An Imam stands in front of a crowded Jumu‘ah congregation and gives a speech on coming together as a Muslim community. He talks about the Prophet Muhammad and how he would accept everyone, no matter their past, their color, or their social standing. After the Imam is done talking, it is time to stand for prayer. One man stands next to another, looks him up and down, taking in his skin color and dress, and making assumptions about who he might be. After this assessment the man decides that it is better not to stand next to this other man, after all… he does not quite look like he belongs.
There are a group of Middle Eastern men standing around talking after a prayer one day; they are all laughing and enjoying themselves. A man approaches the group to answer a question that he was emailed earlier in the day by one of the members of this group. Upon his approach, one of the group members looks him over…again, taking in his skin color and his dress, and making assumptions about who he might be. After his assessment, the man decides to make a very serious face, ignore any salams that are offered, and walk away.
A woman sits in her office diligently working, as always. A few coworkers approach her office and ask if she would want to attend a happy hour event with other team members. Sheepishly, she declines, and is then flooded with questions about why she never attends when her team goes to a bar?
An American female convert makes the decision that she is going to start wearing a hijab. Immediately, she is bombarded with questions about why Muslims do this. Do you really not eat for a whole month? There was an Iranian man on the news last night talking about some social issues in Iran, what did he mean by his statements?
A married couple, one Arab the other an American convert, go to the mall. While they are shopping, they get looks of wonder and disgust from non-Muslims, which is far better than the Muslim women that boldly walk over to inspect the woman’s ring finger.
Two lifelong friends, both Muslim converts, sit together in a public area. The woman wears a hijab, while the man looks like any other American male in the area. They are approached by a Muslim who, in Arabic, begins to ask the woman what part of Alexandria, Egypt she is from. When the man offers his salams he is ignored.
I could go on and on with these scenarios, but I want to stop and ask, do any of them sound familiar? Have you been on either end of these situations?
They are all part of what I like to call the, “You ain’t from around here” syndrome.
As you know by now I am a Muslim convert, and if you didn’t know then go back and check out part 1 of this tale, “For Me is My Religion Part 1.” If you did read that post you know that my conversion was a bit of a social struggle. But now I have said la ilāha illa Allāh and everything is fine, no more struggles! Right? Isn’t that how this works?
As you can clearly see that is not what happened. I found out quickly that there were a whole new set of issues that I was going to have to face.
I get it. I am a Caucasian American. I am a U.S. Military Veteran. And, up until now, I didn’t spend my time around mosques or halal food establishments trying to figure out which one had the best kofta (which, for the record, is made by my mother-in-law). I am the new kid on the block and, thanks to TV shows like “Homeland” and government agencies planting FBI and CIA agents in mosques; I have to try harder than normal to fit in. But, when is enough enough?
I have been going to Jumu‘ah prayer with the same group of people now for many years. I am kind of a quiet person, so I go to Jumu‘ah and I go about my business. If I were a government agent wouldn’t I be forcing myself into conversations? Wouldn’t I be demanding that we “hang-out”? Since I am not engaging in that kind of behavior, can we all agree there is a large possibility that I am not trying to infiltrate this Jumu‘ah prayer?
So what about others that look at my skin tone, my eye color, or the way I talk, and judge me because I am not from the same geographic region as them?
Now is the moment where you can defend yourself by saying, “But that doesn’t happen!” I mean, after all, didn’t the Prophet Muhammad say in his last sermon:
All mankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white except by piety and good action. Learn that every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim and that the Muslims constitute one brotherhood. Nothing shall be legitimate to a Muslim which belongs to a fellow Muslim unless it was given freely and willingly. Do not, therefore, do injustice to yourselves.”
So there it is, “Every Muslim is a brother to every Muslim,”and that is how we all act all of the time, right?
Sadly, this judgmental behavior goes on every day. Not only is it (in my understanding) haram, but it is hurtful and it drives a wedge into our communities. It pushes converts like me away. At first I thought this was a unique issue to converts, but it turns out that it affects American Muslims as well. When I use the term American Muslims, I mean born, not converted, Muslims who were brought here at a young age or born here. Because their family wanted them to have more opportunities and a shot at the “American Dream,” they were raised here in the American culture. Now some of them are being turned on because they are too “American.”
When I started reaching out to people to see if I was the only one being treated this way, I found out that I was not. I heard people voicing their issues about trying to work in an American office and finding it hard to pray (I spoke to one convert that lost his job because of his conversion), about not being able to marry who they wanted to because the other person was from the wrong country, and about feeling tired of being the spokesperson for all of Islam and all Muslims. The list went on and on.
I felt their pain; I had been there. In fact, I experienced it again last week! The spokesperson issue did speak the loudest to me. I am very active on social media; in fact I make my living by managing other people’s websites and social media profiles. But, when I converted, every day I would get hit with the same questions over and over again. Finally, out of exhaustion, I wrote a list of the questions I was being asked most often, and answered them in the form of a podcast. That way I had one central place to point to and say here are all your answers. To this day, that podcast gets downloads. In fact, you can click here and have a listen for yourself.
I stopped recording that podcast for personal reasons, but as I talked to people about these issues of exclusion, I felt moved to try and start my podcast again. Maybe I can be the voice that is needed to try and bring people together, maybe I can be the one to help people understand that these issues they are struggling with are not unique; and more importantly, they are not alone.
So as a start I would like to say…
To the Muslim Converts…you are not alone. We all feel like outsiders, we are all treated differently; we all get looked at by our friends, co-workers, and family. We all feel like we are some kind of spokesperson for Muslims worldwide.
To the American Muslims…you are not alone. We all get looks; we all struggle to pray in the workplace; we are all tired of feeling like spokespeople for a religion that has been demonized through propaganda.
We are Muslims…and we all have the same struggles; we all have the same needs; but mostly, we are all proud to say and believe la ilāha illa Allāh
As part of trying to bring my podcast back, I want to make sure I cover issues that are important to my audience. Please take a moment to fill out the survey below, it is only 10 questions so it won’t take you too long. I am willing to carry on with my podcast and do what is right. I want this free online radio show to be made by those that are reading this and for those that are reading this, so they know they are not alone.