Girl meets boy. Girl has a crush on boy. She falls in love. The feelings are mutual. Happy ending? Get real, this isn’t a replica of Disney’s Aladdin. Try, Pakistani Muslim girl Fatima, meets non-Muslim boy. Enough said.
Coming from a fairly traditional background, Fatima was always taught that some friendships depending on ethnic, political and religious reasons would not be feasible. Fatima accepted this, until love entered the picture. Then she was lost. “Why can’t we have what we want?” and “why do we fall in love so easy, even when it’s not right?” were just some of the questions that baffled her. She has not yet found a satisfying answer because even if she gets close it ends with a ‘but’ followed by another question, ‘why?’
Throughout the first 3 years of Fatima’s high school days she was classed as a ‘tomboy’. Unlike all the other girls around her who had just discovered make-up and push-up bras, she was indifferent to her femininity, to an extent. She was more interested in having fun than seeking the attention of other boys. So when did it all change and when exactly did she become love struck?
Her own personal story may be different to the rest. From seeing the Pakistani-Muslim boys at school and their perception of women, from such a young age, only encouraged her to develop negative feelings for any Pakistani boy from then on. “You should be covering your hair, you’re a Muslim” or “you can’t hang out with us, you’re a girl”, are some of the comments they made to the other Asian girls. But not Fatima. She was the ‘tomboy’, they accepted her for being able to hold a conversation with them without giggling after every word from the excitement of having schoolboys around her. Yes, that’s how a lot of the other Asians reacted. Cringe. But that wasn’t enough for her to accept them being the way they were, regardless of how they treated her differently.
In the short-term Fatima was cool with it but this has had long-term effects. Although Fatima felt she may be stereotyping, she thought: “Can you blame me? I have grown up with a large number of my own race and I have been exposed to some of their worst qualities. I describe them as possessive, paranoid and chauvinistic on all different levels and I say this from experience. Obviously they are not all like that.”
So you’re wondering what her story is. How about, ‘The Girl Next Door’, except she’s not an ex porn-star. He on the other hand is like the Indian Matthew Kidman, straight ‘A’ student who spent most of his childhood indoors. “Whilst the kids around my block and I were planning the next house to play knock-a-door-run on, geek-boy was would be indoors busy with his literacy and numeracy work books, even on weekends. This was the story of pretty much his whole childhood.”
Five years in high school, in the same form ended up being one hell of a roller coaster for the both of them. She described it as some sort of an, ‘epiphany’. It went from the tormenting geek related comments: “Why are you so boring?”, “I hate you, you never have time for your friends”, to pure admiration: “your geekiness is such a turn on”, “Can you be my personal tutor”.
“How my thoughts for this so called friend at the time changed from negative to positive within 5 years still surprises me,” she said. Fatima never thought the day would come when everything would suddenly change.
“February 14, 2009. The day when I realised I no longer possess control over my own feelings. I always knew I couldn’t be with a non-Muslim. That’s what Islam strictly forbids. But on this particular evening, something within me felt so overpowering that it transformed my current thoughts and beliefs. And it only took one look. That moment in Cineworld, watching the super long ‘Curious Case of Benjamin Button’ felt even longer after that one look. It was the lonely evening when geek-boy and I were civilised enough to be able to hang out and as we were both lover-less, we agreed to accompany one another to our local cinema. We made it clear that this was merely a friendship thing and anything more would be gross.
“It was about half way through the movie when I glanced to my left and he happened to glance to his right at the same time. That glance turned in to a stare, a stare which even in the darkness of the cinema room was strong enough to block all other senses except our sight. The light from the screen was fixed on our eyes which connected the two together. This lasted maybe just 10-15 seconds before we resumed our heads to face the screen, or was it longer, it certainly felt that way. I remember losing all focus on the movie, trying to recall what just happened. The cool room suddenly turned in to a sauna and I felt the palms of my hands dampen. I wanted to remove my cardigan but I was nervous. What! Nervous? Me? I remember feeling so confused; I wasn’t sure what was happening. I was stuck, I couldn’t move, I was too worried it would be awkward if I did.
“This was just the beginning of what was yet to come. All the things I was taught were forbidden for me suddenly became that much more appealing. My love for geek-boy grew and I wasn’t letting anything or anyone get in the way of it. I was 17 at the time and hadn’t experienced anything like it.”
But don’t forget, she’s Pakistani and even though her parents are liberal in some ways, they are still traditional in other. She can never really bring a boyfriend home unless he fits the criteria of a potential husband. Even then she’d have to be 110% sure before even mentioning him to her parents.
“To them, a potential husband has to be the following: 1) Pakistani 2) Muslim 3) Sunni (branch of Islam that accepts the first four caliphs as rightful successors to the Prophet Muhammad) and 4) Successful (earning enough to provide for himself and their daughter).
“Now my own personal challenge is trying to find someone who not only fits their criteria but also mine. Ok, I completely agree that he has to be a Muslim and preferably Sunni, but Pakistani? I couldn’t care less. Islam does not expect one to marry someone of their own race. Islam is a universal religion; it doesn’t matter if you’re black, white, yellow or brown, as long you’re Muslim interracial marriages should be widely accepted.”
But this isn’t the case where she comes from. And it can be ‘frustrating’, as she describes it.
“It doesn’t help that I’m the youngest out of four. The older two have married British Pakistanis and the third is about to do the same. I basically have no choice really but to follow in their footsteps and not ‘disappoint the family’, as the older sibling often reminds me.
“The time came when the two years at our 6th form was coming to an end and he was moving far away to the other side of the country and I was to stay here in the North. By now we were inseparable; hearts chained and locked as one. This wasn’t an easy ride. As much as we tried to keep this between just the two of us, we faced the challenge of trying to act ‘normal’ around everyone else including our friends who were baffled after we repeatedly denied our relationship.
“Many times I have tried to understand what it means to not disappoint the family. What about me and my happiness? For a long time I believed happiness for me would be to marry geek-boy knowing he was an atheist. The first boy I fell in love with regardless of his race and religious beliefs.
“They say time heals everything. In this case we had no choice, he was moving for the next 4 years and who knows if he is ever coming back. Time also made me realise that if I rebelled against my family’s wishes they will forever be disappointed and if you knew me, you’d instantly agree that it’s not worth it. “
Fatima feels that she doesn’t have a good enough excuse to rebel.
“What have my family not done for me? I’m spoilt and I admit it, I’m definitely loved and I know that too. I have learnt that I need to appreciate that my parents are from a different era. I mean, they’re 65 and 60 years of age, back then it was norm for them to go ahead with arranged and forced marriages. I’m quite lucky they haven’t imposed those old traditions upon us. I certainly don’t expect them to adjust to today’s society and way of thinking. It’s not easy for them and I don’t plan on making it any more difficult.
“Many people often tell me they don’t understand how religion can forbid two people who love one another, to marry and be happy. And my answer to those people is; first of all, it’s not religion, it’s just culture and you can choose to accept it or rebel and suffer the consequences. I come from a big united family and I know they want what’s best for me. Even though I know this, deep down it frustrates me to accept that this is just a fact of life.
“So call it what you want, a sad, unfair or complicated story, I will probably end up marrying a Pakistani Muslim. Yes, I believe it will be a successful marriage but I will never in the future forbid my children from interracial marriages. Period.”
Fatima is still the same vibrant individual she was back in high school. However one thing remains the same. She still hasn’t found the ideal British-Pakistani Muslim guy who she feels she could one day settle with. However, she believes, ‘everything will fall in to place at the right time, whenever God decides.’
I guess all she really asks is for you to keep her in your prayers. Inshallah J