I was serving on a Muslim panel discussion of the Islamic faith and a question from the audience was posed about Muslims' belief on gay marriage. I listened as the first Muslim panelist responded, delicately evading the question. As I was listening, I could not help wondering why it was so difficult for that question to be answered, assuming my perception was correct. I did not have to respond, but I chose to because it was a legitimate question that deserved a real response. I took the mic and candidly stated that Islam does not condone homosexual relationships, but we believe in free will to act and that our actions will be judged by God on Judgment Day.
The day prior to this panel discussion, I attended another interfaith event on Islamophobia as an audience member. A Muslim woman expressed to me her hesitation of discussing her view on homosexuality in a public setting. I know of others who also avoid addressing some of these unpopular stances.
This made me think, though many of us are "openly Muslim" as women wear the headscarf and others have no issue saying, "I am Muslim," but are we truly unapologetically Muslim? Perhaps this means different things to different people. Of course, this goes far beyond the one issue on the moral or religious view on homosexuality, but it is the concept of comfortably embracing and sharing who we are, which includes firmly held beliefs. I know that if I am able to express those parts of me even when widely unpopular, then I have achieved the power and freedom that comes with being unapologetically ME.
Unapologetically Muslim goes further than not succumbing to the fears of being seen as a terrorist or believing that America is not my home. As a Black American Muslim, I am not challenged with the belief that America is not my country and I don't belong. However, being Black in America has taught me something unique about being unapologetically Muslim.
Granted, being Black and Muslim are not synonymous because being Black is not a choice but being Muslim is; however, the expression of both is a choice. As a Black woman, I had to learn to express my identity without shame or trepidation. Historically, Black communities have done much to empower Black people to love ourselves, our features, and our culture for what it is and how it evolves from the "Black Power" movement to the "Be unapologetically Black" mantra. The model of unapologetically Black has given me a confidence to be unapologetically Muslim as well, in a time where Muslims are under a microscope and we are questioned about our values and "American-ness."
Black empowerment has given me the opportunity and experience to express my Black identity in settings where I may be the only Black person, without feeling less than; without the self-consciousness that others may not be able to relate to my Black culture, my look, my way. It taught me just to be me --Be comfortable in my skin without continuously thinking about what others may think of me and how I am perceived.
In that, the confidence to be different translates into the expression of my Muslim identity as well.
Being unapologetically Muslim connects to a deeper spiritual place for me. To have no apology for who I am makes me a better Muslim. It means I don't have to act in response to negative narratives just to prove to others what "good people" Muslims are. And by the same token, I don't have to suppress who I am to gain others' acceptance.
I am reminded that doing good in this world is an obligation on me as a Muslim, to please God, not merely to change impressions. Though, I believe Muslim Americans should control our own narrative because it is our story to tell. But, I also know that as Muslims our intention in this world is to please our Lord first. If we're doing good, as we should, the correct narrative will take care of itself because we're already a visible force to combat untrue rhetoric.
I heard a saying from a Muslim scholar that says, "That which is done from Allah (God) will last; that which is done for other reasons will be obliterated."
This reminds me that when I remain unapologetic -- not sorry for who I am or what I believe and comfortable in that space, it allows me to continue to purify my intentions. I can act from a place of sincerity and exercise full expression of my identity with no reservations.