My religion never puts me in a box, but everyone else seems to try to.
For the past month or so I’ve been living without my Mac (laptop). Woe, 1st world struggle. Although most might not believe me when I disclose that I actually don’t like technology and social media (or our dependance on it), it was stressful trying to make it through the hurdle of end of year classes (and extra-curricular responsibilities) without my work files etc. In terms of losing ‘prized possessions’, I’ve always been scared of losing my videos and photos. I’ve lost things before and at the end of the day you just move on. A few days ago I was relieved to have had everything restored. How does this tie in to the title of this post? 等一下 and hold on a moment.
A few days ago I visited an acquaintance who fixed my Mac. By fix, he simply replaced the hard drive cable from inside the Mac. This is something no-one dares to teach at the Genius Bar, so I’m telling you instead. Also, pls back up your laptop. But moving on. Eventually he decided to navigate my religious identity. He pointed out that I was wearing a headscarf and that it probably was not for fashion purposes. So yes, I’m a Muslim. I can’t remember the specifics of our conversation because we then spoke for a while on topics ranging from Islam, the commercialisation of Christmas, and loneliness in the UK. It was really interesting, but I sensed an undertone of Islamophobia.
He said that he didn’t want to sound ignorant, but I said I didn’t mind answering his questions. After confirming my religion, he told me he saw a strange woman on the tube (London train) recently. He said there was a woman sitting opposite him with her eyes closed and clearly muttering something to herself. He asked me “is that normal in Islam?”. Reactionless I responded, “was she listening to music? or maybe she was meditating”. He was adamant that she was praying. Fair enough. He told me that he thought she was trying to squeeze in an extra prayer during her commute. I explained that Muslims do pray five times a day, but it involves prostrating and moving from a standing to sitting position. Although people who are ill do sometimes pray whilst sitting, and I’ve seen people pray on aeroplanes using the small seat table, it was unlikely that she was performing that prayer. I wanted to suggest she may have been reading a dua, but I did not have it in me to explain this one. ‘Dua’ also translates as ‘prayer’, but is more of a supplication and not a physical act. He mentioned the woman on the train again a while later and in other words said she looked crazy.
When we were waiting for the Mac to restart he decided to ask me what I was doing. I told him I was reading an undergrad degree in Chinese Studies. Like most people, he thought it was quite strange. However he was insistent that the weird part was that I was not learning Arabic. According to him I should have been learning Arabic instead of Mandarin, and perhaps be pursuing Middle Eastern Studies rather than Chinese. “But you must be so good at Arabic, why are you doing Chinese?” he asked. “I can read Arabic slowly but I don’t understand any of it. I’d love to learn it one day but I find the Chinese language very interesting” I replied. This went on for a while. I told him that religious scripture in Islam is written in Arabic so Muslims are required to at least learn how to read it it, but I wouldn’t understand what it means without translation. (Sidenote: I was recently gifted my second Chinese Quran. It has Chinese and Arabic side by side, and I found that the Arabic is easier to read and the Chinese is easier to understand!😂).
Somehow we moved on to the topics of judgement, and I told him how Muslims’ acts are dealt with according to their individual intentions; to divine intervention and how as an atheist he thought it was crazy for people to be praying to something that does not exist; and so on. At some point in the midst of this he asked if it was okay to ask about ‘Muslim things’ and of course I said it was fine.
We spoke about some interesting things (and I haven’t even touched on the ‘loneliness’ issue) but it got me thinking. I also want to point out that for a moment that he is a nice guy. Anyhow I got to wondering why people expect me to be learning Arabic instead of Chinese? Or why it is expected for me to be pursuing something that seems more ‘typical’ of a Muslim.
My first encounter with one of my professors was during Oxford interviews. He awkwardly half shook my hand and apologised for the physical contact between myself and a male like himself. As I was just sitting down for the interview to begin, he asked me:
“Isn’t this a bit strange for someone of your background?”
“What background?”. I thought to myself but not to jeopardise the interview I did not ask aloud. Maybe he expected me to be studying Law or Medicine. After 3 years I’m realising that maybe the ‘background’ was being Muslim. Or maybe he was talking about something else entirely. I never got to ask him, but if you’re interested I’m sure I could talk about racism at Oxford another time. I mean have you seen the admission stats?…
I’ve lost my focus a bit now but I realised there’s so much to say and I apologise if it’s not wholly coherent. I will probably do a separate analysis of my identity at some point because of an exciting project I’ve become part of. I’m an affiliate model for a project that aims to empower women of colour. I’ll leave it at that till things become more public, but just the group shots I’ve seen so far are amazing!
So back to where I was initially. Why should I be studying Arabic? I’d love to learn Arabic in the future because it’s a beautiful language, but I don’t see the need to only ever pursue things that are remotely Islamic because I’m a Muslim. I can do whatever I want and I know my own limits. The same goes for you. Some people have problems with my beliefs or the way I dress, but so long as I’m not hurting anyone, I couldn’t care less~
Some people tell me to respond to ‘negativity’ I’ve encountered with profanities, but I’ve thus far always opted for patience and trying to offer information. I usually see the good in people and some people have called me naive in the past (maybe the two are linked, who knows) so passive prejudice usually goes over my head till I reflect on it later or if I’ve retold a scenario to someone and they react in disgust/shock.
I don’t always like to share my views on Islamophobia or racism because I feel like our newsfeeds are oversaturated with the same sentiments. I sometimes share negative encounters I’ve had with people because whilst I’ve become accustomed to certain attitudes, many people don’t even know they exist. I talk about things that are important to me, but the overly ‘social justice warrior’ thing is not for me. However recent reflections made me think of offering a new view to the table.
I believe in tolerance and acceptance, lot’s of people do. However from my recent experiences it seems that the efforts of Muslims being accepting of other beliefs is not often reciprocated.
Atheists at my university say similar things to the man who fixed my Mac. Things along the lines of ‘religion being crazy’, ‘believing in nothing’ and so forth. How awkward when a person of faith like myself is sitting right there. They’re entitled to their views, but why condescend views that are dissimilar to your own? Muslims get a lot of hate, but so many of us persevere through it. In many cases Muslims feel the need to go beyond what they are expected as basic good humans in order to prove that they aren’t the same as muslims who are posed negatively in the media. Why must we do all of this if we are not awarded basic respect in return?
Sidenote 2: a friend responded to the picture at the start of this post by telling me to point out the Muslim tradition/hadith (saying) of ‘pursuing knowledge even if it means travelling as far as China’ (已经住在中国的穆斯林会理解这个俗话表达追求知识会使你去远方的地方), and how I was achieving that in a literal sense by studying Chinese haha. But my associate was not Muslim so they would not have known of such saying.
I didn’t originally think this post would extend in this direction, but I guess that’s what blogs can do. I hope no one is triggered, I really don’t mean to offend. While I’m on the topic of direction, I’ve noticed over the years that some of my most popular posts are those to do with ‘life advice’, or those that offer life lessons For instance ‘Being busy and idioms to help’ and ‘Blind men touching the elephant’. I am still going to continue writing about East Asia (languages & culture etc), but I want to formally acknowledge that I may also continue to write posts like today’s piece. I basically wanted to highlight the popularity of ‘lifestyle’ posts on my blog in two aspects. One being through fables and sharing advice, and the other on exploring social issues. Looking at the timeframe of my blog, the latter is more of a recent development. Hopefully this blog will also be getting a new design, but I’m holding on to a promise that was made to me a few year back😅
Lastly before I forget, a few weeks ago I was keen to share a spontaneous story I thought of in Chinese. But then my Mac broke down. Now that things are running in order again, I’ll see how much of the story I remember. Disclaimer: my stories tend to have dark narratives ✌🏼
If you want to read more of my content, the few phrases highlighted in blue in this piece lead to other relevant posts. Have fun exploring~
If you don’t tie yourself to stereotypes, good luck 世界。
此致敬礼欣妍 – From Xinyan.