I’m not a new Muslim. If my life can be divided in two, at this point I’ve lived the larger part of it as a Muslim. Most of my contemporaries had just a five-year head start on me, in deciding in their late teens to take their faith seriously. Others rediscovered their faith much later in life, choosing to make changes long after I had.
But no matter. A Muslim colleague at work recently found out I’m his brother in faith, but in five minutes of discussion we went from “Mashallah” to “Are you sunni?” It was at that point that I realised I actually like being an anonymous Muslim. I don’t know why Muslims feel the need to preach to me as soon as they find out what I am.
I don’t think I need a condescending “you’re a new muslim” pat on my head. It’s been nearly 25 years, you tit. Why do you feel the need to infantilise me? I’ve been a sentient Muslim for about as long as all of my contemporaries. Some, of course, have steamed far ahead of me, becoming learned scholars or wise sages. Others just abandoned the path for the world. To each their own.
For some reason, though, even after all these years, I am still considered a lesser Muslim. A not really real Muslim: a pretender, or an imitation Muslim, not authentic enough to be embraced as an equal. But in truth I am just about as flawed and compromised as the rest. I had Muslim friends and acquaintances in college, long ago. One had Muslim parents, but didn’t share their faith at all. Another started practising his faith around the age of eighteen, at which point he decided we should no-longer be friends.
But, alas, some things never seem to change. Even a close family friend, when asked why he’s bringing that gora to the mosque, explains that I became Muslim after marrying a Muslim woman. It doesn’t matter how many times my wife tells him that I was Muslim long before we met, he still goes on telling people that. I suppose he too still thinks I’m not a proper Muslim, despite the fact I have been practising my faith for at least a decade longer than him.
It’s true, I am a very reserved Muslim. I don’t like public displays of piety. I mostly keep myself to myself. I steer clear of the outwardly religious crowd as much as I am able to, contenting myself with a small circle of friends. To some this means I am not a real Muslim, though I can assure them that I have prayed every salat and fasted every Ramadan since I uttered my shahada in the late ’90s. I have a mountain of sins, to be sure, and am certainly no scholar, but that really makes me no different from any other Muslim. I am as ordinary as every other ordinary believer.
Islam is a faith. It has adherents amongst every people, of every ethnicity, in every place on earth. Islam is not an ethnicity, or a national identity. It is a path towards achieving a certain state of being. To be a Muslim is about striving to obtain that state of being. Not to become an honorary brown person, or an honorary overseas national. It’s a path towards achieving inner peace, safety, health, as individuals, communities and entire societies. It’s a path you have to choose. Many who were raised as Muslims have chosen not to walk that path. Some who were raised as something else, chose to embrace it. To each their own. For everyone their own choices. Be whatever you want to be.