This week I started 'boot-camp' at Wharton… one week of compressed summer classes. And Allāh made it a bit easier for me. Keep reading…
Last year, when I visited the school, on a class-visit, I scanned the entire room of 60+ students… but came back disappointed. No Muslims… the closest I got to finding a Muslim was a person with a Muslim name, but on further discussion, I quickly realized… close, but try again! (I won't go into details lest we go off a tangent).
After my admission, as part of the networking gig, everyone introduced himself or herself on an email list. As I started receiving emails from the different talented individuals, I yearned for someone 'special' to introduce himself. I didn't have a great deal of hope based on the experience of the class-visit, but enough to keep me interested. The crowd was impressive no doubt, but I yearned for someone who I could chat with about stuff as trivial as the halal food joint, or as important as the nearest masjid to run to for Jumuah prayers. Emails came one after another… no sign of Muslims. A spark of hope came through when I saw an email from a person with a Muslim name. Turns out that he is from Lebanon. Then another one from an Egyptian dude. Two to work with. Hmm… The next step was the difficult one.
Some of you may have gone through this 'testing the waters' step. Here's what I mean… Ok, so the guy/gal has a Muslim name… and let's say that is about all you know. As a practicing Muslim yourself, you are thinking “is he/she practicing”, “does he 'mind' being a Muslim”, “does he care”, etc. So, I am at this stage of 'testing'. I would have loved to give the benefit of doubt and jumped right in with my salams, but when you only have an email and a name to go by, it makes it even harder, especially when unfortunately many practicing Muslims are not making it into elite institutions.
So, what happened? As for the Lebanese guy… I left the 'testing' phase for school. As for the Eygptian bro, I sent him a quick email telling him about all my links with Egyptians and how I have a special place for his people in my heart. I also mentioned that I had a close Egyptian friend and Shaykh. Just to throw some clue in as to where I was going with this. Well, the reply came but it was not so encouraging.
As we got closer and closer to the start of the program, with only a couple of weeks, another encouraging email popped in from a brother with a VERY Muslim name, I'll mention only his first name for privacy reasons: Ahmed. And with this name came hope, possibly the last hope. So, here is how my e-mail exchange with Ahmad went:
First e-mail from Ahmad to the entire group:
“Nice to meet all of you! I'm looking forward to having the facebook up and running so we can put faces with names faster! I'm Ahmad, born in Minneapolis, raised in Lansing, Michigan. For the past 7 years, I've traveled quite extensively throughout Europe, Asia and Africa for work after leaving xxx. I'm currently a Senior Manager at yyy.
I'm a CPA or CISA–two facts that I don't readily admit–at the risk of being pigeon-holed into typical accounting stereotypes! When I get a chance to take a deep breath, I'm working on authoring my first book on the male-female workplace dynamic & writing a TV sitcom designed to demystify the accounting world & show the world that auditors can actually be fun people!
The upcoming week will be especially rough for me since I'm cramming for the level 3 CFA exam during our first on-campus WMBA week! Fun, uh? What I love doing in my off hours is spend quality with my four children & occasionally watch sports (MSU Spartans, Detroit Pistons, Minnesota Vikings, especially). I'm honored to be in your cohort.
So, here's what I am thinking: Ahmad… very Muslim name (esp. the surname)… raised in Michigan. Very smart obviously, well-traveled…but no idea on race, nationality or ESPECIALLY in what mattered about the 'Muslimness'. But, I was getting desperate to find a 'partner in faith', so I took a deep breath and dispatched this:
E-mail from me:
Glad to see another classmate with the same faith…
In case you missed my intro., I am a Pakistani-American, arriving on the American shores about 15 years ago….If you wouldn't mind me asking, what is your background?
Yes, I threw in the salam. The worst he could do is not return it. But this time, it was NOT for the worse. It was better than good.
When I got Ahmad's reply, I got goose bumps all over, the FEELING OF BROTHERHOOD, the excitement to know that I won't be all alone in this difficult endeavor; that when my other class-mates were talking about their problems over beer, I'll have someone to talk about matters of faith, about raising children in this country and about life as Muslims.
Don't get me wrong, I am looking forward to getting to know and befriending all the other folks in the batch who don't share my faith… but it's that Muslim 'clique' that is so helpful. I mean imagine throwing an American Christian in a batch of 70% Muslims, 20% Hindus… imagine his feeling when he finds out that there is another American Christian in his batch, esp. if he is religious; someone that he can talk college sports to, drink beer with and all the other stuff the average American likes to do. So, back to our topic… what did Ahmad say? Not a lot, but enough for me to feel all the 'Muslim feelings':
Reply from Ahmad:
Wa alaykum assalaam wa Rahmatullah!
I'm African-American. the important thing is that we're both Muslims, alḥamdulillāh.
Looking forward to meeting you!
It mattered not ONE bit that Ahmad was African-American. It would NOT have mattered if he was from Timbuktu, from Russia, from China, from Chad, or even from a place that I had never heard about. It did not matter one bit, and I mean that. All that mattered was that Ahmad replied with a Salam that was not just equal but equal and more, meaning that I KNEW that not only he was a Muslim, but probably a Muslim close to the Sunnah. And then his affirmation of our bond through Islam was all I needed to hear. Near giddy over this e-mail exchange, I quickly sent Ahmad an e-mail about other stuff, as if he was a long-lost friend, though I never knew him the day before.
When I got to class, you know exactly for who I was looking for. And after a couple of mistaken identities, I spotted Ahmad who too was looking for me. We hugged as if we knew each other like brothers. We talked about getting 'to know' the Egyptian and the Lebanese brothers. With the Egyptian, we still have hope. Haven't yet talked to the Lebanese dude to find out first of all if he is a bro (with all the sects/religions in Lebanon) and then the rest.
You see I did not tell you that there was also a Pakistani with whom I corresponded with but quickly found out that he wasn't the 'type', if you get my drift. But the Pakistani part mattered only because the Muslim part usually comes as a package, though the practicing Muslim part does not. In any case, my bosom buddy in the class was going to be Ahmad. Maybe I have too many hopes since I hardly know the guy… but what do I have to lose? And I have everything to gain.
So, by now you know how Allāh made it a bit easier for me? By giving me a Muslim class-mate. And those of you who are practicing Muslims and who like to talk about life in that context, you know EXACTLY what I am talking about. And if you have similar stories, or how you have 'tested' the waters, please share them.