I was on a conference call one evening last week when my call waiting beeped at me. It took me a few seconds to recognize the number since I only see that area code a couple times a year. It was my dad. I let it go to voicemail.
I waited until the next day to check the message. His voice came amicably through the receiver and he chided me jokingly about turning 40 a few weeks earlier. My dad doesn’t celebrate birthdays, so I thought it was odd that he was calling me about it until I realized the real reason for his call: an annual religious celebration that is part of his church is coming up soon. He wanted to remind me about that.
I left my dad’s church for good in my early twenties, after a long struggle between the teachings I grew up with and my own personal beliefs that had gradually evolved from age, experience and study. My father’s church instructs that members should not associate with people who leave the faith, and that includes family. When I left, I did so with the knowledge that my dad would no longer be an active part of my life.
Having been through the process of losing the religion of my youth and choosing a new path (Islam), I firmly believe that there is no more fundamental or sacred right that each human being has than to explore their spirituality on their own terms. And yet, as I have experienced, it is often the people closest to us that want to control that sacred right and who feel justified in punishing us if our seeking leads us in a direction different from their own.
I was five years old when I realized that I was different from the kids around me. This was in the 80s when there weren’t a whole lot of Muslims, especially in the small Northern Californian neighborhood where I grew up. I was placed in a Spanish/ESL class on the first day of school because of my dark hair and dark eyes. I was placed in a room with children who looked more like me than the blonde haired, blue eyed ones.
I sat through class staring blankly at the teacher, terrified because I had no idea what she was saying. In a language that I had never heard before, the teacher commanded the children to do something and they all stood up. I followed suit. She sang out some more instructions and the children walked in different directions. I didn’t know where to go. I held my cold hands in front of me and my eyes stung with embarrassment. I stared at the teacher and wished I knew what she was saying.
She finally pulled me to the side, gave me a piece of paper and crayons, and sat me next to a teaching assistant where I quietly colored until my mother came to pick me up. The teacher smiled when Mama walked in. Mama later told me that the school thought I was a Spanish speaking Latina until the teacher saw her dressed in her colorful partoog kamees and saadar on her head.
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This slam poetry video is making the rounds and is too moving not to share.
There is nothing like a Muslim girl and a Jewish girl collectively breaking it down, powerfully explaining that the two identities have more in common than most realize.
We also take this opportunity to send our Jewish friends warm Passover greetings, and we are holding a good thought for the slain in Kansas City. May Allah (swt) fill our hearts with peace so that we go out into the world and be a source of light. Ameen.
We originally spotted this at Upworthy. Go give them a visit!
I am not always strong.
There are times that I experience steep slopes of sadness. This doesn’t happen very often, but when it does, the sorrow arrives as crude, impolite explosions.
I don’t have everything together, no matter what type of confidence seeps out of my writing. I spend most of my time struggling from paycheck-to-paycheck, too poor to actually date should anyone ever ask me out. I’m always in a suspended state of fear that this is all my life is going to be: a lonely existence with a salary that is barely livable. I feel like I’m stuck, and inertia is a type of sin in my world.
Sometimes, I feel like I should just give up and claim my rural White heritage. I will move to some small Southern town and live in a trailer park. Forget my complicated identity. Screw my vast life experience. I am nothing special.
There are days I feel like low hanging fruit.
I write this not because I want sympathy, but because I know everyone else feels powerless and hopeless at times. I need you to know that you are not alone.
“Do you have any children?” a nice woman making small talk asks me.
I reply pleasantly, “No, I don’t,” but my inner monologue is racing.
“Children? I don’t have children because I don’t have a husband. I don’t have a husband because I never had a romantic relationship with a guy. I never had a boyfriend, I’ve never even been kissed and I’m way older than Drew Barrymore was when she was in that movie with Michael Vartan! I’m older than Jesus ( AS) when he was on this earth! Oh God, what if it’s too late for me to have children?“
My inner monologue hysterically wonders about how hot hot flashes actually are, as I smile at the nice lady who’d innocently assumed that a Muslim woman my age is almost certainly married and almost certainly a mother.
I am an unmarried Muslim woman of a certain age. To be honest with you, I’m not surprised that I’m in this demographic.