Living in a country where Muslims make up a minority of 1% of the population, questions about my Islamic identity are so much a part of my life that answering them has literally become my career.
The media watchers, for the most part, are easy to talk to and even enjoy to answer questions for. They simply lack knowledge. They don’t wish to offend and are open to understanding so that we can all be better neighbors and build better communities.
Then, there are those who listen to hatemongers. This kind of questioner is frustrating to talk to. They have closed off their minds, thinking they know everything they need to about Islam; when in fact all they know are myths, propaganda, texts taken out of context, and straight up lies.
The following is a list of the top five questions I receive from non-Muslims about Islam and my Muslim identity. See if you can figure out which questions are from media watchers and Islamophobe listeners:
1- Can You Be an American and Be Muslim?
This question is tricky because people mean different things by the term American (here the term “American” can be swapped for any Western national identity-the sentiment is almost universal).
Some questioners actually mean, ‘can you be Muslim and a white person?’ I honestly hate it when people mean this because America is not an identity reserved for white people.
This kind of understanding comes from a bigoted political view of the world that has wreaked havoc on global politics for centuries.
Like my mama always taught me- if you can’t say anything nice, say something sarcastic. So, my answer to this kind of question is a barrage of more questions:
What do you mean by American? Can a “true” American be anything other than Christian to your mind? Can an Arab be Christian? What color skin should I have in order to worship God?
Are religious identity and cultural identity and ethnic identity and national identity all the same thing to you? Do you think “the man” will take away my American passport if I tell him I’m Muslim?
Once the questioner has attempted an answer, I take pity on the less informed and reply, yes! An American can be Muslim. It is a right protected by the first amendment to the Constitution. And if a religion were to be true and just, as Islam is, there would be no racial, national, cultural, or ethnic prerequisite to enter into its fold.
2- What is That Thing on Your Head?
Hijab. It’s always about hijab. I am so sick of this question. To be clear, hijab is not just a piece of cloth covering a woman’s hair. It is a standard of modesty. I wonder when the Western world (and the Eastern world too for that matter) will finally realize the only reason we are obsessed with the hijab is because we are obsessed with how a woman looks.
A woman’s appearance is how we childishly assign worth to her. For a woman in any given society, if she meets certain arbitrary, cultural “requirements” of beauty, then she is valued by society.
Hijab obscures the view of a woman, making it difficult to erroneously sign value to her based on her appearance. And that’s (part of) the point. Islam defines woman’s worth based on the content of her character, not her looks.
Those are glasses. I am near sighted. Just joking. I know you are talking about my scarf. I wear this to have control over who can view what parts of me.
I reserve the right to give consent to who consumes my body even if that consumption is “only” visual. I would rather not be judged based on the size and shape of my parts because the human being is greater than the sum of her parts (disclaimer: I am not really this eloquent in real life, but you get the picture).
3- Can You Be a Muslim and Be American?
This question sounds a lot like the first question. But a deeper look into the intent reveals that it is an entirely different animal. What the questioner means is, ‘is it allowed in Islam to be an American (again, the nationality can be swapped for any Western nation)?’
This question stems from the false assumption that Muslims hate America (and the West as a whole) and somehow the two identities are mutually exclusive. This simply isn’t true.
Yes, a Muslim can absolutely be an American. In fact, the first country to recognize America’s independence from Britain was a Muslim country- Morocco.
The human and civil rights the American government establishes for its citizens are compatible with Islamic law. In fact, Islam is clear in its directive that one must obey the law of the land in which they live, any land of Muslim majority or otherwise.
4- Are You a Terrorist?
Assuming the worst stereotype is true about someone is extremely rude. But this kind of question happens. While I used to be nice about this kind of thing and give people a pass, I have come to realize that this kind of aggressive rudeness is unacceptable, and I have every right as a human being worthy of dignity, to school the questioner.
NO! Are you? According to the FBI, the majority of terrorist attacks that take place on American soil are perpetrated by non-Muslims. So, it is more likely that you, as a non-Muslim, are a terrorist. So, are you a terrorist? And if not, then why don’t you apologize for the terror attacks that your people have perpetrate in my country?
5- But Doesn’t Islam Oppress Women?
Many might not realize how this “women in Islam are oppressed” myth has come about (it has a lot to do with false pretenses for war and Islamophobia as a whole). But all it takes to dispel is to talk to an actual Muslim woman about her faith, and not those who imagine themselves as “saviors” of Muslim women.
Islam in no way oppresses women. Islam gives every woman the freedom to choose her religion, to get an education, to earn a living and spend money as she sees fit, to inherit property, to say who and even if she marries, and ultimately to have agency in her own life.
Some Muslims certainly do oppress women and even claim Islam as an authority to do so. But just because someone usurps power in the name of religion doesn’t mean that is actually from the religion.
Many people have twisted religion and used it as a tool of oppression. Sometimes Muslim behavior is not an indicator of Islamic values.