It seems like Ramadan has come and gone in the blink of an eye; it truly is amazing how quickly 30 full days of fasting, praying, and charity can seem to fly by.
This Ramadan was my first as a practicing Muslim; the first where I actively interacted with my ummah and participated in the same deeds I had been reading about a year prior in preparation for my conversion.
It was last Ramadan where I came to the decision that I wanted to join Islam; this year, I concluded it was by far one of the best decisions of my life. With all the blessing I’ve been granted this year, I’ve started to notice a few things about myself as a Muslim – I don’t particularly fit in.
One of the most common ways this cultural invisibility became prevalent was through my very name. When I introduced myself to other Muslims, I was automatically asked where I’m from because my name was not an Arab one, yet to many I looked Arab. When I explained that I was actually Hispanic the question then arose “Will you change your name to one in Arabic?” tweet
The Qur’an teaches us that all people can be Muslim, and no specific ethnicity or culture is the face of Islam. However, in today’s society there are a couple of cultures which are heavily associated with Islam; namely Arab and, in the United States, African American culture. I am Puerto Rican — a very proud Puerto Rican — to say the least, and while I have happily and openly embraced the truth of Islam, I stay true to my cultural roots.
Being a Hispanic Muslim seems like it’s a rarity, a fact I was wholeheartedly aware of upon reverting. What I’ve learned, especially throughout the course of this Ramadan, was that since there is very little awareness of Hispanic Muslims, it’s almost like we don’t exist at all. When I’m amongst other Muslims, I don’t feel out of place in the sense that I feel I don’t belong on an individual level; no one has ever told me I wasn’t Muslim enough because of my culture – that’s certainly not the issue. What I have realized is that my culture tends to be diminished by other’s cultures; cultures where Islam has been integrated into their heritage.
One of the most common ways this cultural invisibility became prevalent was through my very name. When I introduced myself to other Muslims, I was automatically asked where I’m from because my name was not an Arab one, yet to many I looked Arab. When I explained that I was actually Hispanic the question then arose “Will you change your name to one in Arabic?”
While there were times I felt intimidated about interacting with people who have had generations of Islamic teachings and practices in their family, I’ve also learned that my culture and my religion do not have to cancel each other out. I am Puerto Rican, and I am Muslim, and I am proud to be both. tweet
I even had people decide for me they would call me by a different name; an Arabic name. While this may seem offensive upfront, it didn’t bother me, but rather it struck me as an interesting quirk of being one of the very few Hispanic Muslims. I had always known some people chose to change their name upon converting, but it never occurred to me that it may have been to fit in more with other Muslims. I always figured people did it merely out of personal choice. Yet, as this question is asked more and more, I realize it may have been more to do with being able to blend in with the rest of the crowd. With my features, if I took on a different name, I’d probably never be asked where I’m from again; people would just assume I was Arab of some sort. That’s not at all what I want. I want to be me, not become someone other people think is more appropriate or someone that makes more sense to them.
Another interesting cultural practice I found being implemented on me was cultural dress. As a Puerto Rican, I am drawn to bright colors; I love obnoxious yellows, reds, and teals. Yet, I find many Muslims frequently push for darker, more toned down colors. While I do love grey and black and am adamantly in love with any shade of nude, I can’t find it in myself to give up my love of color because others believe that’s a more appropriate way to be a Muslim. One of my favorite experiences as a new revert thus far has been experimenting with different kinds of modest clothing. I love combining different fabrics and layers to create fun, beautiful, and modest looks.
Being told that spraying perfume is the equivalent of having sex with a man is a bit outlandish to me, not to mention scientifically impossible. tweet
However, I’ve been “advised” by both men and women alike not to wear color because it may be appealing to men, which somehow results in a sin on my behalf. I understand there are Muslims who have very strict following of Islam, and I can respect that. Yet and still, being told that spraying perfume is the equivalent of having sex with a man is a bit outlandish to me, not to mention scientifically impossible.
What I’ve found throughout this beautiful month is that Muslims from all over the world truly do exist. I’ve never met or interacted with different cultures as intimately as I have during this Ramadan. I’ve tasted food, learned words, and been gifted with clothing and hijabs I would never have come across on my own. I’ve had brothers and sisters selflessly take time out of their day to help me learn to pray, to teach me to pronounce words in prayer better, to learn and discuss different scholars and their work on Islam, and I’m so grateful for the beautiful relationships I’ve been able to build this year. While there were times I felt intimidated about interacting with people who have had generations of Islamic teachings and practices in their family, I’ve also learned that my culture and my religion do not have to cancel each other out. I am Puerto Rican, and I am Muslim, and I am proud to be both.
If I had one message to for my ummah it would be this: We are constantly teaching non-Muslims that Muslims exist all across the globe, yet we seem to forget that very same fact ourselves. It can only be beneficial to us all to learn about — or at least be aware of Muslims — from lesser known cultural backgrounds.