Finding the Meaning

Muslim. Muslim woman. Muslim student. Muslim immigrant. Muslim American. Muslim Students Association member. Muslim. Muslim. Muslim.

You know how when you say a word too often, it just loses meaning? It just sounds like gibberish?
Muslim seems to be becoming that word for me. My faith is one of the most meaningful parts of my life and yet the term "Muslim" is becoming one of the most meaningless things to my ears, just because I say it so often and I hear it so often. Journalism students on campus want to do their class projects on Muslims, student newspapers want to run a story about the perception of Islam on campus, religion and anthropology students want to study and do ethnographies about Muslims.

And I say yes, yes, yes, every time anyone asks if they can ask me a few questions, because isn't it what we've always wanted? Speaking for ourselves? Having our voices heard? Representing Islam, the true Islam?

And yet, it's like screaming into a void.

Members of the Muslim Students' Association, just at Syracuse, have given about a dozen interviews this year. I've talked about Muslims being normal Americans, and Islam being a natural part of me, and Islam making me a better person, and the Muslim community being incredibly diverse... and yet.

And yet, it's like nothing ever changes. You're still automatically Middle-Eastern. You still get called a bomb threat. Someone in your family still gets called a terrorist while they're at the mall. You still have to be at the airport a couple of hours early because you know you'll get pulled aside "randomly" for extra screening. Your mom still asks you not to be too vocal about Islam because she's worried you'll be a target. You still check in with your sister about the Islamophobia in her more conservative state and she still checks in with you about the Islamophobia in your supposedly liberal state.

Your heart still breaks for the Muslim kids you know are being called terrorists and Taliban and Osama's brother/sister while they're just trying to get through middle and high school and your heart still breaks for your community, because you know your community is hurting but there's nothing you can do about it, nothing that seems to make a difference.

And all the while, you read and hear "MUSLIM". In the headlines and in conversations and in classroom discussions. Muslim, Moslem, Muzlim. Is it still who I am? How can a word that doesn't seem to sound like anything at all anymore still be who I am?

Perhaps this is one of the largest tragedies of Islamophobia. Not that you feel unsafe or you feel like an outcast but that you spend all your time defending your faith, you spend all your time making sure people see you as a normal American and in all this you forget to reflect on your faith or to think about your identity or explore your thoughts. You spend so much time answering other people's questions about your faith, you don't have time to ask and find answers to your own questions about your own faith.

Perhaps, for once, you don't have to answer anyone else. Just breathe. Just think. The word Muslim feels meaningless? So think about the meaning. مسلم. Muslim. (Not Muzlim or Moslem or one of the other ridiculous pronunciations that somehow still exist even though one would think news anchors would have grasped the correct pronunciation by now). Think Muslim.
Think, then, of the meaning of Muslim. "One who submits." One who bows down in front of God. One who hands over his affairs to God.

Think, then, of the word Muslim, and realize, this word is not meaningless. This word is never meaningless. This word is your strength. This word is your realization that you are not Muslim because you were born Muslim but because you chose to submit. This word is your realization that no matter what happens, no matter how many people call you a terrorist, no matter how many politicians spew hatred about you, no matter how much fear and pain you see in your community, you have submitted to God. You know what Islam is to you, the peace it brings to you, the person it makes you. You have submitted to the Most Merciful and you know, you know with absolute certainty, Sufficient for me is Allah. (Quran 9:129)

Are you Muslim? Yes, I am. Listen, nod, smile. Not because you are programmed to or because you don't want to be threatening but because it means something. Being Muslim means something more than a headline or a project.

Are you Muslim? Yes, I am. I am Muslim, unapologetically. I am Muslim, wholeheartedly, and happily, and cheerfully, and thoughtfully. I am Muslim, most meaningfully.