The first essay proper is from a Muslim of Indian descent. Her parents moved to Minnesota from Hyderabad, India in 1970.
She was raised in a fairly small community of other immigrant Muslims and their families. They were all from India or Pakistan and had come together out of loneliness - the desire to be with people who remembered places or things that you spoke of. People who spoke your native tongue.
It was an insular sort of childhood. Even though she went to public school the religious and social constraints kept her apart from most of her classmates. But, she says, growing up she wouldn't have changed places with the other 'normal' children for the world.
She and her friends were raised knowing that they were simply better than all their other classmates. 'Being South Asian, being Muslim, was an honor.' Chief among the concerns her mother raised again and again was that, should she ever have sex, everyone would know. She described daughters as valuable vases - even the faintest crack renders it useless. She enjoined her daughter again and again to not become 'useless'.
At the age of 19 she entered into a marriage arranged by her parents with a man from India. She lived with him and his parents in India until his green card could be approved. Samina quickly discovered that her husband would never be able to have sex with her. He found her body repulsive and whenever he came close to her he would have to rush to the bathroom to vomit. 'He blamed me, saying I was "too Americanized" for him. He wanted someone who was more "pure". Naive and still a virgin, I fervently prayed that Allah would rid me of any impurities I might be housing in my body so that my husband would consummate the marriage.' This, of course, never happened.
Two years later, back in the States after his permanent green card was received he revealed to her that he was gay and he moved to another state to live with a man. He sent her divorce papers from his new home. On top of the pain and anger that she was feeling - betrayed by her husband and betrayed (as she felt) by God, since the marriage had been contracted in the Islamic fashion and only after a series of istakaras which had all come out in favor of the marriage - the Muslim community that she had grown up in blamed her. They believed that she was only *saying* that her husband was gay to cover up her own failings as a wife and a woman.
Eventually she had to leave the place she had grown up in. Samina wound up in the University of Oregon's creative writing master of fine arts program. For the first time in her life, at the age of 24 she was on her own and away from everything that had formed her into who she was. Still feeling betrayed, she ignored religion entirely. During this time she met and fell in love with another student. They eventually married. Her father, in protest of this second marriage didn't speak to her for three years.
Samina's second husband and his family were atheists. At the time of their marriage his mother was dying of cancer. Her death had a huge impact of Samina. It was the night of the funeral and she accepted what her new family had been trying to tell her - that the body is without a soul. That belief in heaven and hell is childish and simple. She buried that old self with her mother-in-law. For a while this life was enough. Samina and her husband did what they wanted to do, when they wanted to do it. But she felt a discontent deep within herself. It grew slowly, but it was there.
Then she got pregnant. It was sitting in her garden, sunning herself and watching the natural life move all around her that she realized - there is a higher order to all this. She turned to Buddhism, but couldn't get behind the idea that people had to give up their egos. Her ego was her 'best friend.' It protected her, so how could she eradicate it?
She stumbled into Sufism by chance. Looking through the bargain bins at a store she found a book in which the author discusses how the ego is given to us by God and therefore should not be judged. The line, 'Allah is waiting for you to widen your eyes and see Him' opened up a well of repressed emotions. It brought her back to a place where she could feel and relate to God.
Later, during delivery of her son, Samina died. Twenty minutes after delivery she suffered a grand mal seizure. A later CAT scan showed two brain hemorrhages and they discovered that she'd had a heart attack as well. Basically, every organ in her body had either failed or was badly damaged. They doctors were essentially waiting for her to die. Samina says that during this period, when she was dead, she met God. Doctors call her recovery 'miraculous'. She is now healthier than when she went in to deliver her son and there is no sign of the traumas that she suffered.
'One cannot meet God and return unchanged. In these past five years, I have continued my studies in religion and have discovered that, at the core, all faiths say the same thing: God is omniscient, God is compassionate and forgiving, God is love, God is right here and everywhere and no where all at once. He accompanies us on this journey through life, this evolution of our souls. He is the breath within our breath, the light brightening our own.'