Nabeeha is a recipient of the 2019-2020 MALA Scholarship Program, which seeks to assist rising leaders in the pursuit of higher education through the art of storytelling.
Definitions are funny. They give you the phonetics, the parts of speech, examples when used in a sentence, maybe even synonyms and antonyms. However, they never give you that Feeling. That feeling of belonging or understanding. That feeling of hope or anguish. That feeling of love or lack thereof. That feeling of being me. I have been defined by many words, but never once have I felt that definition.
When I was younger, I would celebrate my Islamic holidays with pride constrained only within my four walls that I called my home. My culture was my armor; however, I wore it strictly during business hours. When I would walk out of my house my armor would be left at my doorstep and I truly would feel vulnerable without it, but it is what I had to do. It’s what I had to do in order to belong and to be “defined” in the one-toned world I would continue to take my strides in. I would exit my home and turn back to only look at a house because from the outside no one knows what happens and no one cares. Except I did.
My henna filled hands would never roam the cold air above me to answer the questions when I knew the answers to the inquiring teachers. I would never draw attention to my almond colored skin for I didn’t believe that it was as worthy as the girl who sat next to me. I used to be scared to answer the questions of “what is that on your hands?” or “why do you have marker on your skin,” when I knew that that attention would erupt inside of me. I was afraid to raise my hand in class because everyone would look at the “Indian girl with the weird hand tattoos.” So, I would come home and try to cover up my melanin skin with the powder my mama used for her nose. I used to wonder what it would feel like to be white or a person that wasn’t asked so many frequent questions about their culture because it is so well known. I used to hate having to explain to people that, in fact, “I was not Indian, but Pakistani”. I was afraid to step out of my house with my armor because of the way people defined me.
Now, definitions are funny, as funny as they get. They can be mean, or sharp, or guilt-ridden, yet they do their job of keeping up with us Muslims. Choosing to define yourself is part of the healing process from the wounds that were left behind by the words that punctured your self-esteem and feeling of belonging. This feeling of belonging is because it is what makes or breaks us human beings rather than the one-worded definition that marks us down in our value in society and the world itself. We want to belong but when we are strapped down to other people’s definitions of ourselves, we are not able to feel anything but inhumane.
These definitions never wash away yet that feeling remains and now I guess I understand that definitions do indeed have feelings. But not the feelings I was looking for. Not the feelings I wanted to feel. Not the ones that would cradle me in its arms and help me fall asleep at night knowing I could wake up to a better tomorrow because I was not afraid anymore. However, I have now found my definition. I choose to define myself as a human being. No labels, not without my permission. No brands, no cultivation of white washing. No doubt, I am a Homo Sapien. Bleeding the same color red since the year 2001. I was me and am me because I choose to believe in that.