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My Ironic Identity

My Ironic Identity

Just recently, I overheard two of my co-workers discussing how “those people” are horrid and hell-bent on committing violent acts of crime. The subject of their conversation involved a news story about ISIS and the people they were referring to were all those practicing Islam. Unbeknownst to them, there was one of “those people,” a Muslim, working and sharing space alongside  them: me. They were blissfully unaware that I practice Islam and identify as a Muslim because in their words, I seemed “too sweet” and had “very good moral character.” In other words, I was a peaceful working professional who did not fit into their grossly defined stereotype of a violent terrorist.

Unable to contain my emotions, I began to cry when one of them approached to ask what the matter was. She asked if I had just been dumped, completely unaware that the comparison she drew between ISIS and all Muslims affected me more deeply than if I was a love-sick teen dumped by all five members of One Direction. As I explained that I overheard her conversation, my co-worker stated, “Oh no, we weren’t talking about your culture…” a statement which further fueled my sadness because she was trying to justify her ignorance by removing some sort of burden of misunderstanding off of me. Essentially meaning to say that I should be relieved because she was not bad-mouthing me despite knowing I was ethnically different, but she instead hated another group of people and assumed I would share her sentiment.

However, when I stated “I am Muslim” she was stunned – not because she felt remorse for appropriating violent acts of crime to me and my family, but because I didn’t look like the villain she had been taught to hate. I could tell she was wondering how a person seeming peaceful, professional, and educated could simultaneously identify as a Muslim. It’s as if my identity was an oxymoron — I could not appear kind and hardworking while also being a Muslim. It would be much easier to blame her ignorance on my ironic identity. Using my coworker’s logic, the fact that I practice Islam should negate any good qualities I exude because Islam is equated with violence and hatred and I was the complete antithesis of what she believed a Muslim is. When I instead stated that any good quality she has observed in me is a direct result of my faith, it was as if I was explaining a complex cosmic theory that she could not comprehend.

My other co-worker’s reaction disappointed me further as she stated, “I have a lot of Muslim friends, so it’s nothing against them; but we were talking about how we don’t like Islam.” That’s similar to a bigot saying, “I have many black friends; but my hatred is directed towards colored people.” One cannot extract the former from the latter – it’s a package deal. Imagine her astonishment when I explained using the analogy that Muslims are to Islam as Christians are to Christianity. In that moment, not only did I feel saddened by my coworker’s misunderstanding of Muslims and Islam, but I was seriously appalled with the social constructs which perpetuated this lack of knowledge. She was baffled and realized there was no way to explain herself off the carousel of ignorance she had been a passenger on for so many years. Unfortunately, I had to accept the reality that she is not the only culprit.

In light of the recent murder of three innocent Muslim victims, I believe reflecting on this story is imperative because I have had to prove to my co-workers and fellow Americans that my community and my identity as a Muslim American is valid and deserving of basic human respect. Even with regards to raising awareness about this brutal hate crime in the media, Muslims have been coming together as a collective to demand that American citizens (Muslims or otherwise) condemn this act of violence. Time and again, we as Muslims must transform ourselves into 4th grade history teachers and explain that the essence of Islam means “peace” and that the teachings we follow emphasize compassion, love, and respect for all created beings. Other times, we are expected to transform our existence into an apology and take the burden of accountability for heinous acts which have no basis in Islam upon ourselves.

Tragically, the man who executed this vain hate crime allowed his hatred to consume him. The lives of Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha, and Razan Abu-Salha exemplify not only what I as a Muslim aspire to be, but what I as a human being aspire to be. It is all the more disappointing when individuals like my coworkers are unaware that Muslims can be such loving, kind-hearted people who volunteer and give back to their communities. We must do better as a collective to condemn this hate crime and all other hate crimes committed against anyone for any reason.

See Also

Prior to this tragic event and since its occurrence, there have been eruptions of hatred against a Muslim Islamic Center, namely the Quba Islamic Institute of Houston which was the result of arson, an Islamic School in Rhode Island was the target of defamation and hate speech, and a young Somali brother, Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, was intentionally struck by an SUV from a driver who knew he was Muslim two months prior. These repeated incidents depict a vicious cycle of hatred that needs to be halted by Muslims and non-Muslims alike. There should be no argument in favor stating otherwise, because we as a nation cannot afford to reward hate.

Image from Creative Commons

View Comments (11)
  • reminds me of when I used to tailgate with an Albanian. this was 10 years ago or more, he told me how after 9/11 one of his co-workers came up to him and said we need to deport all the muslims. when he told the co-worker he was muslim, the guy was embarrassed and started to backpedal.
    that said I find it very hypocritical when muslims talk of tolerance. since then I have read the Koran and many hadiths. they are very condescending to non-muslims. the Koran constantly calls us ignorant, a word I see the author prefers as well. muslims complain about being treated as ‘the other’ but the entire religion is based on separation and treating non-muslims as ‘the other’. also, somehow muslims can make leaps and bounds to blame ‘islamophobia’ on what is said and done in America, yet fail to even attempt to see the link between islam and the actions of muslims.

  • Thanks for your input Mike3. I’d like to clarify some points, as I am the author of this article. First, I’d like to tell you that Islamophobia is *very* real, although you refer to it in quotations as if it doesn’t exist. It’s as real as other forms of discrimination, and I doubt you’d refer to racism as ‘racism’-implying it’s nonexistent. While it may not affect you personally, that doesn’t mean it isn’t a real experience/struggle for others that are different in some aspect. It’s also unreasonable to judge a religion and all people who practice it based on the evil actions of terrorists whom Muslims condemn and hold in contempt equally, if not more. Also, my coworkers both admitted to me of their own volition they were ignorant of what it means to be a practicing Muslim, and have never tried to learn about Islam. Lastly, I hope you question the sources from which you’ve misunderstood that Islam “is based on separation and treating non-Muslims as ‘the other'”. Muslims are racially diverse and Islam spans across all countries and racial/ethnic boundaries so how can it be “based on separation”? In fact there is no place for racial, ethnic, or cultural hierarchy in Islam itself as a religion. In addition, there’s an entire passage in the Quran stating that everyone has a right to their own religion and there should be no compulsion in religion. Also, there are many Hadith which stress the importance of kindness/respect/tolerance to all people, Muslim or not. The most devoted Muslims actually were once Non-Muslims who embraced Islam by observing the character of Muhammad alone (peace be upon him) so it’s obvious that they were treated with peace and respect prior to taking that step. Consider this: just because a few college students fail a class due to their **own** willingness to learn a subject or do the work, you can’t fail the entire class based on the inability of those few students to apply themselves, or attribute a lack of willingness to the entire class. That’s illogical. So why is it easy for others to disregard hard-working, peaceful Muslim Americans who positively contribute to society due to the actions of a group we don’t even consider Muslims..?
    -Hira U.

    • As a Christian, it reminds me of when people take a text, and use it without understanding or acknowledging historic and cultural context, refuse to acknowledge any Christianity that does not see the bible as literal and inerrant, and claims the text as proof that Christianity is evil, in toto, with no exception. They refuse to acknowledge the positivity of folks like Bishop Tutu who were inspired by the faith to work toward justice and freedom.

      I use a “bible verse of the day” app and used to use a “Quran verse on the day app” and it completely confused me. I finally took the advice of a friend that I should not read the Quran by myself. They advised that if I want to read it I should seek someone who understands Islam to read it with, because I’m unlikely to have any grasp on context and may well completely misunderstand it without guidance. It’s easy to look at a text from a culture…. especially an ancient one…. and completely misunderstand it. It’s important to seek those who are more learned and familiar to help us understand.

      • Hello HRH_Christa! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us on MuslimGirl, we really value your input and are so happy you can find a connection between Christianity and Islam.
        I agree with you in that some individuals take many verses out of context from the Quran and use that to propagate the hatred already present within their hearts. That’s very unfortunate for the people who are genuinely trying to understand Islam as a faith and lifestyle for many friends who practice Islam. Unless the source of learning is authentic, people trying to educate themselves about Muslims may regard misinformation as “knowledge” and as a result foster more misunderstanding. You’re so right in saying that you need a reliable source when studying any subject, especially religion. If you have any questions about Islam, I highly recommend visiting http://www.whyislam.org or 877-Why-Islam toll free. Thank you again for sharing your thoughts! -Hira U.

      • I’m sorry but that sounds like a cop out. I should be able to study it myself and understand without having someone explain it to me. If the koran is as perfect as Muslims say and if its directly from God, shouldn’t it be timeless and easy to understand?

        • Do you know archaic Arabic from the era of its writing, and are you conversant with the nuances of the culture at the specific geographic location and historic period it was written in?

  • I just want to say….I LOVE YOU ALL. Honestly, it makes my day to see another new article posted. I get so excited and re-read all the articles twice. You guys have so much intellectual thoughts and opinions that it just makes me yearn for more people like you in my community. I always talk about your articles to family that it’s starting to annoy them. Please, please, keep writing and spreading this message of Female/Muslim-empowerment, and keep in mind that they are tons of girls, including me that love MUSLIMGIRL. Also… do you think you guys could start a youtube channel? If so.. hit me up and maybe i could be a part of it. Email: filsanmohamud@hotmail.com

    • We love you, Filsan! Thank you for your powerful words of encouragement which inspire the hope we need to continue writing. It makes me feel sincerely happy to know that the articles published on Muslimgirl connect with you on a personal level and as a result, I feel connected to you. Thank you again for your feedback, it is much appreciated!!

  • Ahhh no. Your comparison to black peuople and Muslims is so wrong. Islam is not a race. I don’t like christianity I love and like some Christians. Just because I don’t agree with you and think your beliefs arent very well thought out it doesn’t mean I hate you. Also I thought moderate Muslims didnt think Isis were real Muslims. Here you are being upset that they’re talking about Isis like you identify with it. Also of all of your good qualities are due to your religion you must be a really terrible person. My good qualities are because I want to be a good person not because someone told me that it’s the correct way to be.

  • Thanks for article, but I disagree on several important points. Firstly race is not a choice, so racial prejudice is different from prejudice against a religio-political view I.e. even though there may be some nice fascists, it doesn’t mean I have to like fascism. That Islam is a religion of peace seems very counter intuitive: There are around 108 islamic terrorist groups in the world, which are about the same as all other terrorist groups put together. Also, the Quran calls for violence against apostates and non muslims and much of the Quran (yep I’ve read it) is anti-Semitic and anti Christian and in no way considers other religious people as equals (compare with the new testament, which allows intermarriage with other religions, calls on people to not pretend they are better than people from other religions).

    My personal experience with Muslims is very different, and yes ‘some of my best friends are muslims’. But what I see, even in the lives of these friends, is a repressive religion which does not give equal rights to women, often forces women to marry Muslim men, castigates people that want to leave the religion, and at a national level, is a form of political control. Despite feeling that many Muslims get value out of Islam, it is difficult to equate the Quran nor the life of Muhammed (who ordered the execution of at least 30 people) to peace and acceptance of others.

    Unfortunately Islam is tied to polítics and culture, so Muslims feel offended when Islam is criticised because they see it as being critical of them as a person rather than critical of their ideology. Indeed, many Muslims never had a choice over their religion and I suspect you yourself never tried other religions and that both your parents are probably Muslim. As the husband of someone that was a Jehovah’s witness, I know brain washing occurs in many religions, and that these types of cults make it difficult for you to leave as you get excluded from the society.

    Thus, it is legitimate to criticise a religion that specifically states that apostates, Jews and Christians should be persecuted, even whilst accepting that you yourself, whilst being a Muslim, are not like that. I.e. the discrepancy occurs because actually, you are not following the teachings of Islam as they are detailed in the Quran, and if you were, they would probably hate you too.

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