Dealing with Identity: Who are you? Are you REALLY You?

A question I am thinking about is this: “What does it mean to be you?”

Let’s think about that for a second. People think about this. Some people may not care, but its a big question. Who are you? What makes you the person you are? What does it mean to be the person that you are? If you’re from there are you expected to be like that? If you’re from here are you expected to be like this? If you’ve done that then are you expected to go through that? What does it mean to be a mother? What does it mean to be a mother when you never had a mother there to teach or guide you? What does it mean to be a father? What does it mean to be a father when your father was everything except for a father? What does it mean to be a Muslim? Does it mean you fit into a stereotypical role that one think they should play in order to be accepted within their communities? What does it mean to be a Muslim man/a Muslim woman? Does it mean you drop your culture/your language in order to pick up something else? What does it mean to be a woman/a man? What does it mean to be with another person in a marriage? Does it mean must be exactly alike?

In dealing with these big questions on identity, it is important to figure them out. Yes, there are more questions to be asked about identity so ask them. Ask yourself. Sometimes we fall into these superficial roles of just being who we are told to be. We just do what culture tells us. We just do what others expect of us. However, who are we? Am I really me? Or am I just what I was told to be? Or am I the person I want people to think I am? Am I putting on a front? Or am I really me? Am I really the person I am choosing to be? And how do I choose to be that person? What things make me who I am? And is that okay? Or not? These questions are all dealing with you. These questions are dealing with me. These questions are dealing with all of us. We can choose who we want to be. No other person can make that choice, but you. You are the author and the composer of your own life. You are the individual pulling out the pen and marking up your own sheet of paper. You are putting the notes down to this sheet of music. You are the lyricist to that song. This is you. You are the one holding the pen to that piece of paper. So, ask yourself “Who am I?”. In asking myself this question, I thought about something my mother told me this morning.

Today, my mom was like “Lauren, I don’t think marriage is about the man doing one thing and the woman doing another. Sometimes you have to do multiple things at once” and I agreed with her. So many times I would always say how simple things were. Allah said the man is the breadwinner and so the woman should worry about the home. However, what does this statement mean? In the Islamic tradition, Hagar was left with just her son Ishmael in Mekkah fending for herself after prophet Abraham left her due to Allah’s command. So, at that moment she became a woman having to protect, provide and maintain for herself and her child. She became independent. She became every role possible because it was necessary. So, when we think about the people we are and the role(s) we are expected to put on it is important to think critically about this. We sometimes try to simplify our identities when they are constantly changing and intersecting with one another.

How does a young father in his early 20’s that hasn’t spoken to or been with his daughter for the first three years of her life deal with his own child upon seeing her for the first time? What does he say? What would be the reaction(s) of his baby-girl? How does he raise her upon his religion when the parent she spends time with is of another faith? How does he mend these realities? Is there a black-and-white answer? Should there be?

How does a mother in her early 30’s deal with the issues of identity when she has two children with a third on the way? How does she mend her broken past pains and confusion of who she is with her current situation? How does this soul-searching mother with a broken heart find her way in parenting children when the world has taken her heart and placed upon it it’s footprints of oppression and devastation?

How does a young woman in her 20’s deal with the issue of marriage and fornication when her parents are wanting her to finish school until taking that next step in her life? Does she continue to fight for her right to get married to preserve her honor and chastity? Or does she fall into her desires? Should she find a hobby?

How does a young man in his later teenage-years find purpose when he is blinded by the world and without a role-model to guide him through this journey of life? How do he mend the world of those around him with the reality of the world in which he lives? How does he find himself when his parents are struggling to survive and with a father that never taught him the roles/the rules of manhood? Does he find this manhood in music/a textbook/movies/magazines/ads on billboards?

What do an older woman in her 50’s do when her daughters encounter the same issues she is facing? How does this mother in her 50’s tell her daughters that their roles as women and wives aren’t simple and pinpointed in a manual? How does she guide her daughters as wives when she is still fighting the issues they are trying to solve themselves?

What does a man/woman do when they are stuck between their religion and their ethnic/cultural identity? Is this a problem? How do they sort through this? Is there really a problem between the two? How do they find themselves within this religious-community when they are expected to play out an identity that is not them? How do they sustain their inner-most being when those within the religious-community are fighting against them due to ignorance/racism/sexism? How do they go forth? How do they fight for their right to stay and be themselves without having to assimilate(to fit in/take on the identity of the people)? Should they risk being different and make their own mark or just fit in until there is progress?

When we look at the different problems that some of us face when it comes to identity it is important to look closely at ourselves. Why do many of us try to define definite roles to ourselves and others? When we look at the roles that we have to play as people it becomes hard and sticky. We can’t always play one role. We can’t always play two. Sometimes we have to play other’s roles. What do we do when we find ourselves playing another person’s role(s)? Is this okay? Is this problematic? Where do we begin if we are trying to figure this out?

Many times people tell us to stay in our place. To not think too much about things. To simply accept our roles and leave it at that. There are no questions. We should just sit and follow through with culture/religion without thinking further. Why is this an okay answer? One thing that Allah tells people is to ponder his signs and to look around. We are told to think and to use our reasoning skills. We should look at the world we live in and think about the various identities that makes it up. In these various identities there people from different backgrounds, races, cultures, languages and lifestyles. We have to sit down and ask ourselves the bigger questions that no other person can answer for us. It is only us when we come across these questions with answers that we can only give. It’s not the responsibility of others to show us who we are. It is only us to discover us and what it means to be us. Yes, we are inspired and influenced by others, but we have to know about us. We have to be sure in who we are or else we will never be okay with just thinking we think we think we think we know who we are. We have to atleast be okay with ourselves and acknowledge that as long as we are in the world we will continue to grow as people, inshALLAH.

And I think it is important to remember something and that something is a quote from Louis Armstrong.

Louis Armstrong said “What we play is life”

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Their Life. Your Charity. Save A Life.

In the summer of 2008, a working-class family of four fell into homelessness for a period of months with only clothes, hope and each other. This family was like any other family. Simply trying to keep their head above water. However, they were experiencing a problem that many would usually turn a blind-eye to in their daily-lives. This family didn’t stand on your local corner, under a bridge, or on a street. Unfortunately, an economic-depression slipped up into their place of comfort-their home. Leaving them income-less and homeless with two teenagers that would learn the meaning of surviving and living on the outskirts of society.

In being stripped of everything that would make a family feel secure, they packed up their lives in their old car and left a life that they had once lived for a new life of instability. In finding themselves isolated from friends and family-members, they held onto their pride and dignity even in the face of despair and pain. In an act of self-preservation, the family of four never spoke of their struggle to survive with others, even between each other. In being left with nothing but each other, they soon turned to begging in hopes of having a place to lay their heads at night. In receiving money, the father, head of his household, soon turned to gambling in hopes of winning money to escape homelessness. Sadly, this act soon became another catalyst to increasing discord between the family-members. In between living and death, the family would live with others and stay in motels- sometimes a different one on a daily-basis. In having to deal with the struggles of surviving and trying to cling onto hope, the world became synonymous to living in a nightmare.

The family soon found themselves traveling down empty roads, lonely highways, and looking out windows to a world that excluded them. They had nothing. No money. No home. And soon, little hope for a future. The two parents would soon become argumentative with each other and doubtful about their tomorrows. Their two teenaged-children would later become clueless about their own survival. Every single day for the family became harder and harder because resources were running out. The charitable acts of others wouldn’t last forever. The hotel and motel-rooms would come to an end and need the next day’s payment. Sadly, this reality would force the family to pack up the little they had and to continue to some unknown place with unfamiliar faces. The world never seemed so cold and empty until then.

The smell of a homemade meal never lingered through their noses over those months. The warm feeling of being able to lie upon their own beds was never a reality for them over those months. The happy feeling of inviting over family and friends was never a reality for them over those months. The sound of children running up and down the street was never a reality for them for those months. The familiar smile from the postman was never a reality for them for those months. Over those months, the family of four found themselves living a life that was anything but the reality they once knew. Those months became their new reality. The family had a new reality that forced them to live in their old car at times, to change motel-rooms on a daily basis, to walk to local stores if the car ever had problems, to smile and to look presentable to those around them.

Unfortunately, the upcoming year for school would be starting for the two teenaged-children. They would be faced to lie about their summer and the wonderful vacation they didn’t really have. They would be forced to say no to friends about invitations and gatherings. The school would soon question their actual home-address once the mail was returned back to its sender. Every new day would seem like a lie and the smiles they would situate on their faces would only make the pain of homelessness and worthlessness penetrate even deeper in their hearts. The one thing that their friends and teachers didn’t know was the harsh reality that they would never know where they would sleep or do their homework after coming from school once the bell sounded for the end of the school day. An unspoken pain and hurt suddenly had set in for the two teenagers because they knew that their world was not the same as their classmates. They were homeless and without an address. And they were invisible.

As days, weeks, and months passed, the family of four soon got assistance in moving into their own home. They would soon find themselves situated in their own place across from the school. The mother found herself with a full-time job and decent income to provide and maintain. The father would soon find himself working odd-jobs to supplement his wife’s income. However, the pain they were feeling didn’t leave overnight. It didn’t even leave months later for they all could remember the different motel-rooms and roads they had once traveled to just find a place to lay their heads at night. As time went by, they found themselves reverting back to the lifestyle they had knew once before. They were reclining upon their couches, laying upon their own beds, and resting in their own home at night. The return of family-members coming over for visits would become a regular habit with occasional visits from their children’s friends. The world became better, but not perfect for they knew there were others like themselves that were experiencing homelessness on a daily-basis in conditions less-viable for survival. In undergoing their journey of survival, they were happy to know there were people willing to give them charity for a hotel or motel-room. There were people willing to give groceries when there wasn’t any for them to eat. They were most grateful for the charity that people gave to them for they were struggling without it.

In reading this story, I hope everyone will take time to think about charity and how it can save a person or even a family. As a Muslim, I believe the world is the responsibility of each and every one of us. We can’t blame anyone but ourselves if there are people who are without their bare necessities in life. This family isn’t any different from the next family. They just fell upon some hard times and that’s understandable, especially in the world that we live in. So, remember the next person you may see on the corner, under the bridge, or walking next to you in a store. That person could be one of the individuals in the story I told. We can’t pinpoint the poor and needy just by looks. We can’t pinpoint the poor and needy just by their lack of material-items. The poor and the needy comes in all forms and sometimes it will surprise you the most to know that those who are struggling are those just trying to save face by simply wearing a smile. And this story isn’t meant to make you feel guilty for this family’s homelessness, but it is a story of awareness and realism. Our world isn’t always black and white. It isn’t always as transparent as we may think. The world that we live in is quite confusing at times and even chaotic. So, just remember that the world is a place of smiles when many are hiding their frowns. Furthermore, remember that sadaqa or charity is due upon every one of us, so don’t withhold whatever you may have for it was Allah that gave you such blessings. May Allah give us strength and a helping hand for those that need it the most. Ameen.

The Fatherless Children

She has become the father of a fatherless boy
Manning him up for a world that is absent of real men
Men planting seeds in a world of fatherless children
Leaving women picking up the pieces of shattered hearts
Wiping away tears of hurt and devastation
Telling her children that mommy will always love them
that mommy will always be there to pick up the pieces of a shattered identity
not quite understanding why mommy is also father
Why mommy is the father that they never had
Why mommy is the hero that father could never be
Why mommy is their strain of hope in a cold world when father was gone
Why mommy will always be the one to keep them going even as a clan of fatherless children

The Image That Looks Back

Friends

Friends (Photo credit: rogiro)

His image looks back at him

Seeing a young boy that smiles and laughs innocently

Sadly, he only sees what wasn’t his youth

The young boy stares at him in the mirror

exposing a proud son that is pleased with his father

Unfortunately, he only sees what he didn’t have

The youth stares at him while wrapping a green turban around his head

tugging at it

Making sure to get it perfectly wrapped for Jumu’ah

He sees a young boy that is keen to look like s father and to be like him

The image tugs at him and wakes him up to reality

He will never be the father that was absent from his childhood

He will be better

He will be there for his son

Abir Islam: My Father and I

My father died when I was eleven years old.

A man of righteousness, as my mother described him.

A man that never gave up doing what was right and always held his family at the centre of his heart.

I love my father, but I did not get to know much of him.

I can remember how he taught me to pray at the masjid and taught me about the companions of the Prophet Muhammad.

He was truly a father I wish could’ve taught me how to become a man

I loved him for how he showed me how important it was to be Muslim.

We didn’t have much as I grew up with him.

He worked long hours, but he made up with longer hours to spend with us.

It was my mom, my older sister, my dad and I.

Now, I am fifteen years old and I ask myself if I am following the way of the Prophet Muhammad.

My father told me there was not a man who was as great as the Prophet Muhammad.

Every Friday, my father would sit the whole family down and tell us about the Prophet Muhammad and tell us stories.

Now, I wish I had that, but I remember them because I wrote them down just like my dad told me.

I wrap my turban the same way my father wrapped his.

I keep my thobe above my ankles and I let my beard grow just as the Prophet Muhammad, his companions, and my father.

I tell others about the example of the Prophet Muhammad and I learn from the imam about the Prophet Muhammad and his companions now.

I will never stop doing what is right and I will always love my religion because I know it is true.

And because I am Abir Islam.