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‘Are You Even Muslim?’

‘Are You Even Muslim?’

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“Are you even Muslim?”

I hate when people ask me that. It pisses me off. They have no idea what it took, what I’ve been through to stand where I’m standing now in my Islam. My spirituality.

But, I know exactly why they’re asking. Because a Black face with a traditionally wrapped hijab couldn’t possibly be Muslim. Because a girl wears leggings, couldn’t possibly be Muslim. Because she might have some tats on her arm, couldn’t possibly be Muslim. In order to be accepted as a visible Muslimah, I have to be of Middle-Eastern descent, wear an abaya, and speak Arabic.

If you don’t fit into that mold, then no one knows who you are or what you’re doing in the mosque. Stop trying and go to some other religion and hope that they accept you.

“So, you became Muslim when your Mom converted over, is that why you’ve stayed in Islam?”

Yes, I converted over when I was six or seven years old because of my mother, but as an adult that’s not why I’ve chosen to stay.

Close-ended comments/questions like these irk me because why isn’t my spirituality enough? Why do people feel the need to attach things to unrelated things or dismiss what I’m saying because they want to cram me into some square?

Because a Black face with a traditionally wrapped hijab couldn’t possibly be Muslim. Because a girl wears leggings, couldn’t possibly be Muslim. Because she might have some tats on her arm, couldn’t possibly be Muslim.

To become a Muslim, convert to Islam, you only need to take shahada (profession of faith):

“Ashadu an la ilaha illa illa-ilah, wa ashadu anna muhammadan rasul ullah.”

The meaning is: “I testify that there is no god but God (Allah), and I testify that Muhammad is the messenger of God (Allah).

Of course, we have the pillars and other rules to being a good and “practicing” Muslim. But to simply put it, this is the only thing you have to say and believe in order to be classified as a Muslim.

If in Allah’s eyes it’s so easy to be a Muslim, then why do human beings have such a hard time being convinced that I’m Muslim?

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The media, other Muslims, etc, loves focusing on certain kinds of Muslims. Acceptable Muslimahs, I like to call them. They like to showcase the “oppressed Muslim.” The Middle-Eastern Muslim girl who is forced into an arranged marriage, isn’t allowed to drive, and covers in all-black with gloves. They show us the “good” and wholesome Hijabi blogger.

She’s usually a size small, wears pastels, has about a million followers, can pass for white but is usually Middle-Eastern, her photos are perfect, her pregnancy is perfect, and her husband makes fashionable cameos on her feed. Lately, the “activist” Muslim has been trending. How do they look, you ask? Usually draped in an abaya or loose-fitting clothes and always with hijab. They can be found making salat on the grass at a rally for Trump’s latest Muslim ban. And, let’s not forget, they also are a fair-skinned Middle-Eastern type.

If in Allah’s eyes it’s so easy to be a Muslim, then why do human beings have such a hard time being convinced that I’m Muslim?

What about us “In-betweenie” Muslims?

Don’t we exist? The ones who don’t wear hijab but still dress modestly. The one who dates but doesn’t drink? The one who smokes weed but gives charity. The one who doesn’t make salat but never misses a Jumah prayer. The one who only observes the obligations of Islam during Ramadan.

What about the Black Muslim. The African Muslim. The Dark-Skinned Middle-Eastern Muslim. Asian. White. European. Hispanic. Indian.

Do we not exist in the Islamic world?

Do we not belong?

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I used to be one of those Muslim girls who pretended to be super Muslim. I did it in order to appease people. I wasn’t doing it for Allah and I definitely wasn’t doing it for myself. I changed the way I dressed, pretended that I prayed five times a day or knew certain surahs. I’d say “insh’allah” after every sentence, wrapped my scarf the “correct” way, and even ate halal.

I was two different people.

What was interesting was that the Muslim women who were covered and praying and being as Muslim as can be had another side to them that I couldn’t quite understand. They were bitter, judgmental, and very close-minded.

As calamities started to happen and my façade began to slip away, my iman (faith) was at an all-time low. But for one thing, I knew in my heart that I still believed and wanted to be Muslim. That wasn’t enough for the community though. So instead of lifting me, I became the center of their negativity. I was called a kafir (derogatory term for an unbeliever), a hoe, and a slut. I was called fake, un-Islamic, and a bitch. Those are just a few of the names.

What was interesting was that the Muslim women who were covered and praying and being as Muslim as can be had another side to them that I couldn’t quite understand. They were bitter, judgmental, and very close-minded.

At that point, I was done. I stopped going to the mosque. I didn’t trust Muslims at all. I cut all ties. And, I was on the brink of actually detaching from the religion. My plan was that I could still believe in Allah (SWT) but not ascribe to Islam. In my head, I wasn’t Muslim enough for my ex. Not Muslim enough for the Black Muslim community or the Arab one. I tried and got shunned. So, I was just finished.

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“My sister is having a halaqa tonight,” my friend said. “You should come.”

I was going through the divorce and I hadn’t wanted to be around any judgmental Muslims. “I’m straight,” I told her.

“It’s gonna be free food there.”

I sighed. I was pretty hungry and my funds were low. “Fine!”

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I came super late. My plan was to swoop in, get a plate, then slip away.

When my friend saw my face, she said, “Glad you can make it.” I’d been spotted.

I rolled my eyes.

The sisters were pleasant. They gave me greetings and kisses on my cheek. Wasn’t so bad, I thought. I sat on the couch and her sister turned on a lecture about being Muslim. It was a short but hard-hitting lecture. Afterwards, the sister talked about community and uplifting each other. She asked if anyone had any questions. There was a silence. A lump formed in my throat as I clutched my plate, trying to hold back tears.

“My ex called me a kafir, so I don’t think I can be Muslim anymore. I just can’t do anything right,” I told the group. “I can’t dress like a Muslim. I can’t eat like one. I can’t pray like one. And, if I can’t be a good Muslim then I can’t be one at all.”

The sister grimaced. “That’s not how this works. You ARE a Muslim. You are NOT a kafir and how dare he say that you. A Muslim should NEVER, ever say that to another Muslim. When you take shahada, you are a Muslim, dear. I don’t care what you do or have done or will do in the future. Every day we are given on earth is a day to get closer to Allah (SWT). Everyone, I mean everyone, even the Muslims who appear to have it all together have their weaknesses — whether they show it or not. But, don’t ever believe that. You are Muslim.”

That was last year.

I’ve said it before, I’m not the poster child for Islam. I’m one of the many, many Muslims on this planet just trying to make it somewhere on this earth and in the hereafter. I have lots of work to do. And, I’m okay with that.

So, when I am hit with the question: are you even Muslim?

I say: I am. Proudly.

 

xoxo,

Leah V


 

*Photos courtesy of Eric Puschak in Detroit*

 

 

View Comments (31)
  • Alhamdullilah! Yes, you are as Muslim as anyone. This entry of yours will ring true for so many converts. Be proud and strong, Allah loves you for who you are, not for what some fool says about you.

  • These are the struggles. Thank you for putting them to words and for expressing your experience as a black Muslimah. Mo matter how much people from inside and outside the ummah try to push us into corners and boxes, we need to claim the space we need to be Muslim whichever way we feel it in our hearts.

  • I could have written this article because this almost exactly my experience, except from the white perspective. I was so happy to see that this author included white in her list of people who are outside the excepted standard for what makes a ” real Muslimah.” As a middle-aged, divorced white convert I have never, ever been fully accepted. Even in discussions about Islamophobia ant assaults against visibily Muslim women, the white convert experience is entirely erased from the conversation. Once, a young Bangledeshi American woman reproached me for using the word “Islamophobia,” when so many Muslims of color had experienced it. I friggin lost my family after I converted. I also have been assaulted, followed by police and suspicious store managers. White converts who are visibly Muslim DO also experience Islamophobia. But the worst thing is that like this sister, I tried for years to fit in and in the process I lost myself. It came to the point where I considered taking my own life because of 15 years’ worth of abject loneliness and isolation. Then, I realized that Allah never intended for His perfected religion to be difficult or painful. I am slowly starting to rediscover Islam on my own terms. I also will not step foot inside a mosque, not just because of the social barriers but also because of the rampant gender bias in our institutions. I’m so thankful Leah wrote this article because I bet it represents what so many of us are thinking and experiencing. I, too, am a proud Muslim, even if that means I am an island of one.

  • The fact that i cried my eyes off says it all❤️❤️❤️❤️ Loved it girl ❤️❤️???????????? And may god bless your beautiful heart❤️❤️

  • It’s painful just imagining those bullying scenarios. I wish I had a private jet. I’d just reach out to all people suffering at the hands of such treatment to let them know that they don’t have to live with that.
    People need to learn what being Muslim is about, lest they themselves fall to ruin on making negative declarations about others!

  • The only community we should be trying to “so hard” to fit into, is that of those who will be closest to Allah(SWT)on the day of judgement. He created us in different shapes,colors and forms in order that we may know each other and be in awe of His powers and majesty. If some people chose not to understand that, and instead ascribe to themselves some level of “superiority” over others, then they are the ones that are truly in need of guidance. Keep on striving beautiful Leah, and to every other muslim/muslimah going through this, that is all Allah needs and expects from us all..not perfection, for perfection belongs only to Allah. Salam.

  • I’ve always found our sisters to be pretty understanding. For the most part… I’m a convert too and was covered in tattoos before I converted. I am also on that middle ground. I work, way too much so prayer doesn’t come easy. I don’t wear hijab but by Las Vegas standards I’m ultra conservative… in black t-shirts and slacks. I used to dress more conservatively but in a town where it’s ok to walk around with all your bits showing people look at a girl crazy that’s wearing that much clothes. I try my best to eat halal but I won’t lie I’m not perfect. And to be honest I ride a motorcycle and im not really comfortable riding a bike to the mosque cause the men stare… And hijab does not fit under a helmet (comfortably or safely)

    I say just do you… only Allah knows what’s in your (our) hearts <3 And thank you. It's nice to know I'm not alone.

  • Yay I’m not alone. I’m not the only one feeling this way. Thank you so much, honestly thank you, this must have taken a lot of courage.

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