Ahlan Wa Sahlan

Ahlan Wa Sahlan

Monday, May 5, 2008

A Weekend of Realizations

I had a lot of things that happened over the weekend, not necessarily bad but that had a lot of impact, and well were just really interesting.

For one this weekend was the Festival of Nations which is a yearly celebration of ethnic and cultural diversity, one that they have been doing for 76 years here in Minnesota. I think thats pretty awesome. I had missed the past two years because I was in Arizona (which definately does not have anything as cool as that) and I anticipate missing next year since I will most likely be in Egypt, so I was keen to go this year. On saturday I called Oogie and dragged her along with me, she of the white is right mentality. Ok, not exactly like that- she actually isn't racist at all, but I have to say I am probably the most "ethnic" of all of her friends and we happen to be of the same blood. Anyways, we had a really good time, I always enjoy hanging out with her, and what I really like is that she was completely game for me to drag her to something she'd never go to on her own, and she was open to having a good time. Sure she didn't try the koshari I got from the Egyptian food stall, but she did give the mango milkshake I got from the Indian food stall a whirl. She watched the ethnic dancing with me, and wandered the bazaar and we had a really good time. She even laughed at the arab guys who were giving us funny looks standing in the line for the shuttle.

After the Festival of Nations and Oogie had dropped me off at home, I headed over to my friend Nadeem's surprise birthday party. His wife Fatima had called me on Thursday to invite me and I was delighted. He turned the big 3-0 this year, so it was a pretty big occasion, however it was at his parents' house, the same parents who are not terribly happy with his choice of religion. Nadeem is a dutch South African convert who was quite instrumental in my own conversion. At the party he was made to stand up and give a speech naming everyone there, how he met them, and how long he has known them. When he got to me he stopped and thought and we both realized that it has been quite a LOT of years that we have known each other. He said 8 or 9 years, but just this morning I was pondering that, and it has not actually been quite that long because frankly I'm just not old enough to have known him that long. Ha. At the party we put the date at Halloween of 2000 but in actuality it was Halloween of 2002; I hadn't even graduated high school let alone moved to Saint Paul in 2000, so it is quite impossible. But I remember meeting him because of the circumstances surrounding us at the moment.

I had worked for almost a year before meeting him with his first wife Linda, a Saudi-American Muslim and the woman who brought him to Islam, so I knew OF Nadeem but had never actually met him. Earlier in the fall of that year they had decided to get married, without her father's permission or knowledge, her father being in Jeddah and not there to oversee her actions. Understandably her father was completely incensed and against the marriage, some may even argue that Islamically she could not marry without his consent, but there it was. Of course we were all on Linda's side while she went through the drama with her family, but we were all against the decision she made to return to Saudia at her father's request to "discuss" the situation. We all told her if she went back they would never let her leave, but she still went and they never let her leave again. Immediately upon her arrival she was brutally beaten by her father and locked in her room, her American passport was confiscated and burned and for thirteen weeks she was terrorized. Nadeem spent two years and thousands of dollars trying to get her home, but in the end her father won, he had a local sheikh dissolve her marriage on the account that she did it without his consent and married her off to one of her cousins.

It was a few weeks after Linda left that I met him, and after that we became really good friends. I remember that he and I would spend hours discussing Islam and why he had decided to become a Muslim, and because he himself had come from my same situation he knew the answers for the questions I was asking as he had asked the same ones himself. We had become close during his darkest times after his marriage ended, and the day I stood up at his wedding to Fatima and said my final "I told you that you would find love again" to him, I felt like he was my family. At the party it made me think and remember the long journey both he and I have been through and how thankful I am for him, for his gorgeous wife Fatima (who is mashAllah a very beautiful Sri Lankan) and for their adorable little girl.

Maybe it wasn't the eight or nine years that we both thought it was, but sure as hell feels like it.

Returning back to what is so significant about the party being at his parents' house is that they are very unhappy with his religious choices, so much so that they have forbidden him to mention it to any of their/his South African friends, and they are also not terribly fond of anyone who reminds them that their son happens to be a Muslim. Like a certain friend of his who wears hijab. But as uncomfortable as I thought it would be I actually spent a lovely time deep in discussion about Islam and culture, and the differences between, with a South African couple. They knew almost nothing about Islam so I got a wonderful chance to right some misconceptions that they had, and explain some confusing things they had learned previously. I always enjoy talking about Islam, but I especially enjoy talking about it with people who are highly educated, it means I can go more in depth into topics than I can with people who don't understand the difference between internal versus public portrayal. I had a wonderful time and went home content.

And then came Sunday, as is the usual sequence of events, and a family dinner for my mother's birthday. I've come to dread public events where my aunt will be, yes that aunt, who still won't even stand next to me in public. I was not feeling well and certainly not in the mood to deal with anything she might say to me so I was tense before I even arrived. Luckily the dinner went off without a hitch (alhumdulillah) and in fact that only religious reference she made was about her satisfaction that my mom is dating a Catholic guy and that she hoped my mom would go back to the Catholic church "where she belonged." Nothing was said to me about where I belong. We also sat at different ends of the table.

However nothing lasts forever, this coming Sunday- Mother's Day- the family will be getting together at my aunt's house.


The last place I want to find myself is on her home turf, and its REALLY unfortunate that I feel that way because I have always loved my aunt and been fairly close with her. She's never been my favorite person because she is so caustic, but I had never been on the receiving end of her wrath. Now I'm faced with the sincere desire to suddenly realize I have some other commitment on Sunday that means I can't go, but alas I cannot, nor would there be anything more important than a final Mother's Day with my mom and grandma before I leave. Instead I am stuck for the rest of this week dreading this coming Sunday and all it entails.

The other thing during the dinner I realized, and it probably is the hardest thing I'll have to deal with once I move to Egypt is my grandfather. He has Alzheimer's and Parkinson's and over the past one to two years has been rapidly degenerating to the point that he has a hard time getting up and walking by himself. He also has lost quite a bit of his mental capabilities and I'm worried that when I leave he may get to the point of no longer recognizing me when I come back. When I leave I may be saying goodbye to my grandfather forever and that scares me, and it hurts me.

I watched him slowly eating yesterday and he paused and looked up and caught my eye and smiled.

I don't want to say goodbye.


Amie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Amie said...

That brought tears to my eyes twice. I'm I'm still sniffling. I'm reminded of that scene in Titanic (yes, I know, cheesy) where Rose's witch of a mother says, "We're women. Our choices are never easy."
It's so true. But we never know what's coming around the bend. Who's to say that this really is goodbye? Before my mother died, when I was really young, I had a nightmare about her drowning in our swimming pool. I ran to her room in the middle of the night. She picked me up and hugged me after I told her what happened and said, "None of us last forever. That's why we have to cherish the moments we have and give as much love as we possibly can before they're gone."
Maybe that is not exactly a comfort, but it's something that I've tried to remember all these years.
P.s. Read my blog today.
P.p.s. *Hugs* May Allah make it easy for you

janene said...

what a rich history you have...

bring the videocamera to record the festivities on mothers' day -- everytime auntie starts in on you, just push record. post on internet. provide descriptive commentry. we will all enjoy the show.

ok, just joking. sort-of.

Safiya Outlines said...

Salaam Alaikum,

The last line was so moving. Ah the tyranny of choice! Just know that insha Allah, you are doing the right thing for the right reasons. When you do that everything is usually ok.

Mama Kalila said...

This post got me too.

We have something like that here. It's called Folklife & I really love it. My Church is in charge of the Lebanese section & we're busy the whole time. I'm so excited to have the baby there this year. Was funny last year I was pretty pg at the time & every time our dancers went on she would kick!

I'm glad things went well at your friends. I can understand in a way (although not completely) how the parents feel now. Couldn't have before lol. But as a parent it's gotta be rough to see your kid leave the religion you've taught them. We've discussed it & decided (granted our daughter is 7 mo's old so not something we're worried about just yet lol) that if she ever does - if she can give us a logical reason why she is then we'll be fine with it. Probably not completely happy lol, but still.

I have to say I laughed at the video comment. That would be amuzing. I'm sorry about your grandfather though. Spend as much time w/ him as you can... Ending my comment before I start blubbering myself lol.

أبو سنان said...

I guess I am lucky that my family has never voiced any issues with me converting to Islam or marrying a Saudi woman. After 9/11 Saudis tend not to be too popular here in the states.

My mother loves my wife and the boys.

As to the Saudi wife of this guy, she HAD to have known what would happen. Seems to me she did it almost on purpose. In Saudi a woman requires permission to travel so she must have been VERY aware that it was almost certain that she would NOT be allowed to leave, although she went anyway.

I think she thought about it, this guy or her entire family. The easy choice is to go back to Saudi and allow the family to make the hard choice for her.

Subhana'Allah however, things happen for a reason. If the Saudi lady had not left your friend would not have married his current wife or had their beautiful child. It was meant to be.

Anyway, I wish you luck with your family gathering!

Molly said...

Amie- I don't know what I would do if I lost my mom, Allah forbid it ever happen.

Maybe my grandfather won't get that bad, and when I come back he will still be able to know who I am. I know I'm going to have to say the final goodbye at some point, but is it any easier saying goodbye when you know its the end, or just saying I love you all the time and having the hope that tomorrow will still come?

I guess I don't know.

Thanks honey.

Janene- Unfortunately I own no such device. I talked to my mom last night about not wanting to go and why, and she was totally unsympathetic because of course she doesn't agree with the choice I made. If it had been a matter of simply leaving the Catholic church for the Protestant my mom would be my champion, however since she doesn't agree I'm on my own.

But I told her the moment it becomes abusive like it was on Easter, I'm out.

God I'm so not looking forward to Sunday.

Mizz Outlines- Thanks dear, I know I'm making the right decision, I just hope to Allah things work out. Everything comes from Allah and if I return and my grandfather doesn't recognize me, there is a reason for everything.

But it doesn't make it any less painful.

Mama K- you know that whole kids leaving the religion thing is SUCH a hard topic. I mean I don't blame my mom for feeling the way she feels, but if I think on my children leaving Islam? I don't know... how could I mistreat them when I did the same thing?

Gah, its such a confusing conundrum. But you know, I respect that you guys are open to accepting. :) Alhumdulillah.

Mama Kalila said...

Well, we've come a way w/ it lol.. Before my husband was saying she'd better not, etc. & of course we still hope not... but at some point you have to realize it's their life & you're not always going to agree. Its such an important subject that it does bother me to think if she left the Church... but all I can do is raise her the best I can & pray it doesnt happen... and if it does try to understand & not drive her farther away from us. Of course, like I said before, she'd better be able to explain why & have a real reason lol... I've seen people convert (to diff religions) fr really bad reasons before... Just my take on it.

Molly said...

Abu Sinan- You know I'm with you on that thought process. She did know, and she still made the choice. I think you are absolutely right, and she is the type of flakey person who would do such a thing. Of course she knew what would happen, unfortunately she left a good man behind, and fortunately he now has a wife who loves and cherishes him like he deserves.

Alhumdulillah your family gets along, I am very lucky as well in that my mom and my husband really like each other and get along. There's a lot of mutual respect and it makes for such a happy situation. When I see friends who don't have a happy relationship with their in laws, I just stop and thank Allah, because it would be so much harder that way.

Alhumdulillah for everything.

ammena said...

check out my blog sis.. I tagged you :)

Safa said...

This post brought tears to my eyes, as well.

Matt said...

I am sorry to hear that there is some tension in your family because of your decisions. I guess I can count myself lucky in that respect, and really its no wonder-- with one half brother who married into the Abenaki Indian tribe and another married to a Jew, I guess we kind of have a precedent. Also my future wife's family, whose reaction she dreaded for months, has been pleasantly "cool" and supportive.

Where I haven't been quite as lucky is in my job, though I suppose it could have been worse. Though it is very frustrating to be side-lined in a job where I have a lot to offer, I have faith that everything will turn out right in the end.

The discussion on changing religions is an interesting one, and very relevant in a globalized world. Personally I feel that the doctrinal distinctions between most of the major religious sects are superficial. If God only gave us one religion, then it seems like there must be some way to bridge the gaps, rather than making a narrow choice between one or another.

In the meantime, of course, I am a Muslim, and why not? Fasting is fun for my metabolism, and pork is probably dirty anyway. I'll take God's word in whatever package it comes.