A Reflecting Arab Muslim Girl From Around the Corner

Friday, November 16, 2012

Who is Neighborhood Muslimah?

Who is Neighborhood Muslimah?

Who am I?  This is the question my counselor and I talked about today.  And the truth is…is I don’t know.  We analyzed my life and my patterns.  I am very heavy at the moment.  I coordinate a religious study circle on Fridays.  Three different people asked if something was wrong.... ‘you look burdened’ said one of them.

‘The most formative years of a young girl’s personality are when they are 13, 14, 15,’ Ashley explained. At that time, I became what he told me I was – he would say I was so modest and pious, and I would work to fit that description. He would tell me that I am so loving and caring and even sexy, and I would do what was needed to make that happen.  I tied my sense of self to what he wanted…I tried to conform to what he expected of me.

The next person I grew close to after him was Hope. She filled the void when I left him. And here I reached an extreme – I started doing things that were against what he would have ever been happy with me doing…I started cussing in my language…started driving recklessly….become an avid sheesha smoker and skipped work to go smoke.  I started smoking cigarettes too...even got into a car accident because of trying to light my cigarette while driving on the highway.  I changed my dress code…and just became a different person. 

But was I? Lets look a little closer.

Hope’s friends became my friends.  Hope’s style became my style. Hope’s language became my language. Hope’s smoking became my smoking.  I became Hope. I wasn’t a different person – I just became Hope.

And then it was Heavens. I grew very close to her. I grew attached to her every word.  Her descriptions of who I was, my personality and my resilience, became what I strived to suddenly be…but also who I now thought I was. I relied on Heavens to help me understand my feelings and my life – and I conformed to what was being said.  I once wrote her a poem…'Mike Who? I want to be like you'.  This was the last line of the poem. And although I wrote that almost 7 years ago…as we became close over the last 2 years I have tried to be her.  And she is amazing. What a person to be like!  But is it really me?  That is what I have to ask myself.  I try to emulate her leadership in the community.  I try to emulate her deep thinking.  I try to emulate her worship.  I try to emulate.  I emulate because I do not know who I am.  I don’t know how to be me - or what that means.

This explains many things.  I reached a stage where I was obsessed with Hope. Obsessed to the extent that if I didn’t hear from her every few hours I would be in a state of internal frenzy.  My mood would be off and I was uneasy till we spoke again. When we moved for graduate school, her interests and mine changed, and inevitably we were less in touch.  It killed me. I remember typing on my computer screen the words “I hate you I hate you I hate you I hate you” over and over again. They were for her, yet I knew deep inside I loved her more than anything. But I wrote that because of how small I felt inside.  How reliant I felt. How attached I felt. I was angry at myself for being so dependent.

And the same thing has happened now with Heavens as she has moved away.   It has been very very hard. I do not know how to explain it.  When you tie your sense of self and your definition of who you are to a person, and then you feel you are losing them, you lose yourself.  It does not feel nice to feel like a body – arms and legs and head - with nothing that is distinctly you.  It is emptying.  It kills your self-esteem.  And while it makes you very very sad most of the time – it also makes you very very angry.  You feel like fighting the person. You think they are your enemy. And you feel like you hate them. Although you know you love them more than anything.  And you get mad at yourself for having these feelings.  You miss them but you try to not ‘give in’ and at other times you miss them but you try to stay away because you think that is what they want.  You are always thinking of what they want.  It’s a real struggle. It’s very confusing. It may be hard for my readers not to judge this struggle as trivial – but it’s not trivial, trust me. It isn’t.  It’s piercing. 

So, since I was 13, I defined myself by what he wanted. Then by what I thought Hope wanted. Then by what I thought Heavens wanted - by what she thought I was and what I expected that she expected me to be.   When you realize something like this – you just want to cry. Really.  This is a huge realization.

On Monday I made a conscious decision to block everyone out – to deactivate twitter and facebook and instagram and whatsapp and imessage…the works. I suppose part of me knew something was wrong and that I am slowing realizing the extent of effect this past experience has had on me. On Monday I felt good. On Tuesday I felt good. On Wednesday I felt good.  But on Thursday I started to feel empty again. I wrote an email to Heavens…she didn’t reply and now I’m sad.  I messaged Hope…and my conversation with her was only a few sentences long although we haven’t spoken for almost a month. And now I’m sad.  And to confirm the pattern...I have been considering contacting that man just to confront him. To tell him how mad I am. But really, I’m just sad. 

It’s not their fault – Hope and Heavens.  Not their fault at all…this has nothing to do with them.  If it was another friend I’d write to them and say ‘Yo!  Did you get my email???' or 'Hello...don’t ignore me!'

I'm just sad because I don't know who I am. Or how to find that out.


  1. I have a suggestion. Go to a park or outside somewhere - a spot where you feel calm and content, where you can connect with nature and your surroundings. Take a pen and paper with you. Take a deep breath and start a list - start simply first, of things you enjoy doing, and it can be as mundane as taking care of your plants, or reading, or bowling. then push yourself and go a bit deeper - what are your passions? what are your dreams? what are your fears? write all these down without censuring yourself. And you'll realize that you know who are.

    You just have to remember that these things you describe you do to emulate others, these seem (at least to me) like surface things for the most part. But deep down inside, you have passions that are yours alone, you have dreams that are yours alone, and you have fears that are yours alone. You have done many things because you have wanted to do them yourself and no one has told you or pushed you to do these things. And these are all you.

    Hope this helps! And may God grant you strength.

  2. Thank you Sam for your comment. I will try this Inshallah...I want to do this. I am afraid now that I do not know how to differentiate the surface from the deep down inside - but I shall try Inshallah.