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The Only Muslim I Agree With

September 10, 2011

The only Muslim I agree with 100% (well, more like 90% of the time) is me.  Sometimes I question by dusk religious thoughts that at dawn seemed prophetic. But mostly I agree with myself about God, Mohammed, Jesus, the five pillars of Islam–and yes, the Muslim cliché the hijab, and all other things attributed to Muslims but not really about Muslims, like women driving in Saudi Arabia.

I have a lot of Muslim friends that agree and disagree with me on all of the above.  Most of the Muslims I know have no idea what I think about my religion, although some have tried to tell me what I think (“You don’t drink because you’re trying to be a good Muslim” someone once told me, and I didn’t bother to explain that I wouldn’t drink no matter what my religion was and I don’t actually think Islam categorically forbids alcohol).

Just as few Christians, Jews and others know what I think about my religion, although some of them have also tried to tell me. (“You’re one of those white Muslims, so we know you’re not like the others,” was the comfort I got from a co-worker on 9/11, as apparently I didn’t appear brown enough to be bad.)

No one ever asked me, not even other Muslims, until after 9/11, what I thought about Islam.  I’d venture to say many of my American friends could barely recall I was a Muslim.  For a while after 9/11, I felt it was something that like Mona Eltahawy said in a recent op ed piece for the Guardian (http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/cifamerica/2011/sep/09/muslim-post-9-11-america) I had to mention early on in a conversation.  In my case, so no one would say anything bad in front of me and feel like crap later when I then I told them I was a Muslim.

I don’t look like a Muslim not because of the color of my skin but because I don’t wear a hijab.  That’s the giveaway in the post-9/11 US and Europe, but not in much of the Middle East, where many choose not to wear the hijab.  (Actually, more correctly is that many women choose to wear it).

As a non-wearer, I’ve really come to appreciate the hijab because it gives me a chance to always be the undercover Muslim:  In crowded rooms, classrooms, and parties, I get to hear what other people really think about Islam because they don’t think I’m one one of them.  And mostly what I hear shocks me, almost as shocking as the dangerous radicalization of Islam in disenfranchised parts of the Muslim world that led to 9/11.  Horrific as the terrorism is, it comes from ignorance, from people deprived of education and hope.  That’s not something you expect in the West, and yet most of what I hear about Islam is pretty ignorant, mostly boogey man like.

Maybe one day, Muslims will be transformed like the Russians, who under communism could only produce women in our social studies class textbooks were sullen peasant wrapped in fur skin hats, to their general acceptance in all media as hot babes, for better or worse, in a variety of professions.

That’s not necessarily something to aspire to, but until then, here is some Pew polling on American Muslims that might be a little more enlightening.  Muslim seem to be more upbeat about being American than others, not that I disagree or agree with any of  them. (http://people-press.org/2011/08/30/muslim-americans-no-signs-of-growth-in-alienation-or-support-for-extremism/)

For further readings on Arab Americans 10 years later, I recommend the following:

Alia Malek in Granta:  http://www.granta.com/Online-Only/Of-Moustaches-and-Megalomaniacs

Moustafa Bayoumi in the Nation  http://www.thenation.com/blog/163284/rites-and-rights-citizenship

Carmel Alyaa Delshad  http://bustedhalo.com/features/being-the-%E2%80%9Cother%E2%80%9D-on-september-11-2001

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11 comments

  1. Such an intelligent piece. I was recently in the UK and cringe when the subject of Muslims comes up in general conversation. As you say, it’s the sweeping generalisations and ignorance that is quite shocking. As a non-Muslim who has lived in the Middle East for over 16 years I would say my knowledge of Islam is still fairly sketchy but knowing someone’s religion and their religious beliefs when I meet them never enters the equation. What matters most is whether they are a decent human being.


  2. Hi Sally–I still think the UK, bad as it might seem, is still ahead of the US when it comes to awareness of other cultures. And of course, I think a lot of Muslim countries could do a better job of getting to know others, too.


  3. Your post reminds me of this: http://muslimmatters.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/05/2magnov00cover.jpg.

    Hope you’re well!


    • Love your new blog, Night Child!


  4. Hello Dr. Alia

    I liked it when you said “it gives me a chance to always be the undercover Muslim: In crowded rooms, classrooms, and parties, I get to hear what other people really think about Islam because they don’t think I’m one one of them.”

    I think I’m also kind of the same..yet i wear the niqab ..but I’m a simi-undercover Muslim in crowded online social networks and broadcasting sites. I had the opportunity to interact with non Muslims and Muslims who are born in non Muslim countries. I talked and watched European Muslims talking about some of the things they hear from Secular extremists disregarding any obvious visual element symbolizing Islam ….It is shocking at first,, but the “shock” factor gradually disappears as you hear each side of the conflict explains how and why they see “the other” as a cultural, political or an ideological threat. I think there are less compromises and more clashing of interests..you end up going like “Uh oh”..

    this is just how I see it ..for now..in a nutshell..could b wrong could be right..:p search continues, hope things would get better..

    kind regards,


    • Heba –the short documentary you did in class on the niqab was the start of one of the best pieces I’ve seen on the subject. I think you should really expand it and finish–make a great five-minute story to submit to festivals.


  5. Hi,
    what ever you think don’t write about something that you don’t know about drinking alcohol is forbidden in Islam did you ever asked how many people cheat on their wife while they are drunk? or how many people killed people while they driving a car and they were drunk that why alcohol are forbidden in Islam


    • Dear Fatema, you and I actually agree. This is the reason I don’t believe in drinking–it hurts so many people, no matter what there religion is. But too many people just think it is a “rule” of Islam without understanding why it is there. It is important to understand the reason, not just the rule, and that was my point.


  6. Really great post, Alia! I enjoyed reading it! I love it when people are honest about their faith (and doubts) and I especially love writing that shows we can’t conflate faith with culture, two very separate (but often conflated) things.


  7. The majority of people I would think agree with themselves more than they agree with anyone else, regardless of whether they share the same religion or not. It’s funny how the thoughts we have in the dark at night can seem so different in the clear light of day, nothing seems so scary in the day as it does by night.
    People always seem to think that they know what you think and have an opinion about what they think you are thinking whereas in reality no one really knows another persons thoughts or true beliefs usually not even the person themselves sometimes.

    Most people in the West only know about Islam since 9/11 and have no real idea of what Islam is about, the only words associated with Islam are “fundamentalist” and “terrorist”, they never associate Islam with “peace” and “tolerance” which is what Islam is all about. My mother who is a muslim revert gave a talk to a small school in her hometown about Islam and they were amazed that a muslim could be white and from their community and not dark skinned and dressed “funny”, people’s perception of others can be so wrong and it can be the simple things that can change it.
    Hopefully one day soon people all over the world will come to understand Islam and have respect for muslims and all faiths can i live together peacefully.


    • Thank you for sharing that story about your mother-it is good that she is able to talk to people back in her hometown. Seeing a Muslim who isn’t a “scary” TV Muslim is the best step towards all religions accepting each other.



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