I gave up a lot of things I enjoyed when I became Muslim, including alcohol, drugs and pork. I gave those things up because they’re haram, but also because I personally believed giving them up would lead to beneficial changes in my life. I also gave them up because I think it’s good to give up something you enjoy each year, in order to not become too dependent on any one thing. I was convinced that leaving them behind was the right thing to do, and I haven’t been disappointed.
Dating, however, has still been a feature of my Muslim life. This is true not because I’m powerless to give it up, but because I think it’s beneficial for me in the long run. The more halal paths to marriage, in my eyes, won’t work for me.
The fact that I’ve basically given in to pursuing a haram (at least to some degree) path to marriage has been a constant source of reflection and concern. It’s also been a useful dilemma to have, however, as it has allowed me to realize just how drastically my conception of dating and relationships has changed in the last few years.
The first Muslim in my life carried Islam around like a ball and chain.
The time we shared together was short-lived. We only dated for a few months, and broke up a bit before I converted. But the brief moment our diverging paths met offered me a glimpse into what dating while Muslim may be like.
Most of the Catholic by birth kids I know who abandoned the religion never seemed to regret the choice much, myself most definitely included. Her departure from Islam was different.
Ed. Note: Please welcome our newest writer Luca, whose column “Halal Since 22″ will be published the third Tuesday of every month.
“You’re the nicest guy ever!”
I’ve been called a lot of things by women throughout my life. Forward thinking, a saint (after a very unsaintly evening), emotionally unavailable, a complete fucking asshole, etc. I’d prefer to be called any of those things than be called nice. Nice is mild chicken wings. Nice is clothes from Old Navy. Nice is there, but otherwise totally unremarkable. I’m not “nice,” and I cringe when I think of guys who say they are.
But a few weeks ago, for the first time since my early teens, I got called a nice guy b y a woman I was interested in. To be fair, I was being quite a bit nicer to her than I am to most people.
Don’t look for it. It will find you. And if it doesn’t, your aunties on your mother’s side will find it for you in the form of a young Muslim girl, probably the daughter of a doctor or a lawyer, likely the last sister in her family to be unwed. She will be cute, but not the cutest, they will say, but she’s a good, pious girl. We will all be invited for chai one day at her mansion in a gated community on a hill, but really they just want to see you, your demeanor, your ability to lead prayer in a stranger’s home, everyone putting on their most Islamic face, their most Islamic dress. You will not fail this test, but your mother and I don’t want you to take it.
We want you to be yourself. Walk your own slow, slouched, clumsy walk down the hallways of life and look into every classroom you can. Take notes. Learn what you can about how things work, but even with a PhD, son, you will never understand love until you feel it. You will see her someday walking across campus or laughing with her friends—maybe after Juma prayers, maybe in a coffee shop—and her smile will make you look twice. Maybe three times. If you catch your eyes drifting south of her smile, then you’re on the wrong track. But if you’re stuck staring at her smile so long that you start smiling too, you may have found something.
Now check-in with your body. Do your arms feel like wet noodles? Do your knees feel like sponges? Is your stomach doing that thing it used to do when you were a kid tick-ticking uphill on a roller coaster just before the fall? Okay. Don’t be scared. That’s just love’s kindling barely starting to burn. Ask around. Someone knows her name. When you find out what it is, say her name over and over in your head. Close your eyes. Recite it like a poem. How does it feel swirling around in your mouth, on your tongue? Good.
This fall, Nhu-An and I are getting married.
We’ve been together since November 18, 2000, back when we were seniors in high school. Despite a lot of obstacles like living on opposite sides of the country for much of our relationship and the glacial pace at which I completed grad school, we’ve stayed together and continue to be in love. To celebrate our engagement, we made this epic blanket fort.
Here’s the nerdy story that made all of this possible.
A nerdy love story
Nhu-An and I were very different people when we met. She worked hard, wanted to make a big difference in the world, and kept thinking about the next big thing. I only cared about enjoying the present moment with my friends and family. That’s why our senior class voted me “most likely to be out of class” while Nhu-An was “most likely to succeed”.
We seemed to be complete opposites. She was prudent. I was careless. She was anxious. I was laid-back. She knew exactly what she wanted out of life while I had no idea where I was headed but was confident things would work themselves out. People wondered why we were together, especially our parents.
Read the rest of the post at Ali’s blog, “Brain Knows Better.”
Ali Mattu received his Ph.D. in clinical psychology from The Catholic University of America in Washington, D.C. he was born and raised in Silicon Valley and studied psychology at UCLA. Ali is currently a post-doctoral fellow in clinical psychology at the NYU Langone Medical Center Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry/Child Study Center. Outside of psychology, he is an active photographer. Whenever possible, Ali consumes science fiction.
Salon excerpted one of the most controversial stories from Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy. What do you think of the issues writer Maher Reham raises? You can also read Maher’s contributor spotlight on our website, here.
Curious to read more stories from Salaam, Love? Order the book today!
Tune into Salaam, Love contributor Haroon Moghul’s great interview with NPR Weekend Edition today. You can also read his story Prom, InshAllah online at the link!
“I think for a lot of American Muslims, especially those of us who are in some kind of community role, we’re forced to become, for lack of a better term, professional Muslims. A lot of the things that I wanted to do with my life, I was unable to do, because I realized that as an American, and as a Muslim, I had an obligation to become part of a conversation that we as a country needed. And I don’t regret that, and I think it was something that is the right thing to do. But unfortunately, I think in the process, we were forced to deny a lot of parts of ourselves.”