First Contact

From The Mus­limah Who Fell to Earth. Pub­lished by Mawenzi House in 2016. Mu­ni­rah Ma­clean stud­ied com­par­a­tive re­li­gion, phi­los­o­phy and ed­u­ca­tion in Lon­don, Eng­land. She moved to Canada in 1985. She runs a day­care and con­ducts mind­ful­ness work­shops.

Geist - - Findings - MU­NI­RAH MA­CLEAN

This story be­gins at Mirabel Air­port, a lofty, light-filled white al­ba­tross of a place in the mid­dle of snowy, white fields not too far from Mon­treal.

I ar­rive. I get to Cus­toms; I’m a small white Bri­tish girl wear­ing a grey duf­fle coat with a Turk­ish ker­chief on her head. My pass­port is stamped

full: Europe, Turkey, Cyprus, In­dia, Syria, Greece, and Bul­garia but (oops) I don’t have a visa for Canada. I didn’t have enough time on my last visit to Eng­land to get one. So I make duas. I learned the fatiha and sev­eral of the short surahs from the wife of Sheikh Nazim, Ha­jja Amina Hatun (May Al­lah sanc­tify her). I have been a Mus­lim for six months, I took Sha­hada and a pledge of al­le­giance to my sheikh of the Naqsh­bandi tari­quat and got mar­ried all on the same day. I don’t have a mar­riage certificate be­cause I had a Turk­ish Sufi wed­ding in a mosque in Ni­cosia, Cyprus which wasn’t even rec­og­nized as a state at that time.

“Hmm,” says the of­fi­cial. “Bon­jour,” I say with a bright smile, then more duas and fati­has un­der my breath. I have come in on a one-way ticket. Naïvely, I tell him the truth. My Cana­dian-born hus­band of three months is on the other side of the gate wait­ing for me. The of­fi­cial sighs. “I’m not go­ing to stamp your pass­port, you have to go to the Bri­tish Con­sulate down­town right away.” Al­hum­dulil­lah! Thank you Al­lah! I have never heard of any­one get­ting through in­ter­na­tional cus­toms with­out a pass­port stamp be­fore or since.

I’m through! Wel­come to Canada! Big Sky! Ibrahim is gor­geous! He is wear­ing a big fur hat and has a bushy Naqsh­bandi beard and warm brown eyes. He looks like a teddy bear. And on the sub­ject of bears... yes, there is snow but I don’t see any po­lar bears out of the car win­dow on the drive to Parc Ex­ten­sion. I meet Davy, my new fa­ther-in-law who has come along to col­lect his son’s new­est bride. His car has a hole in the floor, but I don’t find that un­usual be­cause in Mar­garet Thatcher’s Bri­tain, where I have come from, you are rich if you have a car at all. “All the other Jews have Cadil­lacs,” he tells me earnestly, “but I was just a cut­ter so I worked for the money.” Davy is gen­tle and hum­ble but con­fused about his el­dest son, who went to Jerusalem and re­turned a Sufi. Af­ter we ar­rive at the fam­ily du­plex I meet Sylvia, my mother-in-law. She is wear­ing a co­ral pink vel­vet jog­ging suit and has come home from her sec­ond job. She doesn’t like to sit still,

she thinks it’s lazy. She is, I re­al­ize, a clever woman with strong opin­ions about al­most ev­ery­thing. She con­fides, “I liked the first one, her fa­ther had a shop­ping mall, the sec­ond one was a Que­becker, she only liked her own peo­ple.” She is re­serv­ing judg­ment on me, the third wife in five years, the new one. I keep my thoughts to my­self. With Al­lah’s grace a mir­a­cle takes place, we be­come friends and my hus­band’s fam­ily be­comes my Cana­dian fam­ily for which I am for­ever grate­ful. Dis­parate el­e­ments, dif­fer­ent worlds, but through the wis­dom of the heart we come to­gether. Sub­hanal­lah (God is Glo­ri­ous).

As a new wife, I knew that sta­tis­tics were not on the side of a long-term mar­riage, but I de­cided this one was go­ing to be dif­fer­ent. I also knew about the re­al­ity of polygamy, hav­ing en­coun­tered two rather strange Ger­man-born women who were trav­el­ling to­gether and were mar­ried to the same man. They were both re­cent con­verts to Is­lam, and had lived in a ve­gan com­mune pre­vi­ously. “Oh it’s fine,” they as­sured me, “we share the house­work and we share Hus­sein, it’s very con­ve­nient for all of us.” They po­litely took turns hav­ing ba­bies each year. I didn’t want that! I wasn’t putting up with that! True to my ide­ol­ogy, I made it a stip­u­la­tion in my mar­riage con­tract that my hus­band could not take a sec­ond wife while he was mar­ried to me un­less I agreed.

My first visit to the Is­lamic Cen­tre of Que­bec for Ju­maah prayer was dur­ing a bliz­zard. New to win­ter in Que­bec I didn’t have an un­der­stand­ing of terms like “more snow,” “less snow,” “freez­ing rain,” etc. To me it was all fun, a won­der­ful con­trast to damp and dark Lon­don. So I took the bus. I fig­ured out the change but when I waved my Mon­treal map with a large X marked on Grenet Street in Ville St Lau­rent at the driver, I think I star­tled him.

At that time ter­ror­ists were Irish, but Mon­treal’s bus driv­ers were uniquely Que­be­cois and their mul­ti­cul­tural aware­ness was lim­ited. De­spite my smart shal­war qameez and my tuque tur­ban—i even spoke French: “Ex­cusez-moi est-ce cet au­to­bus va á la mosque?”—he was very un­friendly, and told me an­grily to get to the back of the bus. For­tu­nately a kind-hearted

woman told me when my stop was ap­proach­ing.

In that in­car­na­tion, the Is­lamic Cen­tre of Que­bec, ICQ as it is still known, was a long, low build­ing with a home­made minaret on top that looked like a dented cro­cus bulb. As women were not al­lowed through the front door—“astagh­fi­ral­lah (Seek For­give­ness of Al­lah) sis­ter”—i trudged through a snow bank to get round the back to a fire exit which had a “Ladies” de­cal on it. Some­one had thought­fully wedged a rub­ber slip­per in it so we could get in.

Once in­side, the fa­mil­iar feel of wet car­pet­ing un­der dry sock and a waft of curry and syn­thetic jas­mine per­fume as­sured me that I was in the right place. The few Mus­lim sis­ters that were there were mostly un­re­spon­sive to my en­thu­si­as­tic Salaams and af­fec­tion­ate hand-clasp­ing, kiss­ing, etc. which I had learnt else­where. I thought I heard mum­bled things about “Bri­tish­ers,” al­though one did ask “Where you are from?” I re­al­ize now that my Turk­ish Neo Naqsh­bandi hy­brid and their Learned­back-home Is­lam were di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed. For many of the women who had bravely come to this cold dis­tant coun­try, Is­lam was mar­riage, chil­dren, and mar­tyr­dom, with a bit of tajweed (recit­ing the Qu­ran), and samosas on special oc­ca­sions. Many of them stayed home not by choice but be­cause they sim­ply had no idea about the way this so­ci­ety func­tioned and had no contact with the peo­ple around them. If they spoke English, they did not speak French; they had no in­de­pen­dent in­come and lived in apart­ment build­ings in dan­ger­ous ar­eas where you had bet­ter avoid your neigh­bours in case you got robbed.

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