As my boyfriend went to the bathroom to brush his teeth and get ready for the night, I quickly pulled a hoodie over my bare head and began to pray as fast as I could. With each prostration, I found myself begging for forgiveness. I hated the days he would come back faster than I could finish. Praying almost felt like completing a race that was essential to dismissing a small part of the guilt I had engraved so deeply into me. It was as if, if I didn’t relieve myself of a small piece, I would collapse under the weight of the sins.
I was born and raised in a traditional household that was moderately strict. My parents were loving, and believed that creating an open relationship with your children was essential to their well-being. They allowed me to go to prom, have male friends over (as long as females were over as well), and encouraged me to question Islam. I often spoke freely with my mother about the existence of God, why one should pray, if halal meat was required, and other topics. Two topics, however, that were never discussed nor questioned, were sex and relationships. My parents did not expect us to have arranged marriages nor grow up the way they did. They did however, expect us to never have a boyfriend or sexually engage with them. They expected us to find a Muslim partner, talk to them until you believed you could marry them, and ultimately become partners in deen.
Until college, I had no objection to this rule. I thought and still do believe it is beautiful to “save yourself” till marriage and be with a man without any sexual motive. I believe it is beautiful to reveal your full self to someone only after nikkah and love them simply due to their knowledge, conversations, and deen. So I believed I would never have a boyfriend and would wait till marriage, just as my loving parents had outlined.
However, when I got to college, I met my first love. He was also Muslim and a little older than me. We were friends for a few semesters before I realized I had feelings for him. We had discussions about Islam, our cultures, and our academic futures. Every conversation I had with him could easily last four to five hours, and he always respected my space, privacy, and limitations. He also practiced in a similar way to me by praying five times a day, eating halal, etc.
One day, whilst sitting together, our lips touched. Soon after, that moment turned into a relationship of almost two years (currently). I was no longer a virgin, and together, as a Muslim couple, we dealt with our guilt both separately and together. We entered dark moments in our relationship in which we realized the source of our guilt was also the source of our love and happiness. We prayed separately because we couldn’t stand the idea of praying next to the same person we were committing zina with.
Although I love my religion and respect all its teachings, one thing I am still struggling to understand is how I can marry someone without understanding how they would treat me sexually. Would they respect me? How would they deal with my rejection to sex? Do they understand that rape in marriage occurs? Ultimately, I hope to believe you can get these answers without sex, as Islam suggests, but this experience is one I am still going through and struggle everyday with.
Our parents would never accept our choices. We couldn’t simply “get married” because he was from a different world culturally, and so was I. Additionally, I was and still am too young to get married in terms of my career and so is he. I ask myself often, if we had met later in life, when marriage was an option, would we still have committed zina? I am unsure and again, and to those reading who may not be Muslim, this is not an attack on Islam’s teachings. This is simply a story or someone engaging with their religion, struggling with sins, and reflecting: a series of actions that can be applied to any religion and its teachings.
Although my parents did the best with their background, they were brought up with a deep anti- “anyone not desi” sentiment for marriage while growing up. Similarly, his parents will most likely view me as an American girl who will only ruin their son and his cultural roots. It has been two years, and I still have not told my parents. Neither has he. What comes next, I do not know. One thing I do know, however, is that he is who I wish to one day marry. I am not sure when — or if — that will happen. But as I pray in my boyfriend’s room asking for forgiveness, I also ask Allah to help me through this journey as I strive to become a better Muslim with these inherent flaws.