I am not your token Muslim girl

By Halima Mohamed for Sister-hood

Photo: Flickr / iDJ Photography

Sometimes, I look at myself and wonder what my parents say when they talk about me to other family members. Or what they’ve told my teachers in past parent-teacher interviews, or what they think when we sit down for awkward ‘family time’ discussions. It feels as if they moved to this country just to create me, and now that I’m grown up they feel a sense of disappointment toward their product. It’s said that the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree, but in my case it seems that my parents have picked up that apple and hurled it out of sight.

If my upbringing and personality are a part of me, why must I keep these two aspects of myself apart?

My parents believe that there should be a difference between me and everyone else (a.k.a. ‘those on the street’). They consistently lecture me about how I’m not truly a Canadian, and that I have a hundred other responsibilities that set me apart from Western kids. You could say that they are hardcore traditionalists, and growing up in Toronto has made me insecure about how weird they may look. Yes, I dress differently and I pray five times a day. I fast during Ramadan and I go to the masjid when my mom drags me. But my level of Quranic expertise is pretty cringe-worthy. I’ve forgotten much of the du’a my mom has drilled into my head since childhood, and when relatives gather at our house for Eid they laugh at my inability to speak Arabic. I am not your token Muslim girl. I’ve spent all my years looking for who I am. Even today, I’m pretty sure I haven’t found it yet. I’ve hid underneath the guise others have thrown on me, I’ve let people coo and throw shade at my quietness, and laugh at the fact that I’m a stranger even to myself. For most of my journey through life, I’ve been taught to keep religion separate from the rest of my world, to safeguard it and protect myself from the ‘harsh environment’ I am living in. While my parents are allowed to have fond memories of the countries they immigrated from, I have come to love my home and I’ve been thinking – if my upbringing and personality are a part of me, why must I keep these two aspects of myself apart? When will I be able to celebrate myself, as a child of the urban landscape, a Muslim and a Canadian?

I am a mesh of things I should be proud of and things my parents can’t be.

I can’t call myself either, because in my home I’m not Muslim enough and when I step outside I’m not Canadian enough. All I know is that I’m different, I am a mesh of things I should be proud of and things my parents can’t be. I think that I speak for all the in-between girls when I talk about how difficult it is to find yourself when you’re constantly changing, or when you feel like the diverse and intertwining rope in a game of tug-of-war between your two personal societies. I long to be told that there is no need to push yourself to be like a ‘good Muslim’, and there is no need to push yourself to be like everyone else. Sometimes being the rope is stressful enough, and although we are accepted in passing, it’s hard to dictate what’s enough to make those around us satisfied with who we are. I feel like I am nothing, but I know that I am something. Despite not being sure of where I belong, I’ve come to terms with, and even appreciate, this in-between I’ve created for myself. I am ever-changing, diverse, and fluid, just as human beings are supposed to be. There is no one way to define me, whether it be the way I dress albeit the lack of understanding of my own culture, or my attempts to salvage my forgotten languages while keeping up with modern-day slang. I am a stranger to myself, although with a familiarity only I can navigate. I believe that once we can become sure of our unidentifiable nature, those around us will understand that ultimately, we are a product of ourselves and our environment, our path and our life journey. We are not made to fit in moulds because we are both, all, and everything at the same time.


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