My sincere apologies for my long silence – work, life, and everything else has kept me too busy to post anything.
Nevertheless, one issue has been growing in my mind over the past few months and is beginning to take a toll on my mental well-being: my identity.
Upon conversion, I was excited to be seen as a white American convert to Islam; I enjoyed being different and didn’t mind the curious stares. However, as time has passed, the excitement is wearing off and I am now feeling almost desperate to be seen as ‘normal.’ It would be nice to ‘fly under the radar’ so to speak every once in a while, to fit in with SOMEONE at least. Everywhere I go, I’m different. Born Muslims stare at me with curiosity, and some approach me and talk to me about it, but the conversations rarely go beyond that; it seems that I’m viewed as some sort of exotic rarity that they want to pump enough information out of to be able to rush home and call their families to tell them about an American convert they met (sometimes they ask to take pictures with me so that they can show their families even)… while all the while failing to realize the seriousness of the impact my conversion has had on my life.
Americans either stare coldly, smile kindly (or with sympathy rather), and a few (mostly women) compliment my scarf or my outfit. And there are always some who treat me rudely, assume I don’t speak English, or believe I must be brainwashed or a complete idiot for accepting Islam. Although the people around me from day to day are mostly polite, I find myself being held at arm’s length, despite my efforts to get to know them and move closer toward them.
Of course, I can’t fail to mention the few true friends I have found online; kindred spirits who either share my experiences or simply are sincere and genuine enough to move beyond my appearance (most of them don’t even know what I look like anyway!).
As a result, I find myself suspended between two worlds – the Muslim world, which seems to be something one must be born into, and the dominant culture in the American world, which seems to consciously or unconsciously reject all those who fall outside the white, Christian(ish) ideal. I can’t really blame either one outright, however, as it’s basic psychology to be attracted and feel close to those who share similarities, and feel unsure or distrustful of those who are different.
And all the while, I have begun to struggle with my own concept of who I am as an individual as well. I fit nowhere. Due to my conservative Christian background, I find myself resonating more with Muslims from collective backgrounds, who value family and more traditional roles of the husband, wife, and children. Yet my own family seems to have drifted more into individualism, living life for themselves, depending on only themselves, and thus not extending a helping hand when other family members need it most. At the same time, I support the Islamic view of the roles of the husband, wife, and various family members (which is definitely not always the same as the cultural traditions most Muslims practice, and differs slightly from the traditional Christian ideals); I still value independence and minding my own business; I hate the nosiness and mindless (yet destructive) gossip that often accompanies collective cultures, and believe that people should be left to manage their own lives, make their own decisions, and find the right path for themselves without the intrusion or judgment from others.
And I am so many other things as well. I am a musician, an artist, an intellectual, an athlete, someone who is open-minded, compassionate, educated, moderate, skeptical (in that I ask questions and am unconvinced if something is not logical), hard-working, curious, and earnest. I have a million different interests and enjoy learning about everything. I have a great deal of knowledge about Christianity, and am knowledgeable about Islam as well. Compared to my family, I’m a raging liberal. Compared to most other highly educated Americans, I’m conservative – moderate.
Yet…. none of that is evident when others only look at my scarf and the color of my skin – they simply make their judgment, and then brush me from their mind. Of course, I remind myself that even if I didn’t wear the scarf, people would just look at my overall appearance and pass me off as X or Y and move on. So, it’s not a question of a piece of cloth; I like wearing it and cherish its benefits greatly. I just think it’s regrettable that it’s become an item highly marked with preconceptions and stereotypes. Muslims and non-Muslim Americans alike see it and come to entirely different, and incorrect conclusions.
And yet, what does it matter that others see me for who I truly am or not? It doesn’t really… but I think it’s just the combination of being hugely misunderstood everywhere I turn AND struggling with my own concept of who I am. I am many things, but am having great difficult to tie it all together in order to conceptualize myself as one, single individual. I don’t expect others to fully understand me, but I suppose it’s not entirely fair to complain about it either since no one can get a clear picture of who I am until I first understand myself.