When I Fell in Love with a Muslim
My love affair with a Muslim man began at 3 a.m. on a Sunday during Halloween weekend in 2004. We were stressed out law students who sought relief by making out everywhere on campus — behind buildings, in the parking lot, his place, my place. We acted like crazy teenagers. He was my first love.
It was passionate and forbidden, like Romeo and Juliet. Nice Persian Jewish girls do not date Muslim boys. Or do they? At first, he tried to treat me like a fling, but eventually he couldn’t resist falling in love with me.
At my law school graduation party in Hollywood, we danced close in a grimy room surrounded by a hundred people, but I felt like no one else was there. In that moment, I looked in his deep brown eyes and saw the life that resided therein.
Later that summer, on a group trip to Las Vegas, I asked him whether he saw a future with me. He responded with a familiar trope, that he didn’t want to disappoint his mother by marrying a non-Muslim girl.
We continually disconnected and reconnected, for years (7, to be exact). We tried to resist each other. At times we didn’t try very hard. I was addicted to the intoxicating warmth of his touch; to his kindness; to his brown skin; to his intelligence; to his spirit; to the purity of his heart and his neshama.
Last year, during our last reconciliation period, we “dated seriously” for a few months. We even talked about what kind of wedding we would have.
For some reason, the prospect of standing under a chuppah with him, a fervent, practicing Muslim, with a Reform-Rabbi-In-Tow, felt like a fraud. Despite all my big Jewish tent rhetoric, I guess I’m less progressive than I thought.
Under Islamic law, an Imam could marry us in a traditional ceremony, and I told him that I would be okay with that. There was actually something intriguing about the thought of it, and at least we’d be married “legally” within someone’s religion.
There was the issue of children. Would the kids go to Hebrew School? Would they have a Koran tutor? Both? Neither? Would they be confused?
Halachically, our kids would be fully entitled to all of the requisite rites of passage, including a Birthright excursion where they could camp out in a tent with a bunch of fellow young Heebs also looking to lose their virginity in Israel.
Would he go to Israel with me? Would he get racially profiled there? Would I get racially profiled there if I took his last name?
He doesn’t drink, for Islamic reasons. Would he let me have alcohol in the house? Would he ultimately resent me for drinking? If we had a bris for our son, would he object to a little drop of Manischewitz before the snip? And what about my weekly kiddush, if I wanted one?
Under Islamic law, because of patrilineal descent, the kids would be Muslim, no questions asked. Could I, Miss Jewy Jew, handle that? Would I ever not feel weird wearing a huge Star of David when I was out in public with him? And here’s the one I thought of most frequently: Would I be banished from the tribe, irrevocably distanced from our peoplehood forever? Was I a complete traitor? We discussed most of these issues. I usually initiated the discussions. Each discussion ended with more questions, and no answers.
For me, our love begs a larger existential question: in the battle between the universal and the particular, which should win? I think about this question every day. Shema Yisrael: Adonai Eloheynu, Adonai Echad.
One Shabbat morning, I ruffled through his books on Islamic law while he was asleep. If I was going to be with this man, I had to find out where he was coming from. As I read through the books, I felt unsettled. They looked different. The words were different. I thought to myself, “What is this stuff?” Where’s the ‘Jewish Book of Why’?” But there were some comforting familiarities: the overtly legalistic approach to religious practice, the analytical perspective on faith, tzedakah, the singular nature of G-d. I felt conflicted. If we believe in the same G-d, why can’t we just be together? This is America!
Ultimately, he broke it off, and we agreed that it would never work because of our respective attachments to our faiths. Still, sometimes I think about him with tears streaming down my face. I’ll always love him, with the kind of deep, familial love which makes me wonder whether we’re better off not being together forever.
As a faithful Jew, and a faithful Muslim, there are limits to our love. It sounds fatalistic, but it’s the reality of our particular situation.
There is no G-d but G-d. La Ilaha Illa Allah. And sometimes G-d’s children remain apart.