I believe in the act of sharing stories.
I believe that the world has the potential to become driven by hatred, by fear, but it also has the capacity to love, and it is always our duty as those who can speak out in any form to make it our responsibility to do so.
I believe that we are constantly balancing between a state of knowing what is right, and what is easy, and often the two do not go hand in hand.
But that being said, I believe in human resilience. I believe in strength.
I believe that there is no action you put out that does not have the ability to create change and like waves crashing against the shore, our individual efforts are just coming together in a bigger picture unknown to us.
I believe in my Islam.
I believe in an Islam that teaches love and humbleness. Where strength comes from kindness, and being generous with what you have is one of the core tenants. It doesn’t matter if the only thing held in your hand are grains of sand, you are still reaching forward and helping to build castles where there should have only been dirt. If the only thing you can give is a hand, then that’s one of the most beautiful gifts you can offer.
I believe in an Islam that knows what it means to be equal in all aspects. Being raised, I never thought of myself as any less of an individual just because I was a girl. I never felt unsafe, was never criticized. I was taught that being a girl was linked to the definition of being strong, each playing off each other in subtle ways. Because in life, as I would come to realize, more often than not the blame would fall on females. But it was a mark of how strong you were when you chose to get back up.
I believe in an Islam that knows the definition of family is not just those who were your blood, but rather it was the whole world.
I believe in an Islam that never preached violence, never called for an end to anything, never spoke of bloodshed.
I am who I am because of what this religion has made me to be.
On December 16th 1997, a baby girl was born to two people who were struggling to find the connection between what they had once known, and what they now had to face. Unsure of where they stood, this little girl would grow up to be their bridge. And even before her eyes had opened, softly spoken words were whispered into her ear. Her parents gave her one of the most precious gifts she would ever receive, the words of the azaan, a call to prayer in Islam.
From that moment, my life was altered to always know this truth.
With those words, my heart knew Islam, even if my mind didn’t. In the coming years, it was a battle that never ended, for a truth that I fell short of.
There is a video of me when I am younger, memories that I have long since forgotten. I am proudly reciting verses from the Qur’an, stumbling over my words, racing against my little sister to see who could do it the best. My parents smile from behind the camera, their words gentle and soothing as they laugh and play with us. I can see it so clearly in my mind, this gift that I didn’t know I was so fortunate to have. My innocence that I would take for granted.
I remember staring up at my mother a few years later as she stood perfectly still with her head bowed. Dropping to her knees in silent submission, I watched, eyes wide and curious as she cascades gently down, like a fallen star making its way towards me.
Every line of her body writing the word humble again and again. All I wanted to do was be like her. But while she followed some unknown directions without hesitation, I fumbled in my stride, constantly looking up to see what I should have been doing. But she wasn’t paying attention to my clumsy efforts, her mind already focused on a conversation with another.
I accepted Islam into my life seamlessly. I never knew anything else, and nor did I have any desire to abandon it for anything else. It was never loud or pressing. It was just…there. In every corner of my life, a constant presence that to this day I can never shake loose. It was in the words my mom used every day and night. It was my dad’s constant reminder to be grateful as he would tell us how fortunate we were every time we forgot.
I remember attending Islamic classes on a sleepy morning, silk scarf slowly slipping over my eyes and my constant fidgeting to push it away. We were in a circle bound not by age or race, but by something that was much more important and intrinsic. I remember my teacher, her kindness as she pointed out my mistakes, her pride when I finally finished. I remember laughing and goofing off, the sound echoing as we tried to concentrate.
I remember being happy, blissfully unaware that outside something much harsher loomed.
I believe in the Islam that taught me love. That taught acceptance. Humbleness. Kindness. The Islam I know taught me to appreciate what I have, to be constantly aware and in thanks of the blessings I have been given. It built up the foundation of the person I am today, and it constantly strives to make me better when I fail.
It is only recently that I have begun to realize that none of these descriptions come to mind when others think of Islam.
I am a writer.
I tell stories and spill the blood of my words onto pages in hopes that maybe something will change, that maybe like a flickering light, realities can be briefly illuminated. I write because it is the only way I know how to find my voice.
So I’m hoping that when I put my heart into your hands with pleading eyes, that you will choose to listen. If nothing else, just please listen. I will never ask anything else of you, I promise. But if writing is the only way I can get my voice to emerge, then I need to use it. I need to do something.
Here’s the thing about hatred, if you let it, it will grow. It will cling to your mind like a disease, refusing to let go until it has taken everything. It will poison every memory, every interaction. It will cloud your eyes and block your ears. It will wrap around your heart and watch it darken gleefully.
Here’s the thing about love. If you let it, it will heal you.
There are children growing up in today’s world who have had childhoods nothing like mine. They see Islam with new eyes, with fear. They see their family flinch at the insults they receive, brush away tears when they think no one is looking. And they don’t understand where they went wrong when they are shunned, when they are categorized and labelled as something they never wanted to be. There are children afraid to go to school because some of their own teachers and classmates have forced their horrible destiny down their throat. That they will never amount to anything.
How fortunate am I, that in grade five when I approached my teacher asking if he would like to hear a passage from the Qur’an I had memorized, he had agreed instantly and had
listened, applauding when I had finished. He had no idea what I was saying, but he didn’t care. Do you know how beautiful that is? How rare that’s becoming in the world we live in?
It is hard for me to accept that my home, my family, does not want me. The world I once knew has no time for me. It is hard to accept I am not wanted, as I am guilty of a crime I was not aware I had committed.
My heart hurts every time I go out and the first emotion that comes crashing through my mind when I see others is not generosity or love, but fear. Fear of being condemned, of being glared at, of being turned away.
Fears that despite my best efforts I have been unable to push away. Fears that have become reinforced over time, watching the media coverage, hearing the comments, seeing the striking and often horrifying parallel about what deserves attention and what does not.
I have learned lessons I never wanted to open my heart to. I have learned how hatred peels back everything that makes you who you are, and squeezes your heart until you are on your knees begging for mercy.
I have learned how fear wraps around you like a lover, its touch gentle, caressing, distracting you as wisps of darkness wrap around your throat and cut off your scream.
I have learned how precious innocence truly is, how naïve I was to give it up without a second thought, so eager to grow up.
Horror is not always the monster underneath your bed, the creak of the stairs, or the whisper of something that was never really there. It’s not always loud or flashy.
Sometimes it’s quiet. Sometimes it’s the truths of reality that seem unbearable to acknowledge. The cruelness of a human being against another. The willingness to choose ignorance and hatred over acceptance. The hesitation to do anything for fear of what might occur.
Sometimes the greatest horror is in turning away from family. From those who need you.
One of the first things I learned about Islam is that it’s not a solo effort. You are part of a community. It is your responsibility to help those in need, to help those who are reaching out to you. You are not required to know their names, but you are required to do something about it. Pray. Donate. Raise awareness.
Just don’t turn away.
You don’t need to know my name, or my story, or where I come from. You don’t need to know my political beliefs or the color of my skin. You don’t need to know what level of education I have or what I do. You don’t need to know my skill set.
All you need to know is the act of listening is powerful.
All you need to know is these words I am saying to you, with my whole heart and soul. Assalamualaikum, may peace be upon you.
And I fervently hope if nothing else you will choose peace for me as well.