Day 16: A Preppy WASM Finds A Wife

My five minutes of fame came early and quietly. In 2003, an article came out about me in the Boston Globe with the cringey headline, “A Preppy Wasp Finds Allah.” The article was written by our next-door neighbor and close friend of my sister, Beth Carney. The inspiration for the story came when Beth saw me shoveling snow in a long, flowing thobe more often found in the sands of Arabia than the slush of Boston.

While I am now more of a cultural chameleon, shifting my attire to match my cultural backdrop (as discussed in essay #3), at that time I was insistent on wearing “sunna” clothing that mimicked that worn by the Prophet (SAWS) and his companions (RA). At that time, whether I was attending a university lecture or going to my job at HIFIP (Harvard Islamic Finance Information Program), you would never find me in anything other than Islamic attire. In the post 9/11 environment of the time, this understandably led to many a raised eyebrow. (As an aside, many of my closest friends and mentors continue this practice today, and I think it has been instrumental in grounding them to their faith in a way that I envy.) 

The sight of her very American neighbor performing a very New England task in very unusual clothing piqued Beth’s interest. Her profile is a beautifully written snapshot of a time in my life when I was wrestling with how to reconcile my Muslim and American identities. The article was forwarded around and gained some traction, especially on Muslim websites and listservs. But my story is just beginning.

One of my now-wife’s best friends called her up and said, “Your future husband was just profiled in the Boston Globe magazine!” Not a subscriber to The Globe, my future wife drove to the Weston library and read the article. She was intrigued but ultimately saw it as much ado about nothing because the article indicated that I was teaching in the UAE nearly 7000 miles away. A few months prior to the Globe hubbub, however, she had been a bridesmaid at one of her best friend’s weddings. Although born a Muslim, she had recently undergone a spiritual transformation of her own and, among other things, had decided to wear the hijab. She, therefore, had a hijab made that perfectly complemented her bridesmaid dress. A close family friend was at the wedding, and, playing matchmaker, called up my mother and said, “I’ve found the perfect girl for your son.”

This Bollywood-meets-Hollywood romance doesn’t end there, of course. At roughly the same time as the Globe article came out, I was completing the Hajj pilgrimage. Soon, it was the day of Arafah, the spiritual climax of Hajj, as described in a hadith: “On this day, Allah, the most Exalted, descends to the nearest heaven, and He is proud of His servants [and says] look at My servants, they have come from far and near, with hair disheveled and faces covered with dust, to seek my Mercy.” While I had definitely come from far and was certainly seeking His Mercy, this disheveled young man was also seeking his future wife and making design-a-bride du’as. I knew that my eventual spouse would have to be as comfortable in the leafy suburbs of Massachusetts & tony country clubs of Maine as she would in the humble world of urban mosques and underfunded Islamic schools—a difficult combo to find.

When I returned from Hajj, my mother called me up with the answer to my prayer. She told me about this mystery girl, and we began communicating by email on February 8, 2004. From day one, I knew she was the one. Our stories dovetailed with each other too perfectly for this to be anything but divine providence. She had spent a year abroad in Florence, I had been the editor of Let’s Go Italy. I was teaching 5th grade at an international school in the UAE; she was teaching 4th grade at an Islamic school in Massachusetts. We grew up 20 minutes away from each other and had independently attended many of the same events during college.

But even more than this, “She PUNCTUATED!” I had had a few halting meetings with other potential spouses, but I was always struck by how different our backgrounds were. With every semicolon, instance of parallelism, and turn of phrase, I fell deeper in love. I discovered she had a Master’s in English from Boston College and wanted to write young adult fiction aimed at Muslim girls trying to find their way in the west. Within six weeks, I had flown home to Boston, and, on March 31, we were engaged. When we were married on August 35 of the same year, my wedding gift to her was a beautifully bound book that included hundreds of (beautifully punctuated) emails from our whirlwind courtship.

So, what is the big message in all of this? When something is meant to be, it’s going to happen. There is a beautiful prayer called istikhara that Muslims make when facing an important decision. It essentially acknowledges how fallible and limited our knowledge and capabilities are versus how vast and absolute these qualities are in God. It asks Him to “facilitate with ease” any decision that is beneficial for us or else to “decree what’s better and guide us to it.” This prayer takes all the weight off our human shoulders and surrenders it to the Divine. So often we tire ourselves out trying to force the proverbial square peg into the round hole. When something is meant to be, everything falls in place with remarkable serendipity. I know it probably sounds overly mystical to some of my readers, but the story of how this preppy WASM found a wife is nothing short of a miracle.

820 thoughts on “Day 16: A Preppy WASM Finds A Wife”

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