Imran tries internet dating
(© Shonagh Rae)
Yasmin Hai was born in north London in 1970. She is a writer and journalist. In her memoir, The Making of Mr Hai’s Daughter, Hai described growing up as a Muslim in multicultural Britain. She has worked for the BBC’s Newsnight, has made documentaries for Channel 4, features for Radio 4 and has written for the Guardian and Sunday Times. She is currently working on a short story collection and a TV drama. The story below appears in Virago is 40: A Celebration, published as a free ebook to mark the 40th anniversary of the Virago imprint. “Safa@40” touches on questions of Muslim identity that Hai explores more fully in her memoir. “I felt frustrated at the way [the media] were tackling the Muslim story,” she has said. “I had always felt frustrated and that, especially post-9/11, they were contributing to the tensions.”
He had been meaning to delete his profile for some time but, with all his other earthly chores, he never got around to it.
And so one day, while bolted up in his bedroom “doing research,” a message had arrived in his inbox from Inshallah.co.uk. This time it wasn’t an advert promoting cheap tours to Mecca or a daylight-saving Azan prayer clock but an actual invitation from a member to view her profile.
Despite his better judgement, he clicked it open.
“Asalaam Alaikum,” he read. “I am Safa@40.”
“Safa,” Imran whispered the name, appreciating its simplicity. It was a refreshing change from “SoulSista” or “Taz4Allah” or “PAK1982,” some of the MTV-style pseudonyms women had used in the past when contacting him on Inshallah.co.uk—“The World’s Premier Marriage Website for Serious Muslims.” He had rarely read on after that.
But now, as he idly skimmed over Safa’s profile, he found himself drawn in. Not only did Safa claim to wear a niqab (a sister who veiled her face unlike those phonies who only wore a flimsy head scarf), but she also believed the world to be in a state of fitna (which Imran certainly believed), drove a 4 x 4 and was working hard on her “studies.” She didn’t specify what they were but—Inshallah—hoped to pass soon.
She then went on to talk about her great passion—fighting injustices in Chechnya, Palestine, Afghanistan…
This made Imran sit up. Fighting injustices was his cause too. And then Safa mentioned the Kashmir conflict, adding that was where her family came from.
An image of a Kashmiri beauty, fair skinned, bright eyed, took shape in Imran’s head. He chided himself for succumbing to such superficial thoughts about the opposite sex. But also felt gratified that a woman of such accomplishments could be so near his grasp and yet…
For the first time since registering with Inshallah.co.uk, Imran wished he could see a picture of Safa, if only to make sense of the strange feelings rising within him. But Inshallah.co.uk strictly forbade images of any sort.
Which left him feeling rather confused.
He had never experienced such excitement before. An excitement not sparked by crude sexual desire but based on a real appreciation of Safa’s finer, inner qualities—exactly what Inshallah.co.uk’s rules stipulated.
He felt something momentous shift inside him, a higher calling that forced him to wonder if Safa could be the…
He stopped, frightened to think on.
Suddenly, needing answers, Imran found himself searching for “Safa” on islamwordup.com; as if understanding the meaning of her name might explain who she was.
Pure, in Arabic, came the answer.
Of course, thought Imran nodding at the screen.
What did the “40” mean? It couldn’t be a reference to her age. For why would she be contacting him then, a younger man? His own pseudonym, ServantoftheOne@25, clearly hinted at his age. No, the forty had to mean something. Something profound, something deeper, something more ethereal, like her.
He quickly typed the number into islamwordup.com. How elated he was to find that forty was indeed a symbolic Islamic number. Yes, the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) had been forty when he was first received revelations from God. Yes, the Prophet (PBUH) had fasted for forty days in the cave. Yes, the Koran set the age of responsibility at forty. Yes . . .
Imran’s heart expanded with joy; it was as if in unravelling the number’s significance he had unlocked Safa’s coded message, gaining Allah’s blessing to lay claim to her.
Imran now began to dream, picturing walking defiantly down Willesden High Road with Safa—the ultimate couple. She dressed all in black with her face veiled and him in a white thawb gown with the latest Nike trainers on his feet—because he was a man of the street, along with his other qualities.
Returning his attention to the screen, he pressed on, keen to discover more.
But unfortunately islamwordup.com had little more to offer on the reasons behind the repeated mentions of forty in the Koran. “Only Allah knows,” it pronounced.
Feeling somehow dissatisfied, Imran started “doing research.” Not that combing infidel sites helped much either. Aside from discovering that the number enjoyed even more prominence in the Bible and the Torah—a detail he decided not to linger on—Imran soon found his head spinning with convoluted arguments from astrologers, theologians, mathematicians and the like over the significance of forty in Abrahamic texts.
One expert suggested that the number’s significance was rooted in ancient calendars, some of which used a forty-day cycle. Another claimed that the number carried no significance at all, other than being used as a synonym for “many.” A third source said it was all to do with the planet Venus and pentagram formations in the night sky—which rotated to their original starting points every forty years. While yet another expert postulated that the use of the number was just a literary cliché, as one might use the term, “Once upon a time.”
Exasperated, Imran returned to islamwordup.com, sorry that he had ever strayed away from its wise opinion. It was true. Only Allah knew.
He suspected Safa felt the same. And then, as he was about to type “what does pentagram mean?” he saw it. He had to read it twice to make sure it was correct. But of course it was correct. What serious Muslim didn’t know this? The Prophet’s (PBUH) first wife had been a forty-year-old widow.
Imran’s stomach tightened and his eyes darted back to Safa’s name. Had the @40 been a reference to her age all along?
He slowly read her message again. As the full extent of his folly sank in, Imran’s body began to convulse with rage and disgust. How dare she proposition him like he was some sort of Hollywood toyboy?
Imran suddenly felt furious at being duped. How could Allah have allowed this to happen? Allowed him to dream. Allowed him to be humiliated…
Shaking, Imran tapped some words into the keyboard. And there it was. Yes, the Prophet (PBUH) had been twenty-five years old, like himself, when he first married.
Of course! Allah in his infinite wisdom had been testing him.
Imran sat up, suddenly wanting to cry at his spectacular failure to rise to the challenge. He very much doubted that the Prophet (PBUH) had thrown such a tantrum when presented with his future wife.
And, as for Safa, what a woman she must be to so boldly take inspiration from the Prophet’s (PBUH) wonderful life.
Imran’s respect for Safa now bounded back, stronger than ever. As did respect for his own capacity to humbly learn from his mistakes. He now realized that Allah had chosen it to be this way. Allah had led his finger to click on Safa’s profile. She would make him a better, a more righteous, man.
They were destined to be together for ever.
Now, how to explain all this to his wife?
© Yasmin Hai 2013. Extracted from “Virago at 40: A Celebration,” published by Virago and available as a free ebook
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