In the Beginning…

In the Beginning…

During my eighth month in Riyadh, 1986, I fell in love with an Egyptian man. He was Muslim; I was Christian. Neither one of us allowed that to get in the way of the natural course of events.

He worked at KFSH, in the Emergency Department, and I worked in the lab. I met him when I started working third shift; he used to bring specimens to the lab.

Third shift at KFSH was indeed a graveyard shift. Only one person was needed to cover my whole section on third shift.  During the day it needed ten people. I worked twelve hours, seven PM to seven AM, four days a week, and spent most of that time alone.

The quiet, slow atmosphere of routine evenings in the hospital gave third shift workers time to talk to one another about subjects other than work. Because none of the supervisors were there, nor any of the Saudis, men and women didn’t maintain as strict a separation as they did during the daytime. Therefore, Ahmed and I talked to each other, sometimes at length. We started seeing each other on days off.

We’d sit in the hospital lobby, just talking. We’d take the hospital bus downtown to the suq, and walk around for hours, until the same bus came back to get us, along with whomever else had come downtown that night. People noticed immediately that Ahmed and I were spending too much time together.

If I had taken up with a man from any of the Western countries, no one would have raised in eyebrow, but Ahmed was Egyptian, and I was American. I had been warned, just as all newly arrived expatriate women are warned, to stay away from Arab men.

Well, I didn’t travel half way around the world to burrow into a pack of Americans, no offense to my compatriots. I simply thirsted for expansion.

We knew each other for just a few weeks when he started talking about marriage. In my still naive American mentality, I was impressed that this handsome, exotic man wanted to marry me. We agreed on a two year courtship.

That alone should have given me pause, but I knew nothing about Islam and little more about Arab men. I decided that I needed to learn about Islam. I believed (and still believe) that a married couple should observe the same religion. The Muslim people I met at the hospital had impressed me with their positive attitudes, their emotional warmth, dedication to their professions and families, sense of security and of purpose. If Islam had anything to do with such development, I wanted to discover the process, and try it for myself.

So began my inquiry into Islam, primarily because I thought I would become the wife of a Muslim, the wife of Ahmed. I wanted to see if I could observe Islam with him.  The two year courtship passed, during which I suffered an earthquake of changes, the magnitude of which threw up the foundations of my most basic assumptions. Everything fell back down all mixed up, and when the dust settled, I was a Muslim.

Eventually I did become the wife of a Muslim, but not Ahmed’s wife. That’s another story. Suffice it to say that when Ahmed exited my life, Islam remained.

About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
This entry was posted in Cross-Cultural Relationships, Engagement, Life, Marriage, Saudi Arabia. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to In the Beginning…

  1. Murtadha says:

    I am really impressed by your life stories. I enjoy reading. I really do.
    and i think your courage of talking about it in your blog is just remarkable. so thank you for that

  2. Marahm says:

    Thank you, Murtadha, and welcome! I appreciate your comment.

    Sometimes I do wonder whether I should post on certain subjects, such as this one. However, if one is not courageous in one’s writing, why bother, and who would care to read it? Besides, that’s where the interest lies, the “meat” of a person’s life– in those stories that need a bit of courage to publish.

  3. Hala says:

    Amazing how changes in our lives are brought by the most unexpected events, I enjoyed reading through, and looking forward for the next post…

  4. Solace says:

    Sometimes some people come into our lives for a specific purpose and Ahmed’s purpose in your life must have been to get you interested in Islam;-)

  5. MubMaj says:

    Beautiful, thanx for sharing. I would like to hear more about this part: “Everything fell back down all mixed up, and when the dust settled, I was a Muslim.” 🙂

  6. Marahm says:

    I agree that certain people come into one’s life and serve a specific purpose, and then exit completely when that purpose is fulfilled.

    Somehow, on an unconscious level, we recognize these people, though we may not realize why until after the fact.

    Unexpected events that bring momentous changes are a hallmark of my life so far. I hope I’m not in for more of the same–‘m getting tired!

    I will post on the turmoil I experienced during converting to Islam. Some people convert easily, but my journey was marked by conflicting desires and fear of the consequences either way.

  7. Hning says:

    Yeah, man, let the ajanib do the graveyard shifts, that’s what they’re there for anyways, right?

    *evil cackles*

    Relocated staff have this saying amongst themselves, that you leave your homeland because you’re running away from something there. I tend to think that we leave home because there’s something we have to bring back from our journeys.

    Ever felt that you actually went to Saudi to find Islam?

  8. Hajar Alwi says:

    Assalamualaikum sis,

    I happen to stumble by your blog but I haven’t gotten around to reading more of your posts. This one however, struck me firsthand on the exquisiteness of your writings and Insha’Allah, I shall read more of it in due time. I love reading life stories and yours is a good read. 🙂

  9. coolred38 says:

    I agree…some people come into your life for a short term and then go…but others never freakin leave…sigh.

  10. Marahm says:

    Hning, I’ve heard that saying from a psychologist, only a bit more optimistic. He said, “People who become expatriats do so because they are either running AWAY from something, or running TO something.”

    I’ve never forgotten that. Truth to tell, I fall into both categories. I give thanks to Allah every day for sending me to Saudi Arabia. The experience fractured my life in a place that needed fracturing, and seeded it with rich and exquisite potentials.

    BTW, graveyard shift was cool! I actually volunteered for it.

  11. Marahm says:

    Welcome, Hajar, and thank you for your comments! When I discover a new blog through the comments of someone who has found mine, I feel very happy. I look forward to reading yours.

  12. Marahm says:

    coolred, your comments always bring a smile to my face for your clever way of saying something that is not always pleasant.

    Yes, I can think of one or two people who stuck to my life so tenaciously I had a very hard time getting them off.

  13. Sarah says:

    Thanks for sharing this, it answers my previous question, and I hope you don’t feel under pressure to reveal more than you want to!

    I can relate to seeing warmth, security and a sense of purpose in religious people. I actually see a really mature approach to faith in your writings, which I admire. I’m sure religion is easier for some people than others, and I think for me I struggle with worry and doubt a lot. But then hearing that your conversion was difficult is interesting and surprising. Maybe it just takes time to find a comfort level.

    Interesting that it was a relationship that catalysed it too. All my religious changes have been linked to relationships, as well.

  14. Marahm says:

    Sarah, I have often wished that I could be one of those religious people who have no doubts, who buy everything offered in their religion, hook, line and sinker, and see their lives as one long opportunity for obedience. They are a lot happier than the likes of us, who question and doubt all the time.

    I look forward to reading about your struggle with the subject, on your blog.

  15. coolred38 says:

    Marahm….I agree with that comment. Wouldnt it be so much easier to just swallow it all down and be content with that…but it seems like as soon as you start wondering…thinking…asking questions…not only to you alienate people…you label yourself a rebel.

    Imagine…a rebel for daring to think and question.

    Only in religion.

  16. Marahm says:

    coolred, wise words! Isn’t it amazing that “only in religion” can a seeker and questioner be labeled a rebel? Here’s another one: traitor.

  17. susanne430 says:

    Great post. I am glad to know some more of your story, Marahm. It’s sooooo interesting! 🙂

  18. Maryam says:

    Life surely has tougher ways to teach things, doesnt it ? Its sad that your first love wasn’t successful, but you did get something good out if it, You are alhamdulillah a Muslimah now, what better than that huh ?
    May Allah always bless you hon, 🙂

  19. Grami says:

    Brilliant! I really appreciate the different way of thinking you showed. Just if everyone gets rid of stereotypical images of other people regardless of their race, religion, gender … etc etc the world will definitley be a much better place.

    I was really inspired by your story and from the the few entries I’ve read I can say I share many ideals and values with you, but probably I haven’t got your talent of expressing them.

    Have a nice weekend Marahm.

  20. Marahm says:

    Thank you, susanne430, and Maryam. Life holds hard lessons, indeed, but I wouldn’t have changed any of it– so far!

    Welcome, Grami, and thank you for your generous comment. Did you ever think about starting your own blog? Writing ability is just like any skill; it grows with use. You might surprise yourself.

  21. WM says:

    Well, all said and done, the least that can be said of you is that you lead an interesting life. Which is something, no?

    As for asking questions, it’s about asking questions intelligently. When done correctly, it can lead one to the loftiest heights of faith- in whatever religious tradition the questioner happens to belong to. Think of St Augustine or, more relevantly, of al-Ghazali. I like to think that great things are born out of turmoil.

  22. Marahm says:

    How nice to hear from you again, WM! Indeed, I lead an interesting life, but so does everyone, even those who appear dull and drab and dreary on the outside. Some of us simply write about it, and fewer of us share it.

    Indeed, great things can be born out of turmoil, and, “with every difficulty comes relief.”

    (Al-Inshirah 94:5-6)

  23. WM says:

    I finally got round to reading Khalil Gibran.

    Talentless, formulaic crap. I don’t understand what you see in him.

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