Most people think Muslim women are oppressed. That’s because they haven’t met these young ladies. Malikah, Aliya, Mariam and Jaime are 4 Muslim American friends on an emotional journey into womanhood. Even if you don’t share their faith, you will surely relate to their humanity.
Take Malikah, for example, a gorgeous full-figured 21-year-old who isn’t aware of her own beauty. Saddled by insecurity, she’s convinced a husband will bring her validation—especially in the eyes of her critical mother. If only it were that simple.
Aliya doesn’t need validation. She’s a “live for today” kind of girl. Her mother died 4 years ago and she’s been partying hard to numb the pain ever since. She has no regrets and no ambition, and that’s just how she likes it—until she meets Langston. He changes things. Now all she has to do is decide if the changes are truly what she wants.
Mariam welcomes change, craves it even. She swore long ago she’d escape the poverty she inherited, and things are finally looking up. Her career is taking off, and she and Rashad will be married soon, but once his secret is exposed, will all her progress come to a screeching halt?
Jaime can’t make any progress, not with her overprotective parents looming over her. They’re only trying to shield her from negative influences, but Jaime wants to live life on her own terms. Finally, she breaks free and finds herself in a situation she never thought she’d face.
What We Learned Along the Way follows the beautifully complex relationships of characters whose joys and pains are as real and tangible as your own. With no map to lead the way, they take an amazing journey and learn the life-changing lessons of love, heartache, redemption and identity.
“Not another one way,” Aliya complained as she drove through downtown Houston, looking for the concert hall. She hated driving her new car through congested areas like downtown. The last thing she needed was a dent in her fresh, red paint. After driving in a few circles, she finally saw a sign that read “Divas All-Stars Concert, This Way.” She let out a huge sigh of relief and let the huge arrows lead her in the right direction. Now that she knew where she was going, she could relax. Aliya put the window down to let in some fresh air. She loved the feeling of the wind blowing through her big, wild hair.
She was the only one in her group of friends who never covered her hair. When she was younger, she covered all the time and never imagined there’d come a day when she wouldn’t, but things had changed. It started when she was 16, after her mother died of cancer. In one year’s time, she went from being the head of her Muslim youth group to not going to the mosque at all. Now, four years later, she had basically removed all aspects of Islam from her life. One day she would reconnect, but not now.
She pulled into the parking lot and checked the time. The concert started at 8 o’clock, and it was only 7:15. She called Mariam to see how far away they were. When Mariam told her she had just picked up Jaime and still had another 30-minute drive, Aliya decided to walk around a bit. There were a lot of men in the parking lot, and Aliya couldn’t help but smile. Unlike her friends, she was not looking for a husband. She was just looking to have fun. Every other Muslim woman she knew had been looking for a husband since the age of 14, but that was the last thing on Aliya’s mind. She didn’t care if he was Muslim, Christian, or any other religion. She was an equal opportunity dater.
Ironically enough, she had found through her years of dating all different types of men that she liked Muslim men the least. She felt they were too strict and always trying to control her, just like her father. He always had something to say:
“You’re pants are too tight.”
“Why don’t you wear hijab anymore?”
“You don’t pray anymore.”
She couldn’t stand her father’s nagging or the arguments that inevitably ensued, so she kept her visits short and sweet. That was the only way she could consider her relationship with him peaceful. Plus, she knew it broke his heart to see his only child so far removed from the religion.
As Aliya walked through the crowd, she was surprised to see so many men at such a girly concert. After she thought about it, though, it made sense. What better place to catch women than at a “Diva’s All-Stars” concert? She wondered if there would be nearly as many men inside the concert as there were in the parking lot, but it really didn’t matter. They were there now. That’s all she cared about.
As usual, men flocked to her, but she ignored them all. She sauntered past the whistles and cat calls like she didn’t even hear them. Aliya used to talk to those kinds of men, the immature, aggressive ones that would start a conversation with “Damn, you fine, girl,” the kind that felt completely free to grab her hand—or any other body part he saw fit— without asking permission. But she was 20 now, and she was looking for something different, someone different.
She saw a small refreshment stand and decided to get a drink. As she walked toward the stand, she studied the menu. She studied it so hard that she didn’t even notice she was walking directly into a man who had knelt down to tie his shoe.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” she said as she began to walk away, eyes still fixed on the menu. She didn’t even see his face and wouldn’t have paid him any more attention if it hadn’t been for his voice.
All he said was “No problem,” but that was enough to stop her in her tracks. His voice was so deep that she could actually feel the vibration in her hand that she had placed on his shoulder to catch her balance. She turned around to see the face that the voice belonged to and, to her surprise, it was even more breathtaking. Among all the gold teeth, baseball caps and sagging, male skinny jeans, she had managed to trip over a gorgeous man in pair of nice fitting dark denim jeans with a crisp white button down and a thick head of freshly twisted locs.
Aliya was usually pretty witty when she talked to men, but this time she couldn’t think of a thing to say.
“You alright?” he asked as he dusted off his shoe and stood up with a million-watt smile.
She couldn’t think of anything more to say other than what she had already said. “I’m so sorry,” she repeated. Aliya had talked to many men before, and this was the first time she had been rendered speechless by one.
“It’s okay. I guess I picked a pretty bad spot to tie my shoe.”
“Oh no, it’s all my fault. I mean, I should have been looking where I was going. I’m not usually this clumsy. I’m actually pretty graceful, or at least that’s what people tell me. I’m not crazy, you know. I don’t make it a habit of walking into cute men.” Oh no, did I really just say that out loud? Aliya was nervous. She couldn’t stop talking. She couldn’t believe that she was becoming one of those goofy, rambling women she usually felt sorry for.
He could tell she was nervous and thought it was cute, but he knew he had to rescue her from herself. He put his hand on her shoulder and cut her off in mid-sentence. “My name is Langston. What’s yours?” Finally, she had stopped talking.
“Aliya,” she managed to say after a deep breath.
“Well, Ms. Aliya, I have to get going. I hope you enjoy the show.” He shook her hand and then began to walk away. Aliya stood there in shock, trying to get herself together. She watched him walk toward the entrance, and then turned around to walk back to her car. She had forgotten all about that drink and needed to sit down. Just as she turned around, she heard Langston’s voice rise above the crowd.
“Aliya,” he said in a loud and firm voice. “Thanks for bumping into me.” He flashed yet another one of his addictive smiles and walked into the building… END EXCERPT