Feel Free to Ask Me Questions

I figured since I always post about the silly, annoying questions people ask me about my ethnicity and/or religion I’d post a positive one:

Yesterday, I was in the break room at work, heating up my lunch, chatting with one of my co-workers. In a non-offensive, non-invasive way she asked me what my ethnic background was. (I know a good number of people at work have been wondering about my ethnic background. They seem confused by the fact that I speak ‘clear English’ and behave in a friendly, approachable manner. I know I seem familiar to them in a way and they can’t figure out why since I ‘look so different’). Anyhow, I told her about my ethnic background then thanked her for asking. I explained that most people just make an assumption and how annoyed I become when they do so. Then she asked me if I converted to Islam. I eventually ended up giving her a synopsis of my conversion story. She seemed surprised that I converted at such a young age. We joked about my becoming Muslim being a form of teenage rebellion- in a good way though. I also explained what the shahadah is and how we take it. (She was wondering if I had to be baptized or something). Our conversation ended on a light note but I made sure to say, “If you have any more questions, feel free to ask them. I really don’t mind.”

Today, she came back to ask me another question. She wanted to know if I changed my name and if changing your name is a religious requirement. Once again, I answered her questions and encouraged her to come back again if she had anymore.

Subhanallah, I wish everyone could be as tactful but yet inquisitive as she is.

That’s all. 🙂

Edit: BTW, check out this article over at Jezebel. What do you think? Is “Hijab Tourism” offensive?


25 responses to “Feel Free to Ask Me Questions

  1. brookeakaummbadier

    >I speak ‘clear English’ and behave in a friendly, approachable anner. I know I seem familiar to them
    My hubby says my employer got the best of both worlds–on a campus that loudly insists on its diversity (not!), they get a receptionist that looks very “diverse” but is totally white acting/ultimately non threatening.
    I’m working on my annoyance threshold of being asked where I am from. It irked me long before I was Muslim. So now I try to sound super perky and completely unsuspecting. I say “California! Where are you from?!” with a big smile, like we are going to be best friends 🙂

  2. I wish everyone could be as tactful with their responses as well. Some people really don’t know how to mix dawah with our American mores and mannerisms.

  3. selams!

    I think the whole hijab tourism thing is a bit silly. I mean, if you wonder how women who wear hijab and abaya feel in the states … why not ask them? There are plenty of people who have made the decision at some point to begin dressing like that, and seen the difference. Of course personal experience is different, but I think that by donning Islamic attire, Ms. Woldt engaged in an experience that might have enlightened herself, but won’t really teach others more than they could have learned by listening to a Muslim who actually made the same choice. wa Allahu alam. btw i love your blog and the new design 🙂

  4. brooke, I know what you mean about the diversity angle. With me they get a person of color, a hijabi, cultural competency, and a native English speaker all in one! It backfires on those who were hoping I was bilingual; Somali/Oromo/Swahili and English-speaking. They should just ask. You know, I was actually turned down for a job working as a outreach worker for an East African organization. They were looking for someone who could function as a liasion between East Africans and the larger social service community. They actually told me I wasn’t a good fit because they didn’t think people would view me as an outsider.

    Charles, I couldn’t agree more.

    Roberta, Thank you very much! You touched on a very imporant point. Why aren’t the voices of American Muslim women just as credible? Why does it take a non-Muslim, White woman to validate our experience? It seems like the media (with a few expceptions here and there) are more interested in talking to American Muslims when it suits their purpose. If not, well, just ignore what we have to say.

  5. I second samah and Roberta on the hijab tourism thing. I’m not into people putting on modern day black face or fat suits.

    Now if they can be as funny as Eddie Murphy in white face . . .

  6. Heyyy, that’s so cool!
    You got the chance to do some dawah! 🙂
    I know that since I started wearing the hijab, me being me and very smiley, people always ask me question, because I look friendly. I always take advantage of it and do some dawah!!

  7. brookeakaummbadier

    As a white sister, I’m not offended by the hijab project. Allahualim what is in people’s hearts, but the “assignment” seems to aim at a very different outcome than the Crittendon thing, which was equivalent to Muslim black-face. Like the Black Like Me experiment, this seems to have a more sincere intention behind it–it was even assigned by a Muslim professor.
    The experience of hijabing for some white sisters must be quite shocking. It was for me. Not only had I never encountered racism (of course), but I thought my friends and family were absolutley racist-free, wrong-o. I would not be surprised if these students have friends and family freaking out that they may actually be converting.
    Katherine Bullock expresses the situation much better than me “I was not quite prepared for this hostiliy, nor was I prepared for the different way I was being treated by secretaries, bureaucrats, medical personnel, or general strangers on the subway. I felt the same, but I was often being treated with contempt. I was not treated as I had been as a white-middle class woman. It was my first personal experience of discrimination and racism, and made me see my previous privileged position in a way that I had never before properly understood.”
    I have been attending the first few sessions of my winter classes hijabed in a winter hat and scarf, so my classmates can get to see ME before they see !!The MUSLIM!! It really is amusing to see people’s reactions the first day they see me as a Muslim. Kinda like your Mormons 🙂

  8. brooke, another excellent point. Something I’d love to see a White Muslim woman blog about- confronting their White privilege in the larger society (suddenly becoming the ‘other’) and also within the Muslim community (being the sought after White woman, using Muslim community White privilege to dictate norms to other- brown- Muslim women) etc. Samira and I had a conversation about it and I was going to write something but I ultimately decided against it because I felt like it would be better if a White sister explored those issues.

    BTW, one of the universities here did the whole “hijab for a day” thing and they asked the non-Muslims to speak about their experience. I was surprised that no one noticed the difference in the experiences the women had based on race and ethnicity. Several of the brown and black women mentioned no one found it unusual that they were in hijab, whereas the White women said their friends were shocked. They talked about suddenly feeling very visible.

  9. There is a White-American sister that wrote about being stuck between a rock and a hard place in regard to her position within the Ummah as a White sister. I will see if I can find her blog for you. I do know that you won’t find some of her stuff agreeable and that she has protected a lot of writings but don’t let me forget about it. It might prove useful.

  10. As-Salaamu ‘alaikum,

    I’ve done a couple of articles at my blog about “niqaab tourism”, usually involving women who don’t even wear hijab (and one was not even Muslim) putting on niqab for a walk-around, and in one incident pretending to be a Muslim and putting on a fake middle-eastern accent. They all expected to hate it, and did. It didn’t seem to occur to anyone to actually ask a woman who wore it all the time about her experience.

  11. As Salaamu Alaikum Folks:

    Charles, perhaps you are talking about Muslim Hedonist, i.e., Crypto Muslim? This post is called “The Skin I’m In” –


    If you look on her menu, she has a few posts under the category of “whiteness” that addresses this issue. I believe that she is able to articulate the issue quite well.

    And of course, Umar Lee has written about this issue.

    I am a white Muslim c-h-a-p-l-a-i-..n working in a prison with 99% BAM women inmates. I have been there over a year and I still encounter resistance and other defiance. A BAM brother suggested to me that the lack of trust may be attributed to me being white. It is getting better, but it has been a jihad, trust me. I’m from the inner city and have a background similar to some of theirs (I didn’t get caught) and my husband is BAM. But I constantly have to “prove” myself, often finding myself disclosing far more than I want to. The previous sister who had the job before me was there for 8 years. Although it got better for her, she had a lot of bad days emotionally.

    It can be difficult. As a whole, I don’t fit in with the Arab and Pakastani sisters. They only let us so close. Some of the BAM sisters have issues with me because I have a college educated professional BAM husband. I am his only wife and I don’t work, he supports me like a Muslim man is supposed to. I work 1 day a week at the prison and keep my money. I am accused of stealing a “good one” and he is considered a “sell-out”. Where do I fit? Most of my white sisters are married to Arab brothers and they are mostly busy trying to fit into Arab culture.

    You can’t win. As for me, I’ve been Muslim long enough that it doesn’t bother me anymore. My only focus is Allah (swt).

  12. Sister Seeking, Miriam, Mary Ann

    As salaam alaikum Samah,

    I’ve got a question or two for you!


    1) Forgive my ignorance, but since you’ve been Muslim, have you met many more folks from the Caribbean?

    2) What is the best home cooked meal you’ve had?


  13. Walaikum salaam Sister Seeking,

    On question 1: Yes, I have. I continue to meet plenty of Jamaicans who have converted to Islam, people who have been Muslim for generations from Guyana and Trinidad & Tobago, and countless others from the other islands who converted. It’s always an amazing, surprising experience. It doesn’t happen as much being way up here but when I was in Florida it was a regular thing. Happened in NYC too.

    On question 2: Since I’m a food connoisseur, it’s hard for me to pin point any particular one. I’ve had homemade Ethiopian food (yummy!), homemade Moroccan food (oh gossshhh!) and my mama’s homemade southern cooking (I’m swooning)- all of which made me toes curl, LOL. Last time I was in Florida, a family friend cooked some Jamaican food that nearly made my eyes pop it was so good. Those were the days…

  14. Sister Seeking, Miriam, Mary Ann

    WOW! Alhamdillah. I had no idea so many folks from the Caribbean have converted to the deen. That’s awesome! : )

    You know what… I wish some one would come out with a diabetic or low fat cook book for caribbean food. I love chicken jerk!

  15. asa. great dawah. hey don’t forget the muslim community in dominica. per my dh, they have been around since long before his uncle converted.

  16. You live in a Somali populated city why didnt you eat from a Somali restaurant? I sense there is a hostility towards Somalis on your part so could you please explain what my people have done to you?

  17. AbdiFatah:

    Two things. (1) How do you know I haven’t eaten at a Somali restaurant? (2) Is the measure of a person’s hostility whether they have eaten in a restaurant of a particular cultural or ethnic group? Seriously…SMH.

  18. I have read a lot of your previous articles and I came to the conclussion that you have a vendatta against Somalis. I think they said something to you that upset you. Think back. I read it somewhere in your blog relating to this issue.

  19. Abdifatah,

    Okay…so what are you hoping to achieve? You feel I have a vendetta, now what? If you are trying to revive old discussions, please know that I don’t want to go there.

  20. So you have forgotten haa..Remember the magazine Ebony’s issue on why African-American can’t get a long with Somalis. You got yourself involved in it and indicated how rude somali people were to you and that Somalis are hostile towards African-American.
    It’s true we do distance ourselves from African-American people. We actually think they are cursed people. Always complaining about the “whiteman”. These are the people that make up 12% of the U.S. population but yet compromise 60% of the inmates in jail. There woman give birth at average age of 12 with unknown father and at 24 are already grandmothers. An average A&A woman has 6 kids from 6 different baby daddies. You probably asking why all this hate coming from towards the A&A people. When we came to this country we at least expected to be welcomed by them sense they were the closest complexion to us. No no no, they were full of hate and jealousy. Actually as soon we came we realized the blacks over here are not that much better than animals. They simply behaved like animals. Dysfunctional families, disunity, and sympathetic seekers.
    So I hope I informed you better.

  21. And that will be your last comment AbdiFatah. Have a nice life!

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