My Life As A Pakistani-American Muslim
By: Rina Sarfraz
I’m an 18-year-old female student traveling the world. I happen to be part of a great program called LIU Global where I get to participate in experiential learning while traveling to various countries. But I’m also a Muslim, Pakistani-American, and hijab-wearing female traveling the world. My experience so far has been positive, but it’s not similar to travel blogs posted by white females. My privilege is not equal to a white female or man’s privilege due to the color of my skin and my religious faith. I have been treated very differently in my life compared to my white peers. I have met many people throughout my traveling journey so far that have been very confused as to how I could be from New York. And then starts the story of how I explain where my family and I are originally from.
I was born in Pakistan. My parents and I immigrated to the USA when I was 2 years old. We settled in Long Island, New York. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and was fortunate enough to be accepted by most people, even though my family and I faced some racism. After 9/11, my parents struggled to maintain their Muslim faith publicly. My mother was told by people, both Pakistanis and non-Pakistanis, to not observe her faith and to keep a low profile. My mother said she felt very insecure and vulnerable, especially during the time period immediately following 9/11. The USA was not portrayed as the “land of the free” anymore to my parents. The racism that followed my family was intense. And unfortunately, we were not the only Muslims experiencing the negative treatment. There were many stories going around the Muslim community of Muslims being attacked, hijabs forcibly being torn off, and more. One story that hits close to home is when my father was almost shot at his job. Two men yelled racial slurs at him while pointing a gun at him. Luckily, no shots were fired and my father was fine. But this just shows how rapidly and dangerously Islamophobia has spread. My father should not be answering for Islamophobia with his life, let alone any Muslim individual.
I decided to start wearing the hijab my freshman year of high school. The hijab is a personal choice decided by Muslim women if they would like to wear it. Some Muslim women decide to wear the hijab as a means to fulfill the commitment of modesty, show personal devotion to God, and visibly express their Muslim identity. Once I started wearing the hijab, I experienced both acceptance and rejection. I had some individuals love the idea of how I was expressing myself while others clearly expressed their distaste. Instead of fighting fire with fire, I decided to educate people during high school. I organized my high school’s first Middle Eastern/South Asian Cultural Night twice. I decided to do this event because I saw the importance of acceptance and mutual understanding. I wanted to bridge the divide between different groups of people/ideas. Attendees enjoyed a variety of activities, including coloring mandalas, receiving henna tattoos and eating traditional foods from the Middle Eastern/South Asian regions. I was able to merge people from different upbringings into a night of love, unity, and acceptance. At this event, I revealed my life story to a roomful of friends and strangers, hoping they could relate to my experiences shaped by my culture and religion, yet fearing they’d reject every word I said. But I was not rejected because the event was a success. Many people came both times and it was covered by the local media. Many of the attendees learned a lot and I was glad that I used an opportunity to expand their knowledge.
My family and I came to the USA to obtain the “American Dream”. From the stereotypes to the hate crimes, these realities make Muslim Americans often feel the “American Dream” is simply that: a make-believe, unattainable dream. But we work hard to achieve our potential. Yes, we are immigrants. We are “minorities.” But, we are also part of America’s greatest, brightest future yet. To quote General Jay Silveria of the United States Air Force Academy, “The power of us as a diverse group, the power that we come from all walks of life, from all parts of this country, from all races, all backgrounds, gender, all makeup, all upbringing, the power of that diversity comes together and makes us that much more powerful. That’s a much better idea than small thinking and horrible ideas”. As General Jay Silveria states, leadership does not discriminate. It does not care if you are young or old or rich or poor or man or woman or black or white or brown or yellow or green or pink or any other color that exists. It does not take into account what language you speak or which God you worship. It asks only that you lead. That you lead, be it in an action or in a speech, to enrich the lives of those who follow. So that’s exactly what I continue to do. I stand up for myself and others. I stand up for humanity and the fight against injustice. We need to reject the hatred and confront with love. We need to be leaders in this movement of empowering the rights of all instead of sitting back and watching lives be degraded. It is our utmost responsibility as humans to lead with love and respect. And while I continue to stand up for myself and others, I have always been and will continue to be proud of my identity.
During my time at LIU Global so far, I have experienced curiosity and happiness from my peers, my host family, and other locals. My host mom and local Ticos were curious to know about my religious and cultural background. I gladly told them and was happy to engage in a conversation with them. It’s been interesting living in Costa Rica for the past three months while experiencing traveling in various perspectives. I learned about the small Muslim population in Costa Rica and learned about what religion means to some Ticos. It is important to learn from one another, and that is what LIU Global has allowed me to do.
Unfortunately and unjustly, Islam and Muslims are deemed by most of the world population to be the root causes of terrorism all across the world, along with Sikhs and Hindus, who are mistakenly being identified as Muslim due to their appearance. There is no doubt that this is far from accurate. However, a considerable majority of the world’s population still blames Muslims and other minorities for many reasons. This is completely unacceptable. The best way to reject this claim of discrimination is to educate ourselves and others. As an open minded individual and LIU Global student, I have learned to embrace differences and bond with acceptance. Through my experience traveling and living as a global citizen, I’ve witnessed the beauty of kindness and helpfulness towards others. It is our utmost responsibility as humans to lead with love, and that is what I plan to do throughout my time here in this world.