Lots of things have been going down at LoveInshallah.com and within the Muslim blogosphere. The recent article on Muslim men returning “back home” to find wives generated diverse cyber chatter, with various responses supporting or criticizing different positions. On the heels of that debate, the Miptserz-coining, Somewhere in America, video featuring women in hijabs and cool turbans skateboarding to Jay-Z generated widespread media controversy. Again, Muslims drew well-argued lines on the good, the bad, and the ugly regarding the video’s use of hijab and contemporary representations of Muslim female identity. In the middle of these developments, I had two appearances on NPR’s Tell Me More discussing issues around dating, race, and identity.
These events got me thinking about my own orientation to love and belonging. This would not be page worthy except that these thoughts nudge against how I define myself as a Muslim in conjunction with a desire for love and (re)marriage. I had some epiphanies: my current world is too small and too White, yet I probably will end up with a white, non-Muslim guy.
I gleaned from the dialogue on arranged marriage the Mipsterz video is that the space I inhabit as a Muslim woman — a writer and cultural creative, divorced, someone who has been in and out of the hijab (and one day, may wear it again) — is highly problematic. The American Muslim community isn’t quite ready for large-scale cultural juxtaposition, complexities, and emerging personal narratives. We swear that we are. We want to be. But let’s be real: we still like our world cozy and certain.
You’ve got to meet my brother, my friend Mina tells me as we wander the streets of San Diego’s Gaslamp Quarter while our husbands attend a conference nearby. He’s a drummer. His band’s toured quite a bit, some of their songs are used as television theme songs, and one of their tracks is in Django Unchained! Next time he’s in town we’ll all get together. You’ll like him. He’s an artist, like you.
I wanted to protest this comparison. Yes, I write. I’ve written for several print publications and at my site for almost a decade. I’m a contributing author to the Love Inshallah anthology and a monthly columnist for this website. And I’ve poured my heart and soul into two completed YA novels. I have an agent who believes in my writing and I have edits I’m working on when I have a moment to breathe and yet, when Mina referred to me as a writer- an artist like her brother- I had to do a double take because an artist?
An artist is whimsical and freewheeling. An artist wears faded jeans and grows a butterfly garden with wind chimes in the front yard of their lovely Tudor brick home. An artist has a villa off the coast of Italy to ruminate properly, or sips coffee while scribbling in a black notebook overlooking the river Seine.
An artist is not running after children while coated in flour from a cookie dough experiment gone awry, or propping up weary feet at day’s end when dishes are loaded and kids are asleep to do some online, off-season boots shopping. An artist gets paid handsomely for their art.
I’d forgotten that the psychic said he was going to come to me in the spring, with a briefcase in hand. I was so heavy with grief that the thought that I’d ever be able to feel love in my heart again felt like fiction. There was room for nothing but sadness and survival. How could I ever fall in love again? Instead, I fixated on the things that she said that mattered in that moment, only seven weeks after Mom died.
It was an accidental reading – or had I subconsciously summoned her? – by a friend, over casual dinner and conversation. Things I had been yearning to hear started tumbling towards me. She said Mom was standing behind me and how that meant that she literally had my back; that I had Mom’s cheek; that Mom wanted me to have her saris, especially the blue ones, because she knew my favorite color was blue; that she wanted us to go down to the water, the beach, her favorite, and to say a farewell ritual of some sort; and, most importantly, that she was happy, or more precisely, that she finally felt free. The psychic didn’t need to tell me that. I just knew.
It wasn’t until I had moved back to my parents house, nine months after Mom had passed and one month into falling head over heels in love, that I remembered what the psychic had said. That she pictured him well-dressed, maybe in a suit, with a briefcase in his hand. (“A briefcase?” I thought. “Who carries a briefcase these days? Only gangsters or Wall Street guys – neither good options.”) That he was secure and stable. He was responsible. He’d be good for me. She didn’t see him being ‘the one’, but I would love him all the same. And, more importantly, that I’d be in love.
Earlier last week, a long-time blogging friend, Mezba, wrote about his quest for marriage.
His post provoked a huge response because his words jammed a finger into a large gaping wound in our community, and the community – stung by these words – responded. So did I.
But some were furious for a different reason. They were upset his post was given a platform. And while their reasons for this frustration may have been varied and complex, this touched a nerve in me. Because it’s a criticism I’ve heard time and again in the nearly ten years I’ve written on my site. Writing about cultural issues is not the main focus of my blog but anytime I do write about desi or faith-based concerns or issues, I inevitably get harsh e-mails, comments, and, sometimes, face-to-face lectures. So the world hates us and you want them to hate us more? is the common refrain.
Update 11/26/13: Congratulations to writer Aisha Saeed on this post being chosen by the editors of WordPress for Freshly Pressed, highlighting the best posts on WordPress. In an email to LoveinshAllah.com, WordPress said: “Aisha Saeed’s response to your guest post about arranged marriages was a really powerful and articulate call for fairness and equality. She delivers her points with a great balance of passion and reason, which makes this piece engaging even for those who aren’t intimate with the debate surrounding marriage in south Asian communities. It’s a great post that deserves a wider audience.”
There’s a befuddling conundrum afoot in the desi (South Asian) community. You must first understand a few things:
a) For whatever reason desis typically marry other desis; and
b) While the numbers may be dwindling, many desis (or their parents, on their behalf) wish to find spouses through the culturally traditional arranged marriage process. (If you are unfamiliar with this please read about it here first.)
I’m not saying this is how it should be, I’m just explaining a reality prevalent within many of our insular communities where Jane Austen novels are played out in a different tongue on a daily basis.
But back to the befuddling phenomenon affecting the desi community: there appear to be more marriageable females than males. How can it be? The numbers must be somewhat equal. Why is this not the case? While there are most certainly exceptions to the rule, the issues most cited anecdotally are: