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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Speak, Memory

Tanzila Ahmed

Tanzila Ahmed

I groggily grab my phone. It’s 3 am, and I’m on a business trip to Chicago. I have a missed call from my little sister. I call her back immediately. I can hear that she is scared to tell me, to be the messenger of bad news. She tells me that my Nana has died. She knows how I hate to be told about deaths over the phone; I was told of both Mom and Nani’s death in similar late night calls. She says that he died in the ambulance going to the hospital from his home in Dhaka.

“Okay,” I respond, unemotionally. I check myself: no feelings. Just empty.

On some level, we had been expecting it. He was 87 years old and his health had been deteriorating for the past few years, ever since my Nani died. They were married when he was 21 and she was 16. He had lived for her. Without her, his mind unraveled.

When I went to Kathmandu to care for him in the summer of 2013, he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course, my family had not told me this at the time – they had just said he was a cantankerous old man. Overwhelmed and alone, I pieced it together after reading the labels on the boxes of pills I was administering to him daily. Those two weeks alone with him in that dark cold house were easily one of the most traumatic, mind-spinning periods of my adult life.

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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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Guava Jam: Taste of my mother, taste of home

Tanzila Ahmed

Tanzila Ahmed

This month’s Radical Love column is a video essay recorded live at Common Grounds in Santa Ana, California. It begins at 2:48.

“This is what it means to be an immigrant living in California, smuggling seeds in Ziplock bags from the motherland or buying trees from the underground market for the illegal fruits & vegetables that tasted like home.” 

Read more by Tanzila, here.

Tanzila Ahmed is an activist, storyteller, and politico based in Los Angeles. She can be heard and read monthly on the #GoodMuslimBadMuslim podcast and Radical Love column respectively.  An avid writer,  she was a long-time writer for Sepia Mutiny and is published in the Love, Inshallah anthology. Her personal projects include writing about Desi music at Mishthi Music where she co-produced Beats for Bangladesh, making #MuslimVDay Cards and curating images for Mutinous Mind State. Taz also organizes with Bay Area Solidarity Summer and South Asians for Justice – Los Angeles. You can find her rant at @tazzystar and at tazzystar.blogspot.com.