Growing up in Lahore there were three mosques within 2 miles’ radius of my house. This meant that five times a day, I would hear the call to prayer inviting the devotees to come to the mosque to offer namaz with a congregation, or signaling those at home to take out some time to perform the duty.
Although I spent 18 years in that environment, learning and evolving through it, I realize now that my identity as a Muslim has felt far more salient to me here at UW than it ever did at home. Starting my third and final year at Madison, I continue to unravel the reasons for feeling so.
I can look back at some defining moments which made me question my “Muslim-ness.” My freshman year, I met two girls at the bus stop who after finding out that I was from Pakistan, without any second thought asked me “Why don’t you wear the thing on your face?” referring to a burqa. At several other occasions, I experienced comments along the lines of ‘Oh so you’re not THAT Muslim’ based on my appearance. While I casually laughed off all those instances at the time, they made me question why my ‘Muslim-ness’ was a label that others felt they could effortlessly place on me. Why was it that my being Muslim was always looked at first before considering me as just another college student experiencing her regular college life? Did students of other religious identities experience something similar? Although I have not found the answers to these questions, I live every day trying to understand the reasons this issue persists.
I am aware that it is not a great time to be Muslim in America, but I take this as a challenge and an opportunity to form relationships with people and portray a side of Islam that they have not witnessed. For these reasons, I have always felt like I carry a responsibility to speak on behalf of those Muslims whom the media has never portrayed; those like me. However, this is not a battle I can win on my own. It requires an open mind and eagerness to learn on both sides and first and foremost, it requires us to treat each other as individuals before we can simplify our complex identities by simply placing a label on them.
I am certainly not the most devoted or pious Muslim, but I am grateful as I feel far closer to my faith now more than ever. As Muslims we believe that our time here is a journey and religion is a very personal part of it. Like most if not all journeys my personal one has not yet reached its destination but I’m content knowing I am on the way.
– Mishal Shah