“Midway through the journey of our life
I found myself in a forest dark
For the straight path had been lost.” –Dante, “Inferno”, Canto I
This one’s so knotted and convoluted, I’m not sure how I’ve managed to get this far without joining the Peace Corps or blowing my brains out.
A few years ago, I met a woman online. One of those “free weekend” things. The conversation went well, we met up, there was an undeniable spark. But, as the Bard pointed out, the course of true love never did run smooth. And it’s reached a point where somebody’s going to get hurt, somebody’s going to be unhappy, and nothing will ever be the same again.
The first hitch is probably the biggest one. She’s Muslim, I’m not. At first, she explicitly said she didn’t want me to convert, that she believed I was a good man and worth marrying. But about a year or so in, she expressed that she felt she had been wrong, that it was important to her to marry a Muslim man. I have not had any particular interest in converting, not even to make her happy. Yes, it would make things “easier,” but it wouldn’t necessarily be right. I’d feel like a fraud. The complication to this is that most of the basic tenets of Islam, I don’t have a major problem with. Indeed, there’s a lot of similarity between Islam and my personal belief system. I quit going to church a long time ago; Baptist shenanigans in Colorado in the early 90s pretty much killed my affiliation with organized religion. I never stopped believing in God, but I became very skeptical about what everybody said about Him. A further complication is that while there is a literalist prohibition against Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men (which requires a certain translation of the Quran, looking only at Sura 2, Verse 221, and a completely inflexible mindset), several Islamic scholars have pointed out that the Quran is supposed to be applied contextually, that a blanket prohibition must be examined on a case-by-case basis. That philosophy, combined with a recent book by Imam Feisal Rauf which addresses and condones such an arrangement, was briefly exciting and hopeful to her, but then was shot down later.
This leads into the second big hitch: her parents. They have no idea this has been going on. Now, I did meet her mom a few months after we started seeing each other, and she was completely horrified. Worse, my girl couldn’t open her mouth. It’s like she just went completely mute. And so her mom thought I just buggered off into the ether, while my girl and I kept seeing each other. Her dad knows nothing. The complication here is that while she really doesn’t give a damn about what her father thinks, she still lives at home (she’s well past the age she can rent cars, much less be on her own), and she wants to avoid upsetting him because she’s afraid he’ll lash out at her mom and her brothers over her behavior. He’s certifiably crazy, and abusive, and he treats everybody in his family like crap. I’m pretty sure this has screwed my girl up in so many ways. One of the more insidious ones, I think, is that she’s been abused mentally and emotionally in such a persistent fashion, she conflates or associates punishment from her father with punishment from God. She genuinely believes she will go to Hell if she keeps seeing me or marries me if I don’t convert. Of course, the suggestion that she may have suffered mental or emotional abuse gets her hackles up and she flat out refuses to see a counselor or therapist. Her mom’s been so beaten down, she won’t go against her husband, and my girl’s desperate to keep that relationship good no matter what.
The third hitch is smaller, but still problematic. I don’t necessarily want to convert, and I kind of resent the idea that I have to convert. I know my dad won’t be put out of joint one way or the other, but my mom broke down in tears at the mere suggestion. She’s kind of in the same boat I am, but she’s kept more of the Christian theological elements than I have. That said, she’s not a zealot, or a Bible thumper, or one of those idiot Westboro people. But she does have the same problem I’m having: the label. She doesn’t quite grasp emotionally that those idiots in Tehran and Gaza and Mali and Afghanistan are the exception more than the rule. She sees the zealotry in them and she recoils from it. So do I. But they’re no more the exemplars of Islam than the Westboro Baptist Church is a model of Christianity. I dislike the label because I’m certain that it’s going to stop the vast majority of people from actually thinking or bothering to get to know me. And I don’t like the idea that the label is going to change how people who already know me are going to look at me. If I were going to convert under any other circumstances, I would not be running around proclaiming, “You’re godless infidels! Allah will smite you all!” I want us all to get along: Christian, Muslim, Jew, Buddhist, Taoist, agnostic, even atheist. We may not agree, but I have to believe we can be neighbors, and friends, and family to each other.
I love this woman dearly. I know she loves me. I know she’s convinced she will go to Hell if I don’t convert, and I don’t believe she’s right. I don’t see God going to the trouble of putting us in each other’s path just to toy with us. None of the 99 names of God in Islam translate out to “the Dick.” I don’t feel comfortable converting just to make somebody else happy.