It was Spring of 2003, I was a 20-year-old college junior and women’s vice-president of my school’s Muslim Student Assoc. I guess it appeared as though I had it all together, but something was missing. I couldn’t quite shake a persistent feeling of…what was it? I couldn’t name it.
The day was a Tuesday. I was waiting in the University Center soon, our MSA meeting would begin, and I was killing time until it started. I sat alone at a table reading my History text book, trying to drown out the noise of the other student’s around me. I don’t remember the name of the text, but I was taking a course in the Abolotion of Slavery in North and S. America. Just then, a guy interrupts my solititude. It’s “James.” I know James from a few classes, and he always wants to talk to me about Islam. I have given him books and pamphlets, but he always has more questions. Today he says,
“In Islam, all human beings either go to Heaven or Hell, right?”
“Yes,” I reply. “If you’re a good person you are rewarded with heaven. If you’re not, you’re punished with hell.”
I answer tentatively. I’m always worried that I will say the wrong thing and tarnish his view of Islam. Other thoughts run through my mind. Why does my hijab have to make me stand out so much? Why are most of the brothers on this campus incognito? If they had long beards and kufis, if they were recognizably Muslim, maybe James would be asking them questions, instead of me.
“Hmm,” he seems thoughtful. “I just don’t get that.”
“Why is that?” I reply. I look at my watch. I don’t like to talking with this guy too much. Even with so many other students nearby. “Most religions have a similar view…”
“It’s just that, if God is our creator, why….how could he stand to see his creation punished for eternity? I mean, if you had a child, could you stand to see him or her burning for all eternity becuase they made a mistake?”
Thoughts are racing through my mind now. Oh jeez…that’s a tough question, I think to myself. What to say. I make silent du’ahs for Allah to give me the right words.
“Well, in Islam, um…Didn’t your mother ever punish you for misbehaviour?” I pull at my hijab uncomfortably. I honestly don’t have a good answer for James and it’s frustrating, embarassing and slightly angering me.
“Yea, but my mother’s punishments never lasted all eternity. Hehe…Take you and me for instance. If we were to go out together, would God punish you for that?”
I can feel my face starting to grow hot, now. So that’s what he wants…He’s not intersted in Islam, he wants to date!
“Well, James, I’m sorry, but I don’t have a good answer for you, but I have to go, I have a meeting to attend.” I gather up my books and leave before he can object. I exit the student center, but I don’t go to the MSA meeting. Instead, I head home. James’s question had shaken me. I felt angry with myself for not having the right answer. Was there a “right” answer for that type of question? I started to question myself. Why would Allah punish some of his creations for making mistakes. Was that really fair? I felt like a hypocrite. How could I represent the MSA properly, if I couldn’t even answer his question?
The question haunted me for the rest of the day and well into the night. That night I made extra prayers, asking Allah for strength and guidance. I also asked Allah to rid me of the feelings of the feelings I had been having lately. The feelings of loneliness.
Ahmed was not trying to convince him to join the MSA so that he could participate in our Bake Sales and Lectures, as awesome as the are, he was trying to find this brother a wife. For weeks Ahmed had been telling this brother about a sister who would make a perfect wife for him. “Please, just come to a meeting. This is a really good sister, Mashallah…hijab and everything.”
Being Arab, Ahmed is very pushy and wouldn’t take no for an answer. So, having finally been worn down, he came to the meeting. Unfortunately, the sister he was looking for was no show. After the meeting pushy Arab Ahmed tells him, “She didn’t come to this meeting Brother Jibril, but please come to the conference we will be having on Saturday. She will definitely be there, inshallah.”
“OK, inshallah, I’ll be able to make it.” Jibril agrees to come to the conference the following weekend knowing that this brother will not leave him alone until he meets this sister.
On that Saturday, I wake up early, looking forward to the conference. I feel bad for missing the MSA meeting and I hope that one of the speakers will be able to answer my question. Plus I have agreed to watch kids in the daycare room for a few hours, and I honestly can’t wait to see the babes.
As I enter the ballroom, where the conference is being held, I notice a brother whom I have never seen before at an MSA function. It’s kind of hard to miss him, as he is sitting directly behind the table that holds the sign-in sheet.
“Assalam ‘Alaikum,” he greets me.
“Wa Alaikum Salam,” I reply. Do you ever have a feeling that you have met someone before. That is the way I felt the moment I saw him. The next thing I know, Ahmed is calling my name very loudly.
“Amani! I’m glad you’re here. Did you see the daycare room yet, Amani!” Something seems strange. Why does Ahmed seem so happy to see me. I brush off the feelings of weirdness and follow Ahmed to the daycare room.
A few days later, I meet the brother again, at an MSA meeting. We exchange names, and I learn that he shares the same name as my father. I can’t describe the feelings of Deja-Vu that I felt from the first time I laid eyes on Jibril.
A few hours after the MSA meeting, I get a phone call from another MSA member, “Leena.”
“Amani,” she finally gets around to asking, “are you looking for a husband?”
“I don’t know,” I reply, “Who’s asking?”
Anyway, after many meetings (chaperoned of course) and phone calls, the rest is history.