Growing up in a predominately progressive Christian nation as an Arab-Muslim isn’t always easy. Trying to balance your Arab-Muslim values with that of your American can sometimes feel like you’re trying to mix oil and water. For many of us, minus our immediate families we are not exposed to peers like ourselves. 323 million people in America, 3.7 million define themselves as Arab, and of the 3.7M only 24% are Muslim (3.3M or 1% Muslims within US population when you include all demographics), so Unless you live in a Dearborn Michigan or a handful of major cities the odds are your exposure to your religion and culture are limited. With that said, it doesn’t mean you have to suppress parts of who you are because they conflict with another. It’s just a matter of finding balance and reconciling who you are.
From the time I came to the U.S on a cold night in December of 1991 at the age of 5, there was only a handful of moments that I ever felt different from the predominantly Jewish and Christian population of the town I grew up; My parents and most of the people I grew up around never made me feel any different. For one, my mom never wore hijab until a much later age in life, and my parents also strived to assimilate us into the world around us, but at the same time strengthening our Arab-Muslim values. We celebrated all the holidays, given presents on Christmas so we wouldn’t be the only kids coming to school without that new game or clothing. My father made sure to sign us up for every sport and activity he could find; we were a normal middle-class family.
The only times I can actually remember ever feeling semi-different during my pre-teen years was during Ramadan where I was actually sent to the principal’s office because a Lunch Aid couldn’t understand why I was not eating, and my name (Adil) which kids liked to make fun of by saying things like; “Adil wanna make A-deal”, “A-dill-pickle”, and my all-time favorite “A-dildo”. During my teen years, I excelled in athletics playing Varsity track while in middle school, Varsity football as a Freshmen, and Varsity basketball as a Sophomore in High School. The funny nicknames I was given quickly changed and kids started calling me “Bigdeal” or “Big-Adeal”, or my coaches favorite “The Moroccan Express”. I was a normal American teen, popular among my peers and school faculty, open and content about all aspects of life; But that all seemed to change on September 11, 2001 (My Sophomore year) where I would start to build an internal struggle between my Western values and Arab-Muslim values.
I can remember vividly the principal talking through the telecom system around 9:30AM while I was in English class explaining that there had been a terror attack in NYC and we would be dismissed immediately from school. Standing in a crowded atrium with a group of friends at the base of stairs that lead to the parking lot, discussing the events that just unfolded, a boy who was a senior on my football team screamed across the atrium at me “LOOK WHAT YOUR PEOPLE DID!!”. Confused, shocked, I became frozen by all the eyes that all of a sudden started staring at me, judging for something I never felt I ever was…different. During these years, while I acted no different among my peers, I did my best to hide my background from people, going as far as telling people I was African.
Receiving a football scholarship and going off to college, I would find myself not only having freedoms I never had before, but it was also a time where I would encounter others like myself that would open me to a world I had not encountered up to this point. My Freshmen year I would meet a dozen Moroccans of various ages that were in the U.S on student visas, and all from extremely wealthy families. A little under 100K Moroccan migrants in the U.S, and my first time away from home I found myself meeting a dozen. While the girls of the group were welcoming and enjoyed my company always inviting me out, the men were not so receptive. They actually made me feel like more of an outsider, which I attributed to their arrogance as aristocrats in Morocco.
By Junior year, I would leave football behind and move to the NYC campus after obtaining an internship with a top financial consulting firm. I would befriend an Argentinian man that would introduce me to his group of friends primarily made up of Arab Muslims, mainly Lebanese that all grew up and lived within areas that consisted of mainly Arabs in NYC. These years would honesty become some of the most eye-opening and enjoyable moments at that point in my life. Life literally consisted of school, work, hookah bars, clubs, fine dining, and women. At this point I no longer shunned my Arab background, loving everything the culture was about; from the women, music, food, to even the arts and history.
During this time, where I began to embrace my Arab routes, I would travel to Morocco with my mother during winter break. Having an extremely busy summer schedule growing up, it had been years since I made it home. Seeing my country for the first time in a long time, I was shocked at the drastic progressive changes. For one, the way Millennials and Generation Z dressed and acted were no different than most in the US. They watched many of the same shows, listened to the same music, and embraced social media. Some of my cousins were even openly dating. I even had an opportunity to socialize with some of the Moroccan girls I met at college for a few days. They took me to clubs and events that were no different than the ones I had gone to in Vegas, Miami, or New York City. A problem I thought I was having by trying to assimilate my Arab Muslim values with that of a western culture, was also occurring in the country I was born.
Interacting with these different groups during those years of my life, I realized some valuable lessons; First, societies have been brought together through globalization, internet, and media, you no longer need to live in a western culture to embrace it. Secondly, Millennials and Generation Z see the world differently than our parents, we prefer to not be held down by any one title or tradition, consumed with being our own person and not societies or our families depiction. Lastly, our generations really aren’t as religious, we are more spiritual and tend to question what we’re supposed to believe. Religion does not define who we are and how we act but rather is more of a guide.
Religion tells us that we all have a destiny, but through free will, we can reach that destiny in various ways based on the decisions we make. We as Muslims also believe that anyone can be forgiven for there misdeeds, even the worst among us; if that’s the case, why not embrace everything about yourself openly? If you are ultimately struggling with parts of your life that may not fall in line with your routes or religion, you have to realize that you were meant to go through these moments, and ultimately you will end up where you’re supposed to be no matter what direction you go. Why then can’t your destiny be what you had chosen? All you can do in this life is accept who you are and the decisions you make and continue to evolve learning from your mistakes and becoming a better person.
If your family chooses not to accept the decisions you make or person you have become because they don’t fall in line with your Arab-Muslim values, then they are living in a bubble and are being nearsighted. While it is hard to go against your family, you only have one life to live, why live it with regret. Make the best decisions for you, and hope they will lead down the right path.
With all that I have experienced and seen over the years as I evolved into the man I am today, I have come to appreciate and love not only my Arab routes but being a Muslim man as well. I am in no shape or form a perfect Muslim in the eyes of most, but I have found a middle ground that allows me to live life the way I see fit, which is all you can do. Do I enjoy an outgoing social life that involves drinks? and do I enjoy the company of women? Yes, on all counts, but I also pray several times a day and I fast the month of Ramadan and follow most pillars. Some will say, well that’s even worse because you know better; I say, who are you to judge how I live my life? last I checked Islam was about you and God, not the people that think they know better and choose to judge.
If the Muslim world is evolving into a more open society and accepting of western values, then why do we have young men and women that joint terror groups like ISIS? I’ll answer that with a question then; Why do we have mass shootings? Or people that join gangs or cults? The answer is really as simple as having a feeling of belonging and a purpose to your life. Take a kid that I went to the same Mosque and Sunday school that ended up joining ISIS and later died in an air strike; We grew up no different, his father was a multi-millionaire from Jordan that made his money in real estate, his mother was Swedish, and they were a family that wasn’t overly religious. He was a nice kid that was very reserved and shy. Like me, he excelled in sports and went off to college, but somewhere in that first year, he radicalized. He would lie to his family that he was in school when he was actually overseas fighting until he died, and they received a call from an ISIS representative and a letter that was written by him prior to his death.
Now I couldn’t tell you what was said in that letter, but to me he is like any young man or woman that have a hard time making friends, evolving with change, lost, depressed, and looking for a purpose. In those times of weakness and in search of a purpose they latch on ideologies or movements that they share a commonality with. He was Muslim, ISIS pretends to be Muslim, and they sold him on an ideology at a time in his life where he was vulnerable to brainwashing and manipulation. The same can be said of people that join gangs, the white kid that joins a hate group like the KKK, or anyone that starts to follow a cult. They are all in search to find themselves, weak minded and vulnerable, and easily susceptible to manipulation by those that seek to empower themselves.
Just as there will always be evil people in this world looking to enrich and empower themselves through false causes, there will always be men and women lost, looking for a purpose and meaning to there lives that can be easily manipulated. That’s why just like gangs, hate groups, and cults; Muslim terrorism will always be around. While the difficulties of infusing the Arab Muslim culture to that of a western culture are inherent, it can be done. We just have to be secure with the person we have become, balance those aspects of our life as best as we can, and find a purpose to live for. Whether you’re Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu, Asian, Arab, or European, we all have but one life to live; what we are does not define us, its who we are that does. Through a strong sense of self, good ethics and morals, family and friends, a purpose, and caring for our fellow human beings, you can reconcile and balance who you are in this ever-evolving world.