MANY of my friends live in an America where Islam and peace are categorical opposites, a place where I once lived, but can never return after marrying Ismail, a Libyan Muslim, in 2005. Sometimes I miss the soothing homogeneity of that place, and its bright illusions of superiority.
The United States Ismail and I inhabit together is far more lively and interesting. But it’s one where my husband is instantly identified as foreign by his accent, skin color, faith, even his gestures and communication style.
As a white American married to a minority Muslim, I’m caught in a strange place. I see how people misunderstand him and treat him differently. Their prejudice prevents them from seeing him clearly; he remains partially hidden from view.
One friend avoided introducing him to her Israeli boyfriend — because she assumed he hates Israelis. But Ismail would never demonize a nationality.
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Others assumed he would pressure me to convert to Islam — but his understanding is that numerous paths lead to the same God, and there can be no coercion in religion.
Another friend warned me he would expect a traditional wife. But in April, my memoir, “My Accidental Jihad: A Love Story,” will be published — only because every weekend for the past three years he cooked and cleaned and cared for our children while I sat in cafes sipping overpriced drinks and staring at my laptop.
Even worse than discovering prejudice among friends is to encounter it in professional settings. Some of our children’s teachers have spoken to him in a patronizing tone. They think he is another thick-accented, hard-driving immigrant parent.
His doctor once asked him if he cried on a regular basis, and then insisted that he needed antidepressants. Ismail’s tears flow freely, as do his brothers’ — and more often from joy than sadness.
A therapist leapt to the conclusion that he was the cause of our family’s suffering, because his communication style didn’t conform to her culturally biased theories. He does not address his children with reasoned detachment. He favors passionate expressions of love as well as disapproval.
But she had no interest in considering his perspective. It was as if she believed the West held the patent on good parenting. Ismail, on the other hand, was baffled by all the time and money we spent in her office articulating our individual needs — never once addressing our accountability to one another. He comes from a place where obligations to family and community, not individual ambitions, shape a life.
Ismail is less upset by these misunderstandings than I am. He tells me that according to the Prophet Muhammad, the greatest jihad (or struggle) of our lives is the one that takes place in our hearts: the battle to overcome our egos and become more wise, generous and patient for the sake of humanity.
So instead of responding with anger, he smiles and moves on. He gracefully accepts that for now, his beauty must be concealed.
Krista Bremer’s memoir, “My Accidental Jihad: A Love Story,” will be published in April by Algonquin. She lives in North Carolina and works as associate publisher of The Sun.