by Alisha Ebrahimji – Texas State University
A couple months ago I was catching up with my cousin in Atlanta about the usual internships and college nonsense when she mentioned she had a book coming out in the near future. Initially, I was excited for her and wanted to know more. I’m not a huge reader (although I encourage everyone else to be) but I definitely wasn’t going to miss reading this one.
I obtained a copy of the book and got to reading. I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim is a novel that encompasses multiple women and their experiences and struggles they faced growing up as a Muslim in America.
I was instantly hooked. Basically, the novel contains essays from women from all ethnic backgrounds from Arab, African-American, Pakistani, Indian, Iranian, to even Afghani.
These are three of the essays I found most interesting, although there were so many!
“Sporting Faith” written by Dewnya Bakri-Bazzi really captured my attention as I surfed through this book. Dewnya is currently a law student at Thomas M. Cooley Law School in Michigan. Her story really made an impression on me and I wonder if there are girls out there with similar circumstances. Dewnya was a basketball shooting guard for two years at the University of Michigan. Though she had a passion for basketball she had to adhere to criticism due to her uncanny uniform. She incorporated her everyday conservative style of her headscarf, long sleeves and long pants into her basketball uniform. Many spectators, fans, and peers refused to accept that someone wearing a headscarf and a more conservative uniform could perform just as well as her female peers. Though the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics approved Dewnya’s uniform, she still faced conflict from spectators. Dewnya continued to persevere through all the negative attention and played regardless. Her courage helped some of her peers through their struggles. She learned to not compromise her beliefs while engaging in something she was passionate about despite disapproval from others.
“I was forbidden by referees to play several games during my college career because of it. This helped me realize two things: 1) while I am being held back because of my religious beliefs, I must not be the only person who is experiencing this; and 2) although our constitution separates church from state and the courts recognize difference, there are people out there who do not.”
“In Between Two Worlds” told by Elham Khatami was an essay that I related to all too well. Khatami is currently a reporter for Congressional Quarterly in Washington, DC. Khatami discusses her childhood and growing up in America with American classmates. She talks about how it was difficult to teach her peers how to pronounce her name and reminisces about dreading the infamous “roll-call” at school because she knew her name would be butchered. Speaking from personal experience, I cannot begin to number the amount of times I’ve sat through the first day jitters, sinking in my seat, knowing that the professor is going to demolish my name and embarrass me in front of my peers. I really related to Khatami when she talked about not understanding why she had to perform certain rituals growing up and why she couldn’t just change her name to make her life easier. Over the years she learned to find the balance between the ideals her parents expected her to follow and her own beliefs.
“With more than one billion Muslims living in the world, all infinitely diverse with different beliefs and ways of life, adaptability is truly the beauty of Islam. It is versatile and ever-changing, not strict and rigid. While I have lost a little religion, I have never lost my faith. I have learned to accept my dual identities, neither of which is complete. And I always remember God.”
Saliqa A. Khan wrote an anecdote that left me in tears and utter amazement. “My Journey to Islam” tells the story of a Muslim mother of three children and how she escaped an abusive marriage through a divorce from her reverted Puerto Rican Muslim husband. Khan credits her ability to remove herself and her children from a harmful situation to Islam and her ongoing faith. Married young, with three children, she attended college and worked two jobs. She was the breadwinner of the family. While her marriage was experiencing turmoil, she continued to practice Islam and became more pious in her devotion to Islam. Her faith kept her other burdens off her mind and allowed her to let go of her daily stresses. Khan knew her marriage was coming to an end but fought the good fight for her children’s’ sake until one day, enough was enough. She was waiting on a sign from God to give her the confirmation she needed to end a deteriorating relationship and she had finally received it. Khan fought many stereotypes that society places on not just Muslims, but women in general. For example, divorce in the South Asian community to divorce your husband or wife is definitely frown upon. Khan showed her children, her peers, and society that through faith, all things are possible.
“Hindsight is always 20/20. All I had to do was let go and find me again. I had to put my trust in God. Since then, I’ve become a much better mother. Despite tough times, I am more financially stable.”
I Speak for Myself is such a great read for both men and women, not only of South Asian decent, but all races and creed. I truly believe the struggles these notable Muslim- American women have endured are great inspirations for others and a reminder that even though you may think, “Why me?” – you are not alone.
I Speak for Myself has received a number of accolades, demonstrating the
book has significance in the field of literature and as a tool for conversation and dialogue.
Deepak Chopra has said: “I Speak for Myself is a beautiful compilation of stories reflecting the diversity in Islam and the common values that exist among us all. These are the voices of mothers, daughters, sisters and neighbors we can all identify with representing an honest effort to allow American- born Muslim women to change the narrative of American Islam- in their own words.”
CNN anchor and Special Correspondent Soledad O’brien said: “This unique compilation of Muslim voices gives a window into a culture in transition and growth. Bravo to these women for sharing themselves with us.”
You can purchase your own copy here.
Image from ispeakformyself.com