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 Arif Choudhury!
An excerpt from Arif’s story, “How Did I End up Here?”:
If I was looking for the female version of me, why didn’t I date an American-born Bangladeshi Muslim girl? Because they were inaccessible. Growing up in the Bangladeshi community in Chicago, all of us boys and girls were raised as though we were siblings or cousins. One of the uncles in the community once asked me, “Do you feel as though you can’t marry the Bangladeshi girls you grew up with because you think of them as sisters?” “Exactly,” I replied. “It feels incestuous. They aren’t romantic possibilities. It’s too weird. I’ve been calling all of you uncle and auntie. If I marry your daughter I’d be calling you Abba and Amma—it would be strange to have you as in-laws.” Besides, I thought, you are all so freaked out about dating, how are we supposed to couple up? You would all know if we were going out to the movies or for coffee . . . or who knows what else.
Since our Bangladeshi Muslim parents wouldn’t let us date, we all dated secretly—some sooner than others. We found boyfriends and girlfriends from outside the Bangladeshi Muslim community who were allowed to date. Because of this, a lot of the American-born Bangladeshis—both men and women—in my community began marrying outside our ethnic group and sometimes outside our faith.
To read more, order Salaam, Love today!
Q&A with Arif
Tell us about yourself
I’m a professional storyteller, filmmaker, theater artist, and stand-up comic. I’m currently working as the post-production supervisor on a documentary film about folk storytellers in a remote village in China. Also, I’m taking a short film entitled “Coloring” to film festivals. The film is based on my childhood growing in one of the few Bangladeshi-Muslim immigrant families in north suburban Chicago. I was basically one of the few brown faces in a majority white neighborhood.
As a professional storyteller, I perform “More in Common than You Think”, a one-person program of stories for schools, libraries, conferences, and festivals around the country and abroad. Focusing on issues of ethnic and religious identity, assimilation, multiculturalism, and diversity, my stories poke fun at how we think of one another. I also tour the country in “More Alike than Not: Stories from Three Americans—Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim.”
I recorded a CD of stories entitled, “Where Are You From? And Other Difficult Questions” and have written a children’s book “The Only Brown-Skinned Boy in the Neighborhood.”
When I’m not working on film or theater I works as the manager of Endeavor Financial Services, an accounting firm that specializes in accounting, income tax return preparation, tax planning and small business consulting.
I just recently got married and moved to New York City to be with my wife. I love her dearly and am so happy! I am now pursuing storytelling and theater opportunities in New York City.
Why were you drawn to this project?
I was having a lot of trouble meeting “the one”. As a Muslim man I was trying to meet women, but found myself not being compatible with many of them, not being the “right type,” etc. I figured I couldn’t be the only one going through this. There must be others who are going through the same struggles. So I decided to write a storytelling/theater piece about it. While I was writing the piece I met Nura and she encouraged me to share my story. I took what was initially a performance piece and adapted it for the book. I’m so glad to be a part of a book that gives voice to the romantic struggles of members of the Muslim-American community.
What was the most challenging part of sharing your story?
To share my story I had to relive a lot of the heartache that I experienced at that time in my life—a time when it seemed to me that I was destined to be alone. Writing the story was painful and challenging. At the same time, the catharsis I experienced in writing the story was very helpful. As a comic, I look at my life as though I am a spectator–I’m on the outside looking in. This distance helps me see the dark humor in the challenges that I’ve faced in my life. So, looking at all the heartache from the outside allowed me to let it go and see how funny it was. Ultimately, it was wonderful and necessary. It inspired me to make the sacrifices I needed to make to meet the woman who is the love of my life…and now my wife!
If there’s one thing you hope that readers will take away from your story, what is it?
I hope people will read my story and realize that if they’re having trouble finding a life partner that they are not alone. And for those readers who didn’t have much trouble finding a partner, I hope that they will read the story and begin to empathize with those who haven’t been so fortunate.
I want to thank Nura and Ayesha for putting this book together. And, I want to thank the other contributors for sharing their stories. I hope Muslims and non-Muslim readers will see the diversity of the Muslim-American community through the varied stories in this book. There is more than one way of being Muslim. Even we Muslims forget that from time to time.