“Syeds Don’t Burn”

Alizeh Haider is a Pakistani American Shia Muslim who is unapologetically herself and proud of her identity. Alizeh has worked as an intern with MALA, and here she shares her experiences in self-development personally, professionally, and spiritually.

I just moved to Houston a few years ago, I moved from Toronto when I was fifteen. So I feel like that is the biggest thing when people get to know me. Here, it’s so much different, I don’t go out much like I would in Toronto. Houston is so big like you have to go and do something big to go out. Back home, all you had to do was have two dollars in your pocket, get on a bus and just go, and since I can’t do that here, there is just no point in going out as much. So when people start to get to know me, they just think I am this closed-off homebody, I’m fun, I actually like doing things, I just don’t like driving forty minutes to get to one place.

I’ve been to Pakistan a few times to do the coding and stuff but we connect the two, so all of the coding stuff is sent through MIS people and then brought into how the business is going to use the codes. What interested me about it was, it just makes sense, coding, I was pretty decent at as a kid, it makes sense, it’s very straightforward, and I think, now, especially with Covid, since everything is virtual and you need technology to exist right now, being able to be a part of that, and that is like really the only field left I think.

So, my grandparents and my mom because my dad is Sunni, but I think they would describe it the same way, with pride. I’ve learned a lot through my peers and I’ve learned a lot through different scholars but I think learning it from your grandparents or parents is a lot more subtle. The way that we pray is completely different from the way that Sunni people pray, they pray with their arms crossed, we don’t. Small things like that, like we have a little rock that we pray on, which Sunni people don’t, so it’s little things like that that you don’t necessarily realize are Shia characteristics, one day you’ll find out and you will be like I didn’t even now. So their ways of showing is a lot more subtle, and I think for our generation because there is so much controversy with just that identity, we are a lot more open about it and we are a little bit more obnoxious about it, I know I’m pretty obnoxious about it. There’s this one saying that “Syeds don’t burn”, and Syed is like a lineage, Ill put that line out any chance that I get out, if there is a candle, I would put my hand through the candle, and I would be like, “Yeah, Syeds don’t burn, but I guess you guys wouldn’t know about that”.

So, my dad, his mom was Shia, not only was she Shia, he was Irani, but she was as Shia as she could be. My dad’s dad was Sunni, so maybe for them, there might have been complications but when it came to my mom and my dad, both of my grandparents believed that love is the most important thing and if they love each other, something as silly as sect shouldn’t bother you. Sunni Shia sects are pretty similar compared to other sects so for them, it was really easy. I don’t think anyone asked too many questions about whether it would work out or whether they believed in the same thing. I think it trickled down to us as well because we didn’t even know there was a difference until now. I think my identity as a Shia is completely different from my sister’s, I don’t even think she identifies as Shia.

We’ve been lucky enough to receive that openness from our parents that we were given a choice in what we wanted to believe in, and I think that was the best thing to come out of their marriage. I think it’s very rare for the older generation like my grandparents’ generation to accept something like that, so for them to be so open about them and let them get married even though they are different sects, and then let us choose what we wanted to believe in was cool of them. I think I would tell my younger self to not be as stubborn, I was stubborn as a kid, I was stubborn when I moved and I was stubborn when I started high school here, I didn’t want to participate in anything. But life has a way of putting you in situations that are meant for you to grow, and if you just allow yourself to experience those things, it will be a lot easier and a lot better than just being stubborn and not doing anything out stubbornness.

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