Since I founded New Muslim(ah) Walking Around in 2010 I have explored a number of experiences related to my identity as a Muslim, particularly as a convert to Islam. I discussed my Muslimness and my status as one more number in the mosque’s records. I ranted about Eid and the holidays and took off to explore new paths by writing for Muslimah Media Watch and Aquila Style.
After four years of writing as a convert to Islam, I have come to realize that there are so many things that brought me to the place where I am now religiously, and I have decided to pursue those paths and experiences not only as a convert to Islam, but as a woman of colour in a Western country. The intersection of identities that I have come to discover is so complex that I have renamed the blog after this process: Identity Crisis.
A few weeks ago I wrote a post for Muslimah Media Watch about a Facebook page that features content primarily for Latin American Muslims. While I provided a critique from a personal opinion, the response from the group behind the page was that I was neither Latin American enough because I lived in Canada, nor reliable enough because my experience as a Muslim is permeated by my place of living. Such a critique is not unheard of. Many immigrants and temporary residents are shut down by their own communities as “outsiders,” and to some degree this positioning is real and true. However, the question is about the validity of our experiences in relation to layers of identity. Are we less “coloured” because we live in the West? Are we less part of our communities or do we just experience them differently? Are our experiences of Islam completely separate of others just because of our place of residence? And if so, are these experiences invalid?
I do not claim to represent the Latin American experience, just as I do not believe that my experience as a convert to Islam is representative of what it means to be a convert for other women. I do not necessarily identify with women of Latin American backgrounds born in Western countries because I was not born in the West, but I have also grown apart from some women in my “original community” because all of the sudden I became an alien everywhere. I do not claim to hold the truths about women of colour, and I do not believe that anyone should. Yet, I bring along a very particular baggage that creates and recreates my experience as a woman of colour in the West, and as an “invisible woman of colour” in my own country.
Some time ago I wrote a piece for the Feminist Wire discussing my path as an Islamic feminist. Since then, the label has become too constraining of what my experience really is. For the longest time my mother has bugged me about my identity as an Indigenous woman. I grew up in a context that was not conducive of such an identity, and back then my mother was not the prominent advocate that she is today. Nonetheless, after years of looking in the mirror and seeing everything but an Indigenous woman, I have come to acknowledge that the repression of such an identity did nothing but undermine my experience as a racialized woman, as a convert to Islam and as a Latin American in a Western country. After years of nagging, my mother’s words have finally sunk in.
The idea to recreate this blog materialized after conversations with several women who have inspired me along the way. In hanging out with amazing writers and activists, I feel that I have gained more than I have given. My mother (who is Internet-shy) has been the primary source of inspiration to explore identity beyond the boxes that centuries of scholarship and colonialist discourses have created. But the courage to do so has been gathered from my fellow writers at Muslimah Media Watch, who have offered much help, support and love when it is needed.
Aishah Schwartz (convert and activist), Vanessa de la Fuente (fellow Latin American Muslim and activist with whom we have agreed to disagree), Sharrae Lyon (an inspiring activist of identity and blackness), Shireen Ahmed (a cat-lover footballer), Krista Riley (better known as the MMW Lady-Boss), Fatemeh Fakhraie (fabulady founder of MMW), Sya Taha (fellow writer who lives a breathes intersectionality), Woodturtle (a Muslim, a mother and a feminist), Amina Jabbar (currently running hospital halls), Nicole Cunningham (fellow convert and cat lover), Sana Saeed (fellow Albertan-middle of nowhere with tons of things to say), and Tasnim (my editor and post-consciousness):
I can’t tell you how much your example, work and comments have inspired me!
My hope is that sharing this experience will create intersectional understanding among women of different positionings. This is not a blog about absolute truths. Rather, it is a space that explores the shades of grey in the complexities of individual identity.