HIJAB OR HOOKING UP? ALCOHOL OR ALLAH?
BY ISRA ZARIAT
It can be a strain for young Muslims to reconcile their faith with growing up in a permissive Western society. I have been raised between two conflicting cultures – Norwegian and South Asian and it has made it painful to decide who I am.
I am aware that being human means making decisions that will have great effect on the way people will see you, both as an individual and as a member of society. Thus, my search for identity has been relentless, and that feeling of being pulled apart by two communities didn’t help my mental health. For a long time, I was withdrawn. I moved through life cautiously. But inside, I was furious and my anger soon led to rebellious acts. For instance, I once deliberately vandalized private properties with spray cans. At the time, it felt like a great way to release my stress. But I was also hoping to send a message of frustration. I wanted everyone to know that something was terribly wrong and that I still felt like a foreigner. Not belonging can be grueling at times.In the West, I feel foreign because of the way I look, in the Middle East I feel foreign because of the way I act.
I am an alien wherever I go. The Western part of me yearns for a boyfriend, whilst my Muslim self is a shy girl searching for a fairy-tale prince.
My Western self wants me to dress provocatively and the Muslim part of me wants me to cover up.
The Western part of me wants me to be independent at the age of eighteen and find an apartment. But the Muslim part tells me to stay with my family and care for them until they marry me off.
The Western part of me questions and criticizes Allah, but my Muslim side loves Him.
Thoughts like these can drive a young adult’s mind insane. There are too many questions and not enough answers. How can one make the right decision: one that is logical and that will please both you and your community? If I were a Pakistani woman raised in Pakistan, or an ethnic Norwegian born in Norway, life would be easy. If I had grown up in Pakistan, the idea of having a boyfriend or going out to a party wouldn’t even cross my mind. And if I were a white Norwegian girl, I would move out the minute I reached adulthood. I’m sure of it. Maybe I wouldn’t go through this if I had been adopted? These thoughts shame me and it hurts.
It doesn’t help when some men crown themselves as the great guardians of Muslim women’s ‘honor’. When I was younger, if I ever was out late, I would wear oversized hoodies and a cap to cover my face. I had to be unrecognizable and anonymous so that no one would call my parents. Today, I am so sure of myself that I wear what I want and go out just when I feel like it.
And I act like I could not care less of what men of Middle Eastern origin think of the choices I make. However, there is still a voice deep down inside me insisting that I am doing something wrong.
You’ll find people ready to judge you in every culture and subgroups. ‘You’re Muslim, huh?’ some non-Muslims will blurt out to me in a negative tone. When conversations turn to radical Islamists threatening Norway or to some random Muslim man who committed a crime, I always have to explain that not all Muslims are crazy. It is difficult to take such responsibility when there is always some Muslim lunatic somewhere doing something horrible.
You need to find a balance between both cultures. It is a hard and it will take time, but it is not impossible.
To this day I still struggle with thoughts about God, tradition and culture. But I also learn something new about myself every day.
Maybe when I am older I can turn this experience into something useful. I am sure I can engage in debates and contribute with potential solutions for future generations.
Regardless, I will use the knowledge I’ve gathered to try to help other young Muslims who might be going through difficult times caught in the midst of an identity crisis.
This article was written for sister-hood.com and is reproduced with their permission.