“The world is a prison for the believers…”
The other day I was speaking with a co-worker of mine who is Black American. We were discussing the mental and emotional toll that racism takes on people of color. During the course of our conversation she asked me a question that has me doing some serious self-reflection. She wanted to know what coping strategies I had developed in order to deal with the discrimination and prejudice against Muslims in our post-9/11 world. More pointedly, she wanted to know if being a visible representative of Islam (wearing hijab every day) has taken a mental and emotional toll on me- especially since the bias and discrimination comes from people of various ethnicities.
When I ask myself how well I’m doing I’m forced to admit that I’m having some trouble. At times I’m angry, other times I’m sad, sometimes I’m frustrated. Generally, I’m okay. I have times when I don’t let things get to me no matter how hateful or ridiculous they are. Then there are times when I’m deeply troubled by how acceptable it has become to degrade Islam and Muslims. My co-worker said that I seem so calm when I talk about my daily experiences. I had to laugh at that one. When I think about it, one of the things I’ve noticed about myself is that my patience is wearing thin with people and their ignorance. There is a silent rage bubbling inside of me and I pray that Allah gives me a way to work through it before it comes out. The source of my rage, you ask? Years of experiencing the following:
- Being told to “go back to my country.”
- Being asked where I’m really from.
- People assuming I’m oppressed, anti-American, and backwards.
- Not having my own people recognize me as one of them- this includes Jamaicans, Black Americans and even family members. (A distant cousin of mine was visiting from Mississippi. When he came into the house he started hugging everyone in the family but gave me a simple hello. When I explained that I was his cousin he seemed confused. How could this ‘foreign-looking’ lady be his family member? In an attempt to lighten the mood another one of my cousins made a joke about camels…*sigh*)
- Being complimented on how well I speak English on one hand but having people speak to me as if I am three years old on the other. (It just happened today!)
- People suspecting me of being a terrorist.
- People assuming that I am unintelligent and/or passive because I have a scarf on my head. I am still wondering how I can be passive and a terrorist at the same time. (I’m thinking of Azhar Usman’s joke about simultaneously embodying the characteristics of Osama bin Laden and Gandhi- names he has been called by ignorant individuals).
- The stark contrast between the ways that people receive me in the professional circles I move in; the reactions ranging from fear to hate to curiosity to discomfort to disregard to simply being okay with my presence. The crazy-making part about it is that I never know which one it will be or who will have what reaction to me.
- The negative portrayal of Muslims in the media in general and Muslim women in particular.
- Being asked some of the most ridiculous, asinine questions I’ve ever heard in my life.
- People automatically assuming I’m a Somali refugee (with the entire range of positive and negative behaviors that accompany their assumptions.)
And the list goes on. I told my co-worker that I feel like one more incident could push me over the edge. I think I will snap on somebody. (May Allah save me). I came really close to snapping not long ago. I was walking down the street, minding my own business, marveling at the beautiful weather we were having when this guy rode up next to me on his bike and yelled, “Go back to your country!” Before I could stop myself, I was screaming at the top of my lungs, “This is my countrrrrry!”
The rage I feel is not unfamiliar though. Being a Black person in America, it was always there. As Dr. Joyce Leary so eloquently explains in her book Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome (and I paraphrase of course), many African-Americans have rage that is simmering just beneath the surface of our consciousness. This rage is a result of the experiencing the effects of racism, injustice and discrimination on a regular basis. As a Muslim living in a post-9/11 world, I feel as if my rage has been compounded. I have NEVER, IN ALL OF MY LIFE experienced such overt racism as I have since those towers fell on that tragic day in September 2001.
Aside from the discrimination I face outside of the Muslim community, as you well know by now, there are problems within the Muslim community. We have our share of internal division based on race, nationality, class, gender, religious interpretation, educational level and so. But that is not all. Like many Muslims, I suffer from a social schizophrenia of sorts. I live in two very different worlds. There is the world outside of the masjid (where pretty much anything goes) and the world within it (where there is strict a code of conduct and religious parameters.) Ideally, we should behave the same way in the outside world as we do in the masjid. The reality- if we’re honest with ourselves anyway- is that many of us do not. Some of us are still trying to strike a balance between the masjid and the larger world. (I refuse to cut myself off from the world but don’t want to become completely absorbed in it either). I want to be a person of the “middle way.” In the end what I find is that I come across as liberal in comparison to many of the Muslims in my local community but ultra-conservative to the non-Muslims I interact with. It’s enough to drive someone crazy! I start to wonder where my psychological home is.
So how am I doing? I’m coping. I’m trying to remain positive. I ask for Allah’s help and his guidance. I try to think about all of the rewards Allah will give me for persevering during these trying times. (I’m seriously considering finding a therapist or life coach to help me gain some focus). But I’m human too. Sometimes I really want to cuss someone out. I want to scream. I want release my rage. Bear it to the world. Fortunately, (for me and for the world) I blog…
The Other one (is music that contains profanity- remember the rage):