food, faith and love in wa
Food, Faith and Love in WA is a nine-piece video series that has captured the stories of an incredible and diverse group of West Australians surrounding three of the most basic human values. This series was created for the Office of Multicultural Interests for Harmony Week 2017.
A young woman falls in love with falling in love – until she finds a man who makes her stop. Samina tells of her great Dutch love and his conversion to Islam.
Copyright © 2016 Samina Yasmeen
This story and corresponding images have been licensed to the Centre for Stories by the Storyteller. For reproduction and distribution of this story/image please contact the Centre for Stories.
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My name is Samina Yasmeen and originally I came from Pakistan. I’m going to tell you a story about how I met my husband and how I got married to him.
It was 13th April 1992, at 9.20am. As usual, I was late for a meeting, the reason being that I was told it was being held in a place called Love House. It sounds very silly, but, it’s actually part of the university staff development office and it was a cross-cultural communication training workshop for academics. And because I was late, I entered the room and there was only one round table where I could possibly sit down and there was this nice man sitting next to me and the discussion was going on about how to do economics, talk to student post-grads across cultural barriers. So it went on and they said any questions? I said “Yeah, I have a question. I have a student from Pakistan and he’s driving me mad and if I don’t learn how to deal with him I’ll have a heart attack. So they all laughed and they thought it’s a cross-cultural communication—”You’re from Pakistan, he’s from Pakistan, what’s going on?” So I explained to them that actually I was born in Pakistan and yes the culture is very traditional, or it used to be in those days, but I come from a family where my mother was very progressive and I’m beginning to think that even my father was very progressive from his own background and they had treated their daughters and sons in a very equal manner. We had all been educated in the same way and that’s why when I was 22 years old I came to Australia to study at the Australian National University and then I’d been studying and I came to Perth in 1988 after doing my PhD from University of Tasmania and being based at ANU and I explained to them that my background probably is such that I don’t know how to deal with this student who wanted to put me in a mould of being a submissive woman, not supervisor.
So anyway the discussion went on and then there was tea, and you know I love tea, all these people they were standing around me and they were asking me questions. I think they found it very funny that a woman from Pakistan is in a cross-cultural communication workshop for a Pakistani student. So this guy who was next to me at that round table he stood there smiling and he got me a cup of tea and I said, “Wow this guy is really good, I didn’t even ask him to give me a cup of tea, be just brought it for me.” So I thought he’s worth befriending, so we became friends. I still remember he said, “We will meet up and have lunch together.” So we go and there used to be a great cafe—Cafe Neon—so we went there for lunch and I sat there, and I always talk a lot, and when I came to Australia I was very quiet. I thought I didn’t understand the language even though I spoke English so I was very sort of submissive for a few weeks but by this time I was back in my usual form. So there was this guy who wasn’t talking, and I’m thinking, “Gee, he’s so shy, I really have to make an effort and get this guy to open up” so he talked and we became friends. We were friends for a year until one day and again it was 12 November 1992 that I suddenly though, “Hmm, I think I’m falling in love with this guy.” And it was really strange because I think, you might think it’s funny, but I had a history of falling in love with people. My friends used to say that I had a six month cycle—two months I would be chased by these guys, whosoever that was, two months I’d say “Okay” so guys would have some romantic affiliation and then they’d give me the flick and I’d spend the next two months crying and six months would pass and I’d fall in love with another guy. So my system was used to it but this was while I was doing my PhD but even after my PhD when I was teaching—I started teaching at UWA on 2nd May in 1988 so I was pretty okay with this.
But this 12th November 1992,I think I’m in love with this guy and I feel sick. I feel physically sick. And I don’t know what to do with this and I’m thinking that’s a problem, he’s married, and you know? And I still remembered my friends, the ones who’d gone through the six-monthly love cycles with me, they took me to another coffee shop, sat me down, and said, “Please Samina, get over it now, we can’t go through it all again. We can’t see you crying.” So then I think, what do I do? So I said a prayer, that’s what I always do—and the prayer was to God, “I’m really in love with this guy and I’m feeling really sick about it, what do I do?” And he goes, “Just calm down, you can love him.”
I think relationships have their own dynamics. So obviously his marriage wasn’t strong at that stage and at the time it dawned on me that I was in love with him, it also dawned on him that he loved me. So then a few months were a bit tough. When his marriage was ended he came to me he said, “I’m not leaving my ex wife for you but I’m leaving her for myself.” And again that was pretty difficult. Here I am sick with love and you know there’s no guarantee. So I said another prayer like a countdown and it was, “So calm down, it’s all right, deal with it” and then it was really funny because it stayed on like that. He came to Pakistan, met my mother, met my father, met people around. And it was still the same, there was no commitment, “Once I get over my decision, I’ll decide”. So I thought, “Okay, now what do I do?” So there was one day we were walking past UWA and he said, “When we get married…” and I said, “But you haven’t asked me to marry you yet” and he said—sort of progressive—”Well why don’t you ask me?” So I said, “Okay” and I had to go down on my knees and said, “Would you marry me?” and he said, “I’ll think about it.”
“Mm. Okay” I said “your turn.” So he went down on his knees and said “Will you marry me?” and I said “I’ll think about it,” and I walked away. I said, “That’s it.”
So I thought, well this is serious so let’s say a prayer. So again, I said a prayer which in Islam is called istikhara, and it was basically, “God, I really do love this man”, by then I was not sick anymore with love, you know, I was in love but I wasn’t sick and I started eating again and I wasn’t getting emaciated. So what was I to do, it was like that’s okay. But the question really was, do I marry him as he is—he was a lapsed Christian and I’m a Muslim—or do I ask him to convert to Islam? And that’s really where I think all the prayer became very significant because traditional understanding of Islam is that a Muslim man can marry a woman of the holy books, so Christian and Jews, but a Muslim woman can’t marry outside, so the man has to convert to Islam. And I think it’s got a logic that you want to ensure that the community of Muslim follows relatively similar ideas. So it’s not that other Muslim women haven’t married outside, but it was my question to go out and say what do I do? And I knew very clearly in my head that if I get married to him without him converting to Islam, I won’t feel comfortable. And it wasn’t just because he’s not a Muslim, I think it was more to do with my concept of God or my love for God and again it might have seemed very mushy but I was brought up in a family where, as I’ve said, my mom is very progressive. She loved poetry, she loved art, she loved literature, but she was a very Sufi kind of Muslim. You can do anything as long as your love for God guided you. So I think that’s where I had learned what it means to love God. So, not that I’m the perfect sort of good Muslim woman, we all make mistakes, but my question was for me to get married to a person who’s not a Muslim, would I be able to live with myself and think that my love for God still stays supreme compared to any other love? And I think after the prayer I said, I got to the point where I thought, if I compromise my love for God, which is the basis for my total being, would I not put myself in a position where I would be open to compromising my love for anyone else? So for James, but also for my love for my parents, for the rest of my family, for the place I’m in, for everyone I come into contact with. What sort of a human being would I think I am? And feel that I am? And that’s really where that prayer was really important.
As it happens he wrote to my parents. Again I won’t admit that sure it was all formal, when everyone in the family knew that I was in love with him, but still he had to write to my dad. And he said “Yep, if you convert to Islam, you’re okay with that.” And then it was November 1994, we got married on the 4th, outside in front of the swimming pool in our place. At some stage I got this idea that there is a whole structure in Islam of seeking guidance from God. So just as we go to friends and colleagues and counsellors, the best guide is God. So I learned that if I really want to make a decision, I’ll go to the best source and say “do I do this or not?” So, I got into doing istikhara.
Now I don’t know what traditional sort of religious scholars would say about that, but I’ve done istikhara for everything that I really think I need to make a decision. And so, touch wood, I’m happy ever since. And I’m glad because I think without that clarity in myself I would probably make mistakes, but I didn’t. In this case I didn’t so I’m very happy with this.