I am a first generation American. My parents are from Guinea, which is predominately Muslim. My paternal Islamic lineage is well known. They were heads of mosques and Imams. I grew up around Islam and I watched my father pray five times a day, everyday. He never missed a prayer, all the while never imposing it upon me or making me feel obligated to practice. As a kid, I would often be sitting around during his prayer time watching Nickelodeon, which was muted so he wasn’t disturbed. Everything I know about faith I learned from watching him and our discussions. These talks helped define me. Intelligent, educated, spiritual, and competent men were all around me and spoke to me as an equal, even when I was a little girl. They helped me develop the confidence to speak openly and defend my point of view. This skill helped me be more willing to connect with people of superior intelligence, whose culture and experiences were different. I was curious to learn and not easily intimidated. Islam was an essential part of my father’s life and a priority to him.
We lived on the upper west side of Manhattan in a predominantly Jewish neighborhood. We were the only Muslim household, the only Africans, and amongst very few other black people in our building. In spite of all this, my father was unfazed. Although he loved our neighborhood, he always remained exactly as he was. No matter where he was in the city, he made sure he was back at home in time to pray.
His commitment to pious ritual never wavered. His faith never wavered. When he became ill, he kept a Quran next to his hospital bed and, ignoring his debilitated state, continued his habit of regular prayer until his death. It moved me to watch him lying there, sick but still committed. My father was the embodiment of the true meaning and value of faith and lifetime devotion. I was always around people who respected and honored their faith and belief in God. I was never privy to a fundamentalized, extreme, hateful, or a scary image of Islam. I saw and felt the energy and light of faithful Muslims, observing how powerful, serene, and protected they were in their devotion. Although I never became a practicing Muslim, being around it instilled within me a profound respect for the faith. I am still an open-minded curious being seeking to learn, connect, and expand my consciousness.
I like to play Quran passages and prayers in the house. I own several Qurans and I incorporate fasting into my life. I find this a spiritual necessity and a powerful tool in cleansing my spirit and providing essential revelations necessary for growth and overcoming personal obstacles.
What affected me the most about the attempted ban and what I felt most saddened by, was how distorted the view of the religion has become. How it contrasted to what I knew growing up around Islam. In particular, how misunderstood, uninformed, and ignorant people were about this faith. It depressed me. It made me think of my dad my wonderful loving uncles, and all the great Muslims I have met and learned from. It truly broke my heart. Watching the news and protests on TV drained all my energy. It hurt that there was no way of transferring my experiences to others so they could understand. I had a hard time comprehending how educated, people, with common sense, could argue that an entire religion is defined by the acts of extremists. How can people, who have not bothered to open a Quran, be so opposed to its teachings that they hate it? I am appalled the entire population of Muslims is being judged and condemned because of terrorists with their own agenda. It made me realize how easily racist rhetoric and bigotry feed Islamophobia.
It’s a very tough time for Muslims in America and a turning point in the nation’s identity as a whole.