Dear Young Muslim Americans:
I am one of you. I write this with a heavy heart. A heart overwhelmed empathy, love, sorrow, and hope.
We face many struggles right now, and with struggles come opportunities, exhaustion and questioning. Questioning about whether we’re doing it right, debates about what the best methods and solutions are, disagreements and frustration that arise from these disagreements, debates, and questions.
We are going through so, so much. We need to give each other and ourselves some credit. However, we should not give up, or cease to be critical of our communities and ourselves, because those are still necessary in order to continue to strive and grow. We need to appreciate our struggle and have confidence in ourselves and use that energy and confidence towards continuing to succeed in our struggle.
For one, we have Islamophobia to deal with. In addition to being called all sorts of names and being treated like an “other” or bullied because of our races, genders or features, we’re dealing with accusations of being involved of international terrorist organizations. This doesn’t end with school; it continues into the workplace in different forms. Bullying has taken on new forms and new lengths as technology expands.
Among other things, we are worried about our kids becoming extremists and joining ISIS, whereas when we were growing up, the concerns about Muslim youth were whether we were drinking or having premarital sex. We are concerned about our mosques not giving our youth adequate spaces to discuss their everyday struggles, which would help to keep them sane and keep them from getting targeted by terrorist recruiters who prey on loneliness and exploit our communities’ weaknesses.
This is just some of many struggles in our mosques, and no matter how hard to we try to solve all of these problems, it seems like there are so many different opinions on how to run mosques. We criticize our diverse opinions, claiming that it’s divided us, instead of celebrating them. We give up on our mosques’ boards because they don’t consider our input, then we criticize them because we don’t know what else to do.
Some of us are raised by immigrant parents, who, as amazing as they are, were raised in a different culture. We are trying to create an identity out of scratch, trying to find the balance between multiple cultures all while feeling like we are on an everlasting trial for our religion and character.
The American way is a strong sense of self and to not to care what others think of us. Yet, we are unofficially appointed to become the spokesperson of all Muslims. Is it possible for us not to care what people think of us while we are expected to speak out after every tragedy committed by anyone who calls himself/herself a Muslim?
No matter what, we try not to fall into self-victimization. If and when we do, we pick ourselves up or are reminded by others to suck it up, deal and move on. We don’t have time to grieve because we’re constantly in battle. We can’t even grieve over a dead body from a terrorist attack because it’s a few minutes before our religion is put on trial. It’s not personal, they say.
I take it personally.
Refusing to be Silenced
Meanwhile, we’re going through our everyday, human struggles. Dating, sex, alcoholism, racism, substance abuse, marriage, domestic violence, mental health issues, divorces, family struggles, everything. But these topics are still somehow taboo in our communities – communities that often advise us to think about what we say and do in terms of “how it will look” to others and what impact it will have on our reputation and family’s honor.
Some of our communities are making some progress in this area, but it’s slow and uneven. We deal with judgments not just from outside our community, but from within.
Our standards have gotten so low that the minute a political figure even acknowledges our existence, they get our support. Political campaigns exploit our problems for their benefit, and news agencies exploit citizens’ fear of Muslims for their benefit. We watch it happen before our eyes. Every day.
Now, we have been responding to these struggles by speaking up and refusing to be silenced. We condemn the attacks with conflicted hearts: We know we shouldn’t have to, but we speak out and assume the role of activists because, really, do we even have a choice?
We are rising through it all. We become doctors, lawyers, engineers, but also journalists, public speakers, community engagers, environmental activists, politicians, comedians, psychologists and counselors, filmmakers, screenwriters, authors, scientists, consultants, professors, academics and businessmen. Many of us fast and pray at work and try to address ignorance with educating people.
It gets tiring to always have to educate people. We try to engage in community service, and we take on responsibilities beyond what we can handle according to the rules of our religion. We hope that when we do, others will notice. That they’ll notice we are so much more and so different than what they think we are.
We hope they’ll notice that these actions represent the true values of our faith. We hope that they’ll expand their bubble that is their impression of us. Because — we have to care what people think.
Its Our Time to Struggle
It’s hard. Sometimes we give up. Sometimes we take a break from identifying ourselves as Muslim, because it comes with all of this responsibility. Sometimes we hide. Sometimes we break down. Because we’re human. We’re allowed to grieve, hurt, sin, to fall down, even to give up sometimes. We just have to get back up. And we do. We keep on getting back up.
This piece is not meant to create a sense of self-victimization, or stroke our egos for putting up with so much. It’s meant to tell those who are struggling to get back up. To realize that we are doing well, considering our circumstances, and we need to focus on our endurance and continue to rise.
Every group has its struggle and its time, and this is ours. We ask God why He put us in this position, but we learn in our religious teachings that God tests those He loves and tests are blessings, tests are opportunities for reward, opportunities for change. This is our test; this is our time.
We need to give ourselves some credit and refrain from being overly critical to the point of debilitation and hopelessness. We need to stop judging one another and ourselves. We need to appreciate the struggle, because to struggle is in our blood. Our prophet (peace be upon him) embraced his struggle, Muslim historical figures including Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali embraced their struggles.
We need to stay optimistic no matter how hard it seems sometimes. We need to direct this confidence and energy toward uniting as much as possible and facing the next challenge strong. Because Lord knows, there will continue to be challenges. But we will also continue to embrace, face, and conquer these challenges.
Kinza Khan, J.D.
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