Tahrim is a recipient of the 2018-2019 MALA Scholarship Program. In accordance with MALA’s mission, this program awards scholarships to individuals demonstrate ambition, integrity, and leadership through the art of storytelling. To learn more about MALA’s Scholarship Opportunities, click here.
The cold breeze of December races outside, banging against the windows, and droplets of snow flutter from the sky, all the while, like every year, the seasonal spirit of Christmas fills my classroom. Every year, teachers post up holiday decorations, students wear Christmas sweaters, and an annual holiday party is held the day before winter break begins, and like every year, a classmate would ask me the same question: “What’re you doing for Christmas?”
I would reply with a variation of the same response: “Nothing. My family and I don’t celebrate Christmas,” often followed by my classmate’s look of confusion, surprise, and general curiosity.
It certainly never bothered me that I had to explain to my friends that Muslims do not celebrate Christmas, or most other holidays a majority of my peers celebrated. The holiday for me was nothing more than just sweet holiday treats, a week-long break from homework, and Christmas specials on TV. For a Muslim American, the holiday season shouldn’t mean much more. However, looking back, ironically, Christmas did mean something – a choice. Freedom.
This nation is built upon several distinct freedoms and inalienable rights to life, liberty, and happiness. From freedom of speech to the freedom of religion, this nation today allows for a myriad of different people from all different backgrounds to come together and form a melting pot that we call the United States. As a result, there is an influx of data and information that comes streaming through every venue. I ask myself, what do I make of all this? How do I maneuver through school, my friends and peers, and society as a whole with new information, revelations, and challenges around every corner as a Muslim?
Thinking back at the puzzled and curious faces of my peers after the annual question of “What’re you doing for Christmas,” and answering with the same response, I go through society’s maze with an open mind, an open, proud character. And that is what freedom is: The ability to brand your identity and beliefs without the fear of principle opposition.
Throughout American history, its population has diversified to many great extents. Several key factors played into this, but one of the most distinct is this nation’s shining freedom from discriminatory prosecution. People from all over come to this country fleeing a threat to their religion, their culture and tradition, and in general, a threat to who they are. This nation harbors the individual; it harbors the freedom of religious diversity, speech, congregation, and press. With these principles, the American people have not become this one race, but rather a covenant of different people to live the way they want while coexisting with others. That freedom is what I value the most about this nation.
For me, there is no physical manifestation in which I navigate through this open society, but instead, I embrace amalgamating myself within American culture as a Muslim American, because I know that it is my freedom to do so, and I am not alone. America is not a puzzle piece where everyone must fit to complete the picture. We are a mosaic of different shapes, colors, religions, and cultures held together by a glue of unity.
By embracing everyone’s differences, and most importantly, owning and proudly hailing your own, you create this sense of togetherness. Freedom means being able to be different. Being able to stand against the tide of American normalities, and realize that as a nation of different cultures and religions, no one in this world can tell me how to live my life, and what traditions and customs I choose to follow.
When I tell my friends that I do not celebrate Christmas, I say it without fear of feeling different, left out, or like an outcast. I say it as a Muslim American, and I live by a set of rules, morals, traditions that I characterize myself with, and I proudly stand by it. This nation allows me to pursue such a lifestyle, to live however I see fit to meet my pursuit of happiness. This is my life and liberty in a society where life and liberty are held at the highest regard, in a nation where every individual is in a similar pursuit, and are free to run after it.
We often see society as this homogenous entity, where everyone should act and portray themselves like one another. This is far from the truth. The American society in its most diverse regions is a rainforest. Its people are the different flora and fauna that cover the forest floor and its canopy. They are what give this ecosystem teeming with life its color. Our nation is that ecosystem. The different religions, cultures, and traditions, interacting with one another give life to our country and our identity as a whole.
Now with that in mind, I look back at myself and who I am. In my pursuit of happiness and liberty in this society, I wholeheartedly stand with my faith and identity.