My response. "Just getting in from a lovely walk." And with that, he was off to address his massive workload, satisfied with having paid me the obligatory minim of attention that day.
"Oh dear!" I exasperated to my best friend, The Chocolate Diva, whom I'd dialed in an emergency. "I should have said church. He would expect me to be at church. He doesn't know."
"Just calm down," The Diva insisted.
"I mean, could this be a deal breaker?"
"Honestly, with some men, but not if it's meant to be and he really likes you for you."
"I have to tell him." I decided then.
I was slowly falling for Miles* and I could tell he'd placed me in his high estimation as well. As busy as he was and although we lived a couple hours apart, he was making an effort to demonstrate his affection and to learn more about me. But what he didn't know was that we were unequally yoked.
He was born and raised in the Christian South, and while I knew he didn't go to Church every Sunday, he was raised in a family that did. More importantly, he'd probably want a wife that was too.
I am Muslim. Have been from birth .My faith is as much a part of me as my skin tone and heritage. I grew up in the progressive North, next to a big city where both mosques and churches thrived. I grew up in a place where no one questioned my arabic name or flinched when I mentioned my faith. What's even more interesting is that while my dad is Muslim, started off in the sixties with the Nation and then converted to the more widely-practiced Sunni Islam, my mother is a Penecostal Christian. Hence, while the world still argues and fights over religious difference, I grew up watching two religions love one another, madly. I was blessed to have two parents who were devout in their own right, and who would expose me to both faiths (which aren't so different) and allow me to ultimatley choose how I'd like to get to know God.
Perhaps because of my odd religious upbringing I always made light of the concept of being equally yoked. Sure, there were some difficult times growing up. When I was ten I remember mom having a spontaneous melt-down over the fact that I'd chosen Islam. She felt it was my way of saying I loved my dad more, but that wasn't the case at all. I just felt as if Islam was a perfect fit. And with time, my family made it over that hurdle. I remember learning that Skittles and Starbursts actually contained gelatin, or pork, and having to give up my favorite candies. And as a teen, I can recall my dad expressing his desire to see me marry a Muslim man, and my disgust at his double standard.
We've worked through that hurdle as well.
I was comftorable in my faith. God was always in my heart. With maturity I grew to be more active in my practice, making the salaat, while never five times a day, at least once. And then at 22, I fasted for my first complete Ramadan, meaning that for thirty days, I abstained from food from sunrise to sunset. The more active a believer I became, the more I saw God as a critical part of my ability to survive and thrive in a crazy world. As a baby Islam was chosen for me, at ten I chose it for myself, and in my early twenties I had my own spiritual awakening.
It was faith that launched my career and my subsequent move to Medium-City, South. I was in the masjid on a Friday afternoon when my phone buzzed. I quickly turned it off and waited until the end of juma, or the Friday prayer service, to respond. It was a news director in Medium-City, South offering me my first on-air job right out of college.
Ironically that move would also test my faith more than anything. In Medium-City, Muslim names weren't that common. Neither were masjids. It was town flanked by mega-churches with congregations over five-thousand. Young people went to church. Young people talked openly about God. Young people said grace before dinner. Jesus Christ was a super star.
It was also a place where Islam was a foreign and scary concept to Blacks and Whites alike. So much so, with each news story and interview my station aired that subtly villifed my faith, I found myself for the first time hiding who I was. I was in a military town where most folks believed America was fighting the Muslims, not the terrorists. They felt that the Koran prescribed hate, which it does not, and that people like me, are social pariahs. I feared for my safety if certain extremists should find out I worshipped Allah. And so I continud to make prayer two-three times a day in the confines of my home, and I continued to hide this critical part of me.
After close to a year I revealed my faith to my inner circle and even my boss ( who I believe is still in shock) but I still would shamefully remain quiet when colleauges, even in the morning meeting, made disparaging remarks about Muslims in reaction to a news story they didn't even fully understand.
When I met Miles, I was in that place; a devout Muslim girl, living in the spotlight, afraid to come out about who she was. He would be the one to change that.
On our first date he bowed his head to say grace and it completely caught me off guard. I let him bless the food and we moved on. As things progressed nicely, I became nervous. This was too good to be true. The man of my dreams had suddenly come along to sweep me off my feet and there was no sign of danger on the horizon. So of course, I started coming up with possibilities of things that could go wrong, and the only thing I could think of was faith. Miles wanted a picture perfect life, and in that world, husband, wife, and baby went to church together every Sunday.
My fears were deepned by a handsome Nigerian man I had once dated. An entrepreneur, he was a great man, but we broke up when I realized he could never marry a woman who was not Nigerian. He was the oldest of four and his mother simply would never accept it. I moved to the South about a month later and he, for the most part, was forgot. Perhaps, my heart wasn't in it after all because when that brief relationship ended, the only thing crushed was my naivete.
It was different with Miles. I really liked him. Miles and I met up a week after my Sunday morning melt-down. It was an awkward date. His plane had just landed in town, and he had just an hour to spare before he was off to meet with a political candidate. It had taken 48 hours of text messaging (during his meetings) to make arrangements at a sushi restaurant conveniently located close to his next appointment. I was having a fat day, a bad hair day, and I couldn't find anything I really wanted to wear. A recipe for disaster. And it was during this date that I decided to drop the bomb. Subtly, during conversation, like "Yea, actually my dad's Muslim".
"Oh, and are you?"
I noticed that his eyes lingered on me with vague suprise, and then I watched as he suppressed whatever reaction he was truly having. Instead the conversation carried on to, of all things, church. His mom and my mom were both Penecostal and we reflected on the exuberant services of our childhood.
After that date, I didn't hear from Miles much. It was the ending of our fairy tale courtship as I knew it. I assumed that he was done, completely uninterested in the real me. Perhaps now he saw me in a new light and of course I was devastated. And then a month passed, we ran into each other, and he begged for my forgiveness. He told me he'd made a huge mistake. I was still unlike anyone he'd ever met. And while we tried to assemble the pieces, we really never did get back on track.
I never asked Miles "Why?". Truly, I don't know if he'd ever tell me. I knew that for the perfection seeking over-achiever, I shattered some element of his impression of me as the perfect woman, but I'll never know what. Perhaps it was my faith, and in my absence, he came to realize that he and I could work through that. Perhaps it was something, or someone, else. Miles and I are still friends till this day, though we tread through choppy waters of uncertainty and awkardness. I have accepted that neither he nor I want to completley extricate the other out of our lives, but that at the moment, being apart has been better for me, than being in love could ever have been.
The event allowed me to come to terms with some things that "I know for sure", to borrow Oprah's term. You see, I never once regretted telling Miles who I was, even though my mother said, in retrospect, perhaps I should have waited a few more dates. Being Muslim is who I am and at the end of the day I want a man who can love me in totality. I want a man who can embrace me and my faith, the way mom and dad embraced, and respected one another. I could never abandon God, or the way I practice, for love.
Even as a single Black woman.
CNN (tried it) published another controversial article on the plight of the lonely Black Woman. This one is caled "Does the Black Church Keep Black Women Single?" It profiles a couple of devout Christian Black women who attend church every Sunday, bible study on Wednesday, and even Sunday school... and although they may pray for love, they are conspicuously alone. The article reasons that Black women who will only date Black men who worship on the same level they do are bound to end up sanctified and single. In other words, lots of Black Christian women are dating Jesus Christ.
"Awww man!" she wants to date Jesus Christ this guy laughed, after his
companion asked if I had high standards. "Of course" I had replied.
Does the Black church keep Black women single? Absolutely not. No faith does. But as many of my single and very-Christian friends have learned, 'the one' might not be in Church on Sunday. Most churches are about 75% women anyway, with the bulk of the men in leadership positions (we'll address that another day). Instead he may be the brother who goes to church every once in a while, or the guy who grew up in church, but strayed during adulthood, the spirtual man who needs a little help getting closer to God, or he may even be Muslim. People have different interpretations of what it means to be equally yoked and it's difficult to change someone's 'non-negotiables'. For some, equally yoked means two people of the same religion, maybe even denomination. For others, it is of the same level of religious commitment, and for others, it means two people who are simply God-fearing. Depending on interpretation, a woman certainly either expands or contracts the size of her dating pool.
Regardless, a Black woman would have a difficult time finding her way through the dating maze without the guiding hand of God. I know I would. God gives us dignity, the faith to know he's there, and the patience to wait, and grow personally, until he arrives.
My very Christian friends, and perhaps women who can relate to the CNN story, are learning at thirty what I learned just a couple of weeks before my 24th birthday, with Miles. For a woman to become half of any succesful relationship, she must know who she is as a believer, for sure, and she has to be confident enough to walk as the woman of God she is. There is no compromising faith for romance, but romance often does require accepting and respecting the faith practices of your partner.
They say the family that prays together stays together. They also say love conquers all. I believe both these to be true. When a relationship is God-ordained, filled with respect, love and admiration, He makes a way for believers to be believers. Perhaps two become one in their faith, or they remain seperate in faith but closer in understanding. It's not always easy, but it is possible.
I have reflected on my last real date with Miles ad infinitum and I have stored a mental list of all the things I would change, including canceling the hurried date altogether. What I would never change is divulging my faith. For me, I am Muslim, and to love me is to love that part of me. It's funny, but I think I'd feel more comftorable with most men I've dated seeing me naked, than watching me bow down in prayer. My faith is deeply personal and deeply me. In the aftermath, I know that while I could date a Christian or Muslim man of God, just as long as he is of God, the ultimate stipulation is that he respects the way I serve. I would do the same, including going to church on Sunday, and celebrating both holidays on my end. With maturity has also come to the understanding that not everyone will be able to embrace me and my faith. For some, I will be a fabulous Muslim girl and woman of God. For some, I will be a fabulous girl, but a Muslim.
Flyness and faith,