Roshdieh Islam’s identity as a Muslim has changed over the years, but her pride for Islam has always remained strong. In her story she shares her journey to discover her identity.
My name is Roshdieh Islam and my identity as an American is not in conflict with my faith. Growing up in a Muslim household that was both observant and put tremendous emphasis on education was a great experience. I understand how conflicts can rise, as it was challenging having an identity that was slightly different from every other child in school, but it didn’t affect my outlook on life, and my generally positive attitude.
I was born in Wyoming to Bangladeshi parents and have lived in many U.S. cities and one Canadian city since birth. My dad came to U.S. to pursue his master’s and doctorate, and my mom joined him three years after he came. I have one brother, and our parents taught us from a young age the value of our faith and belief in a higher power. I now work for a biomedical engineering company that provides health care equipment management programs to hospitals and clinics all over the country.
When I was 7 years old my parents enrolled me in Sunday school in Calgary, Canada. That was my first true look into a diverse Muslim community. Before that I would associate Muslims as being only Bangladeshi because they were the only Muslims I knew of. To be candid, I didn’t enjoy going to these lessons. It wasn’t so much the people — the instructors were very nice — as I child I didn’t enjoy going to any sort of “school” on a Sunday afternoon. I much preferred my figure skating lessons on Saturday mornings. However, I would say that Arabic school was a success because I did learn how to read the script within a year. Now the only issue was that I wasn’t comprehending what I was reading since didn’t know Arabic word meanings. This would change in my mid-20s when I decided to pick up an English Quran one Ramadan.
When I was 12 years old I moved back to U.S. I spent my teenage years predominately in a small northern Louisiana town. Additionally, I spent four months in a very small village in upstate New York, near Rochester. Neither area was geographically sundry, so I was desolate from having Muslim friends growing up. This facet made it very difficult for me to appreciate my religion because like most teenagers, I just wanted to be like everyone else.
However, I never denied my identity; I would always tell people I am a Muslim. Most of my friends would be fascinated by Ramadan, and I would explain to them purposes and benefits of fasting: feeling the hunger of the less fortunate and self-control. One of the most common questions classmates would ask me: Why don’t you wear the veil? I would always elaborate how veils are personal decisions and usually more cultural. My parents always emphasized modesty but neither of them were keen on the hijab. I wasn’t allowed to wear shorts above my knees or clothes with no sleeves. And off course, no dating was allowed.
When I went to college I moved nearly four hours away from my family. Although I had new found freedom, I tried not to derail away from my beliefs and ways of living. My parents had arranged for me to stay with a Bangladeshi international student. So the first two student organizations I joined were the Muslims Student Association and Bangladesh Student Association. For the first two months of my freshman year at LSU I went to all the MSA meetings, but with time I started to feel as if I couldn’t relate to most of the female members. Don’t get me wrong, they were great girls with great potential and very friendly; however, most commuted from home and would hang with their families on the weekends. Many were even married. They would invite me to mosque outings, but I started to feel a little out of place since I would always go by myself. I remember one girl offering a solution: “Why don’t you get married; then you could just bring your husband to the Masjid.”
With time I started to make friends outside of MSA, and I would see them more because they lived on campus and would study at the library at night. We would hang out on weekends. With this new found freedom I started to get out a little more and explore options I would have never dreamed of at home: wearing shorts and sleeveless clothes. And, once I hit 21, I had my first drink and went to a club. Even with all these new adventures in my life I still identified myself as Muslim because I grew up believing in the core of the religion. And no one could tell me otherwise. My friends also always identified me as a Muslim mainly because I never ate pork but also because that’s what I identified myself as. None of them ever accused me of being a non-Muslim because of some of my practices.
One major event that took place when I was 21 was that my family went to Hajj. I honestly didn’t want to go at first because I felt as if I wasn’t religious enough or ready to go. However, when I went there I was in awe of how many Muslims there were from all around the world coming for one purpose: Allah. Looking back I wish I had appreciated the pilgrimage more and maybe offered more to God, but I plan on going back sometime in the near future.
Today I am a moderate practicing Muslim. I try my hardest to be observant and a traditional, orthodox Muslim, but I still see my relationship with my God as something personal, and my devotion as spiritual rather than dogmatic. Taking Islamic teachings of modesty and respect for myself and fellow humans has allowed me to have a better understanding of my life. And I do believe modesty made me feel better about myself.
I do not wear a hijab, but I do cover up to my knees and do not wear sleeveless clothes. Also, I decided that it’s best for me not to consume alcoholic beverages. But I believe I am a better Muslim today not because I pray more, fast regularly, dress more modestly, or because I chose not to consume alcohol. It’s because I appreciate Islam and feel more confident about being a Muslim woman.
I don’t think this would have been possible if I didn’t have the American environment to grow on a personal level. I believe that the U.S. gives the foundation for every person to be an individual. This country encourages you to be who you are and to wear it well. I have learned from my own journey that if you have dignity and deference for yourself, your peers will also respect you. Every Muslim is different, and I definitely don’t have the right to judge who are the better or worse ones; only God does. I am a proud Muslim-American who has an odd obsession with Whole Foods Market, Barnes and Nobles and Gyokuro. I can’t imagine living in any other country to practice my religion the way that I feel is best suited for me.