CAIR: ASSIMILATION IS NOT A DISAPPEARING ACT
[Hadia Mubarak is a member of the board of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.]
“So, where are you from?” sounds as familiar to my ears as the crashing of waves on Panama City Beach and the echoing of the adhan (call to prayer) from the minarets of Jordan’s mosques.
My mother’s heritage resonates in Jordan’s sky-piercing mountains and the Syrian wind carries my father’s roots. But I am neither Jordanian nor Syrian, for tradition rules that you belong to the soil that testifies to your birth and childhood.
This country has witnessed my birth, shaped my perceptions and informed my upbringing. She knows me as well as I know myself, for my memories evoke her history and my dreams live in her future. I capture her history by writing my own. She is the needle that holds my thread, interweaving my story in her all-encompassing quilt. I have fallen in love with her way of life, her personal freedom, her respect for individuality, her cultivation of diversity and tolerance. My appreciation for these ideals is reinforced by my religion, Islam. A belief in one God and in humanity’s ultimate accountability before the Creator, Islam has been central in shaping my identity as an American.
What does it mean to be an American Muslim? The concept of an American Muslim has not yet crystallized in the American public consciousness. In the post 9/11 climate, American Muslims were confronted with a sense of perpetual displacement in the American public psyche. Although we were born and raised in this country and knew no other place to call home, we American Muslims came to realize for the first time that we were not in fact perceived as American in the eyes of a large swath of the general public…
As our religious beliefs became a reason for our incrimination after 9/11, as our organizations and places of worship became the target of vandalism and hate crimes, and as we were perceived as potential threats to the security of our own nation, we felt that our very identity as Americans was subjected to scrutiny and challenge.
The struggle to legitimize our identity as American Muslims had existed for decades prior to 9/11. I recall an awkward experience applying for a job at my university as an undergraduate student. I handed the receptionist my Social Security card, a blue rectangle with nine ink-smudged digits, as a required form of identification. The receptionist tells me that she needs my passport as well. In a state of surprise, I question the necessity of a passport. She then calls over her superior, who had requested my passport in the first place. “Aren’t you an international student?” she asks. “No, I’m not,” I clarify. “I’m an American citizen. I was born in New Jersey.” Her mouth drops. She stammers, “Oh, you’re not?”
I do not have to wonder what it would feel like to be treated as a foreigner in my own county, to never really belong, to be a ragtag, hanging on the periphery of American culture. I live that reality on a regular basis. The cloth I wear on my head is mistakenly perceived as an attempt to hold on to a foreign cultural tradition and a reluctance to assimilate. Ironically, hijab, the covering of a woman’s hair and body, is still not fully accepted in my parents’ culture. A statement of my belief in God, the hijab I wear has nothing to do with culture.