Tanzina Rahman is currently a high school senior at Brooklyn Technical High School in New York. In her story she shares how her perception of Islam has changed over the years and how her new understanding has shaped her identity.
I never liked being called a Muslim. I thought it meant having to pray five times a day and never show any skin. If asked to write down five things about myself, I’m not sure if being Muslim would make it on the list. None of my friends knew what Muslims were. Aside from what I had heard from my parents, I knew nothing at all. I went to schools where I was the only Muslim, so in order to fit in, I untangled myself from that word as much I could.
Still, Islam was never too far away from me. Whether it was my mother yelling at me to pray, or my Arabic teachers telling me to practice my pronunciations. I was always surrounded with not so gentle reminders. Unfortunately, the more I was surrounded, the more I was fighting to escape.
Growing up in New York, I have the entire world at my disposal. People from all different backgrounds surround me in crowded subway stations. Food from all different cultures end up on my dinner table every night. And most importantly, I am exposed to many different lifestyles that constantly shape my identity.
My parents, in comparison, lived a simple life. They wake up every morning, go to work, come home and wait for it all to begin again. For some time I thought this was the way it was supposed to be, but this belief didn’t last very long after a lifetime of being exposed to American culture. I soon craved experiences that seemed miniscule to others. I wanted to ride the Ferris wheel at Coney Island with my friends. I wanted to eat burgers from Shake Shack. I wanted to buy an overpriced shirt from Zara. I wanted to go to the movies with my friends. I thought being Muslim would mean having to sacrifice simple pleasures like these.
Then something changed. It started when I entered high school. There were more Muslims in my classes than all the Muslims I know put in one room. There were two types of Muslims: Those who eagerly flaunt their faith, and those who try their best to escape it. Once again, I was stuck somewhere in the middle.
Then I started working at a tutoring center filled with Muslims. This time, it wasn’t like school. I met girls like me, who practiced Islam in their own ways. Regardless, we all believed in Allah with all our hearts. They taught me that I can still live my life the way I want. With their encouragement, I was able to do an internship that required me working in the fields of various lakes. I was able to volunteer at libraries and work for doctors. I was able to tutor kids and start my own clubs. I was able to help raise money for UNICEF, and present at NYU Langone Medical Center. I know that Allah is the one responsible for everything I am, and everything I’ll ever want to have. No matter how confused I was with Islamic teachings, I never let it weaken my connection with him.
My friends and I are all so different and yet similar at the same time. None of us are perfect Muslims, but we are Muslims. We put our faith in Allah, and we follow his teachings to the best we can. I still, and probably always will, make a million mistakes, but I can honestly say that I am proud to be a Muslim.