Ever since I was a young adult, my family tried to arrange a marriage between me and their “pick.”

I always used the excuse of “but I gotta finish school first,” to get out of the proposition. While they reluctantly agreed, little did they know that I was dating my white, agnostic boyfriend.

As we became more serious in our relationship (we were best friends for years beforehand, so it happened pretty quickly), Islam starting coming to the forefront for me. Not only was I picking up steam again in my Muslim spiritual journey, but I decided that my entire career would be based off an academic study of Islam.

Over the time we were together, he often asked questions about the tradition, and we talked about what I believed in and why. He always supported me when I needed to stop everything and pray. He even fasted with me during Ramadan. However, we carefully avoided the topic of our personal religious beliefs when we talked about our future together.

We knew the idea of conversion would eventually become a huge topic for us – and we weren’t ready for it.

[bctt tweet=”Little did they know that I was dating my white, agnostic boyfriend.” username=”wearethetempest”]

On our first anniversary, he proposed to me. Although we had seriously talked about marriage before, the sparkling ring on my finger and Facebook relationship status change really kicked things into high gear. We talked endlessly about how we could approach my parents about the fact that we wanted to marry each other.

The fact that he wasn’t a Muslim potentially meant that my family would cut me out forever, so we thought about many ways to get around it.

Would my fiance be willing to fake a conversion? Could we pretend that he already converted to Islam before? Would they even accept a conversion regardless of how authentic it was – or wasn’t?

I never pushed the idea of converting to Islam on him, but I’ll admit that there was external pressure for him to convert.

He knew that him becoming a Muslim would help my family in accepting him – and us. He also knew how happy it would make me. But as the possibility of conversion became more real, I realized the last thing I wanted was for him to convert for me – and not Allah. I knew that without the intention to convert truly in his heart, he could never be a real Muslim.

And if he couldn’t be a real Muslim, then the idea of converting seemed like a blasphemy – especially when it came to doing it, simply to gain the acceptance of my family.

We were damned if we did, damned if we didn’t.

It was at this time I started believing that if I simply presented the tenets of Islam – along with the story of Prophet Muhammad’s life and teachings – then he would believe. I had that much faith in Islam.

To my surprise, I soon saw I would never have to present him anything. One day, as he joined my school friends during a “study party” while he was visiting me at school, I looked over at his iPad to see what he was doing in order to keep himself occupied.

“Islam for Dummies” was open on his screen.

I took this as a sign of genuine conversion – and I will not doubt that it might’ve been hopeful thinking at the time.

As the topic of conversion moved to a definite conversion, the questions we had about “faking” it also disappeared.

Perhaps he knew that I no longer wanted him to fake convert, but he was doing it for our sake anyway. Perhaps I was avoiding situations where he could tell me whether it was a fake conversion or not. Perhaps he was doing it because he finally believed. Perhaps the topic was avoided, because the more religious I became, I starting thinking that I couldn’t fathom being married to a non-Muslim – and thus committing a grave sin by being married to him.

As the conversion date came closer, I talked myself into believing that it was okay that I had no idea whether he converted genuinely or not – I would be okay as long as the conversion happened physically, and we were accepted by my family.

I was okay with not knowing.

I look back and see that I was being stupid. But I also look back and remember the absolute fear I had of losing the love of my life.

On January 11, 2014, he converted in a one-on-one ceremony with one of the most open-minded and caring imams I have ever known. Unable to attend because of work obligations, I waited anxiously to see how he felt after taking the Shahada and officially becoming a Muslim.

His description of the event was simple: “That was absolutely beautiful.”

Shortly afterwards, my parents announced to our family and the Pakistani-American community we are a part of that I was engaged to be married.

It blew up in our faces.

Not even two days after the announcement, an uncle of mine and his wife started calling every elderly person in our community to come together and have a meeting with my father and me. The couple wanted all of them to sit us down and tell us that it wasn’t right for me to marry my white, converted Muslim fiance. While some of the aunties and uncles called my parents immediately to let them know what was going on and voice their support for my parents’ decision to accept our engagement, others agreed with my uncle.

Before I knew it, people were talking about boycotting my wedding.

While my parents braced themselves for this potential meeting and the possibility that my entire family could be banished from this community, I grappled with why it was such an issue if my husband was now a Muslim.

It didn’t take me long to realize that it was one of two things – or both: they either thought he was faking being a Muslim or it dwindled down to the fact that regardless of his conversion, he was never going to be one of us, because he wasn’t Pakistani or a natural-born Muslim.

[bctt tweet=”It will often be assumed by many Muslims that he is a fake Muslim.” username=”wearethetempest”]

Thankfully, over time, regardless of what people believed about his conversion, they supported our decision to marry each other – at least to our faces. After being put in his place by my grandmother (the most respected elder in our community), my uncle and his wife apologized for their initial reaction.

The wedding went off without a hitch, and nobody ever spoke up against us again.

This, however, doesn’t stop me from believing that some of them still think my husband is a fake convert.

Sadly, this isn’t the only time Muslims have blatantly shown their suspicion. I’ve gotten numerous messages on Facebook from Muslims who have told me that I’m going to hell for marrying a non-Muslim.

When I inform them that he is, in fact, a Muslim, they flat-out tell me that he’s no real Muslim if he converted to marry me. When told that he did not convert for me, but for his belief, they still don’t believe me.

It is moments like these that make me believe that regardless of what my husband does since he is a non-brown man married to a brown girl – since he is a Muslim convert married to a natural-born Muslim – it will often be assumed by many Muslims that he is a fake Muslim.

And they aren’t the only ones.

Many non-Muslim people – even ones we have just met – have often asked us if we are both Muslim. When we affirm that we are, people question my husband and ask if he really is a genuine Muslim or not – or whether he did it simply to marry me.

There are people who have flat-out asked me why I call my husband a Muslim, because I shouldn’t pretend that he is one after he was “forced into it.”

Many people still accuse me of pressuring and coercing him to do it.

Even just this past Christmas, nearly two years after my husband’s conversion, his brother made it very apparent that he thought he was forced into the conversion and that he faked it.

Three days ago marked the second anniversary of his conversion.

Today, I am in a much different place than I was in before.

I have realized over the years that no matter how much my husband shows his belief in Islam, there will be people who will always think he is fake.

The fact that he is white and a revert will always make certain Muslims think that he is not genuine in his beliefs. The fact that he converted around his engagement to a natural-born Muslim woman will always make Muslims and non-Muslims alike think he did it simply to marry me.

And I have realized that regardless of whether he was fake or not, I believe that the Muslims who have questioned him are outside of their boundaries to do so. Not only do they commit the sin of judgement, but they also take actions that are incompatible with the actions of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).

However, the best realization that I have made is this: my husband is a Muslim – regardless of what anyone thinks. As I write this, I am not in a cloud of denial or second-guessing – nor in a position of being okay with not knowing.

This is because today, my husband reads the Qur’an, prays, fasts, and slowly incorporates the tradition into every aspect of his life. Just as importantly, he fights for human rights, social justice issues, and Islamophobia because of his convictions.

And if his actions weren’t enough, I finally mustered up the courage to ask if he really was a Muslim one day.

His answer was simple: “The more I read about Islam and learned the beliefs, the more I realized that this was the truth for me.”

And that is enough for me.

  • Sehrish Sarah Khan-Williamson

    Sarah Khan-Williamson is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School (MTS, Islamic Studies ’14) and George Mason University (BA, English and Religious Studies ’11) – and is pursuing two MA degrees at the University of Arizona (Middle Eastern & North African Studies, Public Administration). She prides herself on being a global peace educator and leader for CISV, advocate for social justice and human rights, and her makeup skills.