Some time ago, I read the words of Sayed Kashua, a Muslim journalist from Haaretz, who wrote after the attacks in Paris: “My first thought was: How the blazes do I cancel my labeling as a Muslim? How can I dump every definition that’s liable to connect me with those murderers? I am a Muslim, and I categorize myself as such not because I was born a Muslim or because I believe in or observe any of the Islamic commandments. I am a Muslim because I am threatened as a Muslim and because I defend myself, in part, as a Muslim.
The first time I read this article, it resonated with me, but now that I reread it knowing Donald Drumpf is certain to be the Republican nominee, Kashua’s words sober me. I’ve come to accept that Muslims in America are going to be subject to constant slurs, and loud demands that we “go back to our country.” But for many Muslim Americans, myself included, we were born in the United States, this is our country. Yet Drumpf’s growing support makes me think that we’ve reached a point where facts such as these will be blatantly disregarded.
Looking back at Sayed Kashua’s article with this in mind, it’s become clear to me that in place of facts, nonsensical views are likely to be the foundations of how people think of Muslim Americans and an affiliation with Islam of any sort is not a factor that people will overlook.
Like Kashua, I find myself unable to shake the Muslim label. In a city such as Washington, D.C., questions about religious background are, oftentimes occurring in the first conversation someone has with a new acquaintance. I became increasingly uncomfortable with claiming to be Muslim when these questions arose not because I thought Islam was subpar compared with other religions, but because I was just starting to realize that I did not find faith in certain Islamic tenets. Despite finally being able to admit to myself that I lacked the devotion necessary to label myself a Muslim, I also found I could not cancel out my Muslim identity.
Growing up, I was always aware of how being a Muslim in America has certain challenges. Walking around the grocery store with a mother who wears a hijab,I’ve noticed long stares and whispers. Remarks from classmates in high school about how “Muslims don’t like pork or beer, so why do they even come to this country,” left me too flabbergasted to be upset.
The last year alone, the Islamophobia I have witnessed has made it nearly impossible for me to not be a Muslim, regardless of my intrinsic and personal beliefs. I will always be treated and threatened as a Muslim, profiled as a Muslim, stopped in airports and asked accusatory rather than curious questions about Islam. I am always seen as a Muslim, and so I will always be one.
Despite my own break from Islam, growing up in a Muslim household has given me a full understanding of the religion. Therefore ignorant criticisms leveled at Muslims have led me to run to their defenses. I cannot bring myself to just walk away from the Muslim community when it includes so many of my loved ones. Seeing their community treated with unadulterated hatred on the basis of false accusations about Islam has constantly prompted me to speak up on behalf of the religion. Drumpf’s xenophobic comments are just one example of the poor state of the United State’s relationship with its Muslim citizens.
This past year has taught me that we can achieve more good by accepting our circumstance than rebelling against them. This December, I was invited to take part in an interfaith event responding to Islamophobia, which was attended by Vice President Joe Biden and Rep. Nancy Pelosi. My first reaction was to decline the invitation, as I did not think I was a suitable representative for Islam. But I ultimately decided to participate.
My Muslim label is not necessarily one of my choice, but it is certainly one of my reality. And, at times, being a “Muslim” has allowed me to do more good than if I were able to shake my Muslim identity. Therefore, regardless of my feelings on particular tenets of Islam, I will always be a Muslim.
Laila Brothers is a junior in the School of Foreign Service. Identity Crossing appears every other Monday.