Daniya Ahmed: Muslim OR American?

My identity is continually changing as I grow and learn more about myself and who I aspire to be. I have always thought I was stuck between identities, unable to fully commit to one or the other. Being raised by immigrants, I was regularly told to act culturally appropriate when around family, but growing up in America, it was okay for me to act “American” when around others. It was like a constant flip switch between these two completely different versions of myself, which caused a lot of tension on who I saw myself as and who I wanted to be. Especially during middle and high school, I struggled with my Muslim and Pakistani identity while trying to fit in and be relevant in my public school cultures. I would miss the infamous Friday night football games to attend family night at my local masjid while trying to keep up with what my friends were doing via social media. Some people in my community would choose cultural practices over Islamic traditions which added to the tension of trying to find a group to be a part of. My parents would even say sly comments that said made it seem like I can be either Muslim or American, but never both. Unfortunately, it decreased my faith since I felt immense pressure to fit into society since my time at school was the main thing in my life at the time.

It was not until my first year of college that I was able to see myself in the most stripped down and bare version possible. The months following high school graduation taught me how short a lot of the K-12 grade culture is. I lost contact with many peers instantaneously, the pressure of ‘fitting in’ vanished, and I was able to see myself in a more clear light. As stated earlier, I always struggled with trying to balance all three aspects of my Pakistani Muslim American identity.

It did not take me a long time to realize that a lot of my beliefs were externally situated, meaning I only practiced and acted certain ways to please my parents and community. Especially regarding my religious self, this was upsetting. I did not have the connection to God during my prayers that all the religious scholars referred to in their talks, I felt as if I was missing the proper, pure form of spirituality. There was always so much pressure to adding on new content and practices to my religious identity, that I forgot the basics, the basics of talking to God.

For the past five years, my goal has been to develop that relationship with God. Without that connection, I felt as if all my actions and prayers were empty. I have always wanted to identify myself as a person with a strong spiritual and religious connection, as someone who truly believed in their faith, and it took a while for me to be okay with going back to the basics of my religious identity.

Combining both my Muslim and American identity, I have always wanted to work as an informal bridge between Muslims who may struggle with any issues connected to mental health. Since the beginning of high school, I was committed to pursuing a psychology degree and always wanted to achieve the primary image of being a therapist. Numerous kids struggle with their identity and the balance between their school life and their home/family life.

Additionally, I strive to help decrease, and hopefully vanish, the stigma of mental health that is common in Muslim communities, as well as south Asian communities. My elders constantly criticize and question my education and career choice, making overused jokes involving the word “psycho.” These small jokes and double meaning comments about anything mental health related affects the younger generation around them, causing a false image of shame and embarrassment on those who want or need to seek mental health.

I have always wanted to pursue this field so I could work as the gap between mental health and Islam, as I am sure parents would prefer their family members to seek a Muslim counselor for any help. As a young adult, I expect my identity to continue evolving for at least the next five to seven years, but I am thankful to have a clear picture insight of who I want to be in the following years. Identity is not a group you choose and assimilate into; it is a fluid concept that involves a mixture of multiple identities. All I strive for is an honest identity, being true in what I believe and what I share.