All the excitement vanished when it finally hit me that I can’t speak English. I hid behind Zuhura when he stuck his hand out to greet us. His eyes were blue, his teeth were crystal white, and in general, he was handsome. I got nervous and I felt so small. I hate losing confidence and for some reason, I hated my father for feeling this low. I wanted the confidence I have in madhrasa to be consistent in my general life. I lowered my eyes but he insisted on greeting me. The only words I knew were “thank you, how are you, fine and I love you.” Zuhura being Zuhura gave out her hand accompanied by a big smile when she stepped aside to reveal my presence. He started talking to us but mostly to Zuhura who wasn’t that good either but she was better than me. If it wasn’t my nodding, then probably my smiling sold me out. He figured out that I didn’t understand English and he was so patient and understanding about it. He showed us the hotel he was staying in and told us to meet him next Saturday at the restaurant.
We skipped madhrasa that Saturday and many more that followed, coming up with different reasons to tell our Ustadh. John was so good to us and he would treat us with fancy meals and drinks, we told him about us, oh well, Zuhura did. I wanted to tell him about my dreams and my ambitions. I think he could see the curiosity in my eyes and he kept telling me “you are very smart Aziza.” One day he whispered in my ears “I love you,” and I bet my whole body stopped functioning. The smile that cracked on my face hadn’t been seen, since my childhood. I wanted to run, to shout, and to tell everyone what happened. I lost my appetite out of excitement; my mind was like a butterfly, whatever distraction I chose my mind kept fluttering back to his words. Then I’d get that tingly feeling all over again. John said he would do anything to convince my parents to allow him to marry me. “I would do anything for you,” he said.
Zuhura took it upon herself to tell her mother (who was less strict) everything, and she repeated it to my mother also who went ahead and told my father. My heart was racing when I heard my father calling out my name with rage. “Pack everything that belongs to you and leave my house,” he shouted. I started crying uncontrollably and I got so confused for a long 10 minutes trying to wrap my mind around everything. Isn’t this the man who wanted me to stay home, get married, cook and clean for the rest of my life? What changed? Was is it his race? Maybe religion? But am sure he was told that John was ready to convert to Islam and follow all my father’s rules. “Nikirudi nisikupate hapa,” he yelled. I started packing my clothes, my mother tried her best to avoid my eyes and it worked. When I walked out that door, I was still confused and sad but I felt like that was the beginning of the best life. I was so confident that something good would come out of all this mess. I stopped crying and I went straight to John’s hotel.
The following day we went to a mosque nearby where John converted and we headed to the Kadhi’s office where we got married. John brought his 5 Muslim friends who were enough to act as Shahids on our marriage. We rented a house at Nyali, where we stayed for 1 year as he worked on travelling documents and everything. We then moved to Sweden where he was born and raised. His family and friends are so nice and I made some few friends of my own.
20 years now and he still looks at me like he saw me for the first time. I will be graduating with a diploma in nursing while my 15-year-old son, Salim, will be graduating from high school. Back at home, my brother has been in and out of rehab for more than 10 years which I don’t get tired of paying for. I bought my mother a ‘Singer’ sewing machine that she keeps complaining about every now and then when I call her. Zuhura got married to our Ustad’s son and has 2 kids that I help raise. I talk to all of them, at least once a month. My father, to date, still hasn’t let down his guard and whenever he needs something he would tell me “can you please ask your husband if he can help me with this or that?” I got tired of telling him that I work part time and I have my own money. To him, women can’t provide and he will never ask a woman for anything.
Oh! almost forgot, my husband is still a Muslim, we all are. My son is a Quran Hafiz and I couldn’t be prouder. Surprisingly, my education didn’t wash away my Islam (add sarcasm), neither did my husband’s race. If only we could look past the race, religion and outward appearance of the person. If only we could judge people by their hearts and intentions. The judgment based on someone’s outlook has been going on for quite some time. It’s time we get rid of this prejudice and move on; learn to accept people for who they really are and not by how they look.
What’s the point of praying 5 times a day if you judge others and feel like you are better than them? Before you start pointing fingers, make sure you are pure and clean, until then just pray for the ones you think are lost instead of talking ill about them. What even gives you the right or audacity to decide who is Muslim enough and who isn’t? Are you pure enough for that job? Right, let’s stop being so righteous and lower our pride, you are not better than anyone.