Farida Karim is a member of the 2018-19 MALA Young Leaders Fellowship. Fellows participate in monthly digital seminars, dinner discussions, and other MALA events. As part of the program, Fellows reflect on their multiple layers of identities – as daughters, sons, professionals, athletes, and so much more – and share those reflections into the MALA story collection. Personal stories can be a powerful catalyst for change – challenging stereotypes, building bridges, and inspiring action. In a country as diverse and complex as the United States, the identities of Muslim Americans remain layered and contested. We all have stories to tell: stories that deserve to be collected, conserved, and celebrated. We are honored to share the stories of our Fellows here.
Throughout my life, my identity has been influenced by my brother, Amyn. Growing up, we would tease each other, get one another in trouble with our mother (and our grandparents), play games together, fight over who got the top bunk and all other typical sibling behaviors experienced by people with brothers or sisters close in age.
However, it didn’t take long for my relationship with my brother to turn into something less than typical. Most older siblings tend to look after their younger siblings. My experience with Amyn was no different… it just started earlier and was a bit more encompassing — we were both growing up, but his development was not accelerating at the same pace as mine. He needed more time to learn how to dress himself, respond to questions, and communicate feelings. He wasn’t learning to read like I was, his speech was short and slurred.
I became his protector, his reader, his advocate. I would help him tie his shoes into his twenties, tuck his shirt in when he’d only get it in halfway, read menus to him at restaurants, and always bring him to hang out with my friends.
Amyn has Down Syndrome and will probably always experience the world differently. But he taught me to look at it differently too. Amyn taught me empathy, kindness, love and care for others. He taught me that people may be different but still experience similar pleasures. He taught me to consider other perspectives before jumping to conclusions, before casting judgement.
Amyn helped me define my identity.
I like to think of myself as someone that sees possibility in the world, no matter the obstacle. Someone who is quick to lend a hand, stand up for things she believes in, and fights for inclusivity. Whether it’s in school or at work, I gravitate toward roles that allow me to support voices that are often misunderstood or unheard.
As a Co-Director for a Boys & Girls Club in Gainesville, Florida, I used my voice to recreate a space for underprivileged youth to congregate after school with purpose. As a volunteer for Peaceful Paths, a domestic violence shelter, I used my voice to provide children exposed to DV with a safe play environment. As a MALA fellow, I want to further develop my voice to continue to serve those that need it and broaden its reach.
My name is Farida and I am Amyn’s sister: a bold, feisty, compassionate woman who appreciates humanity, humility, and heterogeneity.