The first time my partner (we shall call her Mya) and I went to Church (she is a Christian), I had butterflies in my stomach. I haven’t been to a church for a service for a year at this point in time. We had a seat, and listened to the sermon. As we sat there, my historian brain kicked in, I realized nothing the pastor was saying was historically accurate. He was saying, Jesus and the Apostles built churches and spread Christianity. As a historian of religion, I fundamentally disagreed with everything he was saying. My mind drifted into pools of theological issues I had; when I felt my hand being caressed. I turned my head to her and looked in her eyes as she whispered, “are you ok?”
I was perfectly fine; I was safe and with someone I love… but something was bothering me though. It was at this point I realized I had to get over my childish urge that I have to be right and you have to wrong. The very next week, Mya attended jummah (Friday congregational prayer) with me. She donned a purple scarf and buttoned up her cardigan which held a tank top underneath. Before we went inside she turned to me and asked, “I wish I could sit with you” – men and women are in different buildings at this mosque. My heart broke a bit. I bit my bottom lip and looked at her like a child looks at their parent when they know they have wronged. Before we went in I told her one of my favourite stories of our beloved Prophet Muhammad. The Prophet and his companions were in the mosque when a Bedouin came in and urinated on the floor of the mosque. They started to curse him, when the Prophet said, “leave him for he does not know the rules.” Mya, knew the rules, in fact she went to a mosque on her own with a Muslim friend when we first met. She wanted to, as she put it in her own words: “see what was happening for myself.”
When the khutba (sermon) was over we met outside the masjid and interlocked hands. “It wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be” she said while unwrapping her hijab. It was not unusual for me to wake up on a Sunday and hear gospel music playing whilst the house was being filled with the aroma of pancakes and bacon (turkey of course). There were many nights when we sat reading while the Qur’an played in the background; this became our lives. Two deeply held truths coexisting under one roof.
One day my phone rang and it was the National Cathedral (yes THE NATIONAL CATHEDRAL) calling me for a job interview. I went, I interviewed, and I conquered. My first day there I walked into the church looking at the iconography and the stained glass windows. I stopped at a statue of Jesus, stretched out, bloody, and defeated. “I’m a Muslim, what am I doing here?”, I asked myself. There was nothing about that statue I agreed with, obviously, the Jesus (Prophet Isa) I knew about was saved from such a humiliating death. It was at this moment I heard someone lightly sobbing and I looked to find the source. I peaked my head into one of the chapels and found someone kneeling in front of a statue of Jesus, it dawned on me, this is someone’s truth.
Times like this I am reminded of one ayat that many Muslims and non-Muslims quote to beg the world to accept pluralism.
“For you is your religion, and for me is my religion.” – Holy Quran 109:6
It has not always been a pluralistic utopia, there was this one incident in particular. Mya and I were planning a party and the topic of alcohol came up. I insisted that the party be alcohol free and she with an air of arrogance said, “nobody can drink because your God says not to?” There it was, it finally came out, we have different Gods don’t we? There was no taking those words back even though I saw in her eyes she wished she could. I could not hide my disgust. We were supposed to be past religious hatred and ignorance. I left the house and went for a walk, after a while the moon did what it does best, it reminded me that I can’t hide forever. I checked my phone and Mya had sent me an email. Things were hard as she stated, this was not easy, would it be easier if I was Christian or she Muslim? Maybe. All relationships require compromising and ours just happens to be a little more personal than others (her words not mine). When I walked into the house my prayer rug was placed on the floor facing the Qibla. I walked into our bed room and Mya was fast asleep used tissues and a copy of “Zealot” on the nightstand.
The next day was a Friday and I woke up earlier than usual. Mya was sleeping, one of the sleeps that looks more like a coma than anything else. I walked to the store and picked up a few things for breakfast and some flowers; breakfast for her and flowers for me, obviously. Whilst I was walking home my phone rang, “why didn’t you come home last night? Where are you?” I paused and no doubt, my silence sounded like I was searching for a lie. Five minutes later I walk into the house with groceries and flowers. She tosses my flowers and leaps into my arms and my first reaction was to hold her. That Friday we went to jummah but, I searched for a mosque that allowed us to be separated by a rope and not brick. We sat as close to the rope as humanly possible. That Sunday we sat hand in hand in church and listened to the sermon.
“We should find a new church”, she says to me one day while walking to the store. It caught me off guard, I rather liked the few people we actually met there. “The church BBQ is coming up Sunday, I kinda wanted to go”, I replied. I didn’t mean to have the final word, after all she is the Christian not me, right? That Sunday, the picnic was going well, the food was good, everyone was having fun. Then suddenly…
You know that Mr. Krabs meme where everything around him is twirling?
“You know you’re going to hell?” someone asked me. “JESUS IS THE WAY!” I heard someone shout in my direction. “I never trusted him” someone whispered loud enough for me to hear. And right when I was about to respond, Mya pulls my hand and drags me away. We sat in the car for a bit in silence, she patted my knee and said, “I will never leave Christianity but, I have no problem leaving Christians.”