so readily believed the secondhand information.

Alhamdulillah,” Aliyah mumbled to herself, grateful that Larry had a forgiving heart. She was also grateful that she didn’t have to feel stressed around him anymore. But it would probably take her some time before she forgave herself for judging Larry so harshly.

***

Monday morning after Sayed left for work, Reem sat on the edge of her bed staring indecisively at her mobile phone that lay on the nightstand. Sayed had given Reem the name of the psychiatrist that Jacob had told him about, and Dr. Melanie Goldstein fit all three of Reem’s conditions. She was female, spiritual, and not connected to the Arab community. That she also was not connected to the Muslim community (and was in fact over an hour’s drive away) was an added bonus. Why then was Reem hesitant about setting up an appointment?

Perhaps, it was her Arab blood paralyzing her. She would probably always feel inclined to protect her family’s honor and image, even at her own expense. And what’s so wrong with that? she thought defensively. Wasn’t it betrayal to reveal to a complete stranger what her half brother had done? Though he was a teenager at the time and she was a young child, he was probably just as ignorant and confused as Reem was. Could she really blame Fahad for harboring resentment toward Reem’s mother after his father married her as a second wife? Reem couldn’t imagine how it would feel to see her mother have a nervous breakdown. It was only natural that Fahad would take out his frustrations on his father’s second family, especially the children that had come from the union.

Anyway, what if she was remembering everything incorrectly? She didn’t want to slander her brother. Maybe he didn’t mean to touch her inappropriately and say that he had a right to because she was his sister. Maybe he really thought what he was doing was okay. Just because he was much older didn’t necessarily mean that he knew better.

Reem’s stomach convulsed as the sudden memory of Fahad’s hand on her four-year-old chest flashed in her mind. She frantically shifted her thoughts to the phone call she needed to make. She didn’t want to remember where else he had touched her—or if he had touched her at all. What if this was all a bad dream that she had fabricated because she hated him so much?

Halwah, wallah,” Reem heard Fahad’s guttural voice in her ear. Panicked, she looked over her shoulder toward the bed she shared with Sayed. She trembled when she saw that no one was there. Tears stung her eyes as she exhaled a jagged breath. No, she wasn’t making this up, she realized in helplessness and despair. She had been the filthy little girl who had made her own brother desire and loathe her at once.

But why could Reem remember things only in flashes? And why, of the little she recalled, were the memories so choppy? For years she had interacted with Fahad normally, without even the slightest recollection of what had occurred. So why was everything coming back now? And why was she losing patience with people who had nothing to do with what Fahad had done? Maybe Dr. Goldstein would be able to help Reem sort out what was happening to her.

For the first time since she’d started teaching Qur’an at the masjid, Reem had called the imam to cancel all her classes. When she’d hung up, she had shortness of breath, fearing she had thrown away the last thing that had mattered to her. But she really didn’t feel capable of teaching Qur’an right then. She barely trusted herself to leave the house. What if she had an angry outburst at the store or bank? Dressed like she did, she would probably end up in jail. No one would imagine that the veiled girl was having a panic attack or a bad day. To the rest of the world, Muslims were one dimensional and existed only in the context of religion. Human suffering and struggle were problems that only other people faced. So Reem couldn’t trust herself in their presence. Any erratic behavior would be interpreted as a threat to their safety as opposed to a threat to her own.

What if the psychiatrist herself was an Islamophobe? Reem thought in panic.

“Jacob said she’s respectful of Muslims,” Sayed had said.

Before her anxiety got the better of her, Reem snatched up her mobile phone and dialed Dr. Goldstein’s office.

***

“And you expect me to believe that, completely on your own,” Dr. Warren said, regarding Aliyah sternly from where she sat behind her large desk, “without any coalescing with Dr. Bivens, you had a sudden inspiration, a week late might I add, to refuse to work with Dr. Stanley on the internship?”

Aliyah’s cheeks grew enflamed in embarrassment. Aliyah was flustered, as she was completely out of her element. She wasn’t used to openly contesting authority. “I’m saying that based on Article thr—”

“Save it,” Dr. Warren said, lifting a palm to stop Aliyah midsentence. “I decline your request.” She waved her hand dismissively. “Now get out of my office.”

Bewildered, Aliyah walked slowly down the hall back to her office. What is going on? she thought in exasperation. Aliyah closed the door to her office and collapsed into the chair behind her desk. Why was Dr. Warren so insistent on Aliyah working with Dr. Stanley? It made Aliyah wonder if Dr. Warren was planning something more unkindly than even Jacob had surmised.

After a moment’s consideration, Aliyah scrolled to Jacob’s name in her phone. “I’m sorry to interrupt you,” Aliyah said after giving Jacob the salaams. “But I did what you suggested, and it didn’t go well.”

“What happened?” Jacob said, his voice rising in concern.

Aliyah told Jacob point-for-point about her brief meeting with their supervisor.

“I was afraid she might do that,” Jacob said, exhausted frustration in his voice.

“This isn’t good, Aliyah,” he said regretfully after a few seconds. “I can’t lie to you. I was hoping this was only about me, but it looks like they have some vendetta against you too.”

“But why?” Aliyah said, exasperated. “Dr. Warren and I were getting along just fine.”

Aliyah heard Jacob sigh. “Aliyah,” he said, as if trying to find the best way to convey what was on his mind, “at the end of the day, Dr. Warren is a professional, and she’s not going to do anything to jeopardize her position, at least not overtly. But her suggesting you to be chosen for the internship was not only because she thought you were a good professor. She never liked my internship idea in the first place.”

“But…” Aliyah didn’t know how to form the question in her mind.

“I know it doesn’t make sense,” Jacob said apologetically, “but when Dr. Warren sees professors who have a good rapport with students and whose students improve noticeably under their tutelage, she doesn’t have any choice but to reward that somehow. And in your case, I assume she felt the best way to do that was to assign you to the program she values the least.”

“But mashaAllah, the internship is going really well,” Aliyah said, a question in her voice. “It was even featured in one of the math journals this summer.”

“I know,” Jacob said, sad reflection in his voice. “And Dr. Warren resents that, probably not as much as Dr. Stanley though.”

“I don’t understand why she wouldn’t be proud,” Aliyah said. “It’s her department getting all the attention.”

“That’s why I think she’s coming at it from a different angle now,” Jacob said. “When I first presented the internship idea years ago, she approved it halfheartedly because she felt that our department should be focusing on our own students instead of wasting time with high school kids, as she put it. Then when things started going well, she tried to have it dismantled completely so she could replace it with a summer program for our math students.”

“Why couldn’t you just do both?”

Jacob laughed. “That’s exactly what I said, but Dr. Warren was adamant that the school didn’t have the budget for it.” He added, “Until the dean reviewed her proposal and came up with the same conclusion that you and I did. He was so impressed with the internship that he petitioned for the school to increase the budget for our department.”

Aliyah chuckled. “I bet that shut her up.”

“Not completely,” Jacob said, reflective humor in his tone. “It just made her take credit for everything I was doing.”

“Why am I not surprised?” Aliyah said, rolling her eyes and shaking her head as she held the phone to her ear.

“But recently, I got the feeling she was reverting back to having it dismantled,” Jacob said. “But after talking to you, I think I was wrong.”

“What do you mean?” Aliyah asked, brows furrowed.

“I think she’s trying to have me phased out,” Jacob said.

“And Dr. Stanley put in your place?” Aliyah said, shocked disapproval in her voice. “I thought she was a feminist. Why would she want someone like him in charge?”

“I think it’s less about Dr. Stanley being assigned to my position,” Jacob said, “than me being removed from it. It’s just that Dr. Stanley is the only one who’s vindictive and determined enough to do her bidding. Most of the other professors are focused on other things.”

“Well, at least the department isn’t corrupted by envy like most workplaces,” Aliyah said.

“I wouldn’t say that…” Jacob said doubtfully. “It’s just that most of the staff channel their envy into pushing their own programs.”

“Well, at least that’s productive.”

“I agree.”

There was an extended silence.

“But what do I do about Dr. Stanley?” Aliyah said, her voice etched in worry. “I don’t feel comfortable around him.”

Aliyah heard Jacob sigh into the phone. “Just keep your distance as much as you can,” he said. “But after I meet with Dr. Warren, I’m going to talk to him myself.”

“You’re meeting with Dr. Warren?” Aliyah said, fearful that their supervisor would think that she and Jacob were in collusion with each other.

“We agreed to have a phone meeting every week while I’m out.”

“Oh…” Aliyah exhaled in relief.

“Look,” Jacob said, “I have to go. But I’ll probably need your help with Deanna if she pleads not guilty.”

“Okay…”

“I can tell you more about it later, insha’Allah.”

“Okay,” Aliyah said, feeling unsettled at the mention of Deanna, “no problem.”

They were silent for several seconds.

“Aliyah?” Jacob said, his voice hesitant.

“Yes?”

“I know this is something I said I’d never bring up again, but…”

Aliyah’s heart constricted in anxiety, hoping there wasn’t another work catastrophe awaiting her.

“…would it be okay if I talk to your uncle again about marrying you?”

Aliyah’s face grew warm in discomfort and embarrassed flattery. “Sure,” she said, cringing as she realized she had spoken her thoughts aloud. “I mean, if you want to,” she added quickly.

“I just don’t want to offend you,” Jacob said uncertainly. “I know we said—”

“It’s not offensive,” Aliyah said, surprised that her words reflected how she honestly felt. “It’s just…”

“I know it’s not a good time,” Jacob said, apologizing. “But I keep thinking it’ll never be a good time, you know what I mean?”

“I think so,” Aliyah said, averting her gaze to the calendar on her desk.

“An old friend of mine used to say, ‘Every time is a bad time,’” Jacob said, embarrassed laughter in his voice. “‘But it’s up to us to change that.’” There was a brief pause. “That is, if you want to,” he said hesitantly.

“I’ll definitely think about it, insha’Allah,” Aliyah said, picking up a pen and fidgeting with it. She was taken aback by how excited she felt.

“There’s no rush,” Jacob said, inciting in Aliyah a flutter of impatient excitement. Why did she fear that “no rush” meant it probably would never happen?

And why did she care anyway? It wasn’t like she liked Jacob all that much.

“But I did want to put that out there.” Jacob laughed self-consciously. “Now I can sleep better at night.”

Aliyah laughed in agreement. “I know what you mean.”

“You do?” Jacob said, surprise and curiosity in his voice.

Aliyah’s cheeks grew hot in mortification as she scribbled mindlessly on the desk calendar. “I mean, when you get something off your chest,” she said.

“That’s true…” Jacob said.

Aliyah sensed that Jacob wanted to say more but was unsure if he should.

“Well,” Jacob said finally, “I’ll talk to you soon insha’Allah.”

“Okay,” Aliyah said, unable to keep the disappointment out of her voice. She wasn’t ready to end the call just yet.

As-salaamu’alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh,” Jacob said.

Wa’alaiku mus salaam wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatuh,” Aliyah replied, wondering when she would get to talk to Jacob again. But when she ended the call and set her mobile phone on her desk, her lips twitched as she had tried to withhold giggling in pleasure at what had just happened.

***

“Kerri Michaels is awake,” Attorney Bryan Schmidt said to Jacob as they sat across from each other in a conference room at the law office.

“Since when?” Jacob said, taken aback.

“Saturday evening, apparently,” Bryan said.

Jacob drew in a deep breath and exhaled. He had the uncanny feeling that his life was about to shift in an unexpected direction and there was nothing he could do about it. “Okay, so what does this mean for us?”

“The prosecution intends to use her as a witness in their case,” Bryan said regretfully.

Jacob nodded thoughtfully, his stoic expression veiling the frantic anxiety he felt at the news. “So what should we do?”

“You should talk to her.”

Jacob creased his forehead in confusion. “To Mrs. Michaels?” he said. “About what?”

“Nothing,” Bryan said matter-of-factly. “Or anything.” He shrugged. “It doesn’t really matter. Just show your face, and see how she responds. We need to gauge whether or not she’s going to cooperate with them.”

“Has Deanna said how she plans to plead?”

Bryan frowned. “Not guilty.”

Jacob’s heart sank. “So she didn’t accept the plea deal?”

Bryan shook his head. “Unfortunately.”

Jacob drew in a deep breath and exhaled, shaking his head. “I don’t know why I’m surprised.”

“Do you think you can visit your mother-in-law soon?”

“I can try…” Jacob said doubtfully. “But I doubt Barry Michaels will let me near his wife.”

Bryan frowned thoughtfully. “What if I come up with something to ensure that Barry won’t be at the hospital when you come?”

Jacob was unsure how he felt about the idea. “Is that feasible?”

“Yes…” Bryan said, the hint of a mischievous smile on his face. “I’ll just have to give it some thought.”

“Nothing that will put us in a compromising position,” Jacob insisted. The last thing he wanted was to support something that would make Deanna’s already weak defense worse.

“Of course not,” Bryan said. “I’m thinking more along the lines of a meeting that he’ll need to attend.”

Jacob nodded. “Okay,” he said finally. “Just let me know what you come up with.”

***

“So Jasmine was the one who told you her name was Yasmeen?” Aliyah said into the wire mouthpiece that snaked from her ears to the phone that lay on her desk. It was her lunch break, and a paper bag of food was on the desk calendar in front of her.

“Yes,” Salima’s voice said regretfully. “But apparently, Larry gave it to her, at least indirectly, because she called him one day and asked what her name would be if she became Muslim. So of course, at the time, he got his hopes up. But that was before he met you.”

“Wow…” Aliyah shook her head. “She made it sound like you and Larry came up with that name on your own.”

Salima huffed. “Go figure. But I didn’t even think much about what she said. I just thought she was being playful. But she just wanted to make it look like Larry was pushing her to become Muslim.”

“But she’s pushing him to become Christian,” Aliyah muttered in disappointment. She shook her head as she reached into her lunch bag and withdrew a tuna and spinach sandwich that was sealed in plastic wrap.

“With the help of his family, it seems,” Salima said, sad reflection in her tone.

Aliyah was quiet momentarily as she unwrapped her sandwich. “Do you think she’ll ever become Muslim?” Aliyah asked curiously.

“I don’t know…” Salima sighed. “With someone like that, you never know what they’re thinking. But I was hopeful because I met her before Larry became Muslim, and she seemed like a really nice person.”

Aliyah coughed laughter. “Everybody seems nice, Salima,” Aliyah said, playfully mocking what Salima’s late husband used to say. “Come up with a better line.”

Salima laughed in agreement. “I know, right?”

Aliyah smiled and shook her head knowingly before mumbling “Bismillah” and taking a bite of her sandwich.

“But I can see why Larry isn’t optimistic,” Salima’s voice said through the earpiece. “She thinks she can woo him back by getting in good graces with his family.”

Aliyah was silent momentarily as she swallowed her food. “But why make them think she can make him leave Islam?” She contorted her face. “That’s so stupid.”

“Apparently, she has no idea what Islam really means.”

Aliyah considered what Salima had said as she took another bite of her sandwich and ate quietly for a few seconds. “Was Larry even at that Sunday brunch or whatever she was going to?”

Aliyah heard Salima grunt humorously. “No. Can you believe it? It’s a family tradition they do after church, so Larry and Jacob weren’t even there.”

SubhaanAllah,” Aliyah said, setting her half-eaten sandwich on the crumpled plastic wrap. “She had me fooled.”

“You’re not the only one,” Salima said regretfully. “I just feel bad for believing her. Astaghfirullah,” she said in self-rebuke, seeking Allah’s forgiveness. “I should’ve known better.”

“We both should have,” Aliyah said reflectively. “But it’s an understandable mistake,” she said. “How would you know she was being deceitful?”

Salima sighed. “But Larry is Muslim,” she said. “I should have made excuses for him. That’s his right.”

Astaghfirullah,” Aliyah said in agreement, realizing she should have done the same.

“I’m just so used to meeting Muslim men who are playing games,” Salima said, sadness in her tone, “and Larry fit the description.”

“I know…” Aliyah said, sighing as she plucked a lone piece of tuna from the top of her sandwich. “But that goes to show you, you shouldn’t judge.”

Salima huffed in agreement. “And I thought I learned that lesson years ago.”

“Like you said,” Aliyah remarked, “we’re all going at this alone. Every day is a lesson in life.”

“It’s just funny, you know?” Salima said. “As soon as you think you’ve learned something, Allah shows you that you didn’t even understand that.”

Aliyah drew in a deep breath and sighed. “I know. It’s so scary. I think about that every time I learn something new about Islam.”

“Me too…” Salima brooded. “But honestly, sometimes I envy the Muslims who feel content with what they know. It makes me wonder if I’m doing something wrong.”

“You can say that again.” Aliyah smirked and shook her head reflectively. “But the more I read the Qur’an and study the life of the Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, and his Companions, I know the one thing you can’t feel content about is your faith.”

“I don’t mean my emaan itself,” Salima said. “I mean what I’m learning about Islam. It seems like everybody has found this one group or this one teacher they’re satisfied with. And I wonder if I’m missing something.”

“Everybody’s qadr is different though,” Aliyah said, referring to predestination. “Maybe that one group or teacher will help them get to Jannah. That doesn’t mean it’ll do the same for you.”

“You really think so?” Salima said doubtfully. “My fear is always, what if they’re wrong? It’s not like every group or sheikh is actually teaching true Islam. Some of them are calling to themselves, or even shirk, you know what I mean?”

“I meant the ones who aren’t doing that,” Aliyah said. “But I feel the same as you. I think it’s dangerous to put that much trust in one group or person. Allah didn’t ask us to do that. He told us to stay on the Siraat ul-Mustaqeem, and nobody other than the Prophet can claim to always adhere to that.”

“That’s what I’m trying to say,” Salima said. “So why are they content with just one teacher? The Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, said the scholars are the heirs of the prophets,” she said. “Scholars, as in plural,” she added for emphasis. “And that means they’re scholars only if they’re inheriting and sharing what the Prophet actually taught, not anything else.”

“Exactly,” Aliyah agreed. “And everybody makes mistakes, no matter how good their intentions are.”

“And no matter how much good you learn from someone,” Salima added, “you still have to stand in front of Allah alone. So how can you just blindly follow someone? Other than the Prophet, sallallaahu’alayhi wa sallam, I mean?”

“But the way I look at it,” Aliyah said reflectively, “as long as they stay away from shirk, then Allah can forgive them.”

“That’s true…” Salima said noncommittally. “I just don’t think getting forgiven is that simple.”

“I don’t either,” Aliyah said. “We can’t walk around in blinders and think we’ll be excused just because we’re not scholars.” She shrugged. “But then again, maybe they don’t see it as wearing blinders. Someone told me that I’m the one wearing blinders.”

“I’m not surprised,” Salima said. “That’s what Jamil’s ex-wife used to say. She’d be like, ‘Why are you so arrogant to think you know more than a scholar?’”

Aliyah rolled her eyes knowingly. “I’ve heard that before. It’s like they pretend that no other scholar exists except their sheikh.” She groaned. “I swear, sometimes I want to ask them the same question. Don’t they realize that agreeing with one scholar automatically means you disagree with another?”

“Except for issues of ijmaa’,” Salima added, clarifying.

“And how many issues have absolutely no disagreement amongst all the Companions and earliest scholars?” Aliyah asked rhetorically. “But to be honest, I don’t think about it much anymore. I have my own soul to worry about.”

“Yeah, but…” There was an extended silence as Salima apparently tried to gather her thoughts. “…when Jamil was married, I saw how it can hurt other people. What if they had children together? When I study the Qur’an, I see a lot of ayaat talking about the effect we have on others. Some people even lead others to the Hellfire. I don’t want to be guilty of that.”

“May Allah protect us,” Aliyah said as she glanced at the clock.

“Ameen.”

“I better get going,” Aliyah said. “The interns are probably waiting for me.”

“Well, at least Larry was a good sport about our little blunder,” Salima said good-naturedly, apparently in an effort to lighten the mood before the call ended. “So that’s one less thing to worry about for the rest of the day.”

MashaAllah,” Aliyah said sincerely. “May Allah bless him.”

“Aliyah?” Salima said after a brief pause. “Can I ask you something before you go?”

“Sure.”

“Would you ever reconsider Larry’s proposal?” Salima said. “I mean, assuming Jacob doesn’t propose again.”

Aliyah drew her eyebrows together in confusion. “For marriage?”

“Yes.”

“No way,” she said, smirking. “We’re too different.”

“So you’re content being single for the rest of your life?” Salima said jokingly, but Aliyah sensed that something was on Salima’s mind.

“We’ll see,” Aliyah said as a smile creased one corner of her mouth, recalling the brief conversation with Jacob earlier that day. “Just keep me in your prayers.”

“Well, let me know if you decide to see marriage in your future,” Salima said, humor in her tone. “I just might know some good brothers I can send your way.”

“No thank you,” Aliyah said, laughter in her voice. “But I’ll keep you posted insha’Allah.”

Next: Story 20 of 22 (released daily as countdown to WORLDWIDE ONLINE PREMIERE of short movie).

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…inshaaAllah