Every morning, since meeting Pan’s parents, I would find myself waking up with such a high level of anxiety, because everything seemed to be going in the direction of marriage, and that wasn’t a route I ready to settle in just yet. I didn’t know if that was because I was apprehensive about Pan, or because I was scared of losing myself, or because I just wasn’t where I wanted to be in my life.
I knew I wanted to have my voice heard through my writing or something. I didn’t know exactly what at that time, I just knew I was here for a reason. That feeling never faded. Never!!! But every time I felt overwhelmed, I called Pan, who would promise me that the meeting had been simply so that we could do things right. We both knew that we shouldn’t be dating, so he felt that if our families knew that we were talking to each other, then it would avoid gossip from other Arabs, Muslims, or the community as a whole. He knew how attached I was to reputation, so hearing this all made sense to me. It’s the reason that I introduced him to my family only a week after the initial meeting with his family. It started with my mom.
Now, Mama doesn’t believe in dating. It’s why she chaperoned my first date with the first guy I ever went to dinner with at two weeks before my twenty-eighth birthday: I nicknamed him, Perry Mason. He was an Arab-Muslim lawyer, who saw my picture on Facebook, and “had to meet me.” I love how casually certain MusRab guys ask a girl on a date. It’s so carefree. No worries. No fear of reputation. Whereas a MusRab girl sure as hell better think twice, DESPITE it stating clearly in Islam, that both women and MEN, cannot date. But unfortunately, the faith has been so misconstrued by culture driven by “men”, that there are a great many Muslim’s who don’t know the difference between the culture and the faith. I was one of those.
But not then. Not when Perry sent me almost twelve different emails attached with some article clipping that had been posted about legal cases he was winning. Apparently, it was important to him that I knew how honored I should feel to have a man of his accomplishments sit across from me. That is if I could convince my mom to let me meet him.
Of course, at this time his flattery did away with my ability to see that the interest he had was more lust than a genuine connection. I had to meet him, so, I mustered up the courage to approach my mom about Perry’s dinner proposal. I think my mother’s shocked expression actually made it sink in my mind what I was standing there asking her. I was basically saying, “Can I go on a date with a guy?” Or as I called it, an “introduction.”
I didn’t want to call it what it was, a date, because if there’s one other word Muslim Arab girls like me dread saying, is dick and date. Both are way too taboo to even think about, let alone say out loud. But there I stood in the living room, asking my Muslim mom if I could go on a date. I don’t know what gave me the courage to do it. I think it was the reality that my twenty-eighth birthday was a few weeks away, and I was now not only officially expired, but a fucken pre-historic dinasour in my culture. A culture that takes every chance it can to remind you of not only how single you are, but how with every passing day you remain un-married, you draw closer to never meeting anyone, never having any children, or never being remotely happy. In other words: settle.
Now, if my dad’s unsuccessful journey to get me married showed anything, it was that I was not going to settle. I suppose it was my wanting an end to not having a choice on love. It was the pursuit of love that gave me the courage to stand there. Oddly enough, my mom, who was also quite eager to see me married, agreed to the “introduction,” under one condition: she had to chaperone. Seeing I was going to be more successful meeting her half way, I agreed.
So on a Wednesday, in a café, sat Perry, myself, and my mother enjoying coffee, conversation, and a juicy dose of awkwardness. Well, Perry and I enjoyed it all, my mom sat there like fucken Attila the Hun. It was hard to really be myself with my mom there. Perry’s discomfort translated to spending the entire night immersed in what often times seemed like a one sided conversation between him and my mom.
Now, I can understand the Islamic belief that when a man and woman are alone, the third person is the devil. Get it! Temptation is always there, but there’s also a little thing we seem to have forgotten: will power. I mean a date doesn’t have to mean shish kabobbing. You ARE able to go on a date with someone and think of shishing their kabob, without actually doing it. If it were to happen, then that’s what was written for you: Destiny, for when it’s written, it shall be done. Pan and I proved this.
Perry, my mother, and I went on a few dates, and the discomfort never faded. On what would turn out to be our last “introduction,” Perry paid the tab, and when my mom excused herself to go the restroom, Perry and I stole away outside where we shared our first kiss- also my first. I couldn’t tell whether it had been a good kiss or a bad kiss. I didn’t even look at him because I wasn’t sure if I could. I didn’t feel ashamed of it, but more like a fish out of water. So many thoughts ran through my head…
FAIZA’S THOUGHTS AFTER FIRST KISS
“OMG did this just happen?”
“Do I look at him?”
“Thank God I put Carmax on my lips.”
“Okay, I wish he would say something.”
“Can I get pregnant this way?”
“The fuck… obviously, the answer to that is no.”
“Will Mama tell by my face that I was just kissed?”
“Does this mean we have to get married?”
“Why the fuck is he so quiet?”
“Was I that bad?”
“Well, at least now he knows it was my first kiss!”
“Do I have to worry about my reputation?”
“No… HE inititated the kiss, this is all on him girl.”
“Okay… seriously dude, say something!”
But he didn’t.
In fact, he never said a word again after that night’s “Bye. Drive safe.” I took it very personal and was extremely hurt by the lack of answers I had. I guess I should have been grateful for being sent the Facebook link by my gf’s with Perry’s engagement announcement.
Approaching my mom about Pan, was very different from Perry, because this time I was saying no to chaperoning. I had done things as culturally and religiously encouraged, but it didn’t work. I was now going to take my search for love into my own hands, even if it would be labeled by many in the culture as haram (a sin). I say the culture, because the word dating doesn’t even exist for Muslims. If you meet a Muslim man, or vise versa, you have every right to be able to get to know that person, with your families permission. You just can’t be sneaking around, being intimate in any way, which obviously means no shish kabobbing. I recognize that Pan and I were 0-2 on that subject.
Naturally, my mom expressed her concerns not only in my going against what I had been raised on but also in my naïveness. I insisted I knew what I was doing and that I wouldn’t stray too far from the person they raised. I only ever wanted one thing: a choice.
I knew my family, like any other loving one, would always want to protect their child from hurt or making mistakes, but I had never truly made any up to that point, and if I was bound to make one, Pan was the person I had chosen to do that with.
“You know how your father would feel about this,” My mom said peppering me with guilt.
I knew my father would never and I mean NEVERRR approve of me dating. He would have done one of the following statements he drove into my head as a child…
THE THREE THINGS MY FATHER WOULD DO IF I WERE CAUGHT DATING
- Post an article in the Arab newspaper, disowning Faiza publicly, so the community would detach him (Faiza’s father) from all responsibility.
In other words, “My daughter isn’t a hoe because of me! Now, please pass the falafel.”
- Dig a tunnel from the house to his job so he wouldn’t have to face anyone.
I always wondered who my dad was going to get to actually construct this.
- Change his name (Faiez) legally
I was named after my father so he would say that if I ever did anything to humiliate his good name, he would, after 1&2, head over to City Hall, and demand the judge change his name. I’m not exactly sure how the judge would have reacted, but I would tease my dad by saying that if anyone had to change their name, it should be me considering I’d had it for a lesser amount of time.
My father wouldn’t be happy, but I had thought of every one else for the past twenty-eight years of my life, and I was done doing that. So I dared myself to make that move and seeing my assertiveness about it, forced my mother to lean on the trust she had in me.
“I trust that you’ll respect yourself and your family,” She said peppering me with guilt. I guess I felt guilty anyway. Not only because Pan and I had shish kabobbed, but because I never wanted to be the reason my family had to bury their heads in the sand. I couldn’t help but wonder if our families knowing would really stop the community from talking because regardless of that fact, we weren’t engaged, we were dating- in other words- SOUND THE WAGGLING TONGUES!!!
When Pan, picked me up the same day to take a ride around downtown, I decided to discuss my concerns. I can’t tell you how many times the topic of reputation was brought up in the first part of our relationship. He was suffocated by it, but no more than me. If anyone had found out about us dating, they wouldn’t look at Pan like an indecent faux Muslim. They WOULD however look at me that way. Pan completely understood my concerns as he knew the community all too well. I mean every week we would hear about some Arab-Muslim girl who’d been caught dating, and was now facing the loss of not only her reputation, but that of her family as well.
He suggested we move about our relationship as any other in our situation, like two Navy Seals. We started by establishing areas that were No Date Zone’s (NDZ’s) and others that were Get Your Haram On (GYHO).
BTW: That’s meant to be sung to Missy Elliot’s ‘Get Your Freak On,’ track. Moving on…
NDZ’s were areas we KNEW had a lot of MusRabs or were MusRab hangouts, and we could not go to breakfast, lunch, or dinner there: No hanging out, grabbing a coffee, nothing! COMPLETELY OFF LIMITS!
NO DATE ZONE’S
- Orland Park
- Oak Lawn
- Tinley Park
- Palos Hills
Whereas, areas designated GYHO, were places we didn’t have to worry as much about, although the fear was always there that we might go into a restaurant, mall, or simply walking around in those places and be seen by members of the Haram Police.
Haram Police: A “conservative” Muslim woman or man who feels the need to publicly shame another Muslim about how Un-Muslim they are acting, dressing, laughing, sneezing, walking, talking, breathing, etc. Commonly heard saying, “Just so you know, that’s haram.”
We had to be careful regardless, but we felt confident in setting the following areas to be GYHO…
GET YOUR HARAM ON
- Downtown Chicago
- Lincoln Park
It helped that the last four haram zones were over an hour away from where we lived and FARRR from any MusRab’s or Haram Police. Sometimes we’d hit into an Arab or two, but they were always couples doing the exact same “haram” thing we were doing: being on a date, holding hands, or embracing. Seeing them we felt a sense of connection in our “haram.” Even if we didn’t say a word to each other. A look that said, “I get it. This sucks, but hey!” was all it took to be reminded that there was someone else out there who just got it.
After the long conversation, I felt not only more proud of myself for daring to think of me as I made a move forward in my life and search for love, but more than ever, I felt deeply connected to Pan. It was the first conversation we had in the over 90 days together where we actually communicated. He listened to me as much as I did to him. He cared as much as I did. And for the first time, I trusted him with all my vulnurabilites without any regrets.
So we were now officially “talking,” with our families well wishes, or as much as they could give considering. I still had my fears with Pan, but at that moment, they all turned to hopes.