The Muslim identity is not just straightforward and simple, it is a patchwork of all things good and difficult. With wit and charm, Irshad Siddique cheerily describes his search for identity, having been raised across different cultural environments. This story was recorded in partnership with MALA and StoryCorps.
“My name is Irshad Siddiqi. So I was born in London in 1970. My parents had, my father moved there in 1962. He was working there as an engineer and I had an older sister and myself and my mom and dad so we were four in 1970 in London. As far as identity is concerned, I always felt wherever I was I didn’t belong there, I was different.
To give you an example, growing up in London and being born there, I’m not your typical Englishman, I’m not white, I’m brown skinned, so a bit of an outsider there. When I went to India, I looked like them, I was one of them, but my background was different so I felt an outsider when I was in India too. And then when I went back to England once again, it was compounded by one, I’m obviously brown and two, I didn’t live there all my life so I’m not completely English and then I was in India so there was no place for me really. And it’s always been for me a way, an opportunity because I can take what I like. I can take from the different contexts in within which I find myself, things that really appeal to me, or stand out or things that I find to be more truthful or things that are reliable across cultures across situations. So in a way that helps me.
The way that I find my identity goes back to a central core, which I feel like I’ve taken away sort of a cultural box that it could be put in. Along in my travels, I feel I’ve collected these views and have made sort of a patchwork quilt out of those. And then coming to the states, obviously I was not American, not English, I was just a, probably another immigrant, like so many before me. But I really liked the fact that there were a lot more people in the same boat as me than previously. You know being from a Muslim family, religion really plays a central role. It provides all the rules and the structure for how everything is done from when you wake to when you go to sleep and while you’re actually sleeping also.
But I mean I was obviously exposed to different religions and it was something my dad said to me that really pushed me on this journey. And knowing well that we were Muslim, he brought up the point that if there was a God, it would be very cruel for a God to create someone He’s going to punish, you know condemn to hell. You know if you’re Hindu, you’re going to go to hell, if you’re any other religion, you’re going to go to hell and if you’re Muslim, you’re ok. My dad was not ok with that and I think that’s the first time anyone had ever voiced that to me. And it’s something that I held on to because it really makes sense. I don’t look at myself in a way that I am a product or I am beholden to what happened before me in my life. I live very much in the now and I look to the future and I know that whenever you’re confronted with strife or challenge, that there’s always a way to move forward.”