Spotlight: Lena Hassan, writer and Love InshAllah contributor!

Lena Hassan has wanted to be a writer since the age of 10, but turned seriously to the profession just a few years ago. She writes fiction and is starting to think about publishing. She currently lives in Syria where it’s lonely to be an English-language writer, especially after most non-Syrians have left the country, but she has managed to form a small writing group. She recently received her MFA in fiction.

An excerpt from Lena’s story, “Cyberlove”:

“Over time, our mosque ceased being an exclusively Arab enclave, and more and more American-born Muslims discovered it as a convenient place to pray between classes, hold study circles, or even take a nap. These young men and women were less eager to use partitions to divide the community. Interacting with the young brothers wasn’t quite so awkward as it was with the immigrant men. Still, I never went out of my way to talk to them. I did run into them in class, show up silently for the mixed-gender study circle we held at the mosque, and return the salaams they offered me. Then I’d come home and make flippant remarks to my mother about marrying a convert or a Pakistani American.

But none of them was a real possibility. Maybe these men were too close to me in age, more like kid brothers than romance prospects. Or maybe I took my mother’s consternation more seriously than I cared to admit. I knew the type of man my parents expected me to marry: the Arab kind, silhouetted mysteriously against the thin partition of those early years at our mosque. 

To read the rest of Lena’s story, order Love, InshAllah today!

Why were you drawn to this project?

I believed I had a unique story. I met my husband online at a time when many people hadn’t even heard of the Internet. But more importantly, though I was completely American-raised, I was expected to follow Arab traditions of courtship to a degree much greater than most of the people I knew. I wanted to share with other young women that it is possible to find love even when men seem so remote and scary. I also wanted to be honest about the ways that Muslim traditions and Western norms can grate against each other, and how it is not always easy to bridge the two.

What was the most challenging part of sharing your story?

You never stop being your parent’s daughter even when you’re married and an adult with your own life. I knew they would feel that some of the details in my story are private and even shameful to reveal. I anguished over the publication of this essay and finally decided to publish under a pen name. This may not completely satisfy them, and I ask for their forgiveness and understanding. Marriage is such a scary process that Muslim women need all the information they can get.

I also have to admit that it was difficult even remembering parts of my own story. You get so caught up in life and you forget to revisit memories until they start to get fuzzy at the edges. It helped that my husband recovered some of the email messages we exchanged with each other from his hard drive — messages that I thought I’d lost in a hard drive crash fifteen years ago! I’d forgotten how tentative and formal we were with each other and it was almost like reading someone else’s correspondence. But it was enough to stir the mental waters and fill in the trajectory of our courtship.

If there’s one thing you hope that readers will take away from your story, what is it?

That the old ways aren’t the only way to meet a life partner, but that sometimes we need them as a guide rail.

Anything else you want to share?

When I met my husband, no one had ever heard of online predators. A lot of people are wary of meeting people online — and they should be wary. The thing with online communication is it’s so easy to fall into intimacy when the other person is not physically there. You need to take it slow, you need to read between the lines of the messages that you are receiving. People’s own communication styles and patterns may not reveal the facts, but it can reveal their attitude. And don’t make the big decision without meeting in real life, without asking around about your potential spouse and getting a more objective sense of his character. I took it slow, emotionally if not time-wise, and I don’t regret it.