Ramiz Shaikh shares his journey from growing up as a Muslim in Hindu-majority India to exploring his identity in the melting pot of America.
I was born in Ahmedabad, India, and spent most of my teenage and adult life in Great Barrington, a small town in Southern Berkshire, Massachusetts.
My family lived in an entirely Muslim populated area in India, and I went to a Muslim high school. I did not have a chance to make friends from other religions until later years of my high school. As such, my understanding of the outer world, of other religions, was next to nothing.
Over 80% of the population in Ahmedabad is comprised of Hindus, and only about 14% Muslims. It is impossible for Muslims to purchase or rent property in Hindu communities, and getting an admission into a reputable school is very difficult because, even to this day, the idea of Hindu and Muslim students studying together is not widely acceptable. When I came to understand the plight of being a Muslim in a place where Muslims are considered “non-Indians,” I was able to look back and connect the dots as to why I never met any non-Muslim people growing up.
As a high school student, I was selected to particiapte in the American Field Service – Youth Exchange and Study (AFS – YES) program. I was one of only 40 student selected from all across India to come to the US, study at an American high school, live with an American host family, and help build bridges of mutual understanding by sharing my cultural and religious values with Americans. After completing the exchange program, I decided to return to the US and continue my education. Ten years into that, the US has never ceased to make me realize my potential and my place in this world.
Living as an Indian-born Muslim in the US has its ups and downs. On one hand, I enjoyed every opportunity to meet a diverse group of people from all aspects of life. On the other hand, I struggled to feel accepted as part of this melting pot, only because of the fact that I am a Muslim. Being away from my family and culture was a sacrifice I had to make so that one day, I could go back to my country and help my family out of the situations we had had lived in.
Being a Muslim in America can be stressful in places where people tend to have conservative values. However in liberal states, I found people to be more open-minded. I may be generalizing the overall situation here but this has been my experience thus far.
I do believe that here in America, I have been provided a global platform to make an impact; not just for Muslims all around the world but for all humanity that needs to be constantly reminded of our purpose in this world – that is peace and harmony – so as to prevent another world war or a genocide from happening.
Living in the Berkshires has been a wonderful experience. It is diverse as it tends to bring people from all over the world from different religious, cultural and ethnic background. I like to call the Berkshires my second better home because for the most part it has been able to provide me with the comforts of being back home in India; but with one essential element added to it: that I am no longer limited to living in an all Muslim neighborhood or only having Muslim friends.