So there I was sitting in the corner away from everyone, trying my hardest to not be noticed but also trying to involve myself in the conversation by listening in. I didnt know whether I should be doing it, seeing as I could only pick up one or two words of the foreign tongue but it made me feel better to be there so quietly, so timidly.
This wasnt the first time this had happened, it had started after I moved to this city. 'It will be good to be surrounded by muslims' I told myself, people who are practising the deen that has been chosen for me. I scratched my stubble while I listened intentively to someone talking about the iftar tomorrow, 'maybe I will bring something' I thought. 'To push myself out there,' who was I kidding?? I wasnt going to no matter how much I suggested it to my inner self.
It hadnt felt this hard to be a muslim in the little town I had come from, although maybe that was because I blended in so well. At that point I envied the muslimah converts who wore hijab and stood out for the world to see, 'this is my religion' they screamed silently. I needed that push, and it didnt come from anything I would wear, I had 3 day old growth, a no2 buzz cut, wore baggyish jeans and mostly tshirts or shirts... what was I? an average 23 yr old college student? maybe! a muslim? maybe! a random guy looking for food? maybe!
As I was lost in my own thoughts I looked up to see one of the elder guys looking at me, was I being paranoid? no he was definately looking at me, 'oh God, hes coming over' I started to shake slightly and sweat even more so.. how did I ever get this far in my life being so antisocial I wondered. He smiled at me 'Assalamalikum,' and stook out his hand for me to shake, I shook it and replied what I had been learning for the past 2 weeks "just in case" 'I havent seen you around here before,' he said sitting down infront of me enough to realise that this guy looked about my age, maybe a little older. I felt instantly better 'yeh I just transferred to the university here from out east' I didnt want to tell him my life story, 'youre the convert right?' I nodded looking down at myself, was it that obvious?? he laughed probably reading my mind. 'My sister told me,' he said smiling, 'I think you signed up for some group or something at the uni, no?' i realised what he was talking about, the university MSA that I forced myself to join if only to hear what was going on. I nodded, 'what else could I say?' I thought, not wanting to push him away with being too quiet or being too open. 'Listen, about before,' he looked down and scratched his chin before clearing his throat 'you gotta ignore the older guys, they are set in their ways and just be careful. I understand that we shouldnt have to do it, but well... what can I say? they arent practising as well as you hope they are.' I nodded and smiled, 'thanks, I thought it was me' he shook his head and rested a hand on my shoulder... 'nah man, those dudes are just too set in the past. Just stick to the people you know and spread yourself through the group' I raised my eyebrows and told him, 'but i dont know anyone' 'you know me' he said strongly while standing up, strong enough to actually make me believe he was a decent guy who might become a good friend 'Im Nasser,' he said sticking his hand out and pulling me closer for a hug when I shook his. This was the first time anyone had done this, although I saw it all the time between brothers, which made me feel edgy... it wasnt how I was brought up... but this instance made me feel more of a brother and less of an outsider and for that I was grateful to Nasser. 'Im Ethan,' I started before he stopped me 'dude, I know who you are' I was surprised and confused, how did he know who I was? He read this on my face, 'my sister is some top person at the student thing, she knows everyone and I have to tell you bro.. I know how long you have been muslim and if you want to get married in the near future, no pushing, come to me... I hear things regarding you quite often, masha'allah' he told me nudging me at the last arabic phrase I would have to look up later when I got home. I knew it was a good thing and I also knew what he was telling me, something Ive been told all my life from the girls around me.. but I thought being a muslim would make it different, I had read about the segregation of the sexes and the lowering of the gaze. Nasser interrupted my thoughts 'my sister told me what youre doing at school and she said you were pretty smart. She said she liked your thoughts and perspective on Islam, always good to have a fresh outlook on things. Thats what Ive been hearing from a few people about you, so keep those thoughts bro' I sighed quietly... so it was different, they werent as materialistic as the rest of the people I reguarly came into contact with.
Nasser lead me to the door and as we were putting our shoes on he turned to me and said, 'hey you should come for iftar at my place tomorrow, if you can insha'allah, you can meet my family properly then and widen the circle. I have some cousins coming over too who I think are in your year' I nodded tying my shoelaces, this is what I had been searching for and I silently said a little prayer to thank God for guiding me to this brother, or was he guided to me.
Then I was taken out of my dream world when we stepped out of the building into the fresh clean air, the sun shone too brightly after being in a dark enclosed room. I bumped into someone and apologised, maybe a little too much 'hey sads, I invited Ethan over for iftar tomorrow' I had bumped into his sister, she was the MSA girl who I had instantly fallen for when I met her those few weeks ago at the freshers fair. I blushed slightly before focusing my retinas to see her soft smile and noticed she too looked a little flustered, she smiled nodding 'maybe we can chat and I can pick your brain about some things I need help with for the MSA then, if you want to help that is' she said playing with her scarf. I nodded 'sure, Ill help in whatever way I can insha'allah' woah.. dude, where did that word come from? it had left my mouth before even gathering dust in my arabic vocabulary of 3 words, I smiled inwardly to myself.. pleased with the correct word and context I had just used for the first time. Nasser said something to Sadia and she lightly punched him on the arm, I admired her clothing the way her skirt fell from her hips straight to the floor, her adidas trainers showing just the tip, her loose shirt and denim jacket, and the multicoloured scarf that she wore so tightly around her chin that I wondered how she swallowed. I had never felt anything like this before, to not see a woman yet to be so attached and so connected at the same time. It was an amazing feeling after so long of being attracted in relation to the amount of flesh showing, I blushed at how I once had been and at the same time was thankful for being shown the true meaning of a woman.
Nasser and I exchanged numbers even after Sadia told him she had mine, which made me feel warm inside. We parted after giving brief details of our upcoming meeting at the Hussain residence tomorrow at 6pm, ready for maghrib salah and iftar.
I had done it, I had found a true friend in Nasser and I thanked God for it all the way home.