The person I am today is a sum of different identities. As my life unfolds, I know I will find myself in other roles and acquire more identities as well. People say the whole is always better than the sum of its parts. But to find ME apart from these identities is like peeling an onion: if you keep peeling, you will eventually get to the core but lose the whole thing.
Some of my identities are personal like being a student, somebody’s friend or roommate, the roles we play in this world. My most remarkable identity however is of me is influenced by people and events I had nothing to do with, but nevertheless had a big impact to the person I am and to the person the world sees when they look at me.
I am a Muslim. Being a Muslim is both a gift and I discovered later on- a pain. Growing up as a Muslim in Saudi is no big deal. At first it was hard to reconcile the fact that the belief which shaped and nurtured me could be a source of prejudice separating me and other Muslims everywhere from the rest of the world. How could my refuge be somebody else’s nightmare?
When I became an international student, the story changed. I have to live with a label associated with my race and religion. I have to experience first hand the biases and insensitiveness caused by preconceived notions linked to Islam. I have to understand why some people see Islam as a source of violence and anarchy. I have to open my mind and numb my heart to in order to cope. Following the September 11, 2001 attack to the World Trade Center in New York and Pentagon in Washington, D.C., Reverend Franklin Graham was cited in an article in the Islam for Today (2001) saying:
We’re not attacking Islam, but Islam has attacked us. The God of Islam is not the same God. He’s not the son of God of the Christian or Judeo-Christian faith. It’s a different God, and I believe it is a very evil and wicked religion. (Islam Today, 2001)
What am I supposed to say to things like that? Every Muslim has to pay the price owed by the few. In the airports, malls and terminals all over the world, people take one look at Muslims and see not a person but a bomb that might explode any moment. In the entertainment industry, Arabs portray the same roles- the terrorist, the bomber, the human sacrifice willing to blow his body and everybody else for the sake of what he believe in. The rest of us, the millions of Muslims whose only aim in life is to live like everybody else, go to school, get a decent job and have a happy normal life do not count. We might as well not exist.
I did not choose to be a Muslim. It was a consequence of my birth. It will always be a part of me and it will always affect my choices but it does not define me as a person, at least not the kind of Muslim the world has come to think. It is not what I show the world or what the world chooses to see me that make me who I am. I know I am more than a label. I am a person separate from Islam.
Life throws us into situations and circumstances we do not have control with. I am aware that I need to cope with my new life. There are identities I live. There are different roles I need to take part of.
I used to think being a Muslim is a drawback. I had no wish of changing that part of me but I hoped things are easier. I wanted to be normal. I wanted people to see me as I am, not as a ticking bomb. In retrospect I think it was not my heritage that drew me back, I did.
We all want to be different. We all want to have the distinct, unique and interesting personality that could earn us a special place under the sun. Unconsciously I was building that image but being aware of the difficulties and limitations of my identity slowed me down. I felt like a victim trapped in this persona of a Muslim in a different world. There were times I felt my identity was not enough to take me where I want to go. I had doubts about my capabilities. I felt sorry that I was different when I should have been celebrating. I realized the world is just mirroring back what I think when I look at myself. By reflecting on my life made me realize what really counts.
My life decisions had always been based on my core essences. I am an adventurer capable of going outside my world. I left my home to further my education. Being an international student gives me the freedom to expand my boundaries and learn more. I want change yet I am afraid of the new world and culture I brought myself into.
I am capable of anything if my put my mind to it. I could change my life and the way I see myself. I do not have to be ashamed of my identity. I do not have to be jealous of people who had it easier than I did because the trials I went through has contributed to the person I am today.
What made me who I truly am? All the identities I played had affected me one way or another but I made my choices not based on those roles alone. My identities influenced my behavior and decisions to an extent but at the end of the day, I know my choices were all influenced by the person I am at the core. My core essence made me go beyond the limits and prejudices of my identities. It made me a person with desires for adventure and freedom, a person who is afraid like everybody else but keeps going anyway, a unique individual tested by trials, polished by life and strengthened by faith.
Islam for Today. (2001). Faith and Tolerance in Muslim America. Retrieved June 28, 2009, from http://www.islamfortoday.com/america13.htm