Islam Ahmed: A Solar System of Identities

Islam Ahmed is a woman, Muslim, African, Arab and American. It’s a unique identity and one that she used to believe meant the odds were never in her favor. In her story she shares how she has learned to appreciate each of her identity circles and how each works with one another, sometimes in harmony and other times clashing. This story is part of MALA’s scholarship essay contest. To see more scholarship essays, click here.

Growing up as a child of new Americans, I have three identities that have shaped my values, beliefs and informed my decisions in life: my Muslim, Sudanese and American identities, in that order. For as long as I can remember, I have always pictured my identity as an image akin to our solar system. My identity consists of a series of four circles orbiting each other that at times complement each other and at others often threaten to clash.

At the heart of the system is the sun, a representation of myself, irrespective of four of my most potent identities. The innermost circle is one that represents the identity that is closest to my heart: being Muslim. This identity is at the center because all that I am, everything I believe in and represent, is grounded in my religion. While I have occasionally felt uncertain of the credibility of a few aspects my religion, I have never been so unsure as to question the validity of the doctrine of Islam.

Gender occupies the second ring of my identity system. This is where the concept of complementation comes in. Because I am a woman, my religion commands me to dress modestly and cover my hair by wearing a hijab. On the other hand, the conflict between my gender and American/Sudanese identities arises in the educational system and in the workplace because both societies are patriarchal, and I will not obtain a position that is as high as a man or be paid as well as men.

In the third and fourth rings reside my Sudanese and American identities, respectively. These aspects have as large an impact on my daily life as any.
When I was a naive high school senior, I had what I then thought was an original and wonderful idea, I wanted to write a book about my system of solar identities. I decided it would be entitled “I’m an African/Arab American Muslim Female Named Islam, the Odds Couldn’t Have Been Less In My Favor” — the last bit was an ode to the “Hunger Games” trilogy that I had really enjoyed reading. For the longest time I thought the odds were stacked against me because of my race, ethnicity, sex and religion. It took me a while to put an end to my defeatist perspective, and frankly, I do not believe that it is completely abolished, but I have certainly come to love and cherish all aspects of my identity.

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