Excerpt: “How I Became a Muslim Reformer”
We moved to America, the land where children appeared on milk cartons. It was a jarring environment and I struggled with it. While adapting to American culture was incredibly hard compared to Europe, the stories of the American Revolution and the promise that is America stoked a profound respect for freedom. I was born in a culture that struggled to see the individual, and here Americans had individuality fought for two centuries ago – something that they now seemed to yawn at. It took me 10 years to adjust to the States and another 10 years to feel comfortable living here.
I don’t think my dad was ever quite happy here. In a way, like many other first generation refugees of war, he’d never left Kabul. He lost his spark and eventually gave up and passed away in 2006. And over the years, my mom had rediscovered Islam. It’s what happens with many immigrants from secular Muslim societies as they try to maintain an identity in a new country: they find religion.
When I was 13 years old, she tried to get me to attend an Islamic school, start learning the Quran in Arabic, and offer daily prayers. She eventually gave up trying. My sister wasn’t quite so lucky, and spent several miserable years at one of the first Islamic schools in Southern California – where they were trying to figure out how to blend a Muslim identity with an American one, and likely still might be. At age 4, my sister looked like she was Khan of a Mongol tribe. Needless to say, she didn’t fit in either and led wars against the boys during recess, pretending she was Xena, Warrior Princess. Meanwhile, my brother joined the Marines, which gave him the confidence that he’d never found shuffling from country to country during his formative years.
And I did what any other good Muslim girl did. I went to school, made socially acceptable friends, didn’t cross the street without permission; didn’t really do much of anything except a lot of homework. I graduated from university and started law school, checking off all the right boxes in life. Hindsight being 20/20, I was losing my spark fast. Maybe because we had a lot more family around us, and a larger ethnic community, we didn’t adapt and integrate with an outside community the way we had in Germany. There was no Karin Aunty in the States – but there was an Aunty Sarah, who married my mom’s brother. She’d moved from England to the States, but she might has well have been Mary Poppins, cascading down with an umbrella and unsettling and rearranging things the way they needed unsettling.
She was just one person though. Here we didn’t have the same larger grounded sense of community like we had in a small German town. It was easy to get lost in America. Everything was already so spread out and disconnected. I just sort of disconnected too.
Category: LETTERS TO MY SON