Eds. Note: We’re featuring the stories and perspectives of Muslim youth between the ages of 18-25 this month! Tune in on Twitter to join the #MYRising conversations and check out our sister sites Muslimah Montage, Coming of Faith and Muslim ARC for more #MuslimYouthRising features.
When I was in high school, my English teacher encouraged us to look at literary works with a critical eye. She told us to dissect works of literature in order to grasp their true meaning. Every detail contributed to a broader idea, we were taught. The curtains in the main character’s bedroom were not a dark shade of purple for no reason. Everything was strategically placed for a greater purpose, a message to the readers. After using this technique for most of my high school career, I began analyzing the events and milestones of my life in the same way.
It was September 2nd, 2002. I constantly fixed my shirt due to the heat that day. It was a green T-shirt with the word REBEL bedazzled on the front. I wore that shirt with pride, especially considering how few fashionable options there were for plus-sized ten-year-old girls like myself at the time, and the fact that it was on clearance at JC Penny, I felt pretty darn awesome.
I also remember that it was extremely humid in the classroom, but not nearly as bad as the hot weather they made us wait in outside on the blacktop of the playground. This didn’t bother me much because this would be my last year in elementary school. Next year, I thought to myself with a smug smile, I would be in sixth grade and would get my own locker, not this metal desk with a flimsy, laminated nametag on it.
With these thoughts in mind, I patiently sat in my seat, looking at my new teacher, who introduced herself to our class. She had beachy blond hair that was tied in a half-ponytail and wore a flowy blue dress that bounced with every step she took. She talked in a high-pitched voice and seemed nice. She told us to call her Miss Langel.
“Wow, you’re all so quiet!” she observed enthusiastically.
The classroom was dead silent, except for the fan rotating across the room. This quiet, I knew, would be short-lived. It was only a matter of weeks before the bad kids would crawl out of their shells.
As Miss Langel called out names for attendance, I looked around the room. Except for a few new faces, almost everyone from my fourth grade class was in my class this year. Our desks were arranged in trios. I was paired with a boy named Edward, whom I had never spoke to. Katie, whose desk was empty because she was still on vacation in Hawai’i, was also in my trio. She was one of the popular girls, and was more developed than any other girl in our grade. All the boys would be more than happy to share their glue-sticks and colored pencils with her once she returned.
My fellow Muslim student – and, therefore, best friend – Samiha, was seated on the other side of the room in her trio. Right behind my desk, I saw one of the three new kids sitting quietly at his desk. He wore a Laker’s jersey with matching shorts, and a white pair of Skechers with ankle high socks. He looked Indian, but I couldn’t tell what his ethnicity was. He had a sun-kissed tan and thick, dark eyebrows furrowed over almond brown eyes. He looked almost angry, as if he was hiding how scared he was. There was something about him that I found intriguing.
“Daa-nee-yaal?” Miss Langel almost winced as she sounded out each syllable, looking around the room. The boy behind me raised his hand.
“I go by Danny,” he said cooly.
Miss Langel made note of that on her roster and moved on. Daniyaal, I repeated in my head after reading his nametag, which was taped to the side of his desk. It kinda sounded Muslim. A part of me secretly hoped he was.
He’s cute, I thought.
No, no, no, no, you don’t! I scolded myself.
I banished the idea from my head, knowing how many rules I had broken for even thinking such a thing.
My parents had rarely had to vocalize their disapproval of dating, let alone talking to or befriending boys. I grew up pressing the fast-forward button during kissing scenes in movies. Just by living in an Indian Muslim household, I knew what my parents – and therefore Islam – said about gender relations. It was practically a sixth sense.
“No boys, no love, no kissing.” my mother had once warned me, wagging her finger, eyes wide, accent thick and firm.
I decided that I would do as my parents wished. I would work hard in school and become a doctor. I naïvely convinced myself that once I was old enough to get married (to an Indian guy, of course), I would then fall in love with my husband. Until then, I promised myself that I would not come anywhere close to having crushes on boys, or even God forbid, liking them. I was a kid. I wasn’t capable or ready to love, let alone like anyone.
Or so I thought.
Over the next few months, Danny made his way up the social ladder and became one of the cool kids in our class. As the year went on, my heart beat louder and faster whenever he was around. At first I would casually joke about him to my friends, calling him a coward and stupid for not going by his actual name. I would tell them how ugly his ankle high socks were, and how he wore too much gel in his hair.
But, I secretly liked the way he laughed out loud, gelled up his hair, wore basketball shorts and matching jerseys…and, yes, I even liked his ankle socks. The more I was around him at school, the more I hoped he would talk to me. I soon found myself blushing whenever I mentioned his name. I felt my own face getting hot when he talked to other girls.
Given how cool he was, girls were starting to notice him, especially Katie. Latoya, our class gossip, confirmed to me at recess that there were rumors that Danny had a crush on Katie. Apparently, she added, Katie felt the same way. I was heartbroken.
Danny and I spoke in art class every now and then. He was on my team once when our class played capture-the-flag in gym class. And he was my partner when we took spelling tests. Despite our occasional interactions, he refused to tell me, or anyone else, about his background.
I knew for a fact that he would never go for me in a million years. First of all, Samiha told me he was Algerian and, unlike me, didn’t eat zabiha meat. I saw him buy chicken nuggets in the lunch line. My family was on the stricter side of things when it came to Islam, and his family was clearly not.
Unlike Danny, who was tall and athletic, I was overweight and always one of the last picks when our class played capture-the-flag. I wore baggy sweatshirts and jeans and could never seem to tame my black frizzy curls. On top of that, I had gigantic, silver-framed glasses that I had chosen back in the fourth grade. While Danny was social and played basketball with the guys during recess, I preferred the company of my close friends, my sketchbook, and the swing set.
Middle school came around before we knew it. I didn’t see much of Danny except when he was seated next to me in the seventh grade computer class. I was mortified, but also thrilled. Mrs. Solern had us play computer games to increase our typing speed. I was usually pretty fast, but it was hard to concentrate with Danny sitting next to me. I could smell his cologne. I sat stiffly upright and felt chills down my spine.
“Hey, Sajida. What’s up?” he whispered.
We weren’t allowed to talk to anyone during computer class,
“Um, nothing much.” I answered, feeling my cheeks blushing. I tried to keep myself from smiling, only to have a smirk creep up my face.
“Why aren’t you talking to me?” he asked, charmingly.
I wanted to die of happiness. Danny was talking to me.
“Why do you type so fast?” he asked.
“Um, what do you mean?” I laughed.
“You just type really fast, that’s all.” He noticed the essay I’d written about Eid, next to my mouse pad.
I had purposely put it there so he would read it and I could see how he reacted. But, he just looked away. We didn’t talk much during the rest of the period. But still, I felt the adrenaline rushing through every part of my body in that class. I was high with giddiness every time I walked out.
As time went on, our interactions remained the same. He occasionally said hi to me in the hallways with his usual charm….just like he did with every other girl. I knew that he would never go for me. And even if did, I knew that dating was an offense on the haram side. This was clearly not meant to be.
I thought I’d eventually get over Danny, that I’d magically wake up one day and realize he wasn’t really all that great. After all, tons of girls in the seventh grade broke up with their boyfriends after a few weeks because they no longer felt the same way. However, when I entered the eighth grade, I still had feelings for him.
Then, things changed. Danny got his ears pierced (a total Islamic no-no, I was taught), and wasn’t what I called “a good Muslim.” I always made dua for him, asking God that he would one day become closer to his faith. But he wasn’t getting any better and I didn’t know what else to do. I didn’t know why God hadn’t answered my prayers yet. That was when my dad announced that we were moving, meaning that I wouldn’t be in high school with my best friends – or Danny.
I saw moving as an opportunity, a way that Allah (SWT) was telling me to move on. I was excited, and scared at the same time. Excited to finally get over him, and scared that I wouldn’t be with my friends. None of my friends knew how I felt. Samiha and my other Muslim friends were open about their feelings for guys at our school. Admitting it to them felt shameful, as if I wouldn’t then be a good Muslim anymore. If I didn’t want to have these feelings, the last thing I wanted was to tell others about it.
Moving to a new school and making new friends was tough. What made it tougher was the fact that even though I no longer saw Danny around, I still had feelings for him. I read somewhere that moving on from someone means finding someone better. That clearly wasn’t happening, and I didn’t understand why I still felt the same way about him. The social media explosion wasn’t helping. He was everywhere – on Facebook and Myspace, posing in pictures at parties with the forbidden red cup. It was frustrating.
When we moved, my mom signed me up for a halaqah group at an aunty’s house. The lady who hosted the halaqah always talked about the importance of shariah. Somehow it made me want to study Islam more. I started reading the Quran and about what Islam said about gender relations and marriage. I wanted to know my purpose; I wanted to know why certain things had happened to me the way they did. Why my prayers weren’t answered. Why I was heartbroken.
The way I see it, every one of us is given certain tests in this world based on our capabilities and weaknesses. Times of adversity are His way of making us realize how imperfect this world is; how true perfection and eternal happiness cannot be found in this life, but the next. Perhaps I wouldn’t have realized this had I not been the chubby little girl with no clue about the world, and if Danny hadn’t been who he was.
I discovered that having feelings for the opposite gender is totally normal from an Islamic perspective, and not sinful as my parents had explained using their cultural reasoning. It’s completely human. It’s how we were created. How we act upon those feelings is our responsibility. Certain people are meant to be in your life for an allotted time for a reason.
It was then that I decided to block him on every medium possible and move on with my life. As much as I hate to say this, I’ve relapsed here and there and felt the pain of guilt. But having come to terms with it has not only given me a better understanding of my purpose in this world, but also helped me become closer to Him.
Perhaps I’ve come off as a bit dramatic for saying that my first crush brought me closer to Islam. I still make dua for Danny to this day and hope he becomes a better person in the future, whether I know it or not. And I still make dua that we don’t meet in this life, but in the next one instead.
I’m open to meeting someone meant for me. In the meantime, until I meet who I’m destined to be with, I’m falling in love with Him.
Saajida Siddiqui (pen name) is currently a second year medical student in Minnesota. Her current hobbies include cooking Middle Eastern dishes, DIY projects, writing and watching spoken word performances, and playing Just Dance on her Wii. She plans on writing a novel someday and is also interested in volunteering for Doctors Without Borders in the future.