Dylan and I sat in the well-worn cushions of the black pleather love seat in our counselor’s office, the three of us wondering how I’d respond to Dylan’s marriage proposal.
“Well?” Dylan asked, his gray-green eyes locked on my face.
“Yes! Oh my god, yes,” I said, but my up intonations gave away my uncertainty. “Of course! It’s what we’ve been talking about! Of course I want to get ma-mar—engaged!”
I winced at the shrill sound of my own voice. The pleather groaned as I shifted and sunk into my seat.
The rest of the session I was Woody Allen in “Annie Hall.”
When I pulled my car into the parking garage of our apartment building, I blinked twice. Standing in our parking spot, wearing a tux, was my boyfriend, Dylan, beaming and holding a rose. I blushed. I couldn’t believe that he’d actually remembered our anniversary in time to get a suit, pick up a rose, and surprise me at the parking garage.
I got out of the car, kissed and hugged him, and then thanked him for the rose.
“You are so lucky!” I said, “I almost didn’t come home tonight! I was about to go have dinner with a friend. I would have totally missed your surprise.”
In 1990, President De Klerk released Nelson Mandela from prison, the East German police dismantled the Berlin Wall, and, in a 10’ x 10’ makeshift classroom at the Ibn Sina Islamic Farsi immersion school in Sacramento, Khanoom Bahari, the religion teacher, liberated my soul from the threat of eternal hellfire with a cheat code for savab, or heaven points.
Khanoom Bahari had a ballerina’s posture and wore a permanent welcome-smile. She glided into the classroom to our metal fold out table, opened up our religion textbook, and, with her gentle voice, read aloud from the text describing charred skin, the screams of guilty souls, and the eternal damnation of hellfire.
As she ran down the list of sins, I searched my memory:
Lying – I lied to Dad almost every day, telling him that I’d done my prayers when really I’d been lying on my bed daydreaming.
Cheating – Every Monopoly game, I cheated and stole money from the bank. When I ran out of money, I’d act sullen. Then, I’d act surprised to discover that I’d been sitting on one of those bright orange five hundred dollar bills the whole time.
Eating Pork – There had been three occasions; once it was ham and twice it was pepperoni.
Eds. Note: In last month’s column, Zahra thought she was going home to Iran to an extended family she hadn’t seen in 20 years. At the last minute, she had to cancel her trip there and rerouted to Dubai instead.
At 80 degrees and 80 percent humidity, it’s a cool night in Dubai. I’ve stopped wondering about the male gaze that rules the city, because I can’t stop staring at everyone and everything around me. So far today my infidel husband and I have been skiing, kissed a penguin, and bobsledded down a snowy mountain at the downtown mall’s negative-five-degrees, indoor ski resort. Yesterday, outside the Burj Khalifa, my husband, mom, dad and I listened to the adhan fade away as the jet streams of the Dancing Fountain burst into the air, choreographed to Michael Jackson’s “Thriller.”
I have no idea who to be or how to behave in Dubai. Every moment feels like a collection of contradictions. Am I an American tourist, a Feminist taking careful notes, a horrified human rights activist, or will I come to discover an entirely new persona to add to the plethora of identities I’m already trying to integrate?
When I was invited to speak at a conference in Iran, I was asked by the organizers to take as much of my digital footprint down as possible. I took down my first LoveinshAllah.com column “My Infidel Husband,” postponed my next two columns, de-activated my website, and even untagged myself in podcast photos of “Good Muslim, Bad Muslim” on Facebook.
Then, two weeks before the conference, the organizers asked me to take down the New York Times article that features my story, “The Birds, the Bees, and My Hole”, from the anthology, Love Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women.
I almost wish I had made this ludicrous request to the New York Times. It could have been its own news story: “NY TIMES REMOVES ARTICLE FOR A WHILE BECAUSE COMEDIAN WHO WANTS TO GIVE SPEECH IN IRAN ASKED POLITELY.”
The conference and I broke up.
Eds. Note: Please welcome comedian, playwright and Love InshAllah anthology contributor Zahra Noorbakhsh! You can find her column, My Infidel Husband, here every fourth Thursday of the month.
On my 26th birthday, I shot awake with the realization that I was in my mother’s relationship.
My then boyfriend (now husband), Dylan, and I had just moved in together, shortly after celebrating our two-year anniversary. In all this time, he had never bought me a present. I looked over at him snoring sweetly with our two cats at his feet. Lying on our fluffy bed with twinkle lights from our housewarming still dangling above, I recalled my parents’ gift-giving turmoil like a once dormant, posttraumatic flashback.
Dad rarely bought mom presents but, when he did, he missed the mark every time. Mom claimed the role of victim, lonely and unseen. Dad avoided the conversation altogether. How had I, an outspoken, confident Feminist, wound up the overlooked partner just two years into my relationship?
Are you Muslim? …How Muslim are you? …No but, really…how Muslim are you?
I get asked these questions, without fail, every time I perform my autobiographical one-woman show, All Atheists Are Muslim, a “boy meets girl” story about how I moved in with my whitey-white, atheist, infidel boyfriend, Dylan, and chose to tell my parents about it.
And, no, I wasn’t disowned, forced into an arranged marriage or stoned in a ditch in my parents’ backyard.
Perhaps it is the lack of stoning and disowning that makes some people wonder how Muslim I really am?