I get it ALL the time: "Where are you from?" People see my hijab
and commonly think I'm a foreigner. And then when I tell them
Detroit, somehow I think they aren’t really satisfied with that
answer because what they really wanted to know is what
country am I from. We might have even had a conversation
at great length, and I see the wheels spinning in their head...
Hmmm...impeccable American accent...fair skin....blue eyes.....but
wait, there’s that headscarf....so she’s an IMMIGRANT!
Once someone even asked me, just upon seeing my hijab, "Do you
speak English?" Yes, quite well, thank you.
Most recently, I completed a banking transaction which involved
the usual small talk and the associate's necessity to access my driver's
license. She absolutely marveled over my blue eyes. We spoke about
them for some time; the variation in color, analyzing how I inherited
them, etc. Then once she turned her attention to my license, she
marveled over my name (very American sounding and "usual").
"Wow!" She paused and took it all in. She said, "Your name-- it
sounds so American!"
I said, "Well, that's because I AM American!" with a smile, of course.
She meant absolutely no harm by it, and it was amusing to me.
Although there is no necessity to have a "strange" ethnic name to be
Muslim, I knew the reason she got this idea that I was somehow not
American -- that FABRIC up top. Then I felt I had to explain to her,
because my eyes, name and accent weren't enough to “prove” my
American identity, that I was born and raised in the U.S. and that
I chose to embrace Islam.
It was a pleasant enough interaction and I wasn't offended really,
but it just reminded me of how many people still see the hijab and
Muslims in general as foreign imports only. Some can't imagine that
an American born could be Muslim, even though 2.6+ million
Americans call themselves Muslim, many of them 2nd or 3rd
generation Americans. They've been here all their lives, this is their
home, and it's where they are "from." My best guess is that they
would mainly identify themselves as "American."
I see the American Muslim as a living example of the so-called
American dream -- an expression of the 1st amendment to the
Constitution found in the Bill of Rights, the Freedom of Religion.
America was founded on diversity, at least the acceptance of it,
even if it didn't start out so diverse. The beautiful thing about this
established American right is that you can be Muslim if you chose
and not be persecuted. And the beautiful thing about Islam is that
ANYONE can be Muslim, no matter your age, race, ethnicity,
nationality, previous faith, heritage, background, lineage -- or eye
color! Even blue eyes! Everyone is welcome into the fold of Islam, it's
Why is it that Muslims are still somehow equated as being
contradictory to being American? In sha Allah I have faith that this
idea will be going by the wayside. Many examples in this country's
short but tumultuous history tell me that one day people won't see
any contradiction, and maybe even will see Islam for what it is, as
the greatest of any freedom guarantor.