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Muslim Marriage: Shaheen & Faiz

Muslim Marriage: Shaheen & Faiz

Issue 4 Mar / Apr 2004


Growing up, my mother always used to say to me, “You never know what is your kismet. Your future husband may be anywhere, and who knows where your home will be someday.” As usual, my mother was right. Today, I am 4000 miles away from my childhood home in Surrey, in a sleepy Chicago suburb. Sometimes, when my American co-workers poke gentle fun at my English spelling, or as I fold the impossibly small socks of my third child, I wonder how it was that I came to be here.

The answer lies in my video collection. Unearthed from someone else’s clutter after 18 years of oblivion and recently passed on to me is a video of a cousin’s wedding reception. There I am, a socially awkward 15 year-old, sitting stiffly in my new shalwar kameez in one corner of the hall. Unknown to me, some of the people who will be central to my adult life are walking around me. My mother-in-law and father-in-law. My husband’s cousins, mere babies squalling on camera, will grow up to be the babysitters of my own children. It was at this wedding that my husband and I were first introduced by our families. Thankfully for me, that first encounter is off-camera!

It was on the strength of that one introduction that after being reminded of my existence by my Uncle, Faiz decided to pay my family a visit eight years later. After a week of sightseeing trips to Leicester Square and Hampton Court Palace and a particularly fierce game of air hockey at Brighton Pier, I learned that Faiz was kind, considerate and would make a wonderful husband. I also learned that he could put away a shocking amount of dessert. After nine years of marriage, I can say both things remain true.

We were married in December 1994. I stayed back a few more months to finish college before I was to join Faiz in Chicago. My mother cried at the airport as she saw me off, but I was giddy about the adventure ahead of me. A few months later, after she had visited me and had to return to England, it was my turn to cry. The adjustment to life in America had been hard. I missed my family and had not yet made any good friends. My husband’s family was kind, but the very person for whom I had uprooted was never around. Faiz worked long hours at the law firm where he was an attorney, and I felt very much alone. The low point arrived one evening when he called to say that he would be sleeping on the floor of his office because he had to get a case finished. It took me a few minutes to realize that he was not joking.

Faiz eventually left the law practice to join an insurance company. The hours were easier, but then Faiz started business school in the evenings. Our first child, Nadia, was born during his first semester. Two years later we had a son, Jamal. Life was hectic in our small apartment. When I look back on all that we have been through as a family since then, those times look wonderfully peaceful to me.

It was at the insurance company that Faiz came  up with an idea for his own business. He saw anopportunity to save insurance companies money by regulating the legal billing process. The internet was new and exciting and the dot-com industry was exploding. He wanted to quit his job to work exclusively on his business idea while searching for venture capital funding. We would be living on our savings. I remember being very nervous about the financial insecurity ahead of us, but I had never seen Faiz so excited about anything. I knew that this was his dream, so I gave him my full support.

For six long months, Faiz and his brother worked on their business venture trying to get funding. Our savings began to dry up and the tension was becoming unbearable. The day he phoned to tell me that he had a backer should have been a happy one, but something else had begun to concern me. There was something wrong with Nadia.



Shaheen was the first to realize that Nadia was sick. She was lethargic and off her food. At first it did not seem very serious, but mothers have a special bond with their children, a Godgiven sixth sense. Shaheen took our daughter to the pediatrician several times and when he did not take her concerns seriously, she demanded to see a specialist. Within a few days we were in the  pediatric intensive care unit of a children’s hospital. Nadia was suffering from acute liver failure.

A whole troop of gastrointestinal specialists examined our daughter. Nobody could tell us why Nadia’s liver was being destroyed. In such a time of great uncertainty and agony, there is only faith. We have never prayed so hard in our lives. I remember being struck by the fact that while we were surrounded by some of the finest medical minds in the world, this was the very limit of human knowledge. One of Nadia’s specialists, a highly respected research scientist and a Christian, stopped me in the corridor of the hospital as I carried the Qur’an and said, “Keep reading that book.”

Keep reading that book.”

Finally, there was a diagnosis. Nadia had a very rare autoimmune disease, whereby her liver was being mistaken for a foreign object and attacked by her immune system. The disease could be managed with medications but she might ultimately need a transplant. I offered to be a living donor and we were relieved to discover that I was a suitable match. Now was a waiting game, as we watched to see if Nadia would get better without the need for a transplant.

Shaheen and I lived at the hospital to be close to our daughter, while my mother took care of our 10-month-old son. I had already quit my job and made a commitment to our new business investors, and we had bills to pay, so I had to start up our fledgling business from my laptop in Nadia’s room. Periodically, I had to leave the hospital to meet investors and potential customers, while my wife met with the doctors and nurses. Shaheen and I had to be strong for each other and for the sake of our children, and our mutual respect deepened.

Nadia’s health slowly improved day by day until one month later we were finally allowed to take her home. It has now been four years since that wonderful homecoming, and the doctors are just amazed at her recovery. She has been off medications for over a year, mashallah, is growing like a bamboo shoot and we are told that today her liver is as healthy as that of children who do not have her condition. I truly believe that Nadia recovered because of the prayers family and friends made on her behalf. People all over the world were praying for her.

The test we endured when our daughter got sick brought clarity to our lives. While running a business can feel like a roller coaster with its exciting highs and stomach churning twists and turns, I try not to forget that which is truly important: my faith and my family. You can never know what God has in store for you.

I am particularly struck by that thought when I see the wedding video of where my wife and I first met. I wonder at the leap of faith my wife made when she agreed to marry me, leaving behind all she knew to join me. I have a question I like to ask her from time to time, a way of checking that everything is well with her. I ask her, “If back when you were a young girl, someone gave you a snapshot of your life in America today, what would you think? Would you be happy?” When I see that shy teenager in the wedding video, and then look at the woman at my side smiling back at me, I think I have my answer.


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