This is a story of Palestinian love, a mixture of madness and romance.
In conservative Gaza society, romantic love between a man and a woman who are not yet engaged is generally not acceptable, and certainly not talked about. Love, it is believed, comes with time; couples are not allowed to spend time alone together until they commit to marriage. If love does blossom “prematurely,” the couple keeps it secret.
In Gaza, this is the way couples typically get together: A man or his mother chooses a woman who possesses qualities he seeks. Appearance is usually important, as well as personality, and perhaps an ability to earn an income. His mother then approaches her parents and asks permission for a meeting between the two. Her parents must agree, and if so, the young woman meets with him to assess her own feelings. Does he have a job? Can he afford his own place to live? Etc. If the man, the woman and their families agree, they become engaged and then can be alone together in what, in other areas of the world, would be considered “dating.”
There are, of course, always exceptions to every rule!
Hasan is a member of the Student Union Council at Al-Aqsa University, which organizes tours of Gaza City.
One day, Hasan heard a female student objecting to one of the tour supervisors: “It’s not accepted in our society for boys and girls to mix with each other like this. We are from conservative families! You should stop this; otherwise, please return my fee and I’ll go home.”
The young woman was firm in her opinion but not rude.
Hasan liked her politeness but strength of conviction. After the girl left, he asked for her name.
The Student Union Council organized another tour a few months later and Hasan saw her among the students’ names who planned to participate. His heart beat fast. He remembered her soft but determined voice.
When attendance was called on the tour day, Hasan heard her name: “Mariam.”
“I was wearing sunglasses, with my stylish jilbab [long coat-like dress] and hijab,” Mariam smiles, remembering.
Hasan asked one of her friends about Mariam’s character, her major in university and her address. She wondered why he asked, since it is not socially acceptable for a man to ask about woman he doesn’t know. It is assumed he either wants to marry her or plans to do her harm.
Hasan responded that he wanted to marry Mariam but asked that she keep it secret. He wanted to learn more about her first.
Hasan watched Mariam all day. She was serene and enjoyed looking at the views around her while most of the others laughed and talked loudly. His instinct said she was the girl of his dreams.
Hasan didn’t have a job at that time and couldn’t afford his own home, a dowry (money given to the bride before marriage to purchase clothing and other supplies) or the wedding ceremony. And he knew that they couldn’t be friends in the meantime, since she was from a conservative family. So, he waited—for a year, until he graduated.
Hasan followed Mariam from afar, afraid of losing her to another man. He watched Mariam’s Facebook page, reading her posts and comments. However, Mariam was unaware of all of his attention.
After his graduation, Hasan worked tirelessly, teaching students English and saving money. Because of his aging, ill father, Hassan only slept a few hours at night. But he woke up full of energy in the morning. He felt he had no time to waste. He was afraid of losing his love.
Hasan finally saved enough money to buy his own center for English instruction. He sent a message to Mariam, asking her to visit the center so he could offer her a job. Mariam remembered his name from university and was happy at the prospect of a job. At first, her mother refused to let her go to the center because it was too far away. But Mariam persuaded her; it wasn’t easy to find a job in Gaza, where unemployment is the most common fate for university graduates.
In his office, Hasan interviewed Mariam. “What would be your reaction when a student commits mistakes?” She answered with confidence. Then he blurted out, “Is there anyone you want to marry?”
Mariam was shocked that he asked about her personal life. She told him, “What are these types of questions? What relation is there between my personal life and working?”
Hasan’s face went red. Finally, he said: “There is someone who wants to marry you.” When she pushed to know who, he stammered: “It is one of our classmates at the university.”
She shot back, “This man should not send someone to talk for him; he should be brave and request to marry me.”
Hasan finally admitted it: “I’m the one who wants to marry you. You will never regret marrying me. I worked day and night to save money and buy this place just to be an honorable man.”
Mariam saw his honesty and how much he had struggled to build himself up. She told him she needed time to think. A few days later, Hasan came to her home with his family to talk with her parents. Hasan wasn’t ready yet to pay a dowry. He asked Mariam and her family to wait a year until he raised the money.
Unfortunately, Mariam’s family refused to wait, thinking she might receive a better offer.
But he didn’t give up. Hasan continued calling Mariam. Still, she went along with her family, although she felt inside she might be losing a “big thing.”
Hasan was about to lose all hope. He went to Mariam’s mother at the school where she worked. In front of all the teachers he told her, “I love Mariam and I can’t live without her. If you don’t let me marry her, I will kill myself.” He didn’t really mean that but felt trapped by her refusal.
Mariam’s mother saw his love and the other teachers admired Hasan’s courage. They encouraged her to accept him and give him a chance.
A few days later, Hasan returned one more time to Mariam’s family and they accepted his request to marry their daughter. She began teaching with Hasan at his center and she realized she loved him too. He was honest, kind, brave and polite.
At their wedding party, Hasan surprised Mariam by taking the microphone and telling their love story to all the people. Some laughed and others cried. Everyone clapped. He had found his sweetheart and she had found her knight.
Today, they have opened a second branch of their language center and Mariam awaiting the birth of their first child, a daughter they will name Mira (peace).