Love in the Time of Islamophobia

Eds. Note: Big love to our Love InshAllah community for four wonderful years! Our site is going on hiatus but we hope to be back with more stories soon. In the meantime, keep telling yours.

Tanzila Ahmed

Tanzila Ahmed

I’ve always been a sucker for a good story – and a happy ending.

Ever enamored by the RomCom, I always pictured myself as the clumsy, awkward but affable protagonist of my own 90 minute, wittily narrated romance. In my story, taking fake boyfriends to Desi weddings, having a hot doctor that stars in telenovelas, and having a back-up baby-daddy for my geriatric uterus were a part of my off-color but meaningful RomCom story. It’s why I loved being a part of the book Love Inshallah, so much – for the first time I saw my narrative side-by-side with 24 other Muslimah’s love stories. It gave me hope that maybe there was a love story for me as well.

I always imagined that the end of the Radical Love column would come when I had fallen in love with the perfect man. In my mind, I thought that after two years of writing about the intersections of grief, love, faith and social justice that I would be able to make someone fall in love with me through my words alone and that closing out my column with a “happily ever after” ending story would make my readers (and myself) content. Finding love was never the point of writing this column – redefining love as a 30-something single Brown Muslimah-American with social justice values was. But I harbored this little romantic hope that with words love could manifest.
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Can I Get a Witness?

Tanzila Ahmed

Tanzila Ahmed

I wake up during the deadly summer night heat to incredible pain in my upper back, and a commotion outside my apartment complex. I can feel the tight muscles all up and down my spine. It’s 2 a.m. I’m on day three of a ten-day detox diet – no caffeine, sugar, dairy, processed food, carbs, legumes, or hydrogenated oils. I am sustaining myself on grass fed meats, organic veggies, and lots of raw nuts. I know that my pains are related to the diet change and am frustrated that my body is unable to handle an all natural diet without pain.

I go to the kitchen for a painkiller. I wonder if ibuprofen is included in a detox diet. As I lean my head against the front door, I hear the sound of the police walkie talkie outside. I saw them in my hall earlier when I came home at 11pm. I wonder why they are still here, three hours later. I wonder why they have face masks hanging around their necks. I wonder who they are here for and if I should be worried.

The next morning, there is a big, bright blue sticker across my neighbor’s doorjamb. It’s labeled: “Warning – Coroner’s Seal”. I later learn that the cops were there for the elderly black man who lived by himself a few doors down from me. His family hadn’t heard from him in a week and had been trying to get a hold of him. When the cops looked through the back window of his apartment they saw that he had died leaning up against the front door. He was 71-years-old and had died of natural causes. He had been dead about a week. In the heat, his body did not keep.

I thought of all the times I had walked by his door this past week on the way to the garage. How every time I had walked by, his body must have been there, leaning up against the door. I wonder if he had known that he was dying and if he was trying to get out of his apartment to get help. I hadn’t known how close mortality had been to me all that time.

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Why I Don’t Date White Men

Eds. Note: Read columnist Deonna Kelli’s response to this piece: “Dating White, Dating Brown”, here.

Tanzila Ahmed

Tanzila Ahmed

“I have some questions about things you’ve written about,” John asked last week. We were chatting during happy hour at the annual conference where we meet and catch up. He is one of few white folks in my circle of friends.

“It was an article in which you talk about how difficult it is to date,” he continued. “I don’t understand. You’re smart, attractive, and confident. Do you feel like its Los Angeles? Do you only date Muslim men?”

“Dating in Los Angeles is harder than other cities I’ve lived in. And no, I haven’t dated Muslim men exclusively. Though, when it comes to choice, which is what online dating is all about – that’s what I would prefer. But I am open.”

“What about dating white guys?”

“I don’t date white men,” I state frankly.

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The Thirtysomething Single

Photo credit: Tanzila Ahmed

The phone rang, waking me from deep morning slumber. Naturally, I don’t pick up, though when I see the number my heart skips a beat.

It’s my college roommate. She never calls me. In the past decade since graduating, our lives took very different paths. The only times I hear from her are for celebrations or deaths. She called me for her engagement, marriage, baby one, and baby two. What else could be left – it must be sobering news.

Sure enough, a text message follows: “Give me a call as soon as possible.”

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Connecting to God & Ummah through Poetry this Ramadan

Tanzila Ahmed

Tanzila Ahmed

This Ramadan has been hard. The long summer solstice days and deep heat. The nation charged with racial tensions. The obligatory iftars, the late night taraweeh, the early suhoor. The problematic tafsirs with implicit “-isms” that are so triggering. The thirst, the faltering, the not knowing if your piety is enough, and the wondering why piety doesn’t entail feeling more.

It is in this time of chaos and reflection that I choose to write. It’s the only way I know how to calm my mind, to focus my feelings. I know that if I can commit myself to writing one poem every day, that in those words I find healing energy, time to reflect, and a connection with Allah. It is for this reason that every Ramadan I challenge myself to writing a poem daily.

This year marks the second year I’ve hosted an online Poetry a Day for Ramadan virtual writing group. With close to fifty members, the only rule for poets is they must commit to writing daily. They can share if they want to. Just write. Make art.

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Is my ex an FBI informant?

Tanzila Ahmed

Tanzila Ahmed

He was undoubtedly attractive – tall, lean and muscular, caramel colored skin, full lips, high cheekbones that framed his deeply intense hazel eyes. But his black leather jacket, felt fedora, acoustic guitar swung over his shoulder and beatnik poetry journal in his back pocket were really the accessories that put me over the edge.

He had a very expressive face but there were two expressions that stuck out the most – an affable, goofy grin, and the furrowed brow intensity of a poet deep in thought. The thing that everyone noticed about him off immediately was his strong New York accent – though he’d never been to New York in his life. Let’s call him Jay.

We had met in the world music section of Amoeba Records when I was visiting San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury for a weekend. Our eyes locked over Bollywood records. He said he loved old-timey Bollywood too. I asked if he was Desi, and he said he wasn’t though he got that a lot.

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My Absurdly Attractive Doctor and Other Misadventures in Love

Tanzila Ahmed

Tanzila Ahmed

I’ve never been one to get along with conventionally attractive people – probably a residual internal bias against the “popular” crowd in grade school that incessantly teased me for my Otherness. As an adult, my wariness of attractive people has manifested in awkward conversations (which I’ve masked well with my quirky personality… I hope).

Interviews are the worst – whether I’m interviewing for a job or being interviewed by the media. If the person I’m supposed to make eye contact with is attractive, I know immediately that the interview will go badly. Fortunately, in my line of work as an activist/organizer, I don’t interact with ridiculously gorgeous people too often.

It’s not that I have a crush on them – it’s just that attractive people have the ability to make me lose all my conversational skills. (It almost makes me empathize with those religious types who argue that women should be covered up to keep the male of the species from getting distracted. Almost.)

This is why it should be no surprise that I have terribly awkward doctor visits. Because my doctor is incredibly attractive.

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