A Muslim in America, I drew away from my Arab culture. Now I know that being true to one’s identity means not always yielding to peer pressure.

identity
A Saudi ballet instructor wearing a hijab trains in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 21 February 2018 (EPA-EFE/Amel Pain)

By Dania Abuhashish (King’s Academy)

If you look at me closely, I am trembling and shaking.

Three years ago, I would have already been cracking a couple of jokes. It’s surprising how much a person can change; they can go from A to Z just like that.

As I grew up in the United States, I found myself going across the alphabet. Being an American Muslim of Arab descent, I realized that no matter what I did, I could never fit in.

Now, what is “fitting in?” To be honest, I wouldn’t know because that is what I’ve been trying to figure out all my life.

But I don’t need to anymore, because there is always going to be someone who doesn’t like you. So why should you beat yourself up over an opinion that could diminish instead of shore up your self-worth?

Off with the hijab, on with make-up

During Seventh Grade, I surrendered myself to peer pressure because I wanted to “fit in.” Everyone assumed that my parents forced me to believe in Islam, the “terrorist” religion. On the contrary, my parents told me when I was eight years old, “We will provide you with any of the four holy books.” They never forced me to believe in Islam.

Seventh Grade was when I noticed how different I was to the other kids in America. I couldn’t blend in with the crowd if I was the only one with a piece of cloth wrapped around my head and henna on my hands. Off with the hijab, on with make-up and burning my hair with a straightening iron. The memory alone gives me shivers.

I was lost, wandering into a dark forest without a compass or map. My parents knew I was changing and tried desperately to steer me back onto the right path, but my pride and ego were too big for me to see their outstretched hands.

A year later, my parents decided to move to Jordan, hoping I would revert back to being their “traditional” daughter. To their surprise, I wore the hijab two months after our arrival, the same month when my Dad was diagnosed with leukemia. I thought that if I acted religious and wore the hijab, God would be pleased and would cure my father somehow.

I remember when we realized he had cancer. He suddenly fainted while washing his hands at a sink in my grandmother’s house. I thought he was joking, because my father was the strongest man I have known.

On March 27th of that year, my father called to tell us he was doing fine after an intense session of chemotherapy. I believed him. I believed him until he died three hours later.

No one can live up to the expectations of society.

I broke that day. “This is my fault. This is God’s punishment for when I took off my hijab and strayed from Islam,” I said to myself after my mother told me that my father, my best friend, was gone.

I ended up missing prayers, and I lost myself once again. I stopped “fitting in” with the Islamic society.

For a long time, I couldn’t get out of the dark ditch I had dug myself into, but I had a good friend named Hadeel who pulled me out of my depression. When I told her about the person I was in America, her eyes never judged me. She accepted me for who I am. Even when I rolled in the grass in front of many people, she rolled alongside me.

It took me a while to understand that no one can live up to the expectations of society because we take different paths and carry different luggage. Realizing this made me stronger. I now know when to put my foot down and say “No” instead of silently nodding my head to everything.

This was hard for me because not only do adults force us into an identity, friends can also. We can succumb to peer pressure and morph into an identity that does not fit who we were meant to be.

Before I finish, take a look at the person next to you. What do you see? Do you notice if the person has changed their hairstyle or has food between their teeth? Or do you see the scars they carry from their past that are embedded in their souls?

If you look at me closely, you can see mine.

(Edited by Betty Wong)

THREE QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER:

  1. Have there been times when you’ve felt pressure to fit in?
  2. Why did the author feel out of place in America?
  3. What kind of “scars” is the author referring to in the penultimate paragraph?

Dania Abuhashish just finished her second year of high school at King’s Academy in Jordan. She calls herself a very introverted person who has a passion to read and write. “All my thoughts and secrets are spilled into my article, and I wanted to share my story of seeking out my true self and suffering an identity crisis as a preteen-teen.”

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