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The Invitation

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Finding Islam

Paula and I met Sommer during a community service summer internship hosted by an Ivy League university for graduating seniors. During introductions when we were asked to say something we loved about ourselves, Sommer humorously said, “I’m a spunky, Arab-Pakistani who loves rock music, and I don’t give a damn what anyone else thinks.”

Ironically, the first time Sommer spoke to me and Paula directly was in response to a sarcastic remark she’d overhead Paula make about her hijab.

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“You judge women without even letting them speak for themselves,” Sommer retorted, rolling her eyes. “And you call yourself a feminist?”

Even I had to admit she had a point. But of course, Paula couldn’t let Sommer have the last word, so they went at it all through lunch break. They even continued their argument that evening in the dormitory hallway until some girls told them to shut up. But even then neither would back down, so I reluctantly told them to at least get out the hallway. And of course that meant they would argue in the dorm room that I was sharing with Paula for those eight weeks. As their voices rose to deafening levels right there in my room, I threw myself into bed and put a pillow over my head to drown out their voices, hoping to at one point, miraculously, fall asleep.

“No it’s not. No it’s not,” I said, my voice picking up pitch as the feeling of desperation overtook me. “No it’s not!” My eyes shot open, and beneath my comforter, my heart pounded with the same frustrated conviction that it had in the dream. I glanced around the room, and it took several seconds before I realized where I was. I sat up, drained, as if the heated exchange had been real.

The lingering sensation of my protest made me feel sick and hopeful at once, but I didn’t understand this feeling. How could I? I had no idea what I was even arguing about in the dream, or with whom. All I could remember was seeing a faded red-heart tattoo on some girl’s lower back and feeling so close and distant from myself at once. I knew I was yelling at the tattooed girl, but I don’t know what about. But the more I yelled, the farther she was out of my reach, and the closer to myself I felt. There were black snakes and lizards coming toward the girl, but she didn’t see them because she was so happy and content with whatever she was telling me. “No it’s not,” I kept saying in response. “No it’s not!” Right before I woke up, I was in a green pasture alone, far from the girl, but I was still yelling even though I was losing my voice and I knew the tattooed girl could no longer hear me.

In that moment, as I sat up in the stillness of late night, I realized that the tattooed girl was most likely me and that the dream was some sort of sign. Suddenly, I wanted to talk to John. He had always been more spiritual than I was, and I wondered if he would know what the dream meant.

I glanced around in the darkness of the dorm room and saw that Paula was sleeping soundly under her covers. I vaguely recalled Paula and Sommer arguing before I fell asleep, and I wondered when the argument ended and when Sommer had finally gone back to her own room. I remembered how upset I was that they would argue like that when I wanted to sleep. I sighed at the thought. But I decided against calling John until morning.

I don’t know why, but at breakfast, I loosely mentioned the dream to Paula but only the part about yelling out in the green pasture and feeling close and distant from myself and my hunch that it was some sort of spiritual sign. “Maybe Sommer might know what it means,” she casually suggested before shoving a forkful of scrambled eggs into her mouth.

Before I could protest or get over the fact that she imagined that Sommer would even speak to her, Paula got up and found Sommer and asked her to come sit with us. To my surprise, Sommer agreed, and casually said, “What’s up?” as she slid into the space next to Paula and across from me. I opened my mouth to tell her it’s nothing, but Paula shut me up by talking over me and recounting what I’d told her of the dream.

“It means you’re going to find the truth,” Sommer said simply, her dark eyes serious as she met my gaze. She either didn’t notice my shocked expression or was unfazed by it. “And after you find it,” she said, glancing briefly at her plate as she sliced into her pancake with the side of her fork, “you’re going to be tempted by yourself or someone you love to give up your faith, but you won’t insha’Allah.” She quickly added, “God-willing, I mean.”

“But…” I stammered. I didn’t know what to say. “How do you know? Are you psychic or something?”

Sommer laughed and reached up to smooth down her white hijab. “True dreams are gifts from God. You either understand the signs He gives, or you don’t. Being psychic has nothing to do with it.”

“But how do you know what the signs mean?”

“I don’t,” Sommer said with a shrug. “That’s why I said ‘God-willing.’ It’s your dream, so it’s up to you to understand what it means. I’m just throwing out a wild guess.”

Paula grunted. “That didn’t sound like a wild guess to me.”

“Well, if I’m right,” Sommer said as a grin spread on her face and she looked at me, “you and I will be having a lot of conversations this summer.”

Sommer and I were inseparable after that. Every moment I could, I asked her about God and dreams and spiritual signs. And in response, she told me all she could about her religion, Islam. She told me about angels and jinns and guidance and misguidance. She told me about the questioning in the grave and the Day of Judgment. But mostly she talked about the human soul and its spiritual connection to God.

By week six, I was ready to become Muslim.

“Are you sure?” Sommer said from where she sat on the floor of my and Paula’s dorm room. Paula was lying on her back in her bed playing with her hair, pretending to be ignoring us. Paula had already told me that she thought I was about to join some palm-reading gypsy cult and she’d never speak to me again if I did. Luckily, John was intrigued by the religion and was now studying Islam on his own.

“Yes,” I said, probably sounding too eager. But I couldn’t help it. I didn’t want to wait another minute. I knew I wanted to be Muslim—needed to be Muslim—and now was as good time as any.

Sommer clapped her hands together like a little kid and said, “Yes!” Then she said, “Repeat after me…”

I bear witness that nothing has the right to be worshipped except God alone, and I bear witness that Muhammad (peace be upon him) is His slave and messenger.

We hugged and squealed and danced around the room, and Sommer even had tears in her eyes. “I get so many blessings for doing this, you can’t imagine!” she said.

“Can a gay person be Muslim?”

The question was so unexpected and out of place that we halted our giddy display as we both looked over toward where Paula lay lazily on her back still looking at the ends of some strands of hair. Sommer’s excited expression faded to one of concern, and since she was sure she had our attention, Paula pushed her hair back with the flat of her palm and turned on her side to face us, her head propped up by a fist on her cheek and an elbow in the bed. I couldn’t tell if Paula was being sarcastic or serious.

“What?”

To my ears, it sounded like Sommer was offended or something, but in retrospect, I can’t be sure. In fact, given everything that happened after that, I know I must have read too much into the shock in Sommer’s tone. Or maybe I was just projecting my own feelings on the tone in Sommer’s voice.

I really didn’t appreciate Paula using this moment to incite one of her silly, philosophical debates. Paula loved throwing out epithets at the most inopportune times, especially if she felt she caught you in a contradiction of argument or behavior. Over the years, Paula had been especially generous, to put it politely, in calling me sexist and racist. I was allegedly sexist because I felt that there was some value in keeping my virginity until marriage and because I had no problem with being a stay-at-home-mom one day while my future husband (whoever that would be) worked to support the family. I was allegedly racist because I honestly felt that White privilege remained a reality and, as such, our country having some exclusively Black programs and scholarships would be helpful to disadvantaged African-Americans. “That’s reverse racism,” she would blurt out in the middle of one of my explanations.

I hated labels. I really did. My tumultuous, bittersweet friendship with Paula and my love-hate experience with our deep discussions once inspired me to make the New Year’s resolution to never call anyone sexist or racist. I would use those labels only for actions I felt deserved the label, but never people.

“Can a gay person be Muslim?” Paula repeated as she sat up fully. This time, I was sure I saw a mischievous grin lingering behind her curious expression.

“You mean gay as in…” Sommer said, clearly uncomfortable with where this was going.

“Gay as in a guy likes guys, and a girl likes girls,” Paula said.

“Homosexual, you mean?”

Paula waved her hand dismissively. “Don’t use that term,” she said. “It’s so archaic. It’s like calling Faith a Negress.”

I gritted my teeth to calm myself. Why did Paula insist on doing this? What did she get out of it? I wondered if this was a set-up to accuse Sommer of being homophobic. Because obviously if you didn’t believe something to be morally or religiously correct, it meant you were a bigot. Oh, puh-leeease, I said to Paula in my head. So are all non-Jews anti-Semitic, and are all non-Muslims Islamophobic because they believe these faiths to be “wrong” as far as religious truth goes?

“Yes,” Sommer said tentatively, as if sensing there was a catch. Apparently, she herself had gotten to know Paula pretty well these past few weeks. “But—”

“That’s all I wanted to know,” Paula said, flashing a smile at us both. “Because I think I want to be Muslim too.”

 

To Be Continued…

 

 

 

Umm Zakiyyah is the internationally acclaimed author of the If I Should Speak trilogy. Her latest novel Muslim Girl is now available.

To learn more about the author, visit ummzakiyyah.com or subscribe to her YouTube channel.

 

Copyright © 2014 by Al-Walaa Publications. All Rights Reserved.

WRITTEN FOR MUSLIMMATTERS.ORG

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Daughter of American converts to Islam, Umm Zakiyyah, also known by her birth name Ruby Moore and her "Muslim" name Baiyinah Siddeeq, is the internationally acclaimed, award-winning author of more than twenty-five books, including novels, short stories, and self-help. Her books are used in high schools and universities in the United States and worldwide, and her work has been translated into multiple languages. Her work has earned praise from writers, professors, and filmmakers. Her novel His Other Wife is now a short film. Umm Zakiyyah has traveled the world training both first-time authors and published writers in story writing. Her clients include journalists, professional athletes, educators, and entertainers. Dr. Robert D. Crane, advisor to former US President Nixon, said of Umm Zakiyyah, “…no amount of training can bring a person without superb, natural talent to captivate the reader as she does and exert a permanent intellectual and emotional impact.” Professor K. Bryant of Howard University said of If I Should Speak, “The novel belongs to…a genre worthy of scholarly study.” Umm Zakiyyah has a BA degree in Elementary Education, an MA in English Language Learning, and Cambridge’s CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults). She has more than fifteen years experience teaching writing in the United States and abroad and has worked as a consultant for Macmillan Education. Umm Zakiyyah studied Arabic, Qur’an, Islamic sciences, ‘aqeedah, and tafseer in America, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia for more than fifteen years. She currently teaches tajweed (rules of reciting Qur’an) and tafseer. In 2020, Umm Zakiyyah started the UZ Heart & Soul Care community in which she shares lessons she learned on her emotional and spiritual healing journey at uzhearthub.com Follow her online: Website: uzauthor.com Instagram: @uzauthor Twitter: @uzauthor YouTube: uzreflections

17 Comments

17 Comments

  1. shifaya

    October 15, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    Wonderful article, MashAllah:)

  2. Nas

    October 15, 2014 at 7:59 AM

    SubhanAllah. Very well-written. I love how the author captures the the human condition of each person – the Muslim isn’t an angel but firm in her devotion to the Deen and her friend has her own struggles but her fitra calls her to something greater. Look forward to reading the next segment, inshaAllah.

  3. Ilm

    October 15, 2014 at 1:41 PM

    Wow, masha’Allah, nice story!

  4. Ifrah

    October 15, 2014 at 8:45 PM

    Subhanallah. I was glued to the story from start to finish. I can’t wait for the next part.

  5. Maryam

    October 15, 2014 at 9:21 PM

    Noooo don’t stop here! haha
    Very nice story mA :)

  6. Rabya

    October 15, 2014 at 9:29 PM

    Ma shaa Allah!! Good start! Can’t wait for part 2!!! XD

  7. rama

    October 16, 2014 at 3:42 AM

    mashAllah! update for the part two

  8. Bint A

    October 16, 2014 at 9:53 PM

    Happy to find another intriguing story as we wait for Br. Wael to return with his Ouroboros

    • Rabee'ah Garga

      October 19, 2014 at 3:54 PM

      Are you the Bint I knw?

      • Bint A

        October 21, 2014 at 10:52 PM

        Nope, sorry. Don’t know a Rabee’ah :) . Nice to meet you though.

  9. thirstyforknowledge

    October 19, 2014 at 1:03 AM

    waiting for the next part

  10. Umm Aasiyah

    October 19, 2014 at 8:18 PM

    Assalamu alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barrakatuhu-thank you for your article. Just a suggestion to Admin-maybe put a disclaimer at the start saying this story is for adults/mature teens. I almost read it aloud to my daughter-especially since it started with a nine year olds point of view. Will check for iman-boosters on Muslim kids matters :-) wa salaam

  11. Bint A

    October 22, 2014 at 4:52 PM

    Btw can I ask if this story will be posted every Wednesday as well? It’s nice to have something to read/look forward to on a weekly basis :)

  12. Asmeeni

    October 24, 2014 at 4:17 AM

    Oooh love this!!! Can’t wait to read the next part!!! Mashaallah amazing writing!

  13. Pingback: The Invitation - Part 2 - MuslimMatters.org

  14. Umm hadi

    January 1, 2015 at 9:33 PM

    Taqabbal Allahu minna wa minkum.
    https://alkalaamblog.wordpress.com/

  15. Pingback: We Are All Being Tested - MuslimMatters.org

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