By Rabi’a Keeble
When I converted I had no idea that life for me would be significantly “different” than the life of my Arab, S. Asian and White sisters. For the most part I was extremely happy in my new incarnation as a Muslim. My friends and family said they saw a change in me that was positive, that pleased me, that told me that I had indeed made the right decision. The transition was slow of course. There was a lot to learn. It encompassed not only diet, but dress, head coverings, learning prayers in a new language, the list never ended. There were things I could do, and things that I could not. I learned a new word, “Haram.” I enjoyed the teaching from the Imam, and the Shaykh. I enjoyed gathering with the “brothers and sisters” around food, and holidays. It encouraged me to see that my new “family” was so diverse surpassing the black white diversity in most American worship centers, I met for the first time S. Asians from Bangladesh, Pakistan and Afghanistan. I met African brothers and sisters from Somalia, Nigeria, and Senegal. I met S. East Asians from Malaysia and Indonesia. I also saw how many American Black people had swelled the numbers of Muslims. In time I felt like I belonged a bit more, my ease with what I was supposed to do and not do grew.
My personal life changed. I took down photographs in my home of my mom, father and other people. A sister told me no photos were allowed. I tried to make sure that I ate only halal meats, but I lived far from any halal butcher shops, my diet slowly began to resemble more of a vegetarian one out of necessity. After awhile, some years, I began to think of marriage. I lived alone and basically from what I saw a Muslim was not complete until they married. At least it seemed so for most everyone else. I noticed something almost right away that the black sisters were not being matched off with anyone, that many of them lingered and in fact grew bitter as they were overlooked for marriage. Pakistani married Pakistani, Bangladeshi married Bangladeshi, Arab usually married Arab, but as the Imam told me sadly one day when I ventured to ask about possible marriage; “No one is asking to marry Black women, they ask for Arabs, or anything else, I don’t think I will be able to find a husband for you.” I felt at that moment as if I had fallen into a well where there was no rescue and no way out. So what did that mean for me? That I would grow old alone? That my almost perfect experience in Islam had now come to a complete standstill because of this idea of race, and nationality? I had been told in Islam there was no race, everyone was the same. Grudgingly I now felt that I had been lied to, that something was not quite right.
But it proved to be true enough. Black men always showed up at the mosque on Fridays with Asian women, white women, anyone besides a Black woman. I found to my dismay that there was this fiction, this lie being told in male circles that Black American women were somehow tainted or flawed beyond Islam’s ability to fix. If someone mentioned matching with a Black American the man would act as if he had been slapped.
The few who did stray from this racist ideology would ask the most asinine questions: Do you have any hair? One Syrian asked me. “Yes, I have hair” he then said, “Well how long is it?” I was stymied, what line of questioning was this and how was it important at all? I never heard from him again, perhaps he didn’t believe I had hair at all, who cared? A man that shallow needed a nanny not a wife. Once a Jordanian man who I knew was interested in me, was so obvious in his desires the sisters who sat around me in the mosque would tease me about him. Problem was he was married, the other problem was he left nothing to the imagination that he desired me and that was embarrassing. One day his wife who was not Muslim came to the mosque crying and causing a scene as he had told her he was going to marry someone else, a second wife, and she fell apart. It turns out, he was talking about me, without talking to me about his intentions directly.
Many of the Black women around me in the mosque environment were unhappy, some bitter when their lifelong spouses opted to leave them for younger women, because Islam allowed this. Some never overcame their pain and the feeling of rejection. To say that the completion of the “deen” for black woman was a challenge was an understatement. Once when a Turkish brother showed obvious interest in me, the other side of the environment of women became obvious, jealousy. The few single white skinned sisters felt they should have him, not me, and sabotaged the enter situation with lies: Saying things like: I had several batches of kids with several baby daddy’s. Why he never asked me about the truth of it, I will never know, this told me that there was a real problem with him and that I dodged a bullet. I finally married a Persian man from Iran. Old fashioned, strict in his Islam, but not so strict in his morals. I caught him cheating on me with a woman who was not Muslim and who had several kids out of wedlock. I guess I will never know why he did that.
Years later and much disappointment I felt tired, I felt Muslim men in general were spoiled, lacked maturity and needed help growing up. They were full of demands but brought little to the table except entitlement. They did the choosing, they demanded virgins when they weren’t, they demanded youth even when they were grey headed and needed double viagra shots, they demanded never married women when they themselves had many marriages. I was fed up. I told my friends all the time my desire was to have a wonderful Muslim husband, no matter the race, or the nationality. A good Muslim man was all I sought. I got older, and none came forward. I was always a dancer. It was my anti-depressant, it was my therapy. When I wasn’t dancing I gained weight because I ate and slept too much. The heart wants what the heart wants. I insisted upon celibacy even when I felt it was a useless exercise, that I should instead be sowing wild oats like there was no tomorrow, at least a kiss. Hadn’t I lost several friends even recently? Time was not our friend. I went dancing every Sunday to just be out, to be around people, and to exercise. I took dancing classes. I’d take my class and go home. I never really met anyone in all the years I went out. I arrived late that particular Sunday. The class was so crowded that I thought I’d have to leave, but I looked at all the faces of the men, and saw him. He was clearly middle aged, his hair a mix of black and grey. He had a kind face. He seemed uncomfortable as if he didn’t fit. I thought he was middle eastern. There was a few Sundays when a series of Turkish men came through, and some Azeri’s, all eager to dance, and show off, but none willing to do much more. I walked to where this man was standing and asked if I could squeeze in. He said sure. We dance in a circle, inside and outside, each man dances once with each woman. I never danced with him. I could tell there was a powerful chemistry between us, it seemed like a magnet pulling me towards him, he towards me. When the class was over, I packed my things to leave, but something told me, dance with him. I walked over and said, “Would you like to dance?” He smiled. We danced that night and haven’t stopped dancing yet. We have been dating for four months, we are in love. It feels right. It feels like he’s the one. He is not Muslim. I am almost glad of that. He has no “issues” with those parts of me that no longer are in line with what Muslim men want. He has no issue with my age, my color, my hair, my nationality. He told me, “I have always like brown skinned Black women.” He himself is not even so olive as Arabs but tending towards a pinker hued Latin color. His eyes are hazel, a odd if not haunting mix of “colors.” I find him incredibly handsome, and yes sexy. I told him I was celibate, and he had no problem with that at all. I had the luxury of not being pressured by him into sex, we had the time to know one another and relax, and laugh and dance. It was only recently we began to say “I love you” and that feels so powerful. I am not worried about marriage at all, in fact if he never asks, I am fine with that. I would prefer it, but I am not tethered any longer to this idea that my entire worth as a human being is around whether or not I am so called marriageable or marriage material, but rather of my inner existence and desire to be a good person. He has seen in hijab and without, he likes both believe it or not. When he see’s me in hijab his face softens, and he looks at me differently. I feel safe, and I feel loved. He does not walk ahead of me, but beside me and searches for my hand before I seek his. I look forward to his melodic Spanish, and his tender ways. Yes, there are those who’d say I broke the rules, but I guess I don’t care, I know the God I serve and love wants me happy. I am happy.