Sadiya Hassan is a 22-year-old college student with Sudanese, Nigerian, and Saudi Arabian ancestry. She is studying to become a Psychologist and explains that her rich mixed background has helped her become the woman that she is today. Sadiya currently resides in California.
This story is part of “American Muslims”, a photo series created by Carlos Khalil Guzman, a photographer and activist based in NYC. The project is dedicated to capturing the diversity of the Muslim community in the United States. We will not only be sharing the images from the project, but each image will be accompanied by a personal and unique story to show our shared humanity. To read more about Sadiya and the rest of the faces from “American Muslims” click here.
So Sadiya, could you tell us what it’s like to grow up in a multicultural home being surrounded by different cultures?
This can seem interesting which Alhamdulillah it is, but growing up being mixed and having different ethnicities and traditions made me feel like I didn’t quite fit in anywhere. With my family in Sudan I didn’t quite feel Sudanese enough, and it was the same with my other ethnicities. Being a born Muslim on both sides of my family, I can admit I did not take my religion as serious as most reverts do. Being a Muslim seemed so genetic too me. People practiced religion and studied it but for me, I lived it from day one. I went to Islamic school, my first languages were Arabic and Hausa, hearing my grandmother recite Qur’an every second of the day was part of daily life. Things changed a little bit when we moved to the United States. My siblings and I had to adjust to a new life, new customs and unfortunately my religion took a hit. I put it on the back burner, I stopped speaking my native tongue, I was not able to continue Islamic school, among other things. Coming from a place where you are used to seeing mostly Muslims and hearing the call to prayer on the streets and the beauty of Islam in general and then living here and having to watch society try to rip it to shreds and turn everyone against you based on what the media portrays about Muslims is dehumanizing. Here I am now, a woman living in the states, a Muslim woman living in the states. A Muslim woman fighting to hold on to her religion despite the lies and fear that are being spread about Islam in the United States.
What’s the hardest part about being a Black Muslim woman in the U.S.?
Being a Black Woman in the states is definitely quite an experience. Despite all the violence and discrimination against Black people and the hate crimes against Muslims, it somehow makes me embrace myself even more. It makes me feel prouder of all my cultures and my religion more than ever before. It makes me feel like if I were to lose my life because of the simple fact that I am Black and/or Muslim, that I will be okay with it because at least I would have fought for who I am and my values and did not hide them.
Being from such a diverse background, what are some of your favorite customs from each one of them?
I have a lot of customs that I love from my African culture. From my Sudanese side, I love the food, our native attire, the way we specifically have our own style of henna, our own dialect of Arabic. Sudan is such a beautiful place. You can just walk down the road and see independent businesses. Women in kiosks making tea from scratch using the chai (tea) leaves. Women doing henna at other kiosks. Men making food right there in the kiosks and selling it. It’s a beautiful sight to see. I also love Nigerian culture. The food is also amazing and the colors used in our clothes are beautiful. Nigeria is probably the most colorful place I have ever been to. The diverse Nigerian music playing loudly on the streets as you walk through the markets is definitely a memory of mine. Nigeria was probably the first place where I witnessed a lot of diversity. I remember seeing a lot of White people, Asians, Indians and Arabs not vacationing but actually living there. Unfortunately I do not have too many memories of Saudi since I was really young when I last went there.
Are there any funny memories your family tells about you that come to mind?
My family always talks about how when I was younger I would always cry if I did not get my way. They would say I would scream from the top of my lungs and the whole neighborhood would hear me and call me screaming Meme. One day my mom left me with my uncles and I screamed so much that they put me in the dryer and I find that so hilarious because I don’t think much has changed. If I have something to say, it will be said one way or another.
If you could hold on to one memory forever, what would it be?
I would want to hold on to my early childhood. No specific incident. Just to remember how it felt to be young and innocent, no worries, no stress, no anything. I think now that I am older and experience different things, involving media, our society, and so on, factors that help in my decision making whereas when I was younger, no one could say anything to me that could possibly change my mind or make me view something differently. My biggest concerns at that time were who can I hustle to get me ice cream and now it’s more based off of adulthood, where all the stress begins.
What’s your earliest memory you can remember?
One of my earliest memories that come to mind is being back home in Africa with my grandmother who everyone calls mama. She used to wake up my cousins and I every morning. During this time, all the grandkids lived with her. Every morning she would make us drink tea but the way we learned to drink tea was that everyone got 2 qahwah cups and to make it cool quicker we all used to simultaneously pour the tea from one qahwah to the next to release the steam which is so funny because now they actually have machines in Sudan that do it for you.
“O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Surely Allah is Knowing, Aware” – Qur’an Chapter 49 / Verse 13 is particularly interesting because it touches upon the topic of inter-ethnic unions. This is a special ayah (verse) of mine. I chose this verse because even within my own community, racism still shows its face. I am an African-Arab born Muslim woman from California and if I choose to marry a white revert, all I should be hearing is people being happy and congratulating me. And If I choose to hangout with a Palestinian Muslim for example, I should not have to feel judged by their family members when I enter their home. Islam discourages people to feel like they are better than anyone else. We were all created the same way by the same creator and for people to belittle one another because of their ethnicity, tribe, country, etc is just ridiculous. How can I pray next to you in public if you hate me in secret? Allah has created us all equal. I was meant to be the woman with many ethnicities so that I can teach my brothers and sisters about me and my cultures and vice versa. Islam is against racism and if we take the time to read it and analyze it with an open heart and mind we can all be not just better Muslims, but better human beings.