As a Canadian-born Muslim, I’ve had to learn about the practices and teachings of Islam at my own pace in my own time. Being enrolled in an Islamic elementary school helped, not to mention the Saturday Islamic studies and Quran classes. But when I’d leave the safe space of the Masjid and the school, I was back in the “western world”, in which many things not adhering to the Islamic faith surrounded my everyday life. My social circle, the programs I’d see on television, attending public schools; many of the aspects within my public sphere did not relate to Islam, or adhered to my values as a Muslim. Many say that this makes us (those living in the West) stronger Muslims, since we are constantly being tested to avoid haram and follow through with Islamic principles. We adhere (or at least try) to the religion and its laws, fasting, praying, etc. all while we live in a society that’s predominately non-Muslim. I never realized this until I was given the chance to experience life in a Muslim Country.
Last year, I was given the opportunity to visit my family out in a Muslim Country (I’ll keep the nation unnamed because, well, it’s not nice to mention names). I absolutely jumped at the chance; from what I’d heard, the city was said to be full of cultural dynamics, mixed the new with old all while keeping to its traditional ties. I was absolutely ecstatic to go! I felt that being in a Muslim country would make me feel even closer to my religion. Having been in Canada all life, I was excited to finally visit somewhere where everyone looked like me and held the same principles I’ve held my entire life.
And so there I was, in the middle of the airport. I dressed in a long tunic, my jeans, and as always my hijab. I looked around and saw many Muslims, however, I still didn’t feel the connection I’d hoped for. As women in abayas and men in thobes strolled by, I thought I’d feel at home, that seeing a sea of hijabis like me would make me feel like for once I belonged. But no, I still felt slightly out of place, just like back home in Canada. With the lovely guidance of my family, I blended myself into the culture and dressed as many of the locals did, full abaya and all. I wanted to see if by dressing and looking like everyone else, that my sense of connection would arise. But alas, it didn’t.
As we strolled through the malls and tourist attractions, I did feel I belonged given my external appearance – abaya, hijab, all the works – but I still felt this odd emotional discontent. Don’t get me wrong, I loved hearing the sound of the adhan in the middle of the day, blaring on every speaker for miles. I loved being able to make Islamic references and having the people around me understand and not feel intimidated or awkward. Most importantly, I LOVED HOW ALL THE FOOD WAS HALAL! I’m pretty sure I ate my weight in halal chicken nuggets from McDonald’s.
But there was still this odd sense that made me feel out of place
For example, my family always made sure that I was accompanied by a mahram (male and blood-related persons) wherever I went. Back in Canada, I would always stroll the mall and go out on my own, so this seemed rather new to me, and I almost didn’t understand the idea of always being accompanied by a male relative. I saw little to no public transit or public social areas, and if there were, they were divided by social class or male dominated, which made me bite my tongue at times. To say the least, a lot of the views and beliefs I held were deemed very “Canadian” by many, which is not a bad thing, but something to consider, and again, something which made me different.
I thought visiting a Muslim country would make me feel like I belong, that I wouldn’t feel that I stood out and I could finally incorporate the things I learned in my Muslim School and Islamic classes into everyday life. Don’t get me wrong, I loved it, and I want to visit and live in a Muslim country someday (inshaAllah). But throughout this trip, I realized that because of my Canadian-ness, I still won’t belong in a Muslim Country.
As a Canadian-Muslim, my soul is split in half.
I am one part Muslim, who holds dear to the teachings of the Prophet (PBUH) and believing in the oneness of Allah (SWT). Praying, fasting and carrying around my religion wherever I go and in any social setting. I am also one part Canadian, whose first language is English and enjoys the occasional hockey game and being able to go out by myself. Someone who encompasses all which is cultural diversity and inclusivity no matter what. I guess there is no place I will completely and always fit in. I guess I may always be the Canadian Muslim or the Muslim Canadian wherever I go, never one or the other, but always a unique mix of both. This makes my experiences dynamic and my culture rich. This makes me appreciate the many identities that Allah (SWT) has blessed me. This makes me understand others, and that to be different is not something to be ashamed of, but rather proud of.
And I am a Proud Canadian Muslim.