By: Sr. Sundus Alsharif
Note: This is a Work of Fiction
“Nusaybah! If you don’t get ready for school now, you’ll be late. This is the first day of the semester. Now is definitely not the time to start sleeping in. Get up. Get up!” Mama knocked on my door three times, and I plopped onto the floor.
Great, I thought. Another day at school. Today, I get to sit in a class where the professor will ramble for an hour and fifteen minutes about the syllabus. I got dressed and grabbed my hijab from the dresser. I wrapped it around my long, black hair. I stood in front of my mirror and gave myself the usual gosh I look so nice mashaAllah mashaAllah look. My black skin was definitely my best feature. I loved being black. Until. Until that day that I heard what his mother said.
He was not tall, but not short. He was kind, but not a doormat. He was attractive, but not arrogant. He was very interested in marrying me. But his family was very not. They were Arab. And I was black. And I guess I should clarify here since there are Arabs who are black—but it doesn’t really matter what kind of they were—cause all that mattered was that their skin was white, and mine was black. And “imagine what kind of kids you’d have… do you really want to lose all of your culture just for a black girl? Do you want to lose everything I’ve worked so hard to teach you for her?” His mom told him that. And he has no idea that I heard her say that. But we will return to that part of the story later.
I still remember the first time I met him. I was 18 years old and we had sociology class together. The professor was facilitating a discussion about gender roles across religions.
“Did you know that Islam gave women the right to own property, and the right to an inheritance?” my professor exclaimed. Then he raised his hand. And by “he”, I mean Yahya. He jumped up excitedly and said,
“And I also wanted to add that the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) would clean in the dwelling of his wives, in addition to mending his own clothes.” Yahya looked over in my direction and then stared at the floor. He had dark brown eyes, white skin, black hair, and a very large beard. He sat down.
My Professor’s eyes got large, and he seemed a little taken aback from Yahya’s enthusiasm.
“Nusaybah, what do you think about gender roles in Islam?”
“Well professor… I think Islam is perfect in every way in regards to gender rooo—
I dropped my pencil, because Yahya stood up in the middle of my sentence.
“Professor, I forgot to add—Nusaybah was one of the women during the time of the prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him) who was very handy with a sword and would protect the Prophet in battle. It’s a pretty awesome name, professor.” Yahya looked over at me, then to his shoes, and then this little smirk appeared on his face that would soon become very familiar to my very brown eyes.
“Nusaybah, I am so sorry for that rude interruption. Yahya, as much as I appreciate that aside with the historical attachment to Nusaybah’s name, I would appreciate it if you would be quiet when others speak.” “Yahya, I want to speak to you after class. Take a seat. Now.” Professor Match pulled his glasses to the bridge of his nose and flicked his hand in a down motion to Yahya.
“Continue what you were saying Nusaybah…” Professor Match said.
“Oh, yes… What was I saying? Oh—I think Islam is perfect in every way in regards to gender roles. Islam is amazing, but I feel like the people get it wrong sometimes, you know? For example, women can’t drive cars in Saudi Arabia, but that rule has no basis in Islam. The Prophet’s wives rode camels on the same land where women are now banned from driving cars.”
Professor Match turned to Yahya, “Yahya, how do you feel about what Nusaybah is saying?”
“I think Islam gives women the status of queens, and I know that one day, when I have a wife, I’m going to treat her like a queen,” Yahya said. I looked at his hands, and they were shaking. He looked like he was in another world, you know? Like he had seen something extraordinary. His whole presence was letting off this energy, and I just could feel it—even though I was across the room.
Gosh, this guy is so weird, I thought. Why is he losing it over a class discussion? Maybe there was something on my face? I know what it is! He’s probably hiding something, and he was scared that another Muslim is in his class! He probably hates my guts and is shaking in his boots that I would tell on him. I wouldn’t do that though. I have better things to do than go around gossiping about people. But that’s irrelevant to the matter at hand: Why did I care? Oh no..no! I can’t be falling for this guy. Not now. Not so soon. What is wrong with me?
It was that stupid smirk! I barely even looked at him when I saw it. I still hadn’t properly stared at him, and I didn’t plan on it either. Furthermore, he is Arab, and he has light skin. There’s no way he’d ever be interested in me. And, if by some strange chance that he is, there is no way his family would accept it.
And that day that I keep trying to forget, I was proved right. That day that I went to the masjid for taraweeh, and I saw Yahya with his family. They were standing by their car, and I walked right passed them. Yayha didn’t know this, but I saw him from the corner of my eye speaking to his mother:
“See mama, that’s the girl I was telling you about—the really amazing and dedicated Muslimah in my Sociology class. Mama, you wouldn’t believe how reflective she is, how articulate she is, and how beautiful I find her. MashaAllah. I want us to go to her house so I can ask her dad if I can get to know her, you know? You don’t meet girls like that every day mama.”
Yahya’s mother scowled and pulled Yahya’s arm:
“Yahya, get your head out of dream land. Imagine what kind of kids you’d have… do you really want to lose all of your culture just for a black girl? Do you want to lose everything I’ve worked so hard to teach you for her?”
“But mama, she’s remarkable! She is kind, and compassionate. She has Allah in her life and she’s always striving to become a better person. And I’m very attracted to her. To all of her, especially her blackness. The part of her that you want me to not see. The part of her that you want me to disregard.”
“Yahya, my answer is no. You are an adult, do as you please, but I will not give my blessing to such a marriage.”
I wondered if his mom knew that she was speaking loud enough for me to be able to hear her. That night, at taraweeh, I cried more than I ever knew I was capable of crying. How could I know that someone cared for me so deeply, but that the color of my skin is the reason behind never even being considered by that person’s family?
The next day, I walked over to the lake on campus. Right before I sat down, a bird pooped on my hijab. Great timing, I thought sarcastically. I cupped my hands in the water. I wiped my wet hand over the top of my hijab, and I saw my own black skin in the reflection. I thought about Yahya. About what his mom had said. And when I looked at my skin, this was the first time that I ever wished that I wasn’t black. I wished I could rip off every fiber of who I was so that I could possibly feel loved from this man’s mother whom I have never formally met.
Another bird pooped on my hijab, and I got more water and wiped it over my head. I watched the way water slid down very tiny lines on my skin. I noticed that I was crying tears that mixed with the water dripping off of my hijab. My face looked radiant against my aqua colored hijab. I cried more and more. And I laughed. Because I was beautiful. And I knew it. Not because I was special, but because Allah made me. And I guess it took another bird pooping on me for me to be able to really see my skin. To really see my blackness. And maybe really looking at ourselves is what makes the truth clear?
Some people have eyesight for their whole lives and never see a single thing. Allah let me see myself in that moment when I wished to be anything but. As a black woman, I live in a world that treats me like I’m invisible. What I have to say and do don’t matter because of my skin color. And even though I have lived my whole life feeling invisible—I refuse to see my own self as invisible. Maybe I can’t control other people. Maybe I will always be worthless in their eyes, but I refuse to be worthless in my own eyes.
Allah fashioned my heart and my body and my skin and my lips and my eyes and my hair, and He is the best of creators. If he didn’t want people to see color, he wouldn’t have made me black.
I wish I could tell you that Yahya’s mother changed and that she approved of Yahya’s idea to get to know me for marriage. But she didn’t. After our sociology class ended, I sometimes still saw Yayha, whether it was at the masjid or an event. And even though he only glanced at me for half a second, I always saw this amazement in him. And even though that amazement will never know my eyes or my hands or my heart, my amazement for Allah is much greater.
We all want to be accepted in this world. We search for it, we cry for it, and we make duaa for it. But did we ever stop and think that Allah accepts us right now? For every part of us? I still long to know what love from a man feels like. And I may never know what it really feels like. I may always be a worthless black girl in their eyes. And I lived so much of my life thinking that I was a worthless black girl. I lived believing these lies. But I would accept all of those years of deception for this one moment of Love with my Lord. Even all of the pain I’ve endured cannot compare to how knowing Allah makes me feel.
So when I see that smirk on Yahya’s face, I remember that there are worlds beyond what our eyes can see, and I can only fathom all of the beautiful places Allah has created for those who are patient.