My secret was so well kept that I’d barely thought about it until the premiere of the sexually complex new Hulu comedy Ramy, a series about Muslim-American life in New Jersey. The show, which centers on the first-gen Muslim immigrant experience, is a poignant representation of the Muslim disapora, one rarely seen on TV. Watching it, I hung onto every iteration of “Allahu Akbar” and saw myself in all the horny Muslim moments. Especially my teenage self, who at 18 secretly and temporarily married her high-school boyfriend.
In the first episode, Ramy, an almost 30-year-old fuck boy whose mother wants him to marry a Muslim girl, agrees to go on a date with a woman named Nour. Toward the date’s end, Ramy — who usually dates white women — balks when Nour reaches into his pants and asks for a condom.
Nour: “What, you don’t wanna have sex?”
Ramy: “I didn’t know if you could, you know, just ‘cause we’re not married.”
Nour: “Oh, I didn’t even know you were that strict. I mean, yeah, we can get married. Um, my cousin does, like, Nikahs* over the phone if you want to do, like, a temporary marriage.”
(*Islamic marriage contracts.)
The scene unravelled, and suddenly I was 18 again. By that age I was reading Harlequin bodice rippers almost exclusively and watching and rewatching sexy movie scenes (Titanic was a favorite), all in absolute secret. I was writing 800-word “love letters” (explicit declarations of horn via Facebook) to my first real boyfriend, who my parents knew nothing about. In our entire eight-month relationship, I only ever saw him twice, at cafés I snuck away to. We never even shook hands.
My body always felt chaotically aroused. My Muslim soul felt precarious, like it was always teetering on the brink of receiving punishment from Allah.
Five months of sexy emails later, I let my desires slip to a cousin and she whispered in my ear a single word: Mut’ah. Heavily contested in many corners of Islam but still valued by many Allah-loving horny Muslims, a Mut’ah is a temporary contractual marriage for the purposes of being sexually intimate. It comes with an expiration date that you set yourself, verbally or written, which could be mere hours, three days, two weeks, or five months — as long as it expires at some point.
I was as sure about the Mut’ah as any lustful teenager could be. My boyfriend laughed when I convinced him to do it, not caring either way. He didn’t fear Allah the way I did. In the lead-up, I didn’t tell a single soul, not a friend, cousin, or anyone. I was too afraid of being caught to trust even my best friends with my horny secrets.
When the time came, we made a different choice from Ramy, who declines going through with the act altogether, so as not to “trick God.” Instead, we decided three months was a decent amount of time to dip our toes into matrimony. We hopped on the phone, armed with the Quranic Arabic script, I recited my bit, he said his, we made a perfunctory Dua, a prayer, and that was that — no need for an Imam or even an altar. It felt performative and silly, like playing house. But for the first time ever, I was allowed to express my love and lust, without angering Allah. We spent that first day sending giddy words of love and lust to each other, basking in our secret and what was to come.
It only took one more day for my parents to figure out what we’d done. One of my uncles had overheard my fervent declarations of love, and I was forbidden to see my boyfriend or any other boy again. I spent the summer of 2011 mourning my marriage, counting down the days to its expiration and nursing my foiled horniness.
I’m not sure why I hadn’t thought about being temporarily married for three months of my life, until I saw it on Ramy. Perhaps my teenage neurosis eclipsed it or I hid it too well and deep. It was almost like it never happened.
Ramy made it real for me again. Is this what all TV is like for everyone else? If so, I want more of it. I want the casual, inattentive viewing of a new show to make me sit up, cackle at the absurdity of someone else talking about temporary marriage the way I did, remembering fondly that I was bold and horny enough to do it. Lonely 18-year-old me, who never told her closest friends about her temporary marriage, would’ve delighted in seeing Nour, straddling Ramy, her fingers poised to dial an Imam, ready with her temp marriage hookups. It delighted the 25-year-old me too.