Now, I know what some of you are thinking. 45% of you guys are reacting like my third cousin who found out I kept her in my will, like “Congrats!!! So proud of you!!!!!.” 30% of you are like, “oh congrats. It only gets harder. Enjoy it.” Another percent of you guys are proud of me for resisting dirty things like peer pressure and retaining my roots and identity. And the rest of you? The rest of you guys are unbothered, likely posting Hookah videos on Snapchat hoping to be acknowledged by everyone except your parents.
Except, here’s the thing.
I didn’t have what one would describe as a “traditional” high school experience. While most teens complained about cafeteria lunches tasting like pelican feces, I scarfed down daal chawal every other day during lunch. While most teens couldn’t decide what to wear to school, I donned an Abaiyah and matching hijab (with my American Eagle pajamas peeking out from underneath, of course) every single day. While most teens had to work hard to preserve their islamic faith by abstaining from mixing with other genders and praying on time, I prayed Duhr (the afternoon prayer) alongside my classmates and I communicated with my Hafiz crushes through Google buzz by liking their statuses (that was literally it) up until last year. While most teens tried hard to fit into an accepting crowd, my classmates, principal and administration were my family (Some of us were actually related).
Because I don’t practice the hijab, because I look like any other Indian girl, and because I never had to deal with instances of standing up for my religion, my Muslim experience in the US is seriously downplayed. In fact, the closest thing I experienced to discrimination was not islamophobia, but racist remarks comes in very subtle doses of “where are you really from?” from the lady in line after me at Whole Foods and “Is it a cultural garment?!” to my Forever 21 elephant print dress.
At school, all my friends had heroic tales to tell about the time they stood up to the old white bearded man in the Chevrolet truck with the “Texas Secede” bumper sticker who made a gun motion with his fingers and pointed it at them. Although I cheered them on and offered high fives, I felt a little empty inside. I too wanted to stand up for my beliefs and take a stand. But instead, I sulked in my seat and continued to pick at my daal chawal.
Looking back, it all seems a little petty. It’s true that I haven’t had the most enlightening Muslim American experience. No CIA officers knocked at my door like those brave stories I read on Facebook, no one ever called me a rag head. If I ever wore a hijab in public, it was complimented, not ridiculed. No one left trash on my lawn on 9/11, and I was never followed. I found myself nitpicking situations to search for racist and discriminatory undertones because to me, if I didn’t stand up to the bigots, I was a silent voice. I wasn’t muslim enough for my opinions to be considered. Although it’s true that I haven’t had the most profound, life changing muslim american upbringing, my muslim american experience is not invalid.
When I discuss how US policy making affects indigenous Muslim populations, I do not deserved to be hushed. When I claim the title as an Islamic High School’s student body president, I don’t deserved to be looked at twice because I post too many selfies. As Muslims, we all seem to have trouble understanding that even though all of our religious journeys take on different paces, routes, and methods, our destination is the same. Our experiences, appearances, and opinions must always be considered equal and valid, despite where we are on our roads, and lastly, that judging is reserved only for God and god alone.