"That's not a job for Muslims."
"They'll never let you make it big."
"Better not mention your religion."
Statements like the above are too common to mention in Muslim communities in the West where Islam is not the majority. We're confronted too many times with the phenomenon of the glass ceiling that we can't break because of our identity. "Hope - but don't overdo it" is the motto. We are all told to confine to careers and aspirations that are synonymous to the ones of others who are like "us." Well, I am frankly sick and tired of hearing this talk.
The other day, while I was explaining my future aspirations with a few friends of mine, I received a reaction I could not have anticipated. After explaining my aspirations for my future as a contributor to a specific field as a Muslim woman, I was met with still faces and a sense of pity fell in the room. "Poor girl", they must have thought; "she's going to have a hard time adjusting to the real world." They then began explaining to me the following:
- There are people out there who don't want Muslims to succeed.
- You will face challenges being a Muslim woman.
- Be careful not to speak so openly about your identity.
- Don't lie on your job interviews and applications, just omit anything to do with your religious affiliation.
- They're curious about Muslims cause they want to monopolize that information according to their own agendas.
Who's "they"? I kept asking myself.
I can only say that I was genuinely shocked; not at the arguments themselves but at the passionate way in which they were posed as the hardcore truth of everything. Have we forgotten the ways in which the Prophet (pbuh) spread the word of Islam in the days of ignorance? Islam is our lifestyle and everything we do is stamped with our manners derived from the prophet's ways (pbuh). What kind of Ummah would we be if we denied the existence of our Deen within our societies? I can only imagine that we would become conflicted and anxious folk who lack the confidence to stand confidently on their own feet. If we don't embrace our identities, then who's going to do so for us? If I was going to get any job or opportunity by pretending to be something I'm not, then I would rather not do anything at all. What's the point of spending a lifetime trying to make money and to stay uncontroversial and safe if we don't contribute to the bettering of the ummah? How selfish and individualistic would we be then?
As you can guess, I had my own refuting arguments to pose. This internalized racism is the biggest barrier we face as Muslims trying to break out of our shell. We tell ourselves we can't; so we don't try. And here's another reality, most of us are of visible minority status; meaning that there's really no way to hide our identities. Denying our true selves is not moving us forward in any way or granting us the privilege of the majority. So while you're an outcast out there in the world, just own it and stand up a little taller for us all, will you?
Here in the US, there's no denying racism exists. It's everywhere and in many forms; from direct aggression to micro-aggression to exclusion and neglect. But we must never let that be the norm. Our opposing stance to this normalization of racism must begin first and foremost from our hearts. When we choose to not accept this treatment with our actions before our words, we become a proud ummah with valued teachings to pass down to the upcoming Muslim generations that will continue to populate this land in the future. There's no excuse for doing otherwise. If you think you've had it bad, just remember the prophet (pbuh) and his companions who've endured torture and death punishments for their deen. They were only accepted into society when they chose to stick by their identities in the harshest of circumstances.
I'd like to say to conclude this post that I really hope we begin to challenge these ideas of racism head on within ourselves and with the world. Always be optimistic and keep your eye open for refuting evidence to any ideas you may have of where individuals as Muslims should be in society. Choose not to accept racism -internal or external- and live life a proud Muslim whose identity stays firm and grounded.
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