Every summer, our visits to the United States fly by so quickly. Whether we’ve stayed three weeks or three months, time never seems adequate enough to visit all of our relatives, let alone our friends. This year, however, we received invitations so warm and sincere that they were hard to decline. With pregnancy behind us and Moulay reaching six weeks of age, we didn’t see any harm in taking a few short trips with him. We felt guilty, as if we were stealing time from our family, but they understood that we have special friendships that mean a lot to us, so away we went.
From New York, we headed to Pennsylvania where we met with one of our very first friends in Oman and two families that are very dear to us. Our children played while we snacked and chatted in the park. After a while, we prepared for an epic event—the ultimate Muslim vegan barbeque—with the only other Muslim vegan family we know. It was an amazing meal that included grilled seitan skewers, veggie burgers, barbecued drumsticks, vegan macaroni and cheese, collard greens, potato salad, and kale chips. And if the spread wasn’t satisfying enough, we had German chocolate cupcakes and raw blueberry cheesecake for dessert.
Our interrupted conversations were unceasing until we put the children to bed. Thereafter, we reconvened in blissful silence for prayer and hot tea. To be able to chat about faith, parenting, popular culture, veganism, and marriage all in the same day felt thoroughly satisfying. I’m sure I slept with a smile on my face that night. The next morning, our hosts were anxious to share their trademark Sunday breakfast with us and we were glad to receive it: homemade sausage biscuits, stewed apples, veggie potato scramble, and more kale chips. They gave us great ideas for developing some of our own family food traditions.
Lil’ Z loved their cozy home, often commenting on how beautiful it was. Between the amazing food, rich assortment of books, and brightly colored walls, she was smitten. The spacious yard included a sandbox, garden, and plenty of space to freely play with her new friends. Before leaving, she asked if we could live in their home and has been praying for a home of our own ever since. We have yet to find a home base for ourselves but delight in the idea of having a constant space to extend and return the gift of hospitality, as well as a canvas to demonstrate our aesthetic, values, and way of life.
From Tampa, we flew to Georgia where we united with friends that we hadn’t seen in about seven years. Our hosts were always close friends of ours and we were eager to not only see each other, but introduce our children to each other. Their children embraced Lil’ Z, just as their parents embraced us. Our friends welcomed us into their home and we stayed up late talking as if no time had passed. We cooked together and hosted a fast-breaking meal in Ramadan with others, including the family of the imam who married us. Sitting with the blessed guests that evening, I felt stifled not knowing where to begin with the dozens of conversations I wanted to have. And all being parents, our words and thoughts were punctuated by the cries, complaints, and needs of our children. The time, albeit short, was just what we needed to rekindle our connection and recommit ourselves to staying in better touch.
After a delicious meal and filling conversation, the imam stood to lead us in prayer. He reminded us to ready ourselves and concluded with four words that moved me deeply: “May Allah love you”. Tears filled my eyes remembering the very sweet fellowship of the beloved teachers and friends we reunited with. With them, I was reminded that the singular pursuit of Islam is attaining the love of God and the best friends are those who aid you in that pursuit. To share that common aim with people you love makes for a deep and meaningful friendship. Aside from our genuine connection to each other, we can plug into the same Source and bow down to the same Lord. We may come from varied backgrounds, cultures, and experiences but we share an ethereal bond that makes us like family.
Though scattered in different places, virtual companionship has kept us in contact with our beloved friends but seeking out their physical presence helped to recharge our friendships. As Lil’ Z gets older, we’ll have to help her navigate how to select and sustain her own friendships. Until then, we’ll continue to convey the value of good companionship and the imperative to pursue it, regardless of the effort and energy it entails.