His wife. In the emergency room. Bleeding. Possibly losing their baby. Sam could hardly cope with the flood of panic that coursed through his body. He had to restrain himself from running every red light and honking furiously at every driver ahead of him. Impeded by the heavy Friday afternoon traffic, he could do nothing but sit in powerless frustration as the line of cars snailed onward. Then he remembered that he could do something. He could turn to his Lord for help. The verses of the Quran he had heard at jumu¢ah prayer washed over him.
And if you should count the Favors of Allah, never could you enumerate them. Indeed, Allah (is) Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. [Sûrat Al-Naḥl , 16:18]
His conversation with Allah, subḥânahu wa ta¢âla, was desperate and rambling, but he knew that He was listening. “Allah, please forgive me. You are Al-Rahîm, the Most Merciful. I am in urgent need of your help. I know I have been taking everything for granted. I’ve sinned. I’ve been lazy. I have not made serving You my priority. I know I don’t deserve your mercy. But please forgive me, oh Allah. You are Al-Muhyi, the Giver of Life. Please protect my wife and my baby. Please let them live.”
He continued making duâ’ as he drove every excruciating inch toward the hospital. It seemed like an eternity before he finally arrived at the parking lot. Once there, he launched himself from his car and careened into the emergency room entrance. When he didn’t see Emma in the crowded waiting room, he rushed to the front desk. The harried-looking receptionist listened to his incoherent words, recognized Emma’s name, and led him to a curtained-off exam room within the E.R. There, dressed in a hospital gown, looking pale and terrified as she lay back on a bed, was Emma. He would have rushed to her side, but a doctor was already next to her, apparently conducting another sonogram. Sam looked at the screen with wild eyes. Emma’s eyes were pasted to it, too. There was their tiny baby, whose heartbeat had been perfect this morning. Would it still be alive?
“Baby is doing fine,” said the doctor reassuringly, after half a minute. “Look, its heartbeat is normal. It’s not uncommon for some bleeding to occur in the first trimester of pregnancy. You were right to come here, though; you don’t want to take any chances. But baby is fine, and your bleeding has stopped. I advise you to take a few days of bed rest and keep an eye on things. If the bleeding starts up again or becomes heavier, you need to come back here immediately. Please follow up with your OB-GYN in a couple days, even if everything seems to be normal. She will want to keep an eye on you to make sure everything is okay.”“Thank you, doctor,” said Emma. Her voice was weak. She looked as though she had survived a war, she was so exhausted and frail.
“Emma!” Sam breathed, when the doctor took her leave. He embraced his wife and smoothed her hair. “I’m so sorry I wasn’t here sooner. Oh, thank God our baby is still alive!”
“Sam!” she croaked, “I was so terrified! I was sure that we had lost her. I thought . . . “she sniffed and dabbed her tear-stained face with the edge of her gown, “I thought it was my fault, for not wanting her at first.”
“No, no, Emma,” he soothed. “Of course it wouldn’t have been your fault. You were surprised by the pregnancy, that’s all. You needed time to adjust. Losing the baby wouldn’t have been your fault. It would have been the will of God. But al-ḥamdulillâh He saved our baby. Oh, thank God!” He buried his face in his wife’s hair and let the hot tears of relief fall.
“Sam, where were you all day?” she whispered as she tenderly wiped away his tears with her fingertips. “I tried to call you so many times. Did the interview last four hours?”
“I’ll explain everything on the way home,” he promised. Let’s get out of here.”
Emma stayed home and rested for four days. Sam insisted on remaining by her side throughout the weekend and did not let her get out of bed except to use the bathroom. He brought her soup, sandwiches, and magazines. He watched hours of mind-numbing TV with her and napped by her side. They were on edge all weekend, fearing another hemorrhage, but to their relief, there was no more bleeding. Emma encouraged Sam to go back to work on Monday.
“But who will stay with you?” he asked.
“I think it’s time to tell my parents, Sam. My mom will want to know, and to be with me.”
They hadn’t told Emma’s parents that she was pregnant yet. They had planned to wait until she was three full months along and to announce the news over a celebratory dinner. However, given the changed circumstances, Sam agreed that now was the time. Emma’s parents would want to help their daughter as much as possible.
Hal and Evelyn were surprised, as the newlyweds had suspected they would be, by the quickness of the pregnancy. However, their attitude immediately became one of concern and practicality when they learned about the bleeding. Evelyn insisted on spending the next two days with Emma, tending to her so that Sam could go back to work. On the fifth day, Emma looked much better. She had followed up with her OB-GYN, and everything seemed to be fine. Sam was thoroughly relieved to see his wife so much improved, both mentally and physically. Her doctor had even given her the green light to go back to work and carry on as usual.
In the meantime, Sam had thought a great deal about his job offer. When he had finally gotten the chance to discuss it with Emma, she had been cautiously optimistic. “Let’s wait and see what the salary and benefits are,” she had said, always pragmatic.
The offer was generous and undeniably tempting. Sam was eager to accept right away and to give two weeks’ notice to OmegaStar, but he could tell that Emma was hesitant.
“What’s wrong?” he asked. “Isn’t this a great opportunity? It’s more money and better benefits. You heard yourself that this company has a solid reputation. And I really think I’m going to like working for Mr. King.”
“I know, Sam,” she answered. “You should take the job, of course. I’m just a little sad, I guess, because that means I’ll be alone at OmegaStar.” She gave a little twisted smile. “I can’t help but feel you’re leaving me behind.”
“But you’re going to leave OmegaStar in a few months anyway, when you have the baby,” he countered, soothingly. “And I pursued this job so I can be a better provider.”
“I know, I know. Sam, please try to understand. I’m just going through a lot of changes right now, and it’s hard. I want our baby now, I really do. I love her . . . or him. But I also want to have a life, a career! We’re only twenty-six! And all our exciting travel plans? Who knows when we’ll be able to travel once we have a baby? And by the time the baby’s old enough to go to school, it might be really hard for me to re-enter the workforce.”
“Emma, everything is going to work out,” he reassured her. “You’re so talented that I’m sure you’ll be able to restart your career in about five years. Maybe four, if our child goes to preschool. Four years is nothing! It’ll fly by! Now, why don’t you rest? I need to e-mail Mr. King and accept the offer. I think this is going to be the beginning of something great!”
Before he composed the e-mail to accept the job offer, Sam made wuḍû and spread out his prayer rug. He had been praying regularly and punctually every day since last Friday. Despite all the chaos and change going on in his life, his heart felt lighter, in many ways, than it had for years. As he stood, bowed, and pressed his forehead to the ground, Emma watched from the bedroom. She could see the contentment on her husband’s features and sense the new passion in his heart.
She loved him. She truly wanted him to be happy. But . . . she wanted to be happy, too. She couldn’t help feeling as if he was embarking on a journey and leaving her behind.
When he started his job at Tech Solutions, Sam wasn’t sure what to expect. He had a feeling that many of his co-workers would be Muslims like himself. It seemed to Sam that Mr. King had chosen him in no small part because of his faith. However, as far as he could tell, the employees at Tech Solutions were a diverse bunch. They seemed to come from very different ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. Yet there was a very clear uniting factor at Tech Solutions: every single employee was wholeheartedly loyal to Mr. King.
At OmegaStar, Sam had gotten used to nonstop gossip and jokes about the company’s owner. Mr. Barnes’ snobbishness and fastidiousness were frequently mocked behind his back. He was not known to be a compassionate or inspiring employer. So Sam was pleasantly surprised by the wholesome, positive work environment at Tech Solutions. Gossip was minimal, and animosity was almost absent. Sam heard nothing but warm and appreciative words about Mr. King. Over the course of the first few weeks, Sam heard many stories of the boss’s legendary kindness. One coworker told Sam how Mr. King had not only allowed her to take several personal days when her elderly mother was ill, but even took it upon himself to organize an office-wide meal train for her struggling family. Another co-worker told him how Mr. King had helped him find resources for his autistic son and had even allowed him to modify his work schedule to spend more time at home.
Because of his magnanimous policies, Mr. King’s employees were extraordinarily devoted and hardworking. They cared about the business, their employer, and each other. No wonder there’s so little turnover at this company, thought Sam. Who wouldn’t want to work here?
He especially enjoyed the conversations he had with his boss over kebabs and hummus on Friday afternoons. He had never felt comfortable asking for time off for Friday prayer at OmegaStar, but here at Tech Solutions, Mr. King himself accompanied Sam to the neighborhood masjid. Sam began to appreciate Mr. King as a mentor and father figure, as well as a boss. He started performing more prayers at the masjid with his boss, since it was so close to work, and registered for an Islamic lecture series, as well.
Emma, on the other hand, was feeling increasingly bored and lonely at OmegaStar. Lunch time was not remotely the same without Sam across the table from her. Alejandro seemed lost without his colleague, as well. At first he asked many questions about Sam and his new job, but after a while, when he noticed Emma’s forlorn attitude, he stopped.
“Tell Sam he needs to come over and watch soccer with me one of these days,” Alejandro told Emma. “I know he adores his wife, but he needs to make time for his friends, too.”
“Oh, he has some new commitments on weekends,” said Emma. “I’m not the only one who keeps him busy.”
“Really? What’s he up to?”
“He started attending a class at the mosque,” replied Emma, “and he often prays there, too.”
Alejandro could sense that she was not exactly thrilled about this. “Oh, well that’s good,” he said, loyally. He liked Emma, but Sam was his best friend. “Do you go, too, sometimes?”
“I’m not a Muslim.”
“Right. Well, but maybe you could join him sometimes? You know . . . ‘the family that prays together stays together’ and all that?”
“Hmm, we’ll see,” was all Emma said.
She approached Sam about it later that evening, at home. “Do you think I should go with you to the mosque one day?” she asked casually, as she washed lettuce for a salad.
“Would you like to?” Sam’s eyes lit up.
“Well, sure. I mean, you’re spending so much time there lately. I’d like to share the experience with you. I guess I just . . . miss you.”
“We have all day every Saturday together,” he said, defensively, “And Sunday evenings, too.”
“I used to see you every day, at work and then on weekends, too,” she explained. Now I feel like we’re living different lives.”
He sighed, but decided not to argue. “I’d love for you to come,” he said. “Do you want to come with me this Sunday?”
“Okay,” she smiled. It would be nice to spend Sunday morning with her husband again.
But as soon as they arrived at the masjid on Sunday morning, it was already time to go their separate ways. “That one is the women’s entrance,” he explained, pointing to a door off to the side.
“I can’t stay with you?” she asked, with a hint of panic.
“No, hon. Men sit in this part of the mosque, and women sit in that part.”
“Oh.” She swallowed. “When will we meet up again?”
“When the prayer is over, before the class begins. We can meet here in the lobby and I’ll walk with you to the classroom.”
“Okay. See you then.”
Emma walked disconsolately towards the women’s entrance. She remembered just in time to remove her shoes and stow them in a cubby. As opposed to the spacious and elegant men’s section, the women’s section seemed rather small and stuffy. Several ladies sat on the carpeted floor, tending to their small children or chatting quietly. Some read copies of the Quran and others fingered strings of beads, moving their lips silently. Emma stood in the doorway and looked around, trying to decide where to sit.
“Al-salâmu ¢alaykum,” said a cheerful voice. A stout, middle aged, motherly-looking woman approached her.
“Hi,” said Emma. “I’m just visiting.”
“Welcome! Let me just find you a headscarf before you come in,” chirped the woman.
“No, no, don’t bother,” whispered Emma. She touched her hair self-consciously.
“It’s no problem at all,” insisted the lady. “Salma, come here, habibti!” She beckoned to a young girl sitting nearby. “Go get a spare hijab from the box, please, for this sister.”
The girl obediently ran out and came back promptly with a somewhat grubby looking white scarf. She held it out shyly to Emma.
“Um, thanks,” said Emma. She reddened with embarrassment as she reluctantly held the fabric between two fingers. It was yellowed with age and scratchy to the touch. Her eyes unconsciously drifted towards the exit, seeking escape. She didn’t want to wear this second-hand scarf, but she also didn’t want to offend anyone. She felt like all eyes were on her. The faces of the women around her did not seem welcoming, but rather curious, or even challenging. Or was that just her imagination? Emma was becoming increasingly uncomfortable. She could feel herself sweating. Why hadn’t Sam told her she’d have to sit in a different room and wear a scarf at the mosque? Why was she even here?
“I can help you put it on . . .?” The woman seemed to grow a little impatient, now, since Emma was just standing mute and motionless in the doorway. She prepared to drape the cloth over Emma’s hair.
“No, thanks. Really. Thanks, but I actually have to go. I don’t feel so well. I’m pregnant, and so I need to go and . . .” Emma rattled off the words, hardly thinking about what she was saying. She just knew she had to get out of there immediately. She stopped mid-sentence and fled through the lobby and out the front door. Once outside, she paced restlessly, gulping fresh air and looking around her, as if she had just escaped a prison. She knew how ridiculous her overreaction was, and yet she could feel nothing but a sense of relief now that she was outside. She became conscious of the breeze tickling her scalp. Did those women inside ever feel the breeze on their hair? How could they endure wearing a hot cloth all the time? Is that what Sam expected, or hoped, of her? That she would convert someday and wear a headscarf and ankle-length gown? Emma continued to pace and fret until Sam found her several minutes later.
“There you are!” he said with a smile. “I thought we agreed to meet in the lobby?”
“Sam, I shouldn’t have come today,” she blurted out. “I thought we’d be together and I didn’t know I’d have to wear a scarf.”
“Did someone ask you to wear one?”
“Yes, before I even stepped into the women’s section, a lady pounced on me and insisted on having me wear a dingy scarf from a lost and found box or something. I just didn’t expect that. I know it’s so lame, but I just ran off. I felt so . . . pressured.”
“Oh, Emma,” said Sam, his face looking crestfallen. “I had hoped this would be a positive experience for you. I didn’t think you’d have to wear a scarf, as a visitor, but maybe you do. I’m sorry. I should’ve checked first. So, you didn’t even observe the prayer?”
“No. I’ve been outside this whole time. Can we just go home, please?”
“Well, my class starts now. I thought we were going to attend together. You can sit with me in the classroom. It’s not divided by gender.”
“Will I have to wear a scarf in there?”
“I don’t think so. Let me go ask.”
“No, Sam. Look, it’s not worth it. I just need to go home. This isn’t my place. I don’t feel right here. I’m happy for you, really. Take your class. Enjoy it. I’ll come pick you up when it’s over.”
“Emma, please, you didn’t even give it a chance.”
“Sam, I need to go home. Really. I’m not feeling well.” She patted her stomach protectively.
“Okay. Sure,” he answered, with his eyes on the ground. “Class is over at noon. Pick me up then.”
One of the topics in the class was the importance of raising one’s children with a solid understanding of Islam. The lecturer explained that it is the parents’ duty to be excellent role models in the dîn and to provide their children with a thorough understanding of all the fundamentals of the faith.
Sam realized with a sinking stomach that he had never discussed with Emma how they would raise their children. He had never suggested that he would want to raise them as Muslims. Just a few months ago, having kids had seemed like a far-off possibility. Now he realized that this weighty topic would have to be addressed soon. After Emma’s reaction this morning, he did not have a good feeling about it at all.
He decided to tackle the issue that very afternoon. He would just plant the idea and let her think about it for a while. She would surely understand. After all, she was open-minded and well traveled. She had known many Muslims. She respected his faith.
When Emma picked him up at noon, she looked subdued. Maybe she felt guilty for bailing out on the class. He decided to be upbeat.
“How are you and baby feeling? Better?” he asked cheerfully, giving her a swift kiss on the cheek as he settled in the passenger seat.
“Yeah, we’re better,” she smiled. She pulled out of the parking lot. Despite her smile, she still looked distracted. He knew something was on her mind.
“Sam,” she said abruptly, “I want you to know that I love you so much and I support your religion. I’m glad you have found happiness. But I’m never going to become a Muslim. I don’t want you living in false hope. I hope that’s not what you had planned, when you married me. It’s just not for me.”
“Woah,” said Sam. “When did I say you had to become a Muslim?”
“You didn’t,” she agreed, “But I have the feeling that deep down that’s what you want, and I need to be completely honest with you. I don’t need a religion. I’m fine living by the Golden Rule. Going to the mosque today, I realized how different that culture is from mine. I don’t ever want to wear a scarf on my head, and I don’t think men and women need to be separated by walls.”
“Emma, I wasn’t trying to pressure you. I thought you might like to see how we pray, what a mosque looks like, and learn a little about Islam. I don’t have a ‘master plan’ to convert you. I wouldn’t make you wear a scarf. I’m not sure why you’re reacting so strongly.”
“What about our child?” she asked, hitting on the very topic he had been priming himself to address. “How will we raise her, or him? What if she’s a girl? Will you expect her to wear a scarf someday?”
“There’s so much more to Islam than a headscarf,” he hedged, choosing not to dive into the topic, just yet.
“But it’s a big deal to me. And we’ve never discussed how we’re going to raise our kids. And now I’m pregnant and we need to make decisions!”
“How would you like to raise our kids? As Christians? You just said you don’t need religion,” he reminded her.
“I’d like to raise them to be good, decent human beings. To be open-minded and respectful of others. To know about all the religions of the world. And if, someday, they feel the need to have a religion, they can choose for themselves,” she replied. She looked over at him in the passenger seat. Her eyes were challenging. “And you?”
“I would want to raise them as Muslims. It’s my duty.”
“You never mentioned that to me before.”
“I know. I definitely should have. I wasn’t even thinking of kids when we were engaged. And I wasn’t very connected to Islam back then, either.”
“How fortunate for me that you suddenly got connected,” she said with biting sarcasm.
He looked at his wife with shock. This wasn’t the Emma he knew. Was this another result of pregnancy hormones?
“What about holidays?” she snapped, proving she had been giving this topic quite a bit of thought. “Those are important to my family, to my culture. Even if they’re mostly secular, they mean a lot to me and to my parents. Our kids can have a Christmas tree, right? And dress up for Halloween?”
“Emma, um, I don’t know,” he moaned, feeling besieged. “I’d prefer they didn’t celebrate Christian holidays since, as you agree, we’re not raising them as Christians.”
“But they’re mostly secular, now!” she countered. “There’s nothing religious about the Easter Bunny or Santa Claus. It’s cultural. You said yourself, when I met you, that you wanted to fit in to this country! Now that you’re practicing Islam, you don’t want to fit in anymore?”
“Emma, let’s have this discussion another time, please. I don’t think you’re thinking clearly right now. Have you eaten anything lately?”
“I’m thinking very clearly,” she retorted. “Please stop being condescending. What’s happening is that I’m realizing right now that you’re going to insist on raising our children as Muslims when this is something we never agreed on. I’m wondering where that leaves me. I’m wondering how our kids will fit into this culture if they’re not like anybody else – not me, not my family. I’m freaking out because nothing at all is working out like I had hoped. You’re changing. My whole life is changing. This isn’t how it was supposed to be!”
He expected her to cry as she had done so many times recently, but what she did was actually more painful. She bit her lip and stared out the window. Her expression became stoic and faraway. He knew in that instant that part of her had broken away from him.
Sam and Emma both avoided the topic of religion over the next few weeks. They were polite and friendly with each other, but their connection was strained as it had never been before. It surprised Sam when, one Saturday morning, Emma emerged from their bedroom wearing a swimming suit and carrying a tote bag and a towel.
“Are you going swimming at your parent’s house? Isn’t it a bit cold for that?”
“No. I’ve decided to start teaching water aerobics at the Y,” she replied. She pulled a hoodie and sweatpants over her swimsuit and grabbed her car keys.
“What? Really? When did you decide that?”
“Last week. I ran into one of my old colleagues at the supermarket, and she mentioned that they needed instructors. I’ve been kind of unfulfilled lately and I think this would cheer me up. I’ll be home in a couple hours. Classes meet on Saturday mornings.”
“Is it safe to do water aerobics while pregnant?” asked Sam.
“Perfectly,” she said shortly. “I even checked with my doctor. She said that water aerobics are an ideal pregnancy exercise since they’re low-impact and take the weight off your legs and back.”
“Oh,” said Sam. He watched the door close behind her. The condo seemed very empty and lonely with just him and his jumbled thoughts.
Later that afternoon they chatted as they prepared lunch together.
“How was your class today?” he asked.
“Great! It felt really good to be back in the pool.”
“How many students do you have?”
“Oh, about a dozen. Mostly older ladies from the senior center. But – ha! — you’re not going to believe this! Justin is going to join the class next week!”
“Justin the idiot, from OmegaStar. The one who tripped you at the picnic and smashed my toe.”
Sam’s eyebrows furrowed. “Why would Justin join a water aerobics class for old women?”
“It’s not a class for old women. It’s a class for anyone, but it just happens to have a lot of older women in it. And I don’t know why he wants to join, but I ran into him at the Y, and he asked what I was doing there. I told him about my class, and he said he plans to join!” She laughed again, looking amused.
Sam did not find it funny. He remembered Justin – ignorant, loud, drunk, pushy. Sam had always suspected that Justin was attracted to Emma. That could be the only possible reason he was joining a water aerobics class. Sam envisioned Justin checking his wife out as she led the class, eyeing her vulnerable, beautiful, rounded pregnant belly that pushed out of her revealing swimming suit . . .
“No!” he said out loud, accidentally.
“No what?” she asked.
“That buffoon doesn’t want to do water aerobics. He just wants to be close to you. To see you in your swimming suit and try to make a move on you.”
“Sam, don’t be ridiculous,” she responded. “The Y is full of women in swimming suits. It’s not like they’re naked, for God’s sake. You say ‘swimming suit’ as if it’s porn.”
“He’s always been attracted to you, I know it.”
“I don’t think so, Sam. And this isn’t like you, to be so jealous.”
“I’m not jealous. I don’t want him ogling my wife, that’s all.”
“Hon, I don’t know what’s gotten into you. I wish I hadn’t mentioned Justin at all. I just thought it was funny. He’s such a clumsy moron that I know he’ll accidentally drown himself or another student halfway through the first class. I thought you’d think it was funny, too.”
“Well, I don’t. I wish you could just swim at your parents’ pool. You have all that space and privacy . . .”
“As you said, it’s too cold. And I want to teach this class at the Y. It’ll bring in a little extra money, which will help with the baby and all the stuff we need to buy. So, just pretend I didn’t say anything about Justin, okay?”
“I can’t pretend. And I really don’t want you to teach that class, not if Justin joins it. I can earn any extra money we need.”
“Are you trying to forbid me to teach my class?” she asked, with a challenging look in her eyes.
“No. I’m saying I prefer if you don’t,” he answered her.
“Well, I prefer to make my own decisions,” she said. “You have nothing to worry about with Justin. I love you. I think he’s a complete idiot. So let’s drop it, okay?”
Sam brooded all evening. Emma just didn’t understand him at all lately. There was not a single topic they could agree on, and he was staring to fear that they would never get back to the loving, compatible relationship they had before . . . before what? he asked himself. Before Emma found out she was pregnant? Before I started practicing my faith? Before she coldly rejected it before she knew anything about it?
It was so frustrating. He wished he could talk with someone older and wiser, like his mother or father. If only they were still alive! Then he thought of Mr. King: patient, kind, unflappable. Sam decided that he would approach his boss for advice on their next Friday lunch together.
It was easy to pour his worries out to the sympathetic older man. Mr. King didn’t interrupt, contradict, or question Sam. He sat listening intently and nodding occasionally to show he heard and understood. Only when Sam asked for his opinion did the older man speak up.
“Sam,” he said, “There is only one solution here.”
“What’s that?” asked Sam, as he took another bite of his kebab.
“What do you mean?”
“Try to see your wife’s point of view, Sam. She married you when you were not very practicing, right? She probably had an idea of the kind of man she was marrying. Now she sees you’re changing: spending time at the masjid, praying regularly, and possibly introducing a whole new set of ethics and guidelines into both your lives. Am I right?”
“No! It’s not like I told her she has to cover or pray! I’m not forcing anything on her!”
“Just hear me out, brother,” said Mr. King gently. “For her, this probably feels like a bait and switch. She married one kind of man and she’s seeing you change into another. In addition to that, she’s pregnant, which is a huge life change. It must be hard for her. And, as you told me, you never mentioned before that you wanted to raise your children as Muslims. That has got to be a little difficult for her to grapple with, especially if she doesn’t truly understand Islam.”
“Whose side are you on?” asked Sam, rolling his eyes.
“I’ve been in your shoes, akhi,” replied Mr. King. “So I’m on the side of helping this marriage stay together.”
“This happened to you?”
“Yes. Well, something similar, at least,” answered Mr. King. “When I embraced Islam, I was already married, you see — to a preacher’s daughter! Grace and I were soulmates. We were so in love. We had met at church, you know, as teenagers. We were both very practicing, very devout Christians. We had a big church wedding when we were both nineteen years old. Everyone was thrilled that we had come together: her parents, my parents, the whole congregation. But then, when I was twenty-one and in college, I took an elective class on World Religions. I thought it would be an easy A, you know,” he chuckled, “because I figured I already knew all about Christianity, and a fair bit about Judaism. Well, we also learned about Islam in that class. I was determined to find all the faults in it,” he smiled, “but as I read and questioned, I became intrigued. There were some Muslim guys in the class, and I would argue with them and try to explain to them why Christianity was the one true religion. They were always so calm and patient. They had answers for all my questions and counterarguments for all my arguments. I could hardly believe it, but eventually I became convinced of Islam! I knew it was the right path for me.”
“And your wife?” asked Sam.
“She wasn’t happy. Not at all, Sam. After all, she hadn’t taken that World Religion class. She was busy, by that time, taking care of our twins. And then another child came just two years later. And, you know, running the household and taking care of three little ones while I worked, and got my B.A., and then my Masters wasn’t easy for her. I know it wasn’t. It was hard work, and I know she was lonely. I was hardly at home during that period; I was working almost full time plus taking night courses. And of course, I was learning as much as I could about Islam.” Mr. King touched his fingertips together, deep in his memories. “I tried to explain to Grace why I was convinced of Islam, but she didn’t want to hear it, not for a long while. She truly thought I’d gone crazy, I think,” he smiled wryly.
“So what happened, eventually?” asked Sam.
“I wasn’t very smart about the whole process,” smiled Mr. King. “I became so immersed in Islam that I wanted my wife to be practicing, too, like a good Muslim wife. But she was still a Christian, of course – a very devout one. She didn’t want to hear about headscarves or staying away from pork or giving up Christmas and Easter celebrations. That was all part of her culture, her belief. Every time I made suggestions about what she should do and why she should do it, she felt like I was trying to change her and take her life away. Her parents were disgusted with me. So were my own parents, to tell you the truth.”
Mr. King looked down at the desktop, his face filled with sorrow. Sam didn’t like where this story was going. It seemed to have a very unhappy ending. His stomach started to sink.
“They were tough years,” continued Mr. King, “But finally I realized what I needed to do.”
“And that was . . .?” prompted Sam.
“I needed to be the best Muslim I could possibly be, and be as kind and patient as possible with my wife and kids.”
“That’s it?” asked Sam.
Mr. King laughed. “Sounds easy, right? But the fact is, that’s hard work, akhi. Harder than college, harder than running a business. Being consistently patient and loving with your family can be extremely challenging. Not pressuring them when they’re going slower than you’d like, trusting Allah when you feel like taking matters into your own hands, loving them unconditionally, not acting disappointed when they’re not doing exactly what you want them to do. . . it’s really hard! But I decided that I had no choice but to be such an amazing Muslim husband that my wife couldn’t help but be impressed by me. I tried to be as much like the Prophet —ṣalla Allâhu ¢alayhi wa sallam— as I could be. I had my work cut out for me! His manners were so impressive, you know, that people would sometimes just see him or feel his touch, and they would instantly embrace Islam.”
“So that’s why you’re such an amazing person,” mused Sam.
“Hmm,” Mr. King smiled. “You overestimate me, brother. All praise is due to Allah. But I did discipline myself, over time. I eventually learned to choose kindness over selfishness and patience over instant gratification most of the time. And al–ḥamdulillâh, it paid off.”
“Your wife embraced Islam?” asked Sam, hopefully.
“Yes, she did. It took seven years, but she eventually came to me and asked me to give her a copy of the Quran. She asked me, you see. I hadn’t pressured her or even addressed the topic for many years. I hadn’t made her feel guilty for practicing her own faith. I hadn’t tried to make her live like a Muslim when she wasn’t one. I just loved her for who she was – a devoted wife, an intelligent woman, and an amazing mother. And eventually she submitted to her Creator, al-hamdulillâh.”
“What about your kids?” probed Sam. “Did you raise them as Muslims?”
“Now that’s a big issue, right there,” sighed Mr. King. “She wasn’t happy about it at first, but Grace did agree to let me raise our children as Muslims. That was probably our biggest argument, ever. Obviously, she and her family wanted to raise them as Christians. So I read up as much as I could about raising pious Muslim children. I listened to lectures about how the Prophet, ṣalla Allahu ¢alayhi wa sallam, interacted with children. I looked up aḥâdîth about parents’ duties to their offspring. And I presented it all to her and promised her I would do my utmost to raise them to be God-fearing, honest, kind, wholesome, educated human beings. She couldn’t argue with those kinds of promises. She agreed.”
“I don’t know if Emma will agree,” said Sam, morosely. “And Mr. King, I don’t think I can be as strong, patient, and kind as you are. You’re unique.”
“You can become whatever you decide to be, Sam,” the older man said solemnly. “You’re already a very good, upstanding man. Your wife sees that. Now show her unconditional love and be a shining, excellent example of Islam. Almost everyone is open to seeing the Truth when they feel loved, safe, and respected.”
“Thank you,” said Sam, with a huge sigh. “It sounds incredibly difficult, but I’m going to try my best.”
“You’re welcome. And don’t forget du¢a,” added Mr. King. “That’s very important. Don’t forget to ask Allah for help. Make tahajjud, too, as often as you can. That prayer is like an arrow that doesn’t miss its target. Beg Allah for His help, and He will find a way. He, subḥânahu wa ta¢âla, is the Guide, after all. It’s in His hands.”
Walking into his front door that evening, Sam felt calm and secure. He had a plan to follow, and with Allah’s help it would all work out. He found Emma on the couch, absorbed in the pages of a pregnancy book. She looked up at him, and he realized that he could see a guarded, defensive expression in her eyes where he used to see only love.
She wasn’t sure who he was anymore. She felt insecure and worried. It was his job to fix that.
“Emma,” he said, gathering her in his arms, “I love you so much. I’m so blessed to have you. I don’t want you to worry about anything. It’s all going to be okay.”
“Will it, Sam?” she asked, like a small child wanting reassurance.
“I promised your father that I wouldn’t ever try to change you and I won’t. I love you exactly how you are. I only ask that you’ll let me teach our child about Islam – all the beautiful things about my faith that inspire me and make me try to be a better person. And I promise you that I won’t let you down. You won’t regret it. Our child will turn out to be truly wonderful, insha’Allah.”
“Just like her father,” smiled Emma, looking at him so tenderly it melted his heart.
“Just like her mother,” replied Sam.