“A safe haven for my faults and identity” I remember describing my religion to my friends.
There was a time when I believed the world was limited to the white pasty walls of my bedroom. I was drastically reducing who I was to fit in and escape from any connections to my ethnic background. I was convinced there was nothing to be proud of since my peers defined Islam as a “religion of violence”. Sometimes it’s hard to grasp onto the reality of how much affect other’s opinions have on a person. Returning back to Africa opened my eyes about my winsome cultural identity I desperately tried to suppress.
The country of Guinea had lost touch with my thoughts since I left at the age two. I did not remember how close the community was nor how lovely the many languages sounded when spoken. A sense of serenity and guilt immediately rushed into my thoughts as I would find myself admiring the lively culture. I was angry at myself for hiding this big part of my identity for the acceptance of others.
As the days would past, I began to understand different aspects of my cultural identity. The religion that I could not embrace in the presence of my peers back home was one of peace and love not violence. The world I was living in before taught me that being Muslim was wrong and that every act of terrorism committed was my fault because I chose to be a part of this religion. I’m not a terrorist. I felt like I had to keep reminding those around me. Guinea taught me the depth of Islam and how the actions of those extremists didn’t represent what I stood for. I began losing those parts of myself that chose to not understand this before. This was a place where the power would go out for weeks and bless the town for only two hours, a place where humans accepted that they were not like everyone else in the world.
I often found myself conversing with the men, women and children on the trip and hearing their diverse stories. A woman once told me, “There are people in this world who have a way of making others feel small. If you never lose sight of who you are, you will never feel small.” I did not want to give others the impression that they had the power of making me feel anything other than confident in who I was. My culture was full of individuals who embraced their identity from the way they dressed to the way they talked. I chose to hide my Islamic side because it was not accepted in my society. I started to realize that there was nothing wrong with me loving the side of myself that was born in a dynamic culture, spoke more than two languages or celebrated Ramadan because no matter how hard I tried to hide it from the public, it was the side of me I saw whenever I would look in a mirror.
After spending three weeks in Guinea, our vacation was coming to a quick end. I had learned many things about myself from my culture. Back home, there was still occasional taunting from classmates, but it did not affect me in the way I thought it would. What my peers chose to make fun of was a culture that they lacked knowledge of and I pitied them for not understanding the beauty of being different. I began promoting self-acceptance wherever I went because I hated seeing someone else hide who they were because of how others might react.