This is a little comic strip I drew towards the end of last year. It’s just meant to be funny, so I apologize ahead of time if it offends anyone!
This is a little comic strip I drew towards the end of last year. It’s just meant to be funny, so I apologize ahead of time if it offends anyone!
June 13, 2009 at 6:14 am (Community, Culture)
Tags: Arab, Bigotry, Ethnic Slur, Hate, Hispanic, Hockey, Ignorance, Latino, Muslim, Racial Slur, Racism, South Asian, Stereotyping, White gaze, White privilege
Over the past week, my friends and I have been playing on a new roller hockey court that isn’t too far from my house. Prior to that, we’ve been playing on a relatively unused basketball court (pictured above) for months, which has been fun for recreational hockey/pick-up games, but we really wanted to play on a better surface and actually use a puck instead of a ball.
We finally found a roller hockey court where a good number of people play at. Although competitive, no one plays a rough game, there are people of all ages, and unsurprisingly, everyone is White. Except for me (also pictured above) and my brother. Being the only person of color at a hockey court isn’t something new to me. When I played for an in-line roller hockey league in high school, I found myself getting self-conscious about it when people, including my teammates, would poke fun at my first and last name. I remember one time, a couple of kids I played hockey with called me a “a stupid Afghanistanian” when I was carrying my hockey gear off the court.
I find myself operating under White gaze a lot, if not always, especially when I’m playing hockey with people I don’t know. I can’t help but think about how they perceive me, a brown-skinned man, playing a sport that is filled with predominately White athletes (at least here in the United States and with what we see in the NHL). If my friends and I are playing hockey on our old basketball court, I don’t feel like I’m going to be judged if I’m wearing my Pakistani cricket jersey or my Egypt and Turkey soccer shirts. I don’t worry about it because I’m playing with my friends — people I know. But when it comes to going on this new hockey court, I feel that if I wear a jersey that says “Pakistan” on it, people will be gunning for me or treating me in a rude way.
Maybe I’m thinking and assuming way too much, right? Wrong. Yesterday, before I went to the new hockey court, I swapped my red Egypt soccer jersey for a red Nautica t-shirt. I figured, “I don’t want to deal with people giving me smack about my shirt saying ‘Egypt’ or making some stupid racial slur or whatever.” I got to the court, laced up, and said “hi” and “what’s up” and “how’s it going, man” to all of the people there. Everyone was friendly, conversational, and pretty much just wanted to have fun. So far so good, I thought.
Since there were so many people, we played with line changes, and I think I played at least six shifts the entire day. I ended up doing really well too and scored four goals. When everyone packed up to leave, my friends and I said “good game” to everyone and that was the end of that. Fun day, right? Well, today, my friends and I played at the court again and a friend of mine told me, “Oh man, I have to tell you something. When you scored your second or third goal yesterday, this kid on the bench said, “f****** spic!” My friend said he was going to say something, but before he could, someone shouted at him and said, “yo, watch your language!”
It kind of messed up the rest of my day. I’ve noticed that some people at that court try to play more aggressive against me (as opposed to others), and it could be because I stick-handle really well and they’re just trying to steal the puck from me, but then there’s another part of me thinks it’s because of my skin color. Playing hockey for a long time in my life means I’m familiar with how the frustration and aggression levels can rise when you’re on the losing team or not performing as well as you would like to. When you factor in a brown guy scoring most of the goals for the other team, would it be wrong to assume that the frustration could build into a racial slur?
The word choice of the person who delivered the racial slur just shows us even more how racists don’t even know who they hate. It shows how ignorant, childish, and idiotic they are. I am familiar with the racial slur, I know it’s directed towards people of Hispanic descent, but since this is the first time I was called it, I decided to run a few online searches just to read about it’s origins and use. Reading about it just made me angrier and I don’t think it’s appropriate to share that information here.
I don’t care if people mistaken me for another race, there isn’t anything wrong with being Latino, Asian, Arab, or anything else. What is offensive is when people use racial slurs — there is simply no excuse for it. It’s offensive, it’s racist, it’s flat-out wrong. If he thought I was Arab, he would have used another racial slur; if he thought I was South Asian (which is what I am), he would have had a racial slur for that too. The point I’m trying to illustrate here is that I refused to wear a “team Egypt” soccer jersey for the sake of avoiding ethnic/religious stereotypes, but since I’m brown-skinned, I ended up getting stereotyped anyway. How do you hide your skin color, right? Thank God that I don’t wish I could hide my skin color, but what about the people who do wish they could hide their skin color just for the sake of avoiding conflict? Maybe there are times when I do feel that way.
If there is something positive that came out of this, it’s that it reminded me that people of color face similar struggles. I would say that most people assume I’m Indian (which is correct and incorrect at the same time, lol), but there have been a few people who mistook me for Latino, Arab, and even Greek. When I hear a racial slur that is used against other people of color, it not only angers me, but also makes me think about the struggles they experience. There are so many different stereotypes applied to all of us and they are experiences that we all share. Most of the time, when I’m sharing some of my experiences with racism with a fellow person of color, I feel comfortable because I feel like they can empathize and understand where I’m coming from. This person who used that disgusting word may have thought that it was “ok” or “acceptable” to use it, but I doubt he understands how hurtful it is.
I try to stay positive about it all. At least someone on the bench told him to shut up, right? Much Love to everyone who has experienced any form of discrimination, hate, or racist bigotry in their lives. Keep your chin up, friends.
June 5, 2009 at 12:17 am (Community, Current Events)
Tags: Arab, Barack Hussein Obama, Cairo, Children of Abraham, Christianity, Egypt, Gaza, Inter-Faith, Islam, Israel, Judaism, Muslim, Palestine, President Obama, Qur'an
Also published on Islam on My Side.
President Obama delivered a very moving and powerful speech in Cairo on June 4th, 2009. The speech focused primarily on improving American and Muslim relations, but also addressed issues such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
I admit that it was heartening and emotional to hear Obama cite so many verses from the Holy Qur’an, as well as referring to the miracle of al-Isra, the Night Journey, in which the Prophet Muhammad journeyed to the seven heavens and met with Jesus, Moses, and Abraham, peace be upon them all. When Obama said “peace be upon them” after mentioning these Prophets, there was enormous applause from the audience because the attendees, as well as Muslims all around the world, knew exactly what it meant: Respect.
It was also nice to hear Obama stress on the importance of Islam being part of America. He acknowledged the contributions of Islamic civilization, particularly in mathematics, science, poetry, architecture, and music. When he spoke of Israel and Palestine, he emphasized on a two-state solution and recognized the struggles that both Israelis and Palestinians face. For many Muslims, the Israeli-Palestinian crisis is crucial simply because U.S. foreign policy has been overwhelmingly supportive (politically, militarily, and economically) of Israel while vilifying and ignoring the plights of Palestinians.
Although there were many times during the speech where it seemed like Obama was hesitant to acknowledge certain atrocities, such as Israel’s recent airstrike on Gaza, it was at least refreshing to hear a U.S. president recognize the Palestinian humanitarian crisis. I really liked when he said “children of Abraham,” because that kind of language speaks to the hearts of inter-faith communities around the world.
While citing the Qur’an and reaching out to Muslim majority countries displays the President’s desire to improve relations, it’s important to stay mindful that actions speak louder than words. As Tariq Ramadan mentions in his recent article, “Obama’s speech to Muslims will mean little if its symbolism is not followed up by concrete measures to restore trust.” In no way am I trying to deny Obama’s efforts, but rather I’m simply pointing out that I truly hope he follows up on his words.
What are your thoughts? If you missed the President’s speech, you can watch it below (it’s divided into 6 parts):
April 15, 2009 at 9:41 pm (Community, Culture, Mysticism)
Tags: Allah, Arab, Arabic, Arabization of Islam, Drone Attacks, Ethnic Identity, Ethnocentric, India, Internalized Racism, Kashmir, Khuda, Lahore, Language, Malcolm X, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Obama, Pakistan, Pakistani Identity, Prophet Muhammad, Punjabi, Qur'an, Salafi, South Asia, Sufism, Taliban, Tariq Ali, Urdu, War, Westernized
This post was also published on Racialicious.
It started off funny. I was at the mall buying a birthday gift for a friend of mine and, as usual, the store manager was friendly and conversational. After she took a good look at my gift, the following conversation took place:
ME: She’s not my girlfriend.
MANAGER: That’s an awful lot of money for just a friend.
ME: (smiles) Well, maybe you can lower the price for me.
She laughed as she scanned the item through. Another customer approached the counter and waited patiently. She decided to chime in:
ME: (smiles) Yeah, it’s for my friend’s birthday.
CUSTOMER: Aww, that’s so romantic, your girlfriend is going to Love it.
ME: She’s not my girlfriend.
CUSTOMER: Hmm, maybe she’s a special friend!
I laughed at how both of them were teasing me while I waited for the manager to package the gift. The manager was really helpful that day, so I asked her if there was a number I could call to give her an “outstanding” customer service rating. She showed me the number on the receipt and thanked me for asking. As the manager wrote her name on the receipt, the customer waiting in line caught me off guard with an unexpected question:
“What country are you from?”
For some reason, the question struck me in an odd way, as if it triggered an alarm in my head and sprung forth countless things I’ve been ruminating about over the past few weeks. It wasn’t a new question at all. I have brown skin; it’s easy to notice, so I understood. People ask me where I’m from all the time, but it was different now. Almost immediately, I thought about the current crisis in Pakistan, I thought about the corrupt Pakistani president Asif Zardari, I thought about the Taliban taking control of Swat Valley – a beautiful place that I visited once – and I thought about the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and my sheer frustration with Obama’s foreign policy. Even though it only took me about two seconds to respond, I still had more thoughts and feelings swell inside me. I feared that disclosing my nationality would disrupt the friendly interaction I had with the manager and customer. I worried that their response would be offensive or ignorant and that I would go home feeling like an “outsider.” It was too late for that. And it wasn’t their fault.
“Pakistan,” I said slowly with an unfamiliar discomfort in my voice.
I was shocked at the way I responded, it sounded like I was ashamed of it. I noticed the shift in her body language when she replied with a simple, “Oh.” It was the typical response I usually get after I tell people I’m Muslim. An awkward silence followed before she politely said, “cool.” Again, it was nothing new to me, but when I nodded and forced a weak smile, I suddenly felt the urge to leave. I left quickly after the manager handed me the gift. “It’s ok” I told myself as I heard the fast paced rhythm of my shoes walking on the marble floor, “they didn’t say anything wrong.” I thought about the possible conversation that took place behind me. Maybe they said something ignorant. Maybe they didn’t say anything at all. Maybe they had negative thoughts about Pakistan, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they wondered where it was on the map. Whatever they said or thought didn’t matter. What mattered were the countless thoughts that surfaced in my mind.
As I walked to the other side of the mall, my memory traveled back to January of 2008. Former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, had been killed in late December and it was the hot topic for a while in the mainstream media. I was on my way out of a post office one afternoon, minding my own business, when an older man smiled at me and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Are you Indian or Paki?” Caught off guard by the random question and his use of the word “Paki,” I smiled at the silliness of the question. “Umm, I’m Pakistani…” I said. The man’s face turned grim. “Shame on you!” he growled. Since there were so many things I was going through at the time, my grief reached a point where I couldn’t even get angry anymore. I laughed instead. “Excuse me?” I asked. He threw his hands in the air, “Your country is a mess! You guys are killing your leaders and your women!” You can’t be serious, I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe I was standing in a post office and listening to a man flipping out on me just because I’m from a certain part of the world.
I stood my ground and called him out on his ignorance. I told him he was generalizing about me, as well as the people of Pakistan. I also told him that it wasn’t fair for him to treat me as if I had control over what country I’m from. He apologized, “I’m sorry, you’re right. See, you’re good because you’re here. You’re good because you’re an American.” Right. Typical “melting-pot” remark. Let’s mix everyone together, cut them off from their culture and heritage, and give them one identity: American. “So what about my family members who live in Pakistan?” I asked him. “Are they ‘bad’ since they’re not American?” He replied, “Well they should come over here.” Yeah, like that’s a piece of cake. And besides, what’s up with the assumption that people living in the Muslim world want to come to the United States (or any Western country)? He apologized again and then asked, “Are you Muslim?” Oh boy. “Yeah,” I said. Before I know it, he was going on about Christianity and how democratic values are also Christian values, so Muslims could benefit a lot from Christians. I tried to enlighten him about Islam, coexistence, and how we’re all created by God, but it didn’t seem like he was receptive to what I was saying. He ended up making an insensitive remark about Muslims standing at the end of the line in the afterlife. He was trying to be funny. I couldn’t stay there. I shook my head, “whatever.” As I walked out the door, I heard him say “Ah, I’m just kidding!”
I had to disengage from the conversation because it brought back memories of something that happened to me in the summer of 2007. I was working a part-time job in the photo lab at CVS Pharmacy. I Loved my job, which is why the managers always called me first whenever they needed help. It was a really happy time in my life, I had friendly relations with my co-workers, and I was really good with customers. We were incredibly low on help that day though and at one point, I was the only person on register. The line only got longer and longer, and eventually, a cranky customer started swearing at me for moving too slow for her. I ignored it at first, but then she cursed at me again and told me that I “shouldn’t work here.” I explained that we were short on help and I politely asked her to stop cursing at me. It only made things worse. “Who the f*** are you to tell me to stop talking?!” she shouted.
Finally, my manager rushed back to the front of the store. He couldn’t help but notice the angry customer and her friend. “What’s the problem here?” he asked. Before I could answer, the customer pointed at me and said, “You better watch out for this kid otherwise he’s going to blow up the store.” I froze in utter disbelief. I felt the anger rushing through my blood and then I broke out, “What did you say?! Are you judging me by the color of my skin?! Why did you say something like that?!” She shouted back, “man, just do your f***ing job!” My manager intervened and told me to take a break. I listened and began to the break room, but I heard the customers talking behind me, “if he’s going to wait for us in the parking lot, we can take him! There’s two of us.” I was so outraged and furious. I turned around and said, “Who’s talking about violence here?” She said I threatened her first because I told her to “stop talking.” I shook my head, “No, I told you to stop cursing.” My manager stepped in between me and the customers. He pushed me back, as if I was going to hit the customers or something. “Just stop,” he said to me, “Just ignore them.” The customer’s friend stepped forward and said, “F*** you, terrorist!” I was so angry that I just stormed out of the building and drove home. I was notified a week later that I was terminated because the incident “created a problem” for the store and I was supposed to “bite my tongue” just like the “company policy” expected all employees to (how I handled the case, with the help of CAIR, is another discussion!).
I reflected on these two experiences as I walked out of the mall with my friend’s birthday gift. When I started my car, I sat and spaced out for a while. I thought about how my past experiences sometimes make me so tense and uneasy whenever non-Muslims ask about religious and/or ethnic background. With the current crisis in Pakistan, I worry that the ignorant and offensive remarks will only get worse, but amidst all the politics and personal fears, I am also bothered immensely by how distant I am from my ethnic background.
The next morning, I stood in front of the mirror and felt so unusually distraught. I stared at my brown skin, my black hair, my half-Kashmiri and half-Punjabi nose; I thought about my suburban-American accent and my inability to speak Urdu and Punjabi fluently. I felt a mismatch, like I was some kind of cheap import. I felt fake and counterfeit. I thought about all the times I see older South Asians working at local stores and feeling terrible for speaking to them in English when I could be speaking in Urdu or Hindi. When I walk away, I always wonder if they’re thinking, “oh the kids in this country forget their culture and their language, it’s such a shame.” In South Asian culture, we always refer to elders as “Auntie” and “Uncle,” so whenever I see elderly South Asians, I want them to know that they are “Auntie” and “Uncle” to me. Sometimes, it feels like my skin color and name are the only Pakistani things about me. What does it mean to be Pakistani? I can put on my shalwar kameez (traditional South Asian dress) and attend a South Asian event on campus, enjoy the music, dances, and food, but does that make me Pakistani? What do I know about Pakistan – the history, the culture, the people, the great mystics, thinkers, and leaders of the past, or even the politics? Although I’ve made attempts to re-connect with my Pakistani identity in recent years, I feel that current events (as well as things I’ve observed in other Pakistani-Americans) have caused me to turn inward again in efforts to attain a richer understanding of what my ethnic identity really means to me.
I was born in Lahore, Pakistan. My father’s family descends from Kashmiris who migrated to Lahore, and my mother’s family is Punjabi. Although I’ve never experienced what it’s like to live in Pakistan (since my family moved to the United States shortly after I was born), I’ve stayed there on long visits. The first time I visited Pakistan was in 1999 and I remember hating it. The bumpy roads, the crowded traffic, the poverty, the pollution, the electric cutting out randomly – it all made me miss the United States. At the time, as a 15 year-old, I admit that I felt better than everyone else because I was an American citizen. When I returned to the U.S., I would tell my White non-Muslim friends how proud and grateful we should be to live in America. Like many other Pakistani-Americans that I knew at the time, I made fun of Pakistani/Indian music, culture, language, accents, and dress. I associated all of those things with my parents; it had nothing to do with me. I was American.
I went to Pakistan again in 2000 for my Uncle’s wedding and my opinion of the country didn’t change much. I still thought it was backwards and uncivilized, although I remember seeing something that struck me as oddly positive. On our way to the wedding, a truck accidentally hit one of our party’s cars. The respective drivers – complete strangers – got out and shook hands! Then, we invited the truck driver to the wedding! That was something I don’t ever recall seeing in the United States. Still, I longed to leave Pakistan, so much so that I couldn’t even appreciate the fact that my Uncle’s wedding lasted for three days (as opposed to the typical single-day weddings I would see in Hollywood films). I couldn’t appreciate the decorations, the dancing, the beautiful South Asian dresses, or the immense amount of preparation that went into it all. I regret that now.
It wasn’t until I visited Pakistan in early 2002 when I really learned to appreciate it. As many of my friends know, 2002 was a special year for me. It was the year I discovered my inner voice. I remember sitting in the car while the driver navigated us through the busy traffic of Lahore and without warning, a question struck me in such a profound way. The question didn’t come from someone, it came from within: I asked myself, “Why do you hate this place so much?” I stared out the window and saw people walking with their spouses, children, and friends. They were going somewhere. To school, to work, to buy something, to have fun with their friends – every day activities that my friends and I would do except in a different part of the world. This place was home to them. “This is where you were born,” I said in my thoughts, “This place is in your blood.” It helped that I had a great time with my family that year too, but I also believe that these questions didn’t come to me randomly or without meaning. For the first time, when I left Pakistan, I was sad. Sure, I was happy about going home and seeing my friends again, but I also felt like I didn’t get enough of a chance to explore more, i.e. explore more about myself.
Since it was post September 11th, I was already experiencing a lot of hostility and prejudice in my predominately White non-Muslim high school because of my religious background. When I returned from Pakistan, classmates and teachers asked a lot of ignorant questions. Questions like: “Why do they have weird names?” or “Are they Taliban?” or “Don’t they hate America?” The most insulting one probably came from my friend’s mom, “Are they very pro-bin Laden over there?” I told her that Osama bin Laden was the last thing on my mind when I was there and I also added that she should visit Pakistan some time since it’s a beautiful place. As a result of my new appreciation for Pakistan, I started to become more religious and spiritual. It was the first time in my life when I read the Qur’an on my own free will and it was the first time I prayed without anyone instructing me to do so. It was a very special turning point in my life since I began to contemplate religion and spirituality in ways that I never did before, but what I didn’t realize was that my attempts to become a better Muslim actually distanced me from my ethnic identity rather than compliment it. In actuality I was doing something that many young Pakistani Muslims do these days: I was trying to be Arab.
Over the years, I’ve found that discussing Pakistani identity is quite problematic and controversial at times because it’s often perceived as “religion versus culture.” Generally speaking, we Pakistanis try to distance ourselves from India as far as possible because we think India is synonymous with Hinduism, therefore “kuffar” (nonbelievers/infidels). It’s silly actually considering that (1) India has the third-largest Muslim population in the world and (2) prior to the partition in 1947, Pakistan was part of India; therefore the similarities in culture, dress, food, and language are inescapable. In any case, many Pakistani Muslims in America cut themselves off from India and Indian culture in pursuit of an “authentic Muslim” identity, which happens to point to the Middle-East. In other words, we take on a pseudo-Arab identity.
So many times, I’ve heard fellow Pakistani Muslims saying that we should abolish culture completely because there is no culture in Islam. We’re Muslim and that’s it. I bought into that for a while. “Yeah, we Pakistanis watch too many Bollywood movies,” I would say, “We have girls dancing at our weddings, that’s not Islamic!” As I condemned Pakistani culture, I didn’t realize that I was adopting another culture: Arab culture, or at least what I perceived to be “Arab culture” (saying “Arab culture” is inaccurate since the Arab world is filled with diverse cultures, religions, and dialects, it can’t be narrowed down into “one culture”). In my freshmen year of college, I would wear my keffiyeh (traditional Arab scarf), drive around blasting Arabic music, and making enormous efforts to learn Arabic. To give you an idea of how much I studied Arabic, I can put it like this: my Arabic pronunciation is much better than my Urdu and Punjabi pronunciation. I don’t regret learning the amount of Arabic I know now; I admit that it helps understanding your prayers a lot better, but I feel a tremendous amount of shame when I make pathetic attempts to speak Urdu. When I throw in some Arabic phrases when I meet Arab-speaking people, they smile and tell me how good my accent is. When I try to speak Urdu with South Asian friends and family, they laugh because they can hear it mixed with my American accent.
I became discouraged when I saw the same Pakistani Muslims who despised culture taking dabkeh lessons (folk dance of Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq), smoking hookah, or wearing thobs (traditional Arab dress for men), as if there wasn’t anything cultural about those things. They would also rebel against the South Asian pronunciation of their names and pronounce them the “correct Arabic” way. It dawned on me that we weren’t getting rid of culture; we merely getting rid of South Asian culture – our culture. As Fatemeh Fakhraie writes in her brilliant article, “The Arabization of Islam:”
What is troublesome about all this is that most Muslims who are non-Arabs complain that they’re not seen as Muslims because they’re not Arab (or ethnically Middle Eastern, in some cases). But when non-Arab Muslims take Arab names or wear Arab clothes under the guise of “Islamic authenticity,” we’re all reinforcing the idea that we’re not really Muslims unless we have some link to Arab culture.
I have seen many Pakistanis Muslims using Arabic words like “akhi” (brother), “ukhti” (sister), “wallahi” (I swear to God), and even non-religious words like “yanni” in their conversations. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if they inserted Urdu words instead of Arabic words, they wouldn’t be taken seriously. Why? Because we don’t take Urdu seriously. The only time we’ll use Urdu is to be funny. It’s like, “haha, you sound like a FOB!” The only time we’ll use Urdu in a serious manner is when we’re speaking to elders (because it’s an “older people” thing, right?). Speaking Arabic, on the other hand, is taken seriously and even makes you look like a better Muslim. We attribute more religiosity to Muslims who can give khutbahs or speeches with “proper Arabic pronunciation.” Even at the recent CAIR event I attended, one of the guest speakers was a South Asian Muslim woman who made sure she pronounced every Arabic word and Muslim name “correctly,” as if not doing so would lower her credibility. It was interesting because I didn’t hear any of the Arab speakers pronounce Pakistan correctly (they said “Pack-istan” rather than “Paak-istaan”), and yet you see young South Asian Muslims striving to pronounce Arabic correctly.
But it’s not just pronunciation that’s changing. Words are changing and being replaced too. The best example is how the Urdu phrase, “Khuda hafez” (God be with you), has been replaced with “Allah hafez.” They both mean the same thing, but thanks to the growing influence of Salafi movements among Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, the use of “Khuda hafez” became gunah (sinful). “Khuda” comes from the Persian word for God (pronounced “Khoda” in Farsi), but since Arabic is taught to be the “Muslim language,” it has been replaced with “Allah hafez.” I remember, on one of my trips to Pakistan, I heard some of my relatives say, “don’t say ‘Khuda hafez,’ it’s gunah! Say ‘Allah hafez.’” As Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy elaborates:
Persian, the language of Mughal India, had once been taught as a second or third language in many Pakistani schools. But, because of its association with Shiite Iran, it too was dropped and replaced with Arabic. The morphing of the traditional “Khuda hafiz” (Persian for “God be with you”) into “Allah hafiz” (Arabic for “God be with you”) took two decades to complete. The Arab import sounded odd and contrived, but ultimately the Arabic God won and the Persian God lost.
And of course, there’s nothing wrong with saying “Allah hafez.” I say it now and then, but why are we labeling “Khuda hafez” sinful? Is one “more Islamic” than the other? Have Muslims forgotten that God teaches logic and reason? Does it make any sense that God can only understand Arabic? The same kind of propaganda was used against those who followed Jesus, peace be upon him, when they were told that Angels could only speak Hebrew and not Aramaic. Consider this Qur’anic verse:
“Call upon God, or call upon the Merciful; by whatever name you call upon Him (it is the same), to Him belong the most Beautiful names.” (17:110)
Avoiding the use of “Khuda hafez” is also an example of how Salafi Muslims strive to abstain from biddah, or innovation, which in turn explains their strong opposition towards culture. Subsequently, we see Salafi Muslims seeking to purge Sufism (Islamic mysticism) out of Pakistan. The Sufis are Islamic mystics, who do not see Sufism as a separate sect of Islam, but rather an inclusive and necessary mystical dimension of Islam that explores one’s inward journey for God, self, and Divine Love. The Sufis often express their Love for God and the Prophets through music, dancing (notably whirling meditation), and Divinely-inspired poetry. Conservative Muslims perceive this as “Indian Islam” and accuse the Sufis of committing biddah and even shirk (associating partners with God), even though the Sufis, like all Muslims, don’t worship anyone else besides God. Qawwali music, for example, is a Sufi musical style of South Asia, but since Salafi Muslims condemn music, many Pakistani Muslims don’t learn to appreciate Qawwali for what it is. I remember one of my dad’s Pakistani co-workers was sitting in my car and he heard me listening to Qawwali music. He said to me, “man, why are you listening to this? You’re not supposed to sing about Allah in songs, that’s a sin.” I couldn’t help but think about the times I sat in his car and heard him listening to hip-hop music with excessive profanity and pornographic lyrics – he’s telling me that listening to Qawwali is sinful? This is just an example of how deep the conservative Salafi brainwashing is on Pakistanis. As is evident from my father’s friend, the conservative teachings even affect those who aren’t as vocal about their Muslim identity. As Sufi Muslims teach to be accepting of others, I’ve often found that conservative Muslims tend to be more about conformity, and this is a huge problem because it’s not only an attempt to pull us away from ethnic identity, but it’s also a way of “infidelizing” Sufi Muslims or anyone else who doesn’t agree with Salafi interpretations of Islam.
Recently, I gave a Pakistani cricket jersey to a friend of mine who became Muslim earlier this year and a couple of Pakistani Muslims in their mid-twenties made silly remarks about the jersey. They said, “We should get him a shirt that says ‘Islam.’” I felt like responding, “If he wore a shirt that said ‘Free Palestine,’ you wouldn’t say anything, right?” And it’s true, we see Muslims – both Arab and non-Arab – wearing Palestinian keffiyehs or “Free Palestine” shirts in the Mosque and no one makes an issue about it. No one accuses them of being more cultural than religious.
The little secret about us Pakistani Muslims is that we like when people mistaken us for Middle-Eastern. We get all flattered. Really? You thought I was Arab? Wow, thanks! But when people ask if we’re Indian, we respond in disgust. The first time I noticed this difference was in college when my professor felt like bashing on Muslims one day (she was one of the most Islamophobic teachers I’ve ever had). She asked, “Where are all my students from the Middle-East?” She immediately looked at me because she knew I was Muslim. “I’m actually from South Asia,” I said, “but thanks for the compliment.” Smile. I said that in defense of Middle-Easterners since there’s such a negative perception of them in the media (and also because Middle-Easterners get lumped together with Muslims). About a week later, I remember asking a non-Pakistani girl if she was Pakistani, and she responded with disgust, “No! I’m not! Why does everyone always think I’m Paki?!” Well, excuse me, I didn’t mean to offend you. I mean, ew, Pakistani? Who wants to be Pakistani? Ask us if we’re Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian, or even Iranian, and we’ll totally be cool with that. Why? Because we don’t want to look like Pakistanis. We don’t want to look like what we are.
The “Arabization” of Islam has gotten to the point where religious scholars from immensely popular Islamic websites like SunniPath.com teach that Arab Muslims are superior to non-Arab Muslims and that praying behind Shia Muslims will invalidate your prayer! If Malcolm X was Pakistani, he’d have a lot to rip into us about. On one hand, we have Pakistanis completely emulating the images and behavior they see in Western pop culture and on the other, we see Pakistani Muslims trying to behave Arab in order to “authenticate” their Muslim identity. Either way, we’re distancing ourselves from our Pakistani and/or South Asian roots. Where did all of this internalized racism and self-hatred come from? Malcolm X was Muslim, but he also taught African-Americans to be proud of their roots and heritage. Why can’t Pakistani Muslims do the same? When bombs fall on Gaza, Pakistani Muslims throw on their keffiyehs, pump their fists in the air, and chant “free Palestine,” but where are they for Pakistan? Now, our country is in trouble. There are U.S. drone attacks killing innocent Pakistani civilians in tribal areas. The Taliban have taken control of Swat Valley, imposed their oppressive Taliban law, and destroyed over 200 schools, mostly girls’ schools. Did you read that? Good. Read it again. According to Tariq Ali, Pakistani author of “The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power,” the majority of Pakistanis are not only anti-Taliban and anti-extremism, but 70% of them perceive the U.S. as the greatest threat to peace in Pakistan. Will we Pakistani Muslims in America start educating ourselves about Pakistan or will we do what most of the Pakistanis at my Mosque do when I tell them the latest news from Pakistan: shrug their shoulders, shake their heads, and simply say “yeah it’s crazy”?
I have always told people (and myself) that I am Muslim first. I still say this, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t be appreciative or proud about being Pakistani. I am not encouraging fellow Pakistanis to support the Pakistani government – that’s not what I’m suggesting at all since the government is absolutely corrupt. What I am encouraging is that we care about the country we come from as much as we care for the country we live in. As Tariq Ali writes, the people of Pakistan cannot be blamed for the failure of their politicians or the recent violence that is unfolding. I am not saying we shouldn’t learn Arabic either. I still want to learn Arabic, I still wear my keffiyeh to represent the Palestinian people, and I still listen to Arabic music, but not at the expense of forgetting my South Asian heritage.
I try to make as many efforts as I can to brush up on my Urdu and Punjabi, and I also read about the history of Pakistan and India. I know all humanity descends from Adam and Eve (peace be upon them both), but why do I have to ignore the people in between? I am not ashamed of my Buddhist, Hindu, or possible Jewish (many Kashmiris claim to be one of the ten lost tribes of Israel) ancestry. I embrace that. Why should we ignore the great mystical poetry of Amir Khosrow, Mirza Ghalib, Bulleh Shah, and Allama Muhammad Iqbal? Why should we ignore the beautiful architecture of Shah Jahan (he built the Taj Mahal)? I remember when I was listening to a Qawwali song by the legendary Pakistani singer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, I felt like I was reconnecting with a missing part of me. I would constantly listen to his beautiful wailing and hear so many emotions being expressed: Love, yearning, pain, sorrow, grief, joy, and happiness. “This is the voice of my soul,” I would think to myself, “this is that other side of me that I have forgotten.”
I am a Pakistani who has grown up in the West and I know that my experiences may be completely different from what people in Pakistan experience, but it still hurts me to see what is happening in Pakistan today. I still care. It hurts even more when I see such a strong anti-Pakistani sentiment in the United States. Discussing Pakistani politics is another blog post, but I would like others to know that Pakistan is a beautiful place filled with a rich culture that is struggling to survive amidst Westernization and heavy Salafi influences. I find hope in the fact that the majority of Pakistanis are strongly against the Taliban and the corrupt politicians governing them.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said in his last sermon: “All humankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over a white- except by piety and good action.” The Prophet would not have addressed this issue if there weren’t noticeable differences among human beings. As the Qur’an says: “Another of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and color. There truly are signs in this for those who know” (30:22). There is also this famous verse: “O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, so that you may know one another.” (49:13)
In closing, I would like to share that as I wrote this reflection on Pakistani identity, I found myself asking, “Why is Pakistan so important to me?” I responded simply: I was born there. Many of family members are there. My ancestry is there.
Those answers suffice for me.
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It really doesn’t surprise me that there won’t be any street hockey matches for the 2009 Islamic Games in New Jersey. What can I say, most Muslims just don’t seem to play hockey at all. This is something I’ve been noticing all of my life. Whenever I go to my cousins’ house, they’re up for playing either basketball, soccer, football, and of course, cricket. Others are into baseball. Or tennis. Or badminton. Or volleyball. But hockey? Forget about it.
I’m one of the coordinators for my Mosque’s Youth Club and we usually play basketball every Sunday because that’s what most of the kids want to play. I always join in even though my shot accuracy is terrible, lol. I’ll play just about any sport, even if I’m not very good at it, but roller hockey is my favorite sport. I remember the look on one of the Youth coordinator’s face when my Muslim friend and I told him that we were going to play hockey after Jummah prayer. It was one of those looks that your fellow Muslim brother/sister gives you before telling you something is haram. But he didn’t say it was haram, alhamdullilah lol
I Love roller hockey. I Love skating around and turning; I Love stick-handling, passing, and deking out the goalie. The fast pace of the game is just so much fun. In my feeble attempts to attract my fellow Muslim brothers and sisters to hockey, I tell them it’s not that different from soccer! You know, instead of kicking a ball into a net, you’re hitting it with a stick. And you’re on roller blades. Okay, maybe they’re not completely alike, but it’s still a fun sport!
Anyway, my friends and I used to play roller hockey almost every single day when we were in high school. After we’d get home from school, we would go out to the tennis court and play hockey. About two months ago, we started to play hockey again after about three or four years! Now, we play at least two times a week. It’s really great to be playing again, especially when I’m playing with my friends. We don’t play a rough game — we never have — because we know we would like to wake up the next morning with our arms and legs intact. I never played ice hockey, even though I’ve ice skated a lot before. My brother played for a league and it was quite physical, which is one of the reasons I didn’t want to play it. I always like to joke that I’m better than my brother, but in all honesty, he’s extremely talented, masha’Allah. He led his league in points and goals, and he scored the game-winning goal to win his team the championship.
As for the NHL, some of my friends are still really into it, but I can’t get into it anymore. None of my favorite players are playing anymore. Even my playing style today still has influences of Eric Lindros and John Leclair, who were both my favorite players. Recently, however, my brother told me about this fellow playing for the Washington Capitals: Alexander Ovechkin. I heard people talking about him so much that I finally decided to look him up on YouTube. And wow, I think I’m going to start watching NHL games just to see him play. Watch the video above and check out the goal he scores at 2:36. It’s insane! It actually reminds me of one of my “memorable” hockey moments, lol.
Ok, true story. I played for a roller hockey league back in high school. My dad, with his Pakistani mustache, was our team’s coach believe it or not, and my brother and I played on the same line together. We won two championships, which my dad likes to attribute to himself. “See what happens when you listen to me,” he says (and still says). Anyway, so it was a tie game and it was taking forever for either team to score. I believe it was in the third period, but our team shot the ball down in the other team’s end. I started to skate really fast towards the ball, which was on the far right side of the net. I honestly don’t know what I was thinking, lol. There was no angle at the net at all, and yet I was charging for the ball. As I got closer, I was just like, “oh God, this is going to suck.” Because I knew I was going to wipe out since I’m horrible at stopping when I’m going that fast! So, since I figured I was going to fall to the ground, I decided I was just going to shoot the ball towards the net. Here goes: 3, 2, 1…
WACK! I took a swing at the ball, cinematically flew to the ground, and slammed into the boards. Yep, I made myself look like an idiot. As my teammate came to help me get to my feet, he had this amazed look on his face. And in his suburban accent, he was like, “Awh man, that was an awesome goal! That was sick!” I was just like, huh?! It went in?! But how?! I had like no angle at all! Apparently I did! I admit though, I got lucky with that one. I think my shot accuracy is pretty darn good, but hey, not that good! So yeah, Ovechkin’s goal reminded me of that.
Anyway, it doesn’t bother me that there aren’t any street hockey tournaments at the Islamic Games, it just makes me wonder if Muslim interests in basketball and soccer are socialized. It’s not just Muslims, I’ve also noticed non-Muslim Middle-Easterners and South Asians who are into basketball and soccer too, but I never see them playing hockey. Maybe it’s cultural? Or maybe if I go to Canada, I’ll see more Muslims into hockey (I was in Canada recently, but not long enough to see whether or not Muslims play hockey).
Oh well, I’m still excited about the Islamic Games. I’m excited about being a coach. I’ll wear my suit and tie and yell from the sidelines like Al Pacino