Unexpected prayer

“Even after all this time,
the sun never says to the earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights the whole sky.”


I picked up Love, InshAllah with unfair expectations. I hoped that it would give me – a 30-year old woman – some solace in my continued plight of singlehood.

Perhaps I secretly believed that one of the stories would inspire me to do something different and, magically, I would be engaged within six months.  (Yes, I know, patience is not one of my strengths).

But, part of my expectations also had to do with how the two words in the title are reflected in my life: love and InshAllah. InshAllah, to me, is a prayer. Although it is literally translated as God willing, it is more of a request than a statement.  To me, InshAllah means, “God, only You can make this happen.”

Working with domestic violence victims in my twenties gave me a serious dose of reality.  I was torn between the Bollywood fantasy I saw in films and the horror stories of the women I worked with.

My close family members and friends also shared their relationship woes with me. They didn’t realize that while they were unloading their problems about husbands, in-laws, and the loss of independence, their words were impacting my own views of love and marriage.

In search of answers, I began to ask every woman I met a simple question: “Why should I get married?”

I asked people when I traveled to Pakistan.  I asked people in Syria, New York and California.  Every time I met a woman whom I felt would be honest with me, I asked.

Most women had hopeful responses (they were, after all, talking to a young, single woman).  A Pakistani woman said that I should get married because everyone else did so and reminded me that people have been getting married since the time of the Prophet.  I found her response to be simultaneously humorous and insufficient.

A woman in the United States said that marriage was an investment.  She mentioned that if not now, then eventually companionship would become important to me.  But, my inner voice reminded me that with such a high divorce rate, there was no guarantee of lifelong companionship.

Whatever answer I received, my inner voice had a surefire response as to why that reason was not satisfying.

It wasn’t until I was at a summer camp for Muslim youth many years after I started my search that I found an answer that left me speechless.

I was there as part of the camp staff, and one day I approached the scholar-in-residence to ask her my long-standing question. I hoped her answer would be different, that it would satisfy me as the others had not. I knew from our past conversations that her view of the Divine was filled with pure love, dedicated longing and ecstasy.  We spoke of the kind of love that Mevlana Rumi and Hafiz talk about in their poetry.

When I asked, her answer was simple.  She said that every human relationship brings you closer to God.  She went on to say that romantic love gives you a taste of what Divine love will be like.

Her answer satisfied every ounce of my being.  It made my soul sing.  Through personal experience, I know that Divine love is true.  It does not hurt. It is tried, tested, and pure.  It is my definition of true love.

Therefore, if romantic love is a sample of Divine love, then I was ready to experience it.  There, surrounded by a hundred screaming teenagers at summer camp, for the first time, I truly wanted to experience romantic love.

And it was there, at that moment, that I whispered under my breath…InshAllah.

Mariam Aly Khan is the pen name of a graduate student at Columbia University.  She likes long walk on the beach and reading Sufi poetry.  She also whirls likes a dervish.

3 Comments on “Unexpected prayer”

  1. Safiyyah says:

    Bravo! Beautiful words!

  2. I didn’t know that I needed to read this today but apparently I did. My insides clenched when I read: “She said that every human relationship brings you closer to God. She went on to say that romantic love gives you a taste of what Divine love will be like.” As a single woman who is about to turn 37, I’ve really been thinking about love and what it is I seek in a romantic relationship. A taste of Godly love sounds about right. 🙂

  3. Thanks for your inspiring blog!

    On that note, I’ve seen this several times on Facebook now and love it each time I see it: It’s by Ghandi:

    If you don’t find God in the next person you meet, it is a waste of time looking for him further.