Embracing identity, standing up to hatred


You think that being a Muslim girl living in Texas would pose problems.

However for much of my life, it honestly didn’t. I grew up, seemingly like everyone at Trinity, in Houston. Houston is probably one of the most diverse cities in America, and often on weekends, my mother would drag me to Hillcroft or Sugar Land for some sort of Indian-Pakistani event. In those areas, dubbed “Little India,” store signs and adverts transitioned from English to Hindi, and white smiling models were replaced with Indian ones.

At school it was the same story. I went to an international school where being white was often the exception — I lived in this wonderful bubble of acceptance and didn’t even notice.

That bubble burst when I came to Trinity.

I was in Mabee sitting with new friends when a person I had just met that day engaged in the topic of religion with me. Without hesitation I told her I, like my family, was Muslim. She then proceeded to ask me how I felt about the Prophet Mohammed raping little girls.

It was like someone stabbed me in the heart.

Yes, Islam is complex and often twisted by others to perpetuate the marginalization of entire groups and to spread hate. But that’s not what Islam is to me. Growing up, going to Sunday school, I was taught that Islam — like Christianity — can mean different things to different people, but it should never be used to spread anything other than peace. My faith was there for me when I faced academic struggles, when my grandfather died and when I was forced to repeat a year of school due to a traumatic brain injury. To have someone say such despicable things while my new friends cautiously watched on, not saying anything, was something I had never encountered before.

I didn’t know what to do, I looked for support from the people around me and all I found was awkward silence. I then went to my room and cried. This was not just a disgusting, untrue, ignorant statement, it felt like a visceral rejection of my identity and, frankly, a complete rejection of me. In my bubble at my high school, my friends, even those who did not understand the nuance of my religion, listened as I explained what my faith meant to me.

It did not stop there. During our discussion of Islamophobia in my social justice first-year experience class, someone I considered a friend pulled out a physical copy of the Quran to quote a passage he believed to demonstrate, unequivocally, that Islam is a religion of hate and intolerance. Throughout the week I was forced to defend my religion while my entire class looked on as the same student spewed intolerance and ignorance.

That day I started my transfer application.

I eventually told my peer tutor my plans when she kindly emailed me to see how I was doing. After assuring me that things would get better with time, she advised me to talk to my FYE professors.

After doing so, I found my first allies.

Dr. Naqvi and Stacy Davidson, my wonderful professors, urged me that the best way to cope with intolerance was to listen, but to also set boundaries. They advised me that some things are absolutely unacceptable to say and I had to be clear when people crossed that line.

My incredible friends, who pulled me aside when they saw I was upset, told me that they would always be there for me and offered a support system I would come to rely on.   

I am writing this because I am sick of being ashamed. I am sick of, when people ask me what religion I am, automatically downplaying my faith. I’m done with prefacing my answers with “yeah, but I’m not that religious.”

This is also, cheesily, for my parents.

It’s for my dad who got his teeth knocked out growing up in London because he was the only brown kid in military school. This is for my mother, who at seventeen years old emigrated from Pakistan to start her senior year alone. I am sick of feeling embarrassed and ashamed for something that is integral to my identity.

Whatever sets you apart, makes you different and interesting and unique, you are not alone.  

Let’s start changing campus dialogue to intellectual discourse rather than conversations filled with hate and bigotry.

After all, as the cliché goes, diversity is something to be celebrated.