On loving a Muslim

My dad, my best friend Saskia* and I were on our way to the airport. It was quiet in the car. My dad would always stay silent whenever he was mad or sad. I knew that right now he was both.

I tried to be optimistic. I tried to ignore my alarming thoughts that perhaps this would be the very last trip I’d ever take. That I might never come back from it. This was also the first time I was afraid of getting kidnapped, or that something worse would happen, like I’d die. I was imagining the worst and I didn’t know why.

Dad hadn’t traveled a lot, but he watched a lot of TV. Lots of scandalous news. 9/11 had only been five years ago. “You’re not going to be safe there.” “But I’ve been there, dad. You don’t know,” said 17-year-old knowitall me. Why are you driving me to the airport then and letting me go? I wanted to add. But I didn’t because when my mom had attempted to keep me from flying to Oman again, I had cried my eyes out and told her I would hate her for the rest of my life if she didn’t let me.

I was quite mature for my age, but still a naive girl. My parents knew that they could trust me in not getting into trouble such as alcohol or drugs. I had never been that type of teenager. Substances didn’t excite me. Adventure did. Foreign lands, different cultures. That was my mom’s fault. She had always taken my brother and I with her and I had already seen just short of 15 countries on three continents by the age of 17.

My parents usually trusted that I’d be ok traveling because I had taken my first out-of-the-country flight when I was 14 and had spent 4 weeks in the US as an exchange student at the age of 16. But this trip to the Middle East was different. A Muslim country may not accept my European ways of life. But mostly, my Muslim boyfriend who I had known in person for three days only and six months via online chats and Skype calls, did not have the trust of my parents. Mom had met him for a brief moment during our vacation, but dad had never seen him.

“Be safe,” dad said and gave me the shortest hug ever. He didn’t even wait for Saskia to say goodbye to me properly because he quickly walked off. I proceeded to my gate all alone.

On my two flights to Oman’s capital Muscat with a layover in Dubai, I replayed the scenes how I had met Talal over and over in my head and I imagined what we were going to do in Muscat. He had told me that he got an apartment for us because his family couldn’t know about us. It was against their will to see their unmarried son dating a non-Muslim. He had also mentioned that he had organized a weekend trip where we’d camp in the desert. All of this sounded amazing and I was on cloud nine when I finally grabbed my bags and went through the doors that said “Nothing to declare.”

Few people here looked like me – a light-skinned, European traveller. Among the dark to very dark-skinned Omanis, I noticed more men than women. The latter wore traditional Omani clothing – long, solid, black shirts, skirts, and dresses that covered everything including their feet with the exception of their hands. Long scarfs covered their hair and necks. Some of their faces were completely exposed while others wore burqas, which only showed their often daintily painted eyes, or lace veils sewn loosely or tightly revealing at least a very small impression of their faces. The more conservative-looking women were most likely Saudis, though. Omani men mostly dressed in white, ankle-long dishdashas with belts, and usually their heads were covered by either a masar or kuma.

I expected Talal to wear his traditional outfit, too, but then I spotted him in beige jeans and a red and white striped shirt. My walk became faster and when I reached him, I wanted to give him a big hug, but he stopped me in my tracks and just said very coldly: “Hello, Jennifer.”

He took my suitcases and we silently walked to his car. As soon as we were in it, he reached over to give me a hug. “I’m so sorry, princess, I couldn’t give you a hug outside. I couldn’t have anyone seeing us, you know.”

The next two weeks, while he wasn’t working, he showed me as much of his country as possible, took me to witness turtles laying eggs at a beach, to a desert camp, a traditional festival, and many more places. All while we were never able to physically show our affection in public. I truly and enjoyed and reveled in all of these wonderful experiences; yet, I just didn’t feel like I would ever want to live there.

Nevertheless, we stayed together and he came to visit me in Germany three months later.

For him, who hadn’t been a seasoned traveler yet, the culture shock was much bigger. He wasn’t fond of the food, couldn’t cheers with me for my 18th birthday because he didn’t touch any alcohol, and felt extremely jealous because I’d talk and laugh with my male friends. Not to forget that my tall dad kind of scared him.

At the airport, we both knew, it would be a goodbye for forever and were sure that we’d never see each other again.

However, exactly 10 years after I had visited him, one of my layovers happened to be in Muscat and we decided to hang out via social media.

“I’m not going to give you a hug, just like last time,” I said jokingly. He explained that I could give him a hug and that last time he just didn’t know how to act because he was young and shy. We would definitely be able to hug without anyone looking at us all weirded out, he claimed.

We went for lunch and talked about old times and he expressed that he had changed. The jealousy was something he worked through becoming older. He even tried alcohol during his time studying abroad, which I teased him for. “I’m not perfect, you know,” he added. “But I pray that Allah will forgive me my sins.”

We also found out that our lives now couldn’t be more different from one another: He had been married for years to a Muslim, of course, had two kids, a house, a stable job in his hometown of Muscat whereas I had not settled for a stable job, home, apartment, or partner yet and enjoyed traveling. Still, we got along great and enjoyed discussions about our different ways of life. We were incredibly grateful to have shared a relationship with each other in the past through which each of us learned a lot. Despite our differences, we love and respect each other.

Enjoyed this love story? Read 6 more of my travel love stories in different countries here.

Have you had a cross cultural relationship? How did it turn out for you? Are you still together? No? Why not? I’d love to hear your story in the comments!

*all names have been changed

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15 comments

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  • Your love story made me speechless, hahaha. I don’t know what to say. I’m the kind of girl who wants a happy-ever-after ending. I was kind of disappointed that you did not ended up together against all odds. It’s a good story though. Thanks for sharing it! 🙂

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Haha, thank you Joy 🙂 Sorry for no happy ending, but I guess that’s life 😀 Or – on second thoughts – it’s sort of a happy ending because we’re both happy – just not with each other hahahah.

  • I’m glad you two were both cool to your past relationship. Thanks for sharing this 🙂

  • This piece is beautiful and I can relate. I dated when I was 19 and the culture shock was really tough – for both of us actually. And like you guys, we are also grateful to have shared a relationship with each other in the past. We learned a lot. Shared a lot. Loved a lot.

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Thanks for sharing, Kim 🙂 That’s great! You love and you learn 😀

  • Wow that was quite brave of you to be going to an unknown country despite your and your parents worries. I wish you both could’ve been together, but I think it’s beautiful that you both are still friends 🙂

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Thank you 🙂 Brave or naive – whatever you wanna call it hahah. Maybe both!

  • What a lovely and honest piece. It’s great that you guys were able to learn so much from one another 🙂

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Thank you 🙂 !

  • It’s interesting to hear about your relationship. I guess some of it was cultural and some of it was personal. It’s great that you were able to discuss it after the fact.

  • Very interesting read. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Jennifer Schlueter

      Reply

      Thank you. Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Appreciate the fact that you shared such a personal story. This happens a lot of times. But as travellers, I guess we become better equipped to handle culture shocks over time.

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