Aisha and I paddled a canoe between willows at the edge of Lake Washington, amidst spring flowers pink and yellow. She described herself as a liberal Muslim. We fell in love; became engaged. Then she said we could not marry unless I converted. For it is haram. Not permitted in Islam. And so Aisha requested I go to mosque.
She attended the mosque at the corner of Northgate Way and 15th. We could not pray together so I took her Koran and followed the men. Shoes filled the entryway. The confines without furniture, I sat cross-legged in a corner. Some men had long robes, or dishdashas, one with a fez, others wore dress shirts and slacks. My fiancée downstairs praying with the women for the rights the Koran gives.
I had worked construction and painted that day. My enamel crusted fingers flipped between suras and the supplemental hadith. I returned to certain passages, certain euphemisms. I could not have sex with my mother or sister or the wife of my brother. I could have sex with my wives and those whom my right hand possessed. I could have four wives. As to the disobedient, I could touch her with a feather. Trust in Allah but tie up your camel.
The muezzin entered and chanted – Allah! Allahu akbar! There is no God but God and the Prophet, PBUH – Peace Be Upon Him, is his messenger. Everyone stood and formed a line. I held my fiancée’s Koran and stepped to the far left. The man next to me had a beard of Taliban proportion. I smiled, but he turned and glared. I offered, “Sala’am wailaykum!” Nothing. The prayers began. Up and down, forehead to the floor. We prayed. Ten or fifteen minutes, and then people filed out. Beard glared again and disappeared.
Three young men sat by the stairs in the entrance, one gave a greeting. He came from Indonesia, and introduced his friends, from Jordan and Saudi Arabia. I explained my participation. The man from Indonesia beamed. “You will thank your fiancée, for everything you need to know about life is in this book!” He patted his tome. A man had once told me this about Journey to the End of the Night. Celine left me confused in a different way. I asked the Indonesian why Taliban Beard did not like me.
“You are dirty.”
I mentioned I painted all day; I showered.
His Jordanian friend said, “But you look dirty.”
I looked at my hands, my finger nails with black and gray smears that would gradually fade. These young men forgave, and invited me to sit. They wanted to know about my fiancée. Jordanian reminded, “You must convert! It is haram for a Muslim woman to marry you.” The Saudi kept quiet. When the Saudi stood, he stood tall, with thin whiskers around his mustache and beard. All of them studied at university on student visas.
I took the Koran from my lap and placed it by my feet. The Indonesian’s face turned white. He pronounced ‘Koran’ with such force the spelling changed. “The Quran you never put beneath you!” He cradled the book.
I apologized. Indonesian forgave, again, for Allah is great. We walked outside. Aisha conversed with a couple Jawa extras from Star Wars, but Aisha’s scarf wrapped around her face and her long hair tumbled provocatively on her neck. My friends departed, except the Saudi. He finally spoke.
“I have lived here three years. I do not think it is necessary to be strict about rules.” He told me that he had an American girlfriend. And though he loved his family, he did not want to go home. He bade farewell.
I walked to my fiancée and Aisha asked if I learned anything. I told her yes, but said nothing. For love cannot accept being haram.
Caleb Powell's writing is published or forthcoming in decomP, descant, Drunken Boat, elimae, The Pedestal Magazine, Yankee Pot Roast and others. He has lived and worked in South Korea, Taiwan, Guam, Thailand, The United Arab Emirates, Denmark, Brazil, and Argentina. A Canadian small press, Good Cheer, published his guidebook, The World is a Class. Visit him at http://calebpowell.wordpress.com.