The Muslim community that broke my heart

The Muslim community that broke my heart March 6, 2017
G.R. Lambert & Company, 1900

I am not really part of the Muslim community in a real sense anymore. I do not know if I necessarily feel like part of the Atheist community either. I am not sure what an Atheist community entails at this point, I just happen to find more people that I can click with in the Atheist community. I continue to feel like I still belong to Muslim community while not really belonging in it. I am read as Muslim after all. I have been the target of hate crimes because of being read as Muslim. When an employer sees my resume, I am quite sure that my Muslim name is a deal breaker for some. Back when I was dating, my dates would often ask me questions regarding the extent to which I do practice religion. It was always automatically assumed that I must be a practicing Muslim of some sort. When I look the Muslim ban that Trump has implemented, I feel personally attacked by it, even though I am no longer a Muslim. And yet,  every attack on the Muslim community feels like an attack on me.

It is one of those strange relationships where I have nothing do with the Muslim community and yet I have everything to do with it. If I were living in America, I would have had to register myself as a Muslim as per Trump’s racist policy. I still consider it my duty to stand up against the racism suffered by Muslim communities (because I suffered it too). Yet, at the same time, I feel such a deep disconnect from this Muslim community that I will rush to defend from racist abuse. It is like that ex-boyfriend who you never really want back in your life, yet if something were to happen to him, you want to make sure he is okay because you two had a history.

I do not understand why I am always so keen on defending a community responsible for so much of the emotional harm done to me. It does not quite make sense, does it? It is the same Muslim community that has no problem with minority religious sects (like the one I come from) being savagely persecuted. It is the same Muslim community that has people who boycotted me for being Ahmadi. It is the same Muslim community that hates me for having left religion, and wishes for my heathen self to burn in hell. Yet, I am there, always there to defend it. Do not get me wrong here: I am not trying to claim here that I am some great goddess of compassion and forgiveness. I think I do this because, as much as the Muslim community would hate to admit, there is no way to untangle my fate from theirs. Whatever they suffer, I will too. And that is because I am read as Muslim. It is because of my Muslim background, because of my Muslim name. And you know what? I stand by it all. I even stand by my Muslim identity, complicated as that identity is for me as an ex-Muslim. But that is the thing, the Muslim will always be there in the ex-Muslim. I can never quite separate myself from it.

It stings the most when it is Muslim men I have to defend whenever someone targets them with incredibly racist stereotypes. Hearing those racist stereotypes stings as well. Muslim men have been entirely complicit in the role that sexism has played in my life. It is hard to put myself on the line and defend them when they never defended me and played an active role in the sexist oppression I faced (and still continue to face, to a lesser extent). When Muslim men have slut-shamed me and harassed me for being who I am, when they have thought me as lesser than them because that is what their religion tells them, it is hard to want to stand up for them.

I remember when I wore my long skirt with an open slit on the beach of Karachi and these men shouted “whore!” at me while walking by. I remember when I expressed my feelings to a guy at school, at the tender age of 13, and he told me I was being a bitch for going against religion by daring to express desire. I remember when my uncle shouted at me for wearing my favourite perfume because it would “seduce” them men. Why must I then stand up at every chance I get for these men? I need someone to fucking tell me that it is okay to not feel like defending the Muslim men who hurt me at all turns. I need someone tell me that that I am not obligated to stand up for my oppressors at every chance I get. Yet, yet, it must be made clear that every racist stereotype hurled at Muslim men defining them as the oppressor also defines me as the oppressed (by default). This is why I stand up for them, because in doing so, I stand up for myself.

Let me get even more real with you: It is sometimes hard for me to stand up for Muslims in general because of how they have treated me for being an Ahmadi. I come from a Muslim minority sect that has been persecuted for decades in Pakistan. There are cafes and shops in Pakistan with signs saying, “Ahmadis are not allowed in here.” I never dared to go to those places. I never told anyone what my religious sect was. There was graffiti on walls all around me saying, “Ahmadis should be dead.” I lost a family friend in the bombing of an Ahmadi mosque. I lost friends who could not stand being friends with me after knowing about my Ahmadi background. My relatives in Pakistan have been threatened to leave their neighbourhood 3 times in the last 2 years. They have been told to convert to “The True Islam” or LEAVE. You actually could not get your Pakistani passport without signing a declaration that you believe the prophet of Ahmadis (Mirza Ghulam Ahmad) is an impostor. How I got mine is a long story that I will save for later. We are considered infidels in Pakistan because we believe in a prophet after Muhammad. The situation has gotten worse, not better. It is, more or less, legal to kill someone who is an Ahmadi. And I am glad to be out of there. I really am.

The almost-two decades that I did spend in Pakistan as an Ahmadi, I saw far too many people simply stand by, and even endorse (in subtle and non-subtle ways) the abuse and persecution suffered by Ahmadis. You see, the way that Trump is planning to treat Muslims now is the way I was treated for being an Ahmadi in Pakistan. It is the way that minorities are treated in many Muslim-majority countries. But there is still no schadenfreude for me here. I do know that bigotry in one place doesn’t justify bigotry in another. Trump’s brutal treatment of Muslims will not at all solve the problems that religious minorities face in a country like Pakistan. I am not all advocating for any kind of hateful rhetoric here. But I wish, I so wish that many of the Muslims in America who are scared shitless of Trump now also cared enough to speak up against the mistreatment that Ahmadis and other religious minorities suffer in their countries. There is a kind of irony in the way that I stand up for a community that never quite stood up for me. There is an irony in how I will always be considered one of them, even though the Muslim community will never consider me one of them.

I have been derided and boycotted by this Muslim community for being a woman, for being an ex-Muslim, for belonging to an Ahmad background. I feel like I will never quite stop feeling isolated from this Muslim community and I will also never quite stop feeling the affection for it that I do. I grew up in it. There are people in it who have nurtured me, and helped me, and without whom I may have not been here. And so, the community will always be a part of me, in so many ways, even if I am no longer a part of it. Until, one day, it won’t be: Trauma has a way of taking things away from you that might mean something.

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