I believe in acceptance. Not just acceptance of others, despite contrasting views of the world, I believe in acceptance of oneself. I believe that I am not the judgment that surrounds me.
Alysha Mohamed. My last name is a label embedded into my skin. I notice masked apprehension in an inquirer’s body language whenever I am asked, “Are you Muslim?” To this I grudgingly reply, yes. Guilt creeps its way into my body as I remind myself that Islam is not something to be ashamed of. A religion that emphasizes the values of peace, humility, and self-respect is continuously perceived as one of violence, terrorism, and oppression of women. I will carry this misconception with me everywhere from airports to job interviews. After a moment of awkwardness, I am then asked, “Are you allowed to hang out with boys?” “Do you have to pray five times a day?” And finally, the dreaded, “If you’re Muslim, why don’t you wear a hijab?” My battle with balancing the ethics of faith and the social norms of the western world being questioned often lead me to changing the subject as quickly as possible.
As an Ismaili Muslim, my sect of Islam does not require women to cover their hair or body in a stereotypical Muslim way. Our interpretation of our holy book, the Quran, differs from other groups in the sense that we adapt to current situations and the regions that we live in. Different divisions of the faith sometimes take a more literal meaning to the text. The problem I face with this is that I feel an overwhelming sense of judgment from other Muslims I encounter. “You’re not a real Muslim,” is a phrase that has been thrown at me since I was a child, unable to grasp the concept of what this really meant. I am trapped and looking to be free from society’s instilled views on my religion, the views of different Muslims themselves, and my own constantly changing views of myself and the world.
Many nights over the past year have consisted of me wondering why we need labels in the first place. I am not defined by my name; I am not defined by the religion that I have been born into. I am learning to accept who I am regardless of whether or not others are able to do the same. I am so much more than what meets the eye.