By Abdul Latif
T he “Green Book” taught me all I needed to know about Islam – or so my naive, adolescent self had imagined. It was a frequent reference for the teachers at my Islamic school, where the well-meaning instructors clung to the dogma presented within its pages with all their might, not wanting to indicate any gap in knowledge to the students. When peppered with questions of the deeper reasoning behind a ritual or ideology, they would often respond: “Because…it’s in the Green Book.”
I was often told how virtuous it was to be a good Muslim and wanted to make my parents proud, so I intensely focused on The Green Book, trying to mentally scan each page into memory. Even now, I can still see almost photographic representations of certain pages of The Green Book: The confusing ”Contents” page with my doodling in the top left corner, the top right hand side of ”page 5” that featured the important “Pillars of Islam,” and the infamous page that crushed my burgeoning, pubescent spirit, “Halal and Haraam.”
Sex was something I had just learned about at school – both in class and from the cool kids, who regaled the others with titillating tales of things they had heard or even, apparently, experienced. And it sounded so exciting! Health class had given us a detailed and mechanical breakdown of the process, but now I knew there was more. I could feel it – the frequent, random erections were a sign.
My peers disseminated misinformation about sex voraciously, almost as if it was a challenge to see who could spread the most ridiculous rumor: “Jenny and Mark already tried it! James said you can also put it in the butt! Fred said sex is the best feeling in the world!” The last one only piqued my curiosity and I knew I had to understand more – I needed to study this in detail. I wanted to be an expert. continue reading »
June 26, 2012 4 Comments
By Saba Khan
I started keeping a diary at age 13. My first diary was a present from an older cousin – a beautiful journal with flecked handmade paper and a blue tie-dye hardcover which I eventually ‘personalized’ with glitter and doodles. Not exactly sophisticated, but I do remember writing about some remarkably ‘deep’ topics in that journal – religion, body image, materialism (I had just discovered Adbusters magazine at the time and began a staunch period of anti-brand-name-ism).
And, of course, I recorded every sordid detail of my late-coming social life – friendships and rivalries and crushes. So. Many. Crushes. That first year of journaling was the year I fell in love for the first time, and I recounted in pen every single time I saw him in the hallway, heard him speak up from the back of the classroom, smile at me, joke with me, and the thrilling moment he told me he ‘liked’ me at a friend’s birthday party. Imagine the absolute joy!
Not that I acted on his proclamation of feelings, of course. Dating at that young and tender age didn’t even occur to me as an option. Only in later years did my diary become a log of my blossoming adolescent romances and all their not-so-innocent physical components.
In those later years of high school, in a home where privacy was a foreign concept, my diary was my safe house. A space where I could internally break down the dilemmas of will-he-or-won’t-he and how-exactly-does-a-french-kiss-work-anyway without embarrassing myself in front of my friends or shaming myself in front of my parents.
Of course, because of these horrifying haram accounts, I had to make sure I hid the diary in an extremely secure manner, usually at the bottom of a cluttered drawer or underneath my mattress. Not that my mom didn’t know of my hiding places. The door on my bedroom was merely symbolic. It certainly didn’t stop either of my parents from barging in to eavesdrop on my phone calls or scold me for staying up so late ‘chatting vatting’ on the computer. And of course all the ‘cleaning’ my mother just HAD to do in my room while I was at school, because of course two pairs of pants on the floor were indicative of a pigsty and had to be removed immediately.
On one of these ‘cleaning’ days, I arrived home from school and immediately headed downstairs to my bedroom. I had recently entered my first official relationship with my first official boyfriend, D, so of course all I wanted to do was phone him/email him/chat with him/combinations of the above on those weeknights when I was expected to be home at 4 pm on the dot (or, pretty much every weeknight).
My mother was waiting there for me, sitting on my bed and staring hard at the wall in front of her, holding in her hands… a book… a familiar notebook… SHIT. I recognized the latest incarnation of my diary – an unstylish thick spiral notebook with a few leafs of paper escaping the metal binding. Without looking at me, she handed me a folded piece of paper with my scribbles, presumably fallen (or torn?) out of the notebook.
I took the paper but was frozen on the spot. My body had gone limp but my heart was pounding out of my chest. I knew the kinds of things that I had written in that book that could give my mother the angry and crestfallen look she held in her eyes at that moment. And that look. That look always instantly resulted in a large cavernous queasy pit in my stomach. The feeling of imminent doom.
She told me she had accidentally found my notebook when making my bed (a likely story) and didn’t know what it was, so she had started reading it to figure out if it was one of my school books (mmhmm). “Saba… yeh kya hain? What have you been doing behind my back? Who is this boy you have been seeing? And KISSING? This is WRONG. What you are doing is wrong!” The pitch and volume of my mother’s voice increased rapidly throughout her tirade about my sinful behavior and the lies I had been telling her and my father.
As I tried to sputter out an explanation through my hot tears, I went through a sort of condensed version of the “7 stages”, starting with denial (“N-no! I didn’t write that! Not-not the kissing part! I-I think you read it wrong!”), progressing to bargaining (“Well, what were you doing in my room anyway? Why were you snooping among my private things?”) ending in acceptance: “I’m sorry, Ammi, it was- it was a mistake. I shouldn’t have done that. I know it’s wrong, I know we are Muslim and I am not to do these kinds of things, to be around boys…”
More tears emerged from both of us as I acknowledged the harm and grief I had created and I spewed out a flurry of promises to never see this boy, or any boy again. We quietly reconciled as I promised to amend my ways and she slipped out of my room to get dinner started, the look of disappointment remaining on her face.
I sat down on my bed in the same spot my mother had left warm, still reeling from the intensity of our conversation. As much as I couldn’t bear the hurt I had given her, I still had trouble truly believing that love could be wrong, that someone as nice and thoughtful as D deserved to be kicked to the curb when we cared about each other. And frankly, I LIKED kissing! I certainly didn’t intend our physical relationship to go further than that, EVER.
As my thoughts raced with confusion over my conflicting wishes to please my parents and ‘be good’ and my desires to follow my heart and be independent, I suddenly realized I was still holding that folded leaflet of scribbles in my hand. I opened it and started reading, curious as to which diary entry had caused such a scandal. It was dated from a couple of weeks ago: “I’m at school, near D’s locker, and we’re holding hands. We hold a gaze and I kiss him, and it feels amazing. Suddenly, we’re outside and the sky feels like it’s opened up, the blue envelops us, the sunshine warms our skin… And then I think there were… vampires? Maybe zombies? Some sort of creepy creatures chased us around!”
I started and cocked my head in bewilderment at the strange series of sentences… Did I-? Was this-? Was THIS one of my DREAMS? Did my mother happen to stumble upon and read a snippet of one of the very few entries in my diary that wasn’t actually REAL? And I hadn’t even realized it until NOW, when I’d already admitted I’d kissed a boy?!
I was stunned, slid off my bed and on to the floor. Exhaled a deep, deep sigh, I looked up from the paper and shook my head at the ceiling, breaking into a small grin with watery eyes. If ever I wondered of God’s existence… well, at least it was confirmed: (s)he definitely had a very strange sense of humor.
May 27, 2012 1 Comment
By Maleeha Shafiq
G ym class: the bane of my existence in middle school. There I was, 13 yrs old, barely coming into understanding my own existence, but there was also Dawn Pye, the 5’7 bombshell who spoke about “making out” and “hooking up” with boys. I had no idea what she was talking about. I thought “hooking up” meant fishing with boys at the nearby lake with fishhooks. I always wondered why she and her friends never spoke about the kind of fish they caught or how they would “make out” with the fish…
When it came to changing for gym class, I changed privately in the bathrooms whilst girls would always change in front of one another. My traditional Pakistani mother always said, “No one can ever see you nangni (naked) and you shouldn’t even see yourself naked!” with her stern voice and harsh face. I was so scared of being seen with bare legs, I always stood on top of the toilet so no one could see them.
On this particular day, I decided that I was going to be bold and change in the restroom without having to stand on the toilet seat. None other than Dawn Pye called me out for having hairy legs. One of the many interesting things that happened that fateful day. It was floor hockey day and it was guys’ team first and then girls. Girls always sat on top of the stage while the boys played for 20 mins. Within those 20 mins, a congregation of girls would surround Dawn Pye and amazing questions would be asked.
This day, being bold, I decided to sit in on the questioning. Plus, I wanted to answer all the math/science questions if they ever came up (they didn’t.)
First question asked, “Are you a virgin?” Every girl had to answer yes or no. I NEVER got the Bees and Birds lecture, NEVER EVER. And I only learned about the mechanisms of intercourse from AP biology my senior year in high school. I had NO idea what “virgin” meant. I didn’t know if I should answer yes or no. I didn’t know what to say. Most girls were answering no, some yes; I had no clue what answer was right! It seemed like both answers were right. So, being the diplomatic 8th grader, I decided to answer it both ways.
“Are you a virgin?” I was asked. “Sometimes yes, Sometimes no” was my answer.
Everyone’s faces dropped. Girls looked at me with shock. Here I was, a small 8th grader and the only brown girl in my white middle school. All the girls knew I never spoke to guys and that I had never been kissed. Yet, I was answering the question as “sometimes yes, sometimes no.” Incredulous, right?
The gym teacher’s whistle blew, and – voila! – the congregation broke up and the girls began to play air hockey. I was happy with my answer that day. It wasn’t until I asked my mother “What does virgin mean” that I figured it meant something horrific and that I should never talk about that EVER again. Y’all should be happy to know I figured out what virgin meant in the 10th grade during religious studies in high school learning about the Virgin Mary.
Luckily, Dawn Pye had since moved away and I was content being the brown science geek, who was subsequently never asked about my “virgin” answer nor asked to clarify.
Looking back 11 yrs later, I still wonder what those girls were thinking when I answered that question. And if anything, why did my parents never give me any lecture regarding the birds and the bees to help me with these awkward situations?
Protection from this society is one thing; not educating and embarrassing your child is another thing.
Alhamdulilah, I am now happy to say YES to that question, but I am sad to think that as an 8th grader, I answered “sometimes yes, sometimes no.”
February 19, 2012 4 Comments
By Hafsa Arain
I have only been asked out once in my life, though I had been warned of such situations since I was eleven years old. My parents, without ever even saying these things aloud, warned my sister and me of boys and dating and American things – things we were absolutely forbidden to take part in. It was often phrased as “staying true to our culture”. We knew what it meant, for we had always known that this was part of us being different from everyone else.
In reality, they needn’t have worried about any of it. We were brown faces in a sea of white – there is no standard of beauty that exists in the suburbs of Chicago that makes us desirable. We have pitch-black hair, dark caramel skin, and deep brown eyes. In our schools, we stood out as being almost unnatural – an object to inspect, but not to dignify.
It came as a surprise to me, then, being asked out. In my small and extremely nerdy group of friends (nearly all of whom were Asian), there was the one odd girl who had been asked out by the age of fourteen. By fifteen, nearly everyone in that group had been on a date. And by sixteen, I was the only left who had never been kissed.
I didn’t speak of it, and thus expected everyone to gloss over it. They obliged me, but I think in the back of their minds they must have pitied me. A Muslim girl, not Hindu or Christian like them, how limited a life I must lead.
I assumed everyone knew this about me, or must have understood what it meant to be a Muslim girl. After all, I could not wear shorts, even in the hottest of summers, and I could not take part in swimming lessons in my bathing suit for “religious reasons”. Surely nothing shouts, “waiting for marriage” more than a covered woman.
But Brian was new to school, a good-natured delinquent who had recently transferred from a military boarding academy. As a whole, we were slightly in awe of him. On the first day of class, when prompted by our teacher to recite our favorite music, he responded simply with, “Bonnaroo.” Now, we had barely heard of such a thing as Tennessee, let alone a four-day music festival full of indie rock. Thus, the general awe culminated in tall tales of Brian performing elaborate pranks at his military academy, resulting in his transfer here.
He sat behind me in English class, my favorite subject, and here I must admit that I have always been something of a teacher’s pet. Especially in English classes, I am the first to raise my hand and the student who actually peer-reviewed other student’s papers with a special red pen (I cringe at the thought now). My teacher learned this about me quickly, and assigned Brian, whom he assumed would need the help, to be my peer-review partner for the entire semester.
At first, Brian barely spoke to me. After I returned one of his papers with red markings all over it, he grimaced at me. My paper was returned with obscene drawings covering the margins. I decided to shrug it off.
After a few weeks, I began to assume that Brian was relying on my edits to sustain a passing grade. He often asked me questions about which books I enjoyed, and in return told me bands to listen to. I never did listen to any of the bands, though I appreciated his effort in becoming a better peer-review partner.
After mid-quarter, Brian began to disappear from classes. He often told me he would smoke pot behind the school, and once even invited me to join him. Did he not yet realize I was the Muslim girl? If I was not allowed to drink alcohol, and was not allowed to smoke cigarettes, then getting high behind the school would have just been the death of me.
There were a few weeks where none of us ever even saw Brian. After a while, we assumed he had left school for other worldly pursuits. But one day, as I was standing at my locker filling my backpack with books, he tapped my shoulder. I remember the moment as if it had just happened to me the other day, so mortified am I by its existence.
“Hi – umm, what’s up?”
“Oh, hi,” I responded.
“Umm, how was English class? I mean, whatever, I don’t care about class.” He dug his fists into his pockets.
I stared at him.
“Umm, I just stopped by to tell you something. Or ask you something, really. Umm, do you think you would maybe want to go watch a movie with me? I was thinking we could go on Saturday, or Friday if you want.”
At this point, I felt so sorry for Brian. Was it possible that he really did not know that I was the Muslim girl? That I could not spend time with a boy at all, let alone go to a movie with one on the weekend? I felt sorry, because I assumed Brian was clueless, not infatuated. And then I felt embarrassed, because he was a delinquent and I was a teacher’s pet.
“Oh, I’m really sorry,” I started. I must have apologized to him ten more times after that. “I’m sorry, I can’t really, like, you know, go out. I mean I can’t really go out on a date. You know?”
For a fleeting moment I thought I had it all wrong. He was never asking me out, I had misunderstood everything. My face flushed, and it burned up so much I was sure it must have been purple.
I kept going, “I mean, I’m Muslim, you know. So I can’t really go out…”
He nodded and added, “But you’re very pretty.”
Too pretty to be Muslim? No, too pretty to be unavailable.
He kept going, “And you’re smart. You get, like, really good grades.”
“I have to catch the bus,” I said promptly.
And for some reason, without even saying goodbye, I turned my back on him and left school. I sat in my usual seat on the bus and faced the window. As the bus turned the corner, tears gushed in my eyes. I don’t remember why I started crying, but I knew that the emotions were too much for me to handle. I never thought anyone would think I was pretty, and I couldn’t do anything about it. It was even possible that part of me wanted to like Brian back, and go out to watch a movie on Saturday. I wanted these things, because then I could sit down at the lunch table with my nerdy friends and tell them I was just like them.
February 8, 2012 24 Comments
By Maryum Saifee
W hen I was growing up, my parents never talked about sex. They left that to my middle-aged eighth grade biology teacher who terrorized me and the rest of my class with pictures of diseased genitalia. I grew up in a small farming town in Texas, in the heart of pro-life country. Talking about contraception two decades ago was virgin territory. Throughout my teens and twenties, my parents and I had this unspoken, mutually agreed upon “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it came to dating. So when my older brother hit 30 a few years ago, I was curious how they were going to handle finding him a mate.
Unlike the rest of my extended family who migrated to cities with large Muslim populations like New Jersey and Baltimore, my parents lived on fifty acres of farmland in a town that’s only claim to fame is being the KKK’s former headquarters in Texas. My parents bonded with a few other Indian doctors, mainly from Kerala and Tamil Nadu, almost all Christian and Hindu. Aside from female cousins, my parents’ pool of eligible Muslim girls for my brother was pretty nonexistent.
My brother confided in me that his hairline had started to recede and it wasn’t just parental pressure inspiring him to find a wife. Based on the awkward comb-overs of my maternal uncles, I realized he was absolutely right. Time was not on our side. I tried to think of a few friends for him, but none of them were quite right as long-term partners. I was feeling helpless and unsure of what to do. In a state of confusion, I made the fatal mistake of telling my parents of my brother’s state of panic over his hairline and rapidly receding marriage marketability.
With the kind of gusto I’ve only ever seen when my Dad is buying goats for our farm or selling naked shorts on E-trade, my Dad rolled up his sleeves and ramped up his search. He knew his Muslim networks in our Texas town were limited. Although common practice in our family, I told him cousins would be a tough sell. He wasn’t sure what to do so he turned to the Internet. I told him to be careful. I told him these sites could be shady. He, of course, found a website called: Shaadi.com (translating into marriage in Hindi) and the search began.
I sat over his shoulder as he marveled at picture after picture. There were drop-down menus for everything. You could filter based on religion, sub-sect, caste, profession, income, language dialect, and even skin color! Yes, there were actually filters for fair, wheatish, and dark. I got upset when I saw the skin color menu and threatened to write a letter to Shaadi.com for perpetuating the need for South Asia’s toxic skin-bleaching industry. I had just finished two years of studying postcolonial theory with a focus on the Middle East and South Asia, so my Dad had grown accustomed to these outbursts. He dutifully said he agreed wholeheartedly, but that I could write a letter later. The world is full of injustice he lamented. But right now, he urged me to focus all of my energy on the search.
I told him under no circumstances would my brother agree to him putting up a profile. My brother has always found my Dad eccentric and I knew he would be horrified at even the thought of my Dad’s meddling. He knew I was right. So he decided the only solution was to make a covert Shaadi profile with an inscrutable alias. I reluctantly agreed. Once my Dad put his mind to something, it was pretty much impossible to convince him to step off the gas. I started to feel guilty for confiding in him. I knew if my brother found out of my breech in his confidence, I would be in big trouble. I was already in too deep, so I decided the only thing left was for me to try and minimize damage.
I told my Dad the alias was a good idea- something very different from my brother’s actual name. He told me not to worry. He had it covered. The alias would be “Abido” (my brother’s name is Abid). I told him that was a bad idea, but the profile had already gone live. I pleaded with him not to put up a photo. But, sure enough, my Dad found his favorite picture of my brother. It was taken at high school graduation when he was sixteen. His skinny brown arms are folded across his chest and he’s uncomfortably leaning against the kind of big, round tree ubiquitous in Bollywood films. I told him the photo was misleading. I said the alias was a dead giveaway. My Dad didn’t care and said not to worry. He was already swept away by Shaadi.com and its limitless potential. He was unstoppable. I had created a monster.
I kept my Dad’s activities on Shaadi.com a secret for as long as I could. I finally broke down and told my brother out of guilt. He shrugged his shoulders and was not surprised. My Dad’s profile for my brother mentioned he went to Harvard, but the narrative box was full of so many spelling errors, that my brother’s Ivy League claim to fame did not even look credible. He produced the most random facts. “I like sking and flying single engine planes.” His description of a mate was basically my Mom in a nutshell: “seeking a Muslim professional woman preferably from Hyderabad.” My brother pretty much lives to ski so he checked the “athletic” box for both his body type and the preferred body type of his prospective match. Out of deference to me, he left the skin color box unchecked.
I’d check-in every now and then. I asked my Dad who was responding to my brother’s profile. He bragged that his beloved Abido was indeed quite popular and he had actually been flooded with responses. I told him to be careful because it’s hard to vet who’s who on the Internet. He said I was right. In fact, the majority of responses were not actually of the girls themselves. I tried not to gloat, but was curious, and honestly a little afraid to ask who these people were.
He said they were in fact, other mothers and fathers, sometimes aunties and uncles, just like him. All had set up profiles, some in secret like him, to help find a match for their sons, daughters, nieces and nephews. Even if he realized a match was not realistic, he enjoyed the correspondence with empathetic kindred spirits. I had forgotten that life in the small Texas town my parents had adopted as home thirty-five years ago could feel isolating. Through the unlikeliest of outlets, a matrimonial website, my father had found community.
My brother ended up finally getting married a year later. He met his wife, rather ironically a South Asian doctor just like my mother, through a mutual friend at a dinner party in Seattle. I resurrected the Shaadi.com story at my brother’s wedding. He rolled his eyes with embarrassment as I delivered the roast. My father held his head up high, totally unfazed. His Abido had gotten hitched. The search was over.
January 31, 2012 8 Comments
Note: The author of this post has requested to use a pseudonym for her story
By Alina Syed
A t age 11, I led a carefree life, one spent mostly with my nose comfortably ensconced within the pages of a Baby-Sitters Club book. I was the girl who, until an embarrassingly advanced age, thought the “baby” Madonna was battling her Papa to keep was an unsavory boyfriend, and who was unable to decipher what on earth Michael meant when he emphatically declared that Billie Jean’s kid was not his son. My existence was so innocent and pure that no one had bothered bursting my prepubescent bubble by troubling my simple mind with the intricacies of the impending joys of womanhood.
And so it was with grave solemnity that I woke up one morning, went to the bathroom, and realized that I was dying.
Yes, dying. There was no other way to explain what was going on down there. All I knew was there was blood, and no good could ever come of that—period. A strange calm seeped over me—as I’m sure anyone who has faced death before me can relate—and I approached my mother to break the news. She was going to have to learn to get along without her cherished angel, and I knew I had to be strong for her as she absorbed the magnitude of this tragedy. Yes, it was unfortunate that the world would be deprived of my general adorableness so soon, and there would indeed be a long—very long, I hoped—mourning period; but it was Allah’s will, and everything happens for a reason, I would console her with uncharacteristic stoic resolve.
I found her in the family room, on the phone. Anyone with a desi mother knows that aunties and phones are attracted to each other with a magnetism so potent that it must someday be studied by science. It’s OK, I told myself. Don’t panic. Go with the flow. So I waited. And waited. Ten minutes trickled by, then 15. I made impatient gestures. Started to get frantic. Tried to pantomime to her that that this was a dire emergency, and I was in a tough spot. I was afraid to sit down, worried that a scarlet torrent would desecrate the furniture. Instead, I paced furiously in front of her as she absentmindedly twisted the spiral cord between her fingers. What in the bloody hell is Razia Aunty gushing about that could be more important than me, your oldest daughter? I wondered with great indignation. But for 45 endless minutes Mom averted her gaze from my histrionics and kept yapping, so immune was she by then to my admittedly melodramatic tendencies.
By now my cheeks were flushed crimson with rage. I started envisioning how awful this woman would feel when she finally ended her call and realized that she had frittered away one of her daughter’s precious final hours with idle chitchat. I would certainly be able to leverage her guilt to my advantage, I decided, and began fantasizing about the library of books I would demand to keep me company in my final days in the hospital—Baby-Sitters Club and Sweet Valley Twins and Encyclopedia Brown, oh my! (yes, I was a nerd, leave me alone).
Eventually she returned the phone to its cradle and turned her attention to me; I promptly blurted out what was going on, without padding the truth. In response, my mother burst out laughing. She then led me to her bedroom, clued me in to the basics of this thing called “menstruation,” explained how to use the necessary equipment, and chuckled to herself all day.
In her merriment my neglectful mother also failed to mention that this misfortune was only to befall me one week per month. And so there I was, in a daze, picturing the rest of my existence being spent bleeding into what essentially amounted to a diaper for adults. This was considered growing up? It certainly seemed like devolution to me.
And that, friends, was my red-letter day.
January 27, 2012 4 Comments
Note: The author of this post has requested to use a pseudonym for her story.
By Zainab Choudhry
I remember as a kid being obsessed with downloading music online from Kazaa. And I was really good at drawing in middle school, in addition to being Pokemon crazed, so I used to draw pictures of my favorite Pokemon. Upon discovering that on Kazaa you could also download pictures, I started to search and download pictures of Pokemon for me to draw.
Then one day, I downloaded a picture of two Pokemon characters – Pikachu and Jigglypuff – that looked quite peculiar to me. I knew who Pikachu and Jigglypuff were and what they looked like, but I couldn’t understand why there was an extra part of Pikachu that was extending into Jigglypuff – between her legs.
A caption beneath the picture read the word “Hentai.” I did not know what that word meant, but after Googling it, a picture of two humans came up that were doing something similar to what Pikachu and Jigglypuff were doing. I was in shock.
I recognized that male part on Pikachu. I practically raised my younger brother. But I couldn’t understand how that part disappeared into Jigglypuff.
That’s when I went into the bathroom and did a little self-exploration. It was that day, at the end of 6th grade, when I discovered I had a hole in my body that I never even knew existed.
January 23, 2012 1 Comment
By Aman Ali
Video shot by Saad Malik
January 17, 2012 5 Comments
Note: The author of this post has requested to use a pseudonym for his story.
By Azaad Raha
I was always ‘that religious guy’ who never messed around with girls. In high school and college, I avoided making friends with the opposite sex. Fellow Muslim students viewed me with a combination of respect (or fear), admiration (during Ramadan) and pity (the remaining 11 months of the year).
I stuck with the Muslim ‘bros’. We occasionally talked to girls, but only when forced to do so. Furthermore, I didn’t go on my first real date till I was almost 30, at which point I was horrified to realize that despite having approached the age to get married and settle down, I knew absolutely nothing about women.
Everything I thought I knew was wrong. I had the emotional maturity of a toddler, and for all intents and purposes, had about the same level of experience with women as one. I couldn’t talk – let alone court – women one-on-one, and even on the rare occasion I was able to muster the courage to open my mouth, I didn’t know what to say.
What went wrong?
It can all be traced back to a fateful day when I was attacked by a killer, man-eating pool shark.
Despite my genetic (Pakistani) predisposition to avoiding water sports at all costs, my father decided I needed to learn how to swim when I was about 10.
During one fateful swimming lesson at the local indoor pool, under the hawkish eye of my mother (the only parent wearing a ‘Dupatta’ [head scarf] and ‘Shalwar Kameeze”[pajamas] at the poolside), I inadvertently collided with a girl.
Yes, a girl.
I can’t remember exactly what happened, other than the fact that we were “introduced” mid-stroke. Water was swallowed, legs kicked, and my arms flailed while I grasped for something solid. At some point during this awkward exchange, male brown Muslim skin touched soft, white, female skin. The coup de grace? My fellow, prepubescent swimmer was wearing a swimsuit (aka Baywatch bikini aka you-may-as-well-be-naked).
It was the first clash of civilizations.
A chlorinated water tsunami; the ripples from which sabotaged every single interaction I have had with the opposite sex ever since.
As we left the pool that afternoon, my ever stern, vigilante mother, who had of course seen everything, recoiled with urgency realizing she had in fact already waited too long in giving me “the talk.” Seeing her son frolicking with naked white girls, like on TV, she decided to make a pre-emptive, Abbottabad style, Navy Seal strike to prevent any further descent into a dark abyss of sexual depravity.
As I walked in my towel and boy Speedos, shivering towards the changing rooms, she carefully and deliberately explained, in Urdu, in a hushed tone lest anyone hear, and with a pause after every word to add extra effect, how I should never ever ever, under any circumstances, ever have, anything to do with ‘girls’. I’d never heard her talk with such seriousness.
‘I should not touch girls’ she commanded. ‘I should not talk to them’. ‘I should not look at them’. ‘I should not even be seen with boys-who-talk-to-girls’. I was about to get the ‘birds and the bees’ lecture.
This was big.
However, what should have been managed with a level of care and preparation approaching Pediatric Neurosurgery, was instead handled with the sensitivity of a sleepy Pakistani aunty crashing her car into a Fair & Lovely factory.
I was the collateral damage.
Because, like the evil Voldemort, what was being alluded to was soooo bad that it couldn’t even be directly acknowledged! But still there was just enough dark innuendo to get the message across.
This was my first physical ‘interaction’ with girls in the critically formative stage between childhood and puberty, and already non-sexual (let alone sexual) interactions between men and women were being portrayed as dirty, shameful and avoided at all costs.
Being the obedient (actually, incredibly stupid) son, I took in every word and so began my religious crusade to avoid interacting with ‘girls’ at all costs. Crushes from girls in high school were met with disbelief (who me?), and then scorn. Requests to ‘study together’ in college were brutally rebuffed. Invitations to late night dinners with attractive, single female colleagues were politely declined. I was Muslim and I would be sharreef [honorable]. I would protect the family name. I would be the last man standing.
Looking back, it would have been less damaging to me if, rather than colliding with the naked white girl, a dark, ominous, dorsal fin had broken the surface of the pool. In retrospect, on that fateful afternoon, I didn’t collide with an innocent young girl learning to swim, but rather the paralyzing fears and ignorance of my mother, who inflicted as much damage to me had I actually been attacked by a man (hood)-eating, killer shark.
Now, I look around, and I’m the only one left. I’m single and the last man standing. It’s evening time. The lights are out, the pool is empty, the water is red, and the people have gone home, except for the circling shark, which slowly comes closer and closer.
January 17, 2012 8 Comments
Note: The author of this post has requested to use a pseudonym for his story.
By Naveed Khan
M y mosque is one the largest Muslim communities in the area and its board spent over $1 million renovating the building recently. The end result was a beautiful mosque for the enjoyment of generations to come.
One of the crown jewels of the renovation was a piece of Islamic art that was hanging outside the front of the building. The mosque board was constantly talking about how beautiful the art was, so my friends and I were eager to see what it looked like once the renovations were complete. My eyes were immediately fixated on what the top of the design reminded me of.
What I saw placed my mind between a rock and a hard place (pun totally intended). On one hand, in front of my eyes was a piece of finely scripted Islamic art.
On the other hand, it’s hard to appreciate that art when it clearly looked like … a penis.
Several people, myself included, complained to the mosque board about the art. The board dismissed the complaints telling us “You guys are perverts. We’re not changing it. We already paid for it and we don’t see anything wrong with it.” The board said it was a calligraphy design frequently used by artists designing mosques in the Middle East. I’m no Islamic art expert, but I highly doubt that’s true.
Little kids would ride their bikes past the mosque frequently giggling and taking pictures of the building with their phones. Even my friend, an American convert, had to awkwardly explain to his non-Muslim mother what the design was.
We had a crisis of phallic proportions in our hands.
I contacted Muslim community leaders and the heads of other mosques urging them to help us handle this penis. They said there wasn’t much they could do because it was my mosque’s decision ultimately to put it up or take it down. Complaints to the mosque board went on for months. Until finally, one day, a board member conceded to the complaints and said the balls were in our court. He said “We’re not going to pay to get it removed. But if someone were to go up and knock it down ‘accidentally,’ we wouldn’t object to it.”
And that’s what “accidentally” happened. One of our mosque members, a construction worker, grabbed a ladder and yanked down the oppressive penis. In one quick stroke, it was all over.
January 13, 2012 11 Comments