#AtoZChallenge Day 1: Awkward Moments

A is for Awkward Moments

A

Being asked “How do they do this in your culture?”  (uhm, which one? Muslim? Indian? American?)

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The imam makes a mistake in recitation but you don’t want to correct it because suddenly you’re questioning every ayah you ever knew.  (it starts with “qul huwallahu ahad,” right?)

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You eat non-zabiha meat and realize the person you’re eating with doesn’t (or vice versa).  (Frantically tries to recall all of the meat products I’ve ever eaten in the presence of this person)

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He asks why you’re not praying.  (you might as well be overt and ask if she’s on her period.)

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She assumes you’re not going to wear Hijab at your wedding.  (I wear Hijab every other day of my life; why would I stop on that single day?)

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Your friends/coworkers make endless references to drinking, not realizing that you’ve lived a pretty decent life without a dose of alcohol in you.  (seriously, I don’t get it.)

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Being asked “How do they say it in your language?” (Honey, you and I speak the same language.)

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They complain about not being represented enough in mainstream entertainment when you’re still waiting on that fictional Hijabi character to show up. (never once been represented accurately and still living)

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He’s Muslim and offers to shake your hand. (can I even use a religious excuse with this one?)

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You accidentally let a “salaam” or “inshaallah” slip when talking to a non-Muslim. (I’m genuinely trying to figure out whether I can just let this one slide. It’s no different from Jewish people saying “mazeltov” or Latinos referencing their “abuela,” right?)

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(Disclaimer: I’m not saying any of these are “good” or “bad” things to do. They’re just moments in life that make me laugh.)

Ramadan Log Day 7: All of the Victims

It was hard to go though today without feeling sad. I woke up, checked my phone, and one of the very first things I saw was news about the Orlando shooting.

My hurt is manifold. When I first saw the story, I very initially brushed it off. Another shooting. What else is new? I live near Chicago; that happens on the daily.

But when I think about what that nonchalance really means about the society in which I live and how it has permeated my thought-processing and reactions, it makes me sick to my stomach. And that’s not from the fasting.

Then I looked into the story, and learned that it occurred in a club. I saw screenshots of texts the victims sent their moms when the shooter had made himself known. I thought about the death of Christina Grimmie, which happened only yesterday, in which a singer the same age as me was shot to death after one of her concerts as she was signing autographs. I’ve been to concerts before. The people going to a club or concert don’t ever expect to find a gun in their face. They go to enjoy themselves and forget about the serious troubles of the world. So many of them are kids simply trying to find themselves, and use these places as a safe space. It gives me chills just trying to imagine what that whiplash must have felt when the victims went from carefree joy to the gut-wrenching fear of a very real weapon.

My heart just felt so heavy today. So before I sat down to read Qur’an, I had a moment of silence in which I ached for the deceased and prayed for the surviving.

For those moms who continued to call their kids long after they had already been shot. For the parents of the kid who snuck out, not comfortable revealing where he was going that night, and thus didn’t get a single goodbye. For the parents who now have to cope with their surviving kids who lost their best friends and will wake up to nightmares of bullets.

For the people who went to that club, believing that it was the one place in which they didn’t have to deal with others imposing their beliefs on them, and then found out with horror that the hate followed them there. For the kid who was already out of his comfort zone before the gunman even entered the building. For the people living near by who heard the usual music replaced by gunshot after gunshot.

For the ex-wife of the shooter, who thought she was done with the man who abused her, but is now forced to relive that trauma so publicly, who may feel even the tiniest bit of guilt for cutting herself off from him. For his parents and family members, who may very well have had no idea about his motives, but who will now be known by most as the kin of a killer.

For the innocent immigrants who will now have an even harder time finding refuge from their countries because government officials will ignore the fact that the killer was a US citizen since he happens to have family members who are immigrants. For my fellow Muslims who will be hated even more for absolutely no reason other than another person who has a name with the same linguistic origin as them killed people somewhere. For the young American men who are struggling to balance their faith and life in a healthy way, but are bombarded with headlines saying that they are dangerous people. For the young American women who are thinking about starting to wear Hijab, but are now turned off completely because of all of the newfound backlash against people who outwardly look look Muslims.

For my fellow Americans, who already live in so much fear, and will now be reminded of that ever present fear. My friends in Florida who now feel that nowhere is safe for them. The regular mosque-goers who have to have their happy Ramadan high interrupted by random police investigations. My non-Muslim peers who are conditioned to see a beard and pull their kids a little bit closer.

And for me, the American who watches with horror as more and more of my peers are being inflicted with violence and the Muslim who hurts knowing people think it was the religion that gives me life that inspired these deaths.

I pray and pray that all of these victims can feel a moment of peace and sakina, even if it’s just for tonight.

I learned today that one of God’s names is “Al-Fattaah” or “The Opener.” The description of this quality was actually exactly what I needed to read to ease my heart:

“There are states and problems that are tied in a knot. There are hardened things that one cannot see through and pass through… Allah al-Fattah opens them all.”

The circular debate of either restricting gun laws or “evening out the playing field.” The pull of kids to Islam while American society pushes against any organized religion. This cycle of media attacking a minority and the weak of the minority falling into the character depicted for them. They are all knots that Allah can open, and when we get into that frustrated mindset that nothing is working, we have this quality of God to remind us that only He can truly solve everything.

Blogging from A to Z Day 14: “Non-Muslim” vs. “American”

N is for “Non-Muslim” vs. “American”

NIt has always been one of my biggest pet peeves when I hear Muslims refer to people who are not Muslim or cultural practices that conflict with Islamic practices as “American.”

“They go to an American school.”

“One of my American friends…”

“That is so American.”

I don’t like it. It doesn’t sound right. I am American. How can we refer to non-Muslims as American when we ourselves are also American? That goes back to my bi-cultural issue I posted a couple of weeks ago.

What really bugs me is when American is used in a derogatory way. “Only Americans do that.” “That is something those Americans do.”

As I have gotten older, the phrase “white” has replaced “American” in this context – as in “Why are you being so white?” or “My white friends don’t understand how…” – but the problem is still the same.

For most of my mature years, Muslims seem to be trying really hard to get America as a whole to understand that we are just like you. So many movies and plays and spoken word pieces all stress how normal Muslims are and how everyone should accept us because there is nothing wrong or strange with us.

We keep trying to promote the “we” when the language we used behind closed doors promotes a “them.” Calling ourselves American in public, but referring only to non-Muslims as American in private, needs to stop. How can we expect non-Muslim Americans to accept us as American when the only time we actually identify ourselves as American is when we want sympathy, and all other times reserve the term only for something that conflicts with Islam?

Of course, not everyone does this, but we all know the game. We know what is meant when the term “American” is thrown around in reference to an other, and only rarely do I hear it corrected to non-Muslim. And I find it offensive, to myself, as an actual living, breathing, Islam-practicing American.

It is offensive, and frankly, inaccurate. It is okay to make a point, that non-Muslims have a different mindset than Muslims, but let’s keep the language accurate. The “other” is non-Muslim, in a grammatical sense. However anyone born in America, or permanently residing in America, is American, regardless of religion.

Blogging from A to Z Day 2: Bi-Cultural Identity

B is for Bi-cultural Identity

B

Culture is an interesting thing, especially when you think about how one develops his or her own sense of culture. I have had the term “culture” defined countless times for me in various psychology and history classes, but I have never really connected with any of those textbook definitions. We all know what culture is, even if we can’t all agree on one common and accurate definition.

When I was little, I’m not sure if I had a sense of what my culture was. I went to a private Islamic school from kindergarten to fifth grade, so for me, my culture was Muslim. Other than that, I don’t think I ever really saw the racial divisions between me and my classmates. In my class, we had Indian, various kinds of Arab, and Filipino. In my own family, I had Indian, White, and Black. For at least the first decade of my life, these characteristics of the people around me didn’t mean anything special. Her being Egyptian and me being Indian was no different than her liking blue and me liking purple. It made us different from each other, but not in any defining way.

As I grew older, I realized that racial and cultural differences mean much more in society than differences in a person’s favorite color. There was the difference between White and everything else, and then the differences between each of the “everything else.” I still marvel at the fact that these differences weren’t really differences for me back when I was a kid.

However, one thing has remained constant in the whole culture discussion for me: I never knew where to put myself. I mean, I was Indian. I was one of the Desi kids. But unlike the other Desi kids, I didn’t know how to speak Urdu. My parents didn’t speak a language other than English with me at home, unless you count my mom throwing in Spanish words here and there from what she learned high school.

Unlike the other Desi kids, my parents were both born here in America. Unlike the other Desi kids, I had a completely White grandma, and even with the mix of my three other Indian grandparents, people say that I look the most like her. Anyone judging me based on my skin wouldn’t automatically realize that I was Indian.

So by the time I reached middle school I figured, okay, I’m part of two cultures. I’m Indian, but I’m also White. And more important than either, I am American.

But then you take the White kids I met in middle school. They would never consider me White. Then I start watching the news and the social media world was born and I started seeing what being part of the “White American” culture meant. Part of that culture was seeing Indian people as not White or not American. Then you throw the Hijab in there and I was definitely part of a minority.

So now I’m stuck. When I’m with Indian people, I’m not considered totally Indian. When I’m with White people, I’m not considered totally White. So what am I? What do I do when I see my fellow Indian people blaming White people for things and vice versa? Which side am I on in the debate?

Because racial divisions are so painfully apparent in American society and conversation, I don’t think my problem will ever be resolved. My temporary solution is that when people ask “What are you?”, rather than give the quick “Indian” or “Indian and European” answers I used to give, I’ve settled with the truth: “Most of my family is from India, but parts are from Europe and I was born and raised here in America.”

Now it’ll be up to them to figure out how they want to categorize me.