I believe there are others out there like me. People who may not be religious but have experienced religious upbringings in secular countries that are now accepting of Islamophobia as a legitimate fear. People like me who just want to be themselves but are confronted with racism and anti-Muslim rhetoric because they may not be outwardly religious themselves. I have great respect for my culture and heritage and feel it is important to create a safe space for those who may not have the support of their religious communities. People that get a sense of regret that they are compromising a part of themselves by blending in with their secular counterparts who are ignorant of the beauty of the middle east and other ‘foreign’ places.
I was raised Muslim in America and I fought against parts of it as an adolescent. In junior high I was asked by my parents to wear hijab, this was very difficult for me. It was almost a paralyzing fear of being different than my classmates. I did not want that kind of attention. It was the 90’s and Islamophobia was on the rise. During this same time I had the opportunity to live in Jordan. These are the best memories of my childhood, I finally felt like I belonged. I was welcomed by everyone. I never felt like an outsider as an American with little fluency in Arabic. I went back that summer to live with my Tayta. When I came home, my world fell apart. My parents divorced and I started doing drugs. My mom started partying and my dad left the country. My brothers and sisters were sent to live with my aunt and uncle since they were younger. Ever since then I felt like a part of me was taken from me without my consent. I was left alone to navigate the world by myself with no support system other than my druggie teenage friends. I was a heroin addict for 2 years from 14-16. I stopped out of disgust at my life and the self worth that was instilled in me. Also my father came back to America. Then 9/11 happened.
When 9/11 happened I literally had people coming up to me asking me “What happened?!” As if I had some inside source on the political and financial bullshit that makes millions on the business of war. I felt very scared as a teenager and again I wanted to blend in as if my life depended on it. I had no one to look up to to instill some kind of guidance and self confidence as an Arab woman post 9/11. I began to feed into Islamophobia to an extent, feeling abandoned by my parents… I became atheist as I neared my twenties. I had decided to completely remove myself from associating with anything religious to continue with the theme that I was alone in this world.
Then something in me changed, just 2 years ago I started to crave faith. I missed that idea of internal security. I reached out to my aunt, I bought a Quran, and I relearned how to pray. I started to follow and read about young Arab and Muslim women that were braver than I ever was standing tall and proud. During this same time, Trump hit and I was again faced with anti-Muslim comments and conversations. This time I was not going to stay silent. I was scared but I was fed up.
It is my duty as a fellow Arab-American to give a voice and a face to people like me who feel the same way and experience the same contradictions and conflicts within their own identities. As I grow older I find more respect for religion and realize being anti-religious is no better than being radically religious, believing that your beliefs are the only beliefs and everyone else is wrong. I am an American with Arab and Muslim heritage. I believe in a higher power that has no human offspring. I believe in the free will of humans and being rewarded or punished by those decisions and actions. I believe that doing good to others and sending out positive energy with attract the same. I eat pork and drink alcohol. I also pray with gratitude and intention by reciting Surah Al Fatiha and Surah Al Iklas three times every night before I go to bed or during the day if I need to speak to God. Sometimes I break out my prayer clothes and rug and pray properly. These are the adaptions I have made as a half first generation Palestinian Muslim American and a half Irish American whose mother was raised Christian, converted to Islam, and then became nonreligious. I believe I am a good person with good intentions and my belief system is a result of my experiences and American upbringing which favors a secular culture. I also believe I am not the only one.
If you feel the same conflicting insecurities about your secular status know that you are not alone and you are a good person. It is OK to be you and enjoy your life. It is OK to change your mind, refine your beliefs, and reinvent yourself. The only thing that matters is the true intention in your heart and the way you treat your fellow humans. Religion and spirituality is a personal journey between you and God, not how you portray yourself outwardly. So shine on and be you!