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White American Muslim -Ruth Nasrullah

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My ethnic heritage is from quite a few parts of Europe – England, Scotland, a little bit of Ireland, Germany, Poland, and if you consider Jewish an ethnicity, as many do, that figures prominently as well. You get the idea: I’m European-American. In more common terms, I’m white.

And I wear hijab. I think the sight of me is a little jarring. Some people start and then look away. Some people stare. Children always stare. Some people start asking me questions.

The one I probably hear most often is “Where are you from?” I know what they mean, but there’s no simple way to answer the question, just as there’s no right way for them to ask it. So I usually just answer, “New Jersey.”

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“But where is your family from? “”New York State.””Yes, but are they American?” Now that’s tricky, using “American” in this case. Many immigrants have attained US citizenship and thus are “American.” But again, I know what they mean.

“Yes, my family is American.”

“But from where?” Finally we get to the heart of what they’re asking, and I answer, “Oh, Europe – England, Scotland, Germany,” etc., just as I described above. “I’m a mutt!” I sometimes say with a smile. So we establish that I am indeed that rare creature whose numbers are growing – a white American Muslim.

Moving on from there, they explore how it could possibly be that someone with American citizenship whose ancestors came from Europe ended up with the hijab on her head.

“Is your husband Muslim?”

“Yes.”

“Ohhh.”

“But I became Muslim before I married him.” Oh.

Once I was at the mechanics’ waiting for my car repairs to be done, and a woman sitting near me asked the above series of questions. She pursued it even further by asking about my religious background, and after hearing that whole story she seemed satisfied. But then she asked one more question.

“So are you the same religion as those people in Iraq? ” Now that I was unprepared to answer. I guess the answer is well, yes…but no. But that’s a topic for another day.

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11 Comments

11 Comments

  1. Manas Shaikh

    March 21, 2007 at 11:26 AM

    “The answer is well, yes…but no.”
    -Yeah! But No! I mean it says a lot to those who know the answer, but so little to those who don’t!

    Anyway, whenever people start attaching the Arabic identity with Islamic, or the European with Christianity, I feel my stomach.

    What the hell? As they say.

  2. Manas Shaikh

    March 21, 2007 at 11:38 AM

    Oh, about the “whole story” link. As far as I am aware, the Shahada translates as “I bear witness…” and not “I believe…”

  3. Abdul-Quddus

    March 21, 2007 at 11:52 AM

    As-salaamu ‘alaykum Ruth. Thank-you for sharing these personal encounters with us. When it comes to matters of race and religion, I receive the same perplexed gawk from people. I just don’t fit into any perfect demographic. When I have to fill out the “race” section in an application form, I must always go down to the “other” box and write a sentence.

  4. Umm Layth

    March 21, 2007 at 2:28 PM

    wa `alaykum as-Salaam

    May Allaah bless you sister, aameen!

    You know I get those same questions man (

  5. Ruth Nasrullah

    March 21, 2007 at 5:14 PM

    Asalaamu alaikum, Br. Manas – thanks for the correction. I don’t know why I wrote it that way; I knew the right meaning…

  6. abdullah (dan l.) alamin

    March 27, 2010 at 2:05 AM

    i am also a white american Muslim.i get these questions too,mostly in new Halal grocery stores. its god will for us to believe the way we do,we are just along for the ride.we are all muslim,some just choose to believe other things.

    • Naziia

      August 10, 2010 at 5:29 AM

      Hi Abdullah (dan l) i would like to talk with you about Islamic private things..can i get ur e-mail. or send me , please e-mail, Regards,

  7. sabirah

    March 27, 2010 at 2:59 AM

    jzkAllah for this article sister Ruth, we recently had a case in New Zealand where a native (Maori) Muslimah was denied entry to a courtroom (to support a relative in court) due to wearing hijab and it was made public.
    There were heated online and street discussions and I was so disgusted to hear a lot of “what do these foreign muslims in our country – they should go back home” – thing is that she was a indigenous New Zealander with more right to be in this country than anyone else, but people assumed she was a foreigner because of the hijab. Ignorance and stupidity go hand in hand, I suppose.

  8. sabirah

    March 27, 2010 at 3:17 AM

    and on the other side, I have muslimahs jumping out of their skins when I greet them with Asalam aleykum as I don’t wear hijab (yet), don’t look middle eastern at all, and have a middle european accent.

  9. haniharies

    September 17, 2010 at 3:53 AM

    assalamu alaikum,the best answer to sisterRuth is to reply them this kind qeustions isthat” this is GOD desicion i humbly obeying Him”.its over. God created female beutifull than male is only among human being.this is one of a greatest blessing which he provide her,and also He put some limitations to her when she go in public, this is only for her safty, not to disgrace.when a woman wear something like to reveal her body shape that may ofern cause to disturb her from many places by deferent kind of people, and simply advise them to read the quranic translations ,that will solve the ignorance about islam

  10. Mehmet sotires

    July 1, 2011 at 3:11 AM

    Assalamu alaikum, im born as a native greek moslem with turkish roots. We are a small minority religion there. Me and my family used turkish language for our communication(i knw greek as well) we migrated to us with greek passport,in here when i was walking with my female relative who wears hijab in public the people staring us as some kinda other creature coming from nowhere. Though we didnt mind those people,we have strong faith in islam where ever we go.

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