By Noor Gouda
Editor - Michael Gillardo
*Disclaimer: Before I start sharing with you a milestone in my own personal journey, I feel it is important to disclaim that this literary piece will include the Muslim faith. As a young Muslim woman, I have the religious obligation to state that I am NOT a Muslim scholar. If you have any questions, please research and/or ask any local Muslim clerics on your own time, along with moderate and trusted sources. Essentially this essay is my own personal journey as a Muslim, so please do NOT generalize the religion nor the multiple different Muslim communities and/or Muslim individuals around the world based on this one journey. Again, if you are interested in Islam please reach out to the proper and trusted sources, such as Al-Azhar University (world renowned Islamic institute and university). Also, the views expressed do not necessarily reflect the magazine, nor all/any of its members, that is publishing this piece. As well, I would like to thank TOP magazine for allowing me to use their platform to share my journey and to discuss the religious aspect of it – especially with today, religion being more so one of the extremely complex matters in society.
“Tell me about yourself?” “Who are you?” “Describe yourself in x amount of words.” Yada, yada, yada.
You’ve probably been asked this question in the form of the above, or in another. The question about who you are. You can go about answering what on surface value is simple but packs within it the most complex, difficult, social, and even political of answers, in many ways.
On paper you can list all the different personality traits that in your perspective make you, you. You can share with the one who asks, the good, the bad, the beautiful, and the ugly. On paper, you can “objectively” list down your age, physical attributes, your background, and such. But if you’re anything like me, nine out of ten times that very same question about who you are, your whole life, your identity, is asked and answered by someone else within the matter of seconds; usually answered on the basis of that one thing that makes you stand out, and not fit the perfect little box of society. Luckily today, even though at least ninety percent of the time people will come to a presumption that does not fit you in the least bit, ninety percent of the time those very same people are willing to give you a chance – despite not doing anything that implies that you somehow lost that “first” chance, and instead you’re receiving that “second” chance. If you’re anything like me –
I guess I should explain what those words mean.
Allow me to properly introduce myself, on paper – literally, since you’re reading this, albeit on that blue screen of your device. On paper, I’m your average Canadian nineteen-year-old girl, who happens to be currently completing an undergraduate degree in English literature. That is it. That’s the only thing that makes me your average Canadian woman: that I’m nineteen and studying English literature. However, the rest of me is not average, or it simply just doesn’t fit with “the” Canadian image – which itself brings up the interesting question of identity and Canada, but that’s a whole different story for a different day. If I continue listing all that makes me, me on paper, and if you continue to read that paper, you’ll come to find that a) I’m an immigrant, b) I’m Arab and c) I’m Muslim. I think I don’t have to elaborate any further the idea that in most of the societies and communities I “belong” to, I’m on the sidelines, one way or another.
You never want any unique quality of yours to become a reason for society to shun you. I’ve got three big ones, but out of those three, two I can hide – well actually, those two I would be able to hide if it weren’t for the world’s association with the other one to them. You see, if you ever met me, you’d immediately register that elegantly and skillfully wrapped around my head is my cloth crown, aka my hijab. Even though I was born to two Muslim parents, who have passed unto me their values and views, in this age and point in my life, it is completely up to me to not only uphold these religious values, but to accept them as my own. And I’ve proudly made the decision to be identified as a Muslim not because I was born into a Muslim family, but because I truly do believe in this faith. It is this choice of mine, to believe in and practice the values and ideologies of this faith because it simply makes sense to me, which adds to the “darkness” of the shadow. But here is the “problem,” people nowadays shouldn’t see me as “just” Muslim, correct? I was recently watching a clip from the Black-ish spin-off show, Mixed-ish in which Alicia, one of the main characters, brings up an issue still relevant today. In this clip she talks about how she “doesn’t want to be seen as just a Black woman.” But what if I am happy being completely seen and identified as “just that?” What if I’m completely happy being identified as just Muslim? Nothing more, nothing less, just a Muslim.
You see, over the course of the past couple of years, I found that an absolute abyss of darkness had started to take shape inside of my mind, swallowing my heart, and eventually filling me to the brim with negativity and sadness. And as more time passed, I found that I was not only being swallowed by the ocean of darkness that had surrounded me, I also found myself giving into it. Even though the darkness stemmed from an isolation, and constant self-criticism, I finally acknowledged that my darkness stemmed from my distance from God. At this point I remembered how my faith had essentially lifted me up out of that hole in the ground. Countless times I have come out of prayer feeling lighter than air and happier than ever. Though, it wasn’t until recently that I finally took that first step in reconciling with my faith and essentially removing that blinding veil which covered my perspective. And I’m happy because now I know how I can achieve my life’s purpose.
Now comes the big question that you probably developed while reading this story. Why in the world would I want to be identified as just Muslim? Especially since there’s a lot more to me that makes me the very one-of-kind, unique person that I am today. Simple. Everything good about me, every achievement I have achieved, every dream I hope and plan to turn into reality, and most importantly my happiness, all of it finds a connection in my faith. Like I said, my faith has been and continues to be my key with dealing all of my difficulties, turning my weaknesses into strengths. Simply put, I’m happiest most when I pray, I’m happiest most when I read religious scripture, I’m in constant amazement when learning the grand rich depths of my faith. I’m happiest most when I’m connected to Islam.
Before I finish off with the final period, I have to make sure that you dear reader understand this one important thing. I and only I, Noor Gouda, I’m happy being seen as just a Muslim. If you’re going to take anything from this story of mine, and I hope you, please do not take this as me preaching that there is only one way to live life, and please do not generalize all the different Muslims of the world based off of this one specific account. If anything, take the message that falling down is part of life, and it is possible, despite being extremely hard most times, to take that first step to get up and get healed. To put it into one short and simple sentence, we all have different paths that essentially lead to the one ultimate goal of being happy – and even that is different for everyone. Being comfortable in, happy, and most important being proud of my identity as a Muslim woman, is simply my own path to being happy.