'The Secret Love Lives Of American Muslim Women': A Muslim Woman's Experience With Dating, Sex And Growing Up
By Madeleine Crum, Huffington Post: The American perception of Muslim women is sadly narrow: We imagine heavily cloistered beauties, submissive to their male counterparts who, we assume, they married because of an agreement between parents rather than love. To expose readers to the true spectrum of Muslim American dating experiences, Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi compiled "Love, InshAlla: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women," [$15.95, Soft Skull Press] an anthology of romantic relationships, gay and straight, arranged and spontaneous, monogamous and not.
In this telling excerpt, "The Birds, the Bees, and My Hole," Zahra Noorbakhsh rehashes her mother's brusque sex talk and how it changed the way she perceived her male friends:
Finally. My first year of high school was over, and summer was here. My mother was dropping me off to go to the movies with Jen, Kim, Laura, and Ryan. Wait. Oh, crap, I had forgotten about Ryan! There he was, walking with my girlfriends to the ticket booth. I knew that if my mom saw him, she would never trust me again and would confine me to the house for the rest of the summer.
My parents were so strict that I couldn’t go anywhere without their practically doing a background check on everyone who would be there. Regardless of how chaste the event was, they had to be sure there wouldn’t be any boys present to tempt me down the path of loose women. The thing is, I was a late bloomer and had absolutely no interest in dating—what I knew of it, anyway, based on Molly Ringwald’s characters in John Hughes films like Sixteen Candles and Pretty in Pink. Though I could barely admit that I “liked” guys, my days of blissful ignorance about the world of dating were about to be over.
I had told my mom that it would be just my girlfriends and me at the movies. How could I forget that Ryan was coming? There was no adjective in the world that would make my mom see past my geeky, lanky, pasty, computer nerd, Mormon classmate Ryan’s Y chromosome. She was totally going to freak. She was going to remind me that we were Iranian Muslims, not Americans. These lectures always reminded me of when she’d explained to me in kindergarten that Christians believed in Santa and got presents, and we didn’t . . . so we simply didn’t. It just wasn’t fair.
There was no way she was going to let me go to the movies with a man. Ryan was only fourteen, but to my mom, he was a man. He could’ve been eight or forty; it was all the same. When I was in middle school, she didn’t approve of all the “men” exercising with me in gym class. She didn’t like that I was friends with so many of the “men” in my sixth-grade history class, or that girls and eleven-year-old “men” were playing coed T-ball at recess.
As we made our way through parking-lot traffic in our Danville, California, suburb, I strategized about ways to navigate our argument. I could already hear her in my head: Zahra, what do you mean this man is just your friend? A young girl is not friends with a man! It is not right. Mageh Kafir hasti? You want to be like these filthy American ladies who go home with dis guy and dat guy, and blah blah blah...?
This is such bullsh*t! I thought to myself.
I had a pretty good feminist rant stashed away that just might hit home: “Mom,” I’d begin, “you didn’t raise your eldest daughter to stay quiet and avoid making friends or talking to people because of creed or stature or even sex...” Wait, I can’t say “sex.” She’ll flip out. “Gender.” Remember “gender” . . . Forget it. Take the easy way out: Lie. Just lie and say you don’t know him. He’s not with you. You don’t even know whose friend he is.
I snapped back to reality when I realized how close we were to where my friends were now standing . . . without Ryan. I looked around, scanning the crowds feverishly, but couldn’t see him anywhere. Perfect!
“Zahra! Hey, Zahra!” It was Ryan, tapping on my window. “I got your ticket.”
Godamm*t, Ryan, you polite-a** Mormon, I thought. You don’t need to come say hi!
My mom rolled down the window.
“Is this your mom? Hi, my name’s Ryan! I’m a friend of Zahra’s. We’ve got Algebra together. Hey, Zahra, I got your ticket already and saved us seats. You saved me on my math test, so I figured I owe ya. Anyway, great to meet you, Mrs. Noorka-baba-kaka-kesh.”
He shook my mom’s hand, gave me my ticket, and ran into the theater, waving.
Thanks, Ryan. You just ended my summer and any hope I had of a normal adolescence. I couldn’t even look at my mother, so I kept staring straight ahead. I could feel her glaring at me.
“Zahra,” she began.
Here we go, I thought.
“Zahra, are you going to go?” she asked.
“What?” I asked, confused. Was this some kind of reverse psychology?
“Maman jaan, there’s traffic behind me—get your bag,” she complained.
I grabbed my bag, undid my seat belt, and reached for the door handle of salvation.
“Wait,” she said.
F**k! I waited too long.