tagRomanceThe Hijab Hunter: Soul Mates

The Hijab Hunter: Soul Mates


A lot of people say that my religion is violent. There are lots of violent men in all races and religions, and people shouldn’t generalize. As a black man living in North America, I know this all too well. People’s habit of generalizing and oversimplifying that which they do not understand. My name is Solomon “Suleiman” Winston and I am a man with a story to share with you. A cautionary tale about the evils of pride, prejudice and intolerance. Please bear with me, since it’s kind of a long one.

I was born in the City of Ottawa, Ontario, to a Jamaican immigrant mother and French Canadian father. On the first day of January 1978 I came into the world. As a mixed brat in the Canadian Capital, I didn’t have it easy. Canada fancies itself a multicultural nation but my mother, Janelle Winston and I endured a lot of racism and mistreatment, especially after my biological father James Tremblay abandoned us and went back to his white family. French Canadians are the most bigoted group among Canadians of European descent, next to the rednecks of Alberta and the weirdoes from Nova Scotia. Trust me, I would know. To date I haven’t had any contact with my father’s side of the family. What does that tell you?

Anyhow, I learned early in this life that the only person I could count on was myself. I grew up to be a six-foot-two, heavyset man with caramel skin, curly black hair and pale green eyes. In the eyes of the world I am mixed, but I consider myself totally black. When bigoted cops stop me and give me a ticket for driving under the speed limit, I know it’s because I am of partial African descent. Since they give me a full ticket instead of half of one, why not embrace my blackness as a whole? In 1994 I graduated from Saint Augustine Academy, and won an academic scholarship to Carleton University. I earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Carleton University in 1998 and an MBA from the University of Ottawa in 2001.

In September 2001 my world changed, like that of many people around the world. After months of looking for work all over Ontario, I was finally hired as an account manager by the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce. The job paid eighteen dollars per hour, and I did eight-hour shifts five days a week at the local branch. Making fourteen hundred bucks every two weeks in the Canadian capital isn’t too bad, especially since this was the first few months of 2001 and the U.S. and Canadian economies were booming. I was leading a pretty cool life. I bought a nice silver convertible, and lived in a three-bedroom apartment near downtown Ottawa with my girlfriend Justine Connelly, a lovely blonde-haired and green-eyed Irishwoman I met during my last year at the University of Ottawa. Justine and I had the makings of a power couple. I had my MBA and a cozy job at the bank and she was studying criminal law. How cool is that? Mixed couples like us were indeed coming up in the world, eh?

Life was pretty good, and then September 11, 2001 came. From that moment on the world would never be the same. I developed a singular hatred of Muslims on that day, especially after seeing the gleeful reaction from Muslims around the world as the Twin Towers fell in New York City. Those crazy towelheads really hate us and it’s our duty to make their lives hell. That’s how I felt. I cheered U.S. President George W. Bush’s decision to invade Iraq and several other Arab nations as the Western World began the War on Terror. The war against Islam had begun, and I wanted to see every last one of those fuckers dead.

My hatred of Muslims consumed my life. One day, I lost it at work when a Muslim dude came in with his burka-wearing wife and the two of them came to my counter. I called them terrorist freaks and ordered them out of my workplace. The incident was recorded on someone’s camera phone and later shown on television. You’re a bigot and an Islamophobe, my boss, Nancy Dwyer told me as she fired me after a public outcry. That’s when everything started to go wrong. Overnight my picture-perfect life went to hell. My fiancée Justine left me for another man, I lost my apartment and nobody would hire me. Everywhere I went I was the Muslim-hating ranting creep from that bank video. When I had to file for bankruptcy, I broke down and cried. How did everything I valued and cherished get taken away from me so quick?

I ended up homeless, and had to sleep in a shelter while begging on the streets of Ottawa, which I once roamed like an urban prince. At the shelter where I slept, I met a woman who took an interest in me. Yasmina Osman, the six-foot-tall and absolutely lovely, curvaceous and big-bottomed, Hijab-wearing Somali woman who became the shelter’s new director of operations. This young woman had a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Carleton University and a master’s degree in political science from the University of Calgary. She was smart and beautiful and could have written her own ticket but instead she got involved in public works to help those in need. This young woman was destined to change my life.

At the time that I met Yasmina, I’m ashamed to say that I was still simmering with anger, at followers of Islam, at Western society for trying to accommodate the needs of Muslim immigrants and at the world itself. I blamed everyone but myself for my downfall. It never occurred to me that my arrogance and pride led me to this dark moment. My prejudice and hate led me to the path of darkness, and I saw no redemption in sight. Ugly, smelly, homeless and destitute, I still cursed the Muslims with every spiteful breath I took. And then along came a ravishing Muslim woman who believed that God had a plan for me. All men are God’s creations even one such as you, Yasmina told me confidently when I questioned her interest in helping me.

I was reluctant to trust this seemingly innocent young woman, after all she was Muslim, a person of the same faith as those nineteen Saudi guys who hijacked those planes and flew them into the Towers in NYC. Yasmina told me that even though lots of Muslim men were out there doing terrible things, many Muslims were peaceful and friendly. Don’t generalize and don’t judge for only God can judge mankind, she admonished me. In spite of myself, I became curious. I found myself wanting to trust again. Yasmina helped me get back on my feet. With some help from the department of social services, I got myself a one-bedroom apartment and got cleaned up. I gave up the drugs and the booze, and I got myself a job as a security guard. I wrote to Carleton University and the University of Ottawa to reclaim my educational credentials. I’d lost my university degrees, good name and various other things in those darker days.

Reclaim your place in the world and fulfill the plan God has for you, Yasmina encouraged me. I hadn’t spoken to my mother in ages, and we’d lost touch. I found her living in Gatineau, not far from Ottawa. It was an emotional moment for sure, when I returned to my mother’s loving arms. I set out to make amends. Mom was living alone and suffering from various health issues. I took care of her patiently and lovingly like any good son should. I set out to find my father, for, through Yasmina’s insightful musings I realized I had a great deal of anger toward the man who abandoned me and my mother. I found my father living in rural Sept-Ile, Quebec, alone and suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s. As I approached him, he got up and cried out, for he recognized me even after all these years and feared I’d come to do him harm. I am not here to hurt you, I told him. I just wanted to make peace with him. He finally calmed down and we talked. That day, we shared forgiveness and I returned to Ottawa a changed man.

When I returned to my low-rent apartment in Vanier, I did something I’d never done before. I prayed to the entity called Yahweh by the Jews, God by the Christians and Allah by the Muslims. I thanked God for His blessings. The next day, I received two phone calls that changed my life. Apparently someone from CBC got wind of what I’d gone through and wanted to interview me. I called Yasmina to let her know but I couldn’t find her. The ladies at her office told me she’d gone to mosque. I went to the mosque to look for her. I didn’t find her because the place was empty but I ran into an old Somali man who told me he knew her. The old man introduced himself as Brother Ibrahim, and he told me to make myself at home as he showed me around the mosque. For some reason I felt comfortable talking to him and I told him my story. God has a plan for you my friend, he said with a smile. God shouldn’t bother with evil men like me, I said somberly.

Brother Ibrahim shook his head, and invited me to have coffee with him. We went to a nearby Tim Horton’s and talked for the next three hours. We discussed race, religion and politics. I told him that I once hated Muslims but after meeting Yasmina and befriending several other Muslims who were nice people, I realized how wrong I’d been. Being Muslim doesn’t make someone evil because no evil person would have helped me like Yasmina had, I said with conviction.

Good and evil are part of every man regardless of race or religion, Brother Ibrahim said. He gave me his cell number and told me to call him sometime. We began talking regularly, and the more he told me about his faith, the more I liked what I heard. I learned that there was a big difference between being a Muslim and an Islamist. A Muslim is simply a man or woman who submits to God completely, while an Islamist is a nutcase with supremacist tendencies who thinks being Muslim places him above other human beings. Being white doesn’t make a man racist but thinking his whiteness places him above people of color would do the trick, Brother Ibrahim said confidently. I had to agree. The old man was full of wisdom. He became the friend, mentor and father figure I’d long sought. Three weeks after we met, he gave me his Koran. I read the whole book in one week. Afterwards, I went to the mosque and declared my Shahada. I was now and forevermore a Muslim.

I embraced my new faith, and went on the CBC television interview. I shared with Sharon Donovan, the pretty blonde newswoman, how I went from bigoted businessman who hated Muslims to homeless beggar and then had a change of heart. That interview was seen by millions of people across Canada and around the world thanks to YouTube. I thanked God for His blessings on the air and I also thanked Yasmina Osman for being my guardian angel. I hadn’t seen her since that day because she’d gone to Djibouti to visit her family. When she returned, I was at the airport to greet her.

When I saw Yasmina Osman standing there in the middle of the airport, looking so gorgeous in her long floral skirt and white hijab, my heart skipped a beat. I walked up to her, and embraced her. Though surprised by that gesture Yasmina hugged me back. She smiled and told me she’d seen the video of my CBC interview online, where it was among the most watched clips on YouTube for an entire week. The story of a Muslim-hating businessman who lost everything after his bigotry was exposed, ended up homeless, got rescued by a Muslim woman and then embraced Islam. Kind of different, don’t you think?

Yasmina and I held each other like this for a long time and smiled. Hesitantly I kissed her on the lips. The tall young Somali woman kissed me back with a passion that surprised me. I love you, I said haltingly. I love you too Suleiman, Yasmina grinned. A throat cleared rather loudly behind us. We turned around, and I did a double take when I saw who it was. Brother Ibrahim, I said hesitantly. Hello father, Yasmina said, slipping out of my arms as she rushed to hug the old Somali man. Brother Ibrahim smiled warmly as he hugged Yasmina. That’s your daughter? I asked him, suddenly feeling very nervous. Of course, the old man smiled. Then he held out his hand to shake. We of the Osman clan are a clever and pious bunch, Brother Ibrahim said as he shook my hand. Looking at Yasmina he winked and told her I’d been going to the masjid every day looking for her during the month that she was gone. Is that so? Yasmina laughed, entwining her hand with mine. I have missed you terribly, I confessed. Let’s go to lunch we have a wedding to plan, Brother Ibrahim said, suddenly all seriousness. When I heard these words, I almost passed out. Yasmina chuckled and elbowed me in the ribs. Dad’s just messing with you, she laughed. I smiled weakly. It’s working, I said.

That was in 2002. Eleven years ago. Today, I am the Chief Operating Officer of the Ontario Minority Chamber of Commerce, a professional organization with ten thousand members scattered across the province, mainly in Toronto, Ottawa and Hamilton. That’s just my job, though. I found success, which is good but I also found something much better. I found happiness and a purpose. You see, Yasmina and I got married. We have three daughters, the triplets Halima, Khadija and Maryam Winston. My princesses.

They’re tall and beautiful like their mother but they’ve got my stubborn and rebellious spirit. Although they drive us nuts with their antics, I wouldn’t have it any other way. I love my princesses. Touch them and I’ll kill you three times. There you have it, ladies and gentlemen. The story of a bad man who met a good woman who led him to God, and gave him a wonderful family and a brand new life. Whatever your background or circumstances, remember that God has a plan for you. Call Him by any name, whether Allah, God, Yahweh, the Most High or Jehovah, He made you for a reason. Trust in Him and all will be well. I’ll see you later. I’m taking the wife and daughters to see the flick Despicable Me 2 at the local theater. Friday night ( right before mosque ) is the official movie night at the Winston household.

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