Growing up as a Muslim in the US has never been an easy thing for me. I have constantly had to deal with people forming misconceptions about me due to what they’ve heard about Muslims, before they have even gotten the chance to get to know one. This led me to always feel a bit ashamed of my religious identity and I would constantly feel the need to hide it from people. Though I have always been devoted to my faith, I just felt it would be easier for people to not know I was Muslim, due to fear that I would be deemed an outcast. This caused me to never discuss religion with anyone outside of my family, and to not wear the hijab or pray in public places, up until I started attending Anoka Ramsey Community College.
There, I became involved in student organizations that dealt with interfaith engagement and dialogue. Through my experiences I was able to find that it was okay for me to be who I am and not feel like I would be judged or mistreated due to my identity as a Muslim. I was able to interact with people that didn’t have the same beliefs as me, but I could talk with them about religion in welcoming conversations to explore our ideologies. It was an amazing experience that I hoped to continue, and I was able to do just that when I transferred to Augsburg College. I was able to continue to be involved in such organizations on campus, and continue to reach out to the Muslim community and work to bridge the gaps of misunderstanding that currently exist.
Islam has always been such a key part of my life, and much of who I am is shaped by it, but it has taken me a long time to be comfortable enough to say that to others. Through interfaith engagement I have been given the opportunity to truly find who I am and not be ashamed of it. Working with students on campus to create an inclusive environment for people of all faiths has been an amazing service that I have been blessed to be a part of. Not only have I been able to give back to my community, but I was also able to learn about myself through the process. Not only is interfaith engagement very important to me, it has become a big part of my life and who I am.
I believe that God has blessed us all with many great things, things that we should never take for granted. And if we are fortunate enough to be given an opportunity that others don’t have access to, then it is our responsibility to reach out. I feel that through Interfaith engagement, I am able to do just that. I’m able to be involved in creating community amongst people in a time where conflict seems to always block understanding and hate is so easily spread. My faith has inspired me that one of the beauties of life is the diversity that we are surrounded with, and it is important that we embrace these differences rather than shame and criticize. There is an ayah in the Quran in which Allah tells the people of the Earth that He created us different so that we would get to know one another. And I feel that only with interfaith engagement can we truly strive for this universal understanding.
Though I have faced many difficult experiences along the way, I think ultimately every moment that I have spent involved in interfaith engagement has been worth it knowing that the work that I am involved in could possibly be making a difference. So that others don’t have to experience being mistreated due to their religious identity and having to answer to misconceptions, that they had no part in influencing. The biggest message that I hope to give through my interfaith work is that there is so much more to Islam than the media and many people in the world make it out to be, and the same is the case for many other ridiculed religions. Based on my experiences as a Muslim in America, I feel that there is a lot of work to be done in order to create a society in which religious minorities are honestly accepted for who they are. Muslims are being attributed with a narrative that is no way representative of the faith they follow and through active interfaith engagement and service is how we can change that.
*This message on the importance of interfaith engagement was one of two student presentations at the 2015 Augsburg Corporation Luncheon.