An Islamic love story

When most of my friends and family heard that I was coming to Amman to visit my daughter and her family, they wanted a report on how my Jenny (Jenan) was surviving in a culture that oppresses women. After all, they reason, she had given up her freedom for a life as a slave. Moreover, well-intentioned Christian friends believe she must be going to hell for embracing Islam. These are the things I have heard about my flesh-and-blood.

If these are the things you believe, then let me give you my report. I offer not an apologetic for Islam, but my own witness. I am not an expert; I am her father.

My daughter has more freedom than many women I have known in my life. The name on her driver’s license follows the Arabic tradition of bloodlines: Jennifer Terry Norris Heaton. The second name is mine. The third name is my father’s. The woman does not take the name of the man in marriage, for the covenant is one of choice. She wears the hijab (covering) not only because belief in Islam requires it (although there are many women here who do not), but she also wears it because she wants to wear it, for it honors her husband. The concept of honor is significant here, and it runs both ways.

When I visited my grandson Osama’s school, I asked to take a picture of the woman principal. She asked that I not take her picture, because it might somehow dishonor her husband. This was not a demand or law or requirement. It was her wish, and this is the nature of most of the culture.

Call it tribal, if you wish, but the family unit is everything here. If the families are strong, the culture is strong, and this Islam teaches.

As such, women are supposed to be revered in Islamic culture, and I have seen this with my own eyes. The idea that they are chattel is ancient Arabic and predates Islam. There are bad relationships and spousal abuse here, but this is also true in the West. Waseem and Jenan are very much husband and wife. All couples argue as well as kiss, but Waseem and my daughter have discovered a secret that Allie and I knew — that the commitment of love demands that you never go to bed angry.

Theirs is a love story for the ages, for Waseem faced unfathomable familial pressure to not marry an American. Their courtship included long months of separation and countless attempts to accept that they must not be together. They both endured hardship, condescension and ridicule, and yet, theirs is a textbook Islamic marriage, the fruit of which is four wonderful children.

My daughter speaks fluent Arabic, and she has worked hard at it. She is completely accepted now in the family and the community and is, in fact, considered a rare jewel to those who once questioned Waseem’s sanity in bringing an American woman into his life. I am so proud of her, for her courage and convictions exceed my own. I am proud, too, of Waseem, for he is my son. The way he cares for his family is to be envied. He is passionate and admits to a dark side, but he is warm, tactile and caring in ways that I find remarkable. If this is the influence of Islam, then who am I to find fault?

I couldn’t be more proud of Waseem, even if he was my own son.

To those whose religious convictions proclaim my daughter’s damnation, I feel sorry for you. I believe that heaven and hell are eternal conditions not bound by the laws of time and space and that the best judge of where we will “be” is not what we say or believe but how we behave in this life. For eternity touches our lives in the here and now, and “heaven on earth” is a very real experience, as is “hell on earth.” You want to know where you’re going? Take a moment to examine your heart at this moment, for it’s a pretty clear indication. You are practicing today for what will come.

I disrespect no one’s religion or their right to believe what they believe. But to suggest that my daughter is hell bound based on your beliefs is absurd by any stretch of the imagination. I am not her judge and neither are you, and frankly, if we’d just leave the world alone instead of trying to twist it to fit our wishes, I think we’d be amazed at how easily we’d all get along.

Long ago while researching the community of Albuquerque for a media company, I met a Native American who taught me something profound. In order to fully understand others, we must have what he called a “crossover” experience; we must live in their moccasins for a period. This, he argued, immediately brings the walls down, for we discover that we are all people and that we need each other. I’ve had this a couple of times in my life, and this visit to Amman has been another. I will never view the world the same again, and that is a blessing for which I am eternally grateful.


  1. thedetroitchannel says

    it’s been great to watch those children’s faces warm to the camera.

    thanks for the heartfelt writings, terry.

  2. This is a beautiful story that I’ve now read six times, and it has made me cry every single time. Besides being gorgeous, those children are very, very lucky.

    Terry’s insights about his trip to Jordan and his Muslim daughter should really become an article for Salon or some other such venue, and if he ever gets tired of preaching to news executives, he could just start taking pictures for a living.

    Stunning. Photos.

  3. thanks, terry.

  4. I couldn’t have expressed your sentiment any better about what my uncle & Jenan have gone through to get where they are at today. I am often asked about women in Islam, and it’s always very difficult for me to explain… my mother was not a “slave” to my father; my grandmother raised eight children through a war as her husband struggled to make ends meat miles away… The Moslem women I have known throughout my 31 years of existence are equals at the very least to their male counterparts… but when it comes from an Arab’s mouth, it can’t be true & is biased… thank you for giving me a reference point the next time I’m asked to explain what a woman’s place is within Islam & Arab culture.

  5. I grew up as one of the minority 4% Christians in Jordan, I really hate the Arab Islamic laws. Why can’t Muslims convert to become Christians in Jordan? Why is it illegal? Why do we Christians have to convert to Islam if we wanted to get married to Muslims? Why should our children be forced to be registered as Muslims? Why is it legal in the US for a Christian to convert to Islam, but illegal in Jordan for a Muslim to convert to Christianity or any other religion for that matter? Where is the freedom that God has given us as human beings, if you are forced to believe in one religion and one religion only? Is that God’s freedom?

    If these wonderful 4 children(when they grow up) did not like Islam do they have a choice to believe in something else, or to for example get baptized in a church? can they do that without being persecuted by Muslims in Jordan? Its good they are American, they have a choice to back to the US and choose to believe and think like they wish to believe and think. However, think about the millions of other Jordanian Kids who don’t have that choice. Their whole life story is written on them as soon as they are born.

    This is where I don’t agree with you, it’s not about her going to heaven or hell. She had the privilege to choose to get married to a Muslim man living in Jordan. How many Muslim Jordanian women have the privilege to get married to a Christian man living in America, have you not heard of honor killing? She had a choice and she chose what’s best for her, but she had a Choice!!! most Muslim Jordanian women will never experience this ability to choose what’s right for them.

  6. Hello,
    Thank you so much for this series of photos and essays about your trip to our fair city, Amman. I am going to forward your URL to my family in the US; I’ve been here six years now and am still waiting on a visit from my family members.

    These posts are beautiful and poignant; you really capture the essence of life here and show great respect to your son-in-law, his family, and the way of life your daughter has chosen (which is the same way of life I chose, some fourteen years ago).

    We have had the pleasure of meeting Jenan through our sisters’ group and were supposed to visit her at her house yesterday but the weather has been ‘inclement.’ I am really looking forward to meeting her in person, inshaAllah. Take care.

  7. This is for my Christian Jordanian fellow’s comment:
    I feel sorry for you that you are full of hate, which is so against your Bible’s teachings. I have lots of Christian friends, Jordanians and Palestinians and they don’t share the same views that you have for Islam. However, all of the questions that you have regarding the laws of Jordan as compared to the laws of the US, you must direct them to the governments of these countries. The two countries are secular governments and they do not apply any religious law. If Jordan applies the Islamic law, believe me, you will know.
    Now, for your question regarding my children if they have a choice to be baptized when they grew up, I can tell you this: they do have a choice, but I will make sure that they will not. Just like I will make sure that they do not become homosexuals, criminals, drug addicts, terrorists, alcoholics, etc. I am their father and it is my duty to raise them the in the way that I see fit. When they grew older, it is their choice what they do with their lives. If they stay with my teachings that will be a success to my raising methods and will really make me happy. If they do not, I will be sad.
    Again, if you have anything against the laws of Jordan or the US, you must contact the government’s representative nearest to you.
    Now regarding to what you agree and not agree to where my wife is going, heaven or hell, I don’t think she or anyone else cares about what you think. Allah, the one we believe who created us, knows where we will go. After all, you don’t own heaven or hell. The one, who owns them, decides who enters them.
    Regarding a Muslim woman marrying a Christian man, it is forbidden in Islam. That is our religion my friend. I am surprised that you do not know of this since you were raised in Jordan?!! However, if a Christian woman wants to marry a Muslim man, she DOES NOT have to convert to Islam. I am also surprised that you do not know of this?!
    My wife did not become a Muslim so she could marry me. I could write a lot in this area, but it is personal and I choose not to share it with you.
    Final note, Muslim women have the freedom that Islam gives them. It is the same for the Muslim men. I, as a man in Islam can not drink alcohol. Where is the freedom in that??
    Freedom my friend is not what you define; it is how you choose to live. If you choose to become an American, America has laws and you have to abide with them. For example, you can’t marry more than one wife in the state of Wisconsin. Where is the freedom in that? You can’t smoke Marlboros in the airport of Chicago, where is the freedom in that?
    You can not do lots of things if you are a Muslim. These are called laws my friend, and Muslims are good law abiding people.

  8. Nasar farooqui says

    This is a good story trust me in this religon it is easy to maintain a relationship because I guess your first love is always your true love in my standing point of view, I’ve went through some of this and I still thank God for everyday I’m with her. Also this waseem guy is kind of a pain he should worry about his own relationship.

  9. Loved this story

Speak Your Mind


This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.