Our new book, Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy, will be released on February 4th. In the lead up to the release, meet our 22 contributors.
Today, meet Stephen Leeper!
An excerpt from Stephen’s story, “On Guard”:
It was the second year after I’d moved from North Carolina to California. I had moved to escape boredom and childhood memories, leaving Ashley, my beautiful non-Muslim girlfriend, behind. We had been a couple for a few months, but had known each other for two years. She said she would leave with me “just like that”—she didn’t have to see a five-year plan or a five-digit number in my bank account. My promise was all she needed. I left North Carolina in September 2009 and started making plans for our future. By January, she had left me for her white ex-boyfriend, a blow to the Original Blackman’s ego, a carryover sentiment from my Stephen X days.
The next year was one of grief and sorrow filled with bitter, desperate crying when I got up in the morning, in my car between meetings, and in bed at night. Unlike with the Prophet, neither my uncle nor my wife had died, but my hope had, and I grieved. When I met Aliyah the following autumn, I had healed a great deal but was fucking terrified of opening up again.
To read more, order Salaam, Love today!
Q&A with Stephen
Tell us about yourself
I am the oldest of five boys. I have a blended family, my mom’s side is Christian and my father’s side is Muslim. I was raised by my mother and stepfather and reconnected with my dad and his family later in life – which is how I was introduced to Islam. My father was a captain in the Nation of Islam so I like to say that I came to Islam through the door of Black Power. Since, I’ve served as khateeb in a community associated with Imam W.D. Mohammed and am studying the tariqa Naqshabandi. How I define my religious identity now? I am a Muslim seeker. I have not discovered faith. I am discovering it.
Interests: social movement theory, community organizing, history, religious studies, conscious hip-hop, documentaries, psychological thrillers, Italian food, Ta’leef Collective and other third spaces for young adults, the politics of identity.
Why were you drawn to this project?
Well to be honest, I wasn’t originally. My wife told me about it and I was like, “Ehh…” and didn’t give it a second thought. “I don’t have time”, I told myself. But I kept hearing about it: popping up on my Facebook timeline, overhearing (eavesdropping on?) conversations. Then one day, Shanthi Sekaran, a former professor of mine at CCA, said she had a friend working on an anthology that I might be interested in. Lo and behold, it was the Love InshAllah ladies. “They’re everywhere!” I thought. Subhana’Allah! I finally went on the website and read about the project. I decided that I wanted to submit my story but procrastinated on doing so till the last day of the deadline. After I finished writing it I realized that I wasn’t drawn to the project. The project drew itself to me so that I could tell this story. Allahu Alim.
What was the most challenging part of sharing your story?
Revealing my mental health state over the last several years for everybody to see. It is something I’ve struggled facing and writing about it made me face it. So many feelings associated with it: resentment, relief, fear, empowerment, embarrassment.
If there’s one thing you hope that readers will take away from your story, what is it?
Black men (Muslim & non-Muslim) are human beings with feelings, fears and dreams, joys and great pains. We are healing from trauma that is older than the bones of our ancestors and yet the wounds are raw and tender. We are not weak but you should still handle us with care.