Once we hit puberty, we are instructed by the community to not interact with the other gender. The boys you once raced around the masjid with are now covered in cooties, and “Circle, circle, dot, dot” is not a good enough vaccine in Islam. However, it seems to work outside of the mosque, because the Muslim boys you go to school with have no trouble talking to non-Muslim girls. What’s up with that?

In high school, which is already a precarious time, this pattern continued and I found that I was much more comfortable with non-Muslim boys than with the group of boys I once used to play with. Once upon a time, we could spend hours playing board games together at family parties, but now we can’t even manage to get two sentences out to each other without feeling all sorts of awkward.


Despite the fact that my father has worked tirelessly, defying circumstances to give the women in his life everything, I see a man who has been pigeonholed falsely as a “wife beater”, “honor killer”, and oppressive brown man. My father is a man whose practice of Islam coincides with his respect and honor of women, yet my father and many others are painted as vicious because of their Muslim names. The false perceptions of my father go further than Islamophobia and intertwine with his embodiment as a racialized man. At the intersection of being both a brown and Muslim man, my father has entered a losing situation when it comes to society believing that he is a good father and husband.

I mourn for the Muslim men in my life who are presumed guilty without a crime, largely a result of the media bias that has tainted Western society.


“You have no idea what you’re doing. You never listen to my advice. If you do not listen to your father’s advice, you are going to be a failure,” her husband said, addressing their daughter, their eldest, twenty, and home on break from college. He stood across the table from her, where she sat in front of her breakfast. Her daughter’s face showed no reaction to his statement, her brows remained knit with determination. Still, she knew her daughter would say something, and everything would unravel. Zumzum held her breath as her daughter inhaled, and then opened her mouth.

“If I put everything into this…I have to try!” Her daughter’s voice was filled with sincerity and something else. Was it hope? But her father would not hear that. Zumzum raised her voice.

“I told you, don’t say anything!”


It is hard to process and impossible to understand how your own sibling can do this to you. A million “whys” circled in my brain over and over again. I asked myself a billion times, “what did I do wrong to ‘deserve’ this?” Over the years, especially once I had the opportunity to remove myself physically from the situation (an opportunity for which I am extremely grateful, because I am well aware that it is rare), I am still trapped, in a way, although I’ve learned a lot. In every man, I “look” for anything that might resemble him, and it is an automatic trigger if I find it, no matter how illogical that might be sometimes. I can’t even tell my story because I will be seen (thanks to obscene cultural and societal norms) as the “black sheep” of the family. I tell a few good friends (after years of “practicing” to tell my story without crying, and sometimes still failing) but I am still embarrassed to an extent, because they all have “normal” siblings and I do not. They have a big brother who protected them and I have one who beat me to a pulp. I still pour buckets of tears even though I am almost 30 and he is an ocean away from me, but still a part of me is forever scared and trapped.


Lining up to pay, there were a few other girls who were moving towards the line to the cashier at the same time as I was. I smiled and let them go ahead of me. I was in no rush since I was heading home, these girls might be rushing off somewhere. I stared at my shoes while lining up, just killing time, when suddenly I heard part of the conversations of the girls in front of me: “How can she wear that thing on her head?” “Isn’t it hot?” “She looks so weird” “I don’t want to stand near her…in this weather, she must be stinky and sweaty.”

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The following article contains a recount of a personal experience with domestic violence and sexual assault and may contain triggering descriptions. My first year at Tufts was anything but easy. Three years ago, during Freshman Orientation, we were required to

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I struggled while reading Salaam, Love because often times a protagonist would do something that I found absolutely forbidden in my morals. But after reading many stories, my mind unlocked itself and finally opened up. I became accepting, and I became humbled and honored to be reading my fellow human beings’ – my fellow Muslims’ – real stories and what they struggled with. I understood that we are all human and we all make mistakes. Whether or not we interpret our decisions as mistakes is irrelevant, but the truth is, none of us is perfect.


Growing up, I had always felt that the only important part of my identity that other people should care about – whether those others were Muslim or not – was the Muslim part. Whenever I would fill out a questionnaire or play a “get to know you” game where we talked about hobbies or interests, I would usually have to restrain myself from saying “I just like being Muslim and learning about being Muslim and about Islam.” Instead, I’d just gave a short list of bland activities that occupied my time: “I like to read (Harry Potter) and hang out with my friends and watch TV.”


This particular day, to me, is one of those memories that I find difficult to solidly grasp. The small details slip through my fingers like water. Everything seems blurry and in my mind even now, everything is shifted to a diagonal angle. All I remember is that my mother was not in good shape, and she was crying. I cannot remember even now how it felt to see my own mother so incredibly heartbroken. Considering I had barely lived half a decade, I imagine that I did not fully understand the situation at the time.

I didn’t find out until later that my mother’s youngest brother had died in Afghanistan over a year before hand.


To make feel people comfortable around me, I did what I could to ensure I was just like them. While I could not hide my Indian ethnicity or my religion, I quickly picked up their interests like a chameleon changes colors. I was always worried that they would see through me though and realize that it was all just a façade. I felt like I was continuously playing a game of, “What does not belong?”

Because I was afraid of getting hurt, I built such high walls around my heart to the point where they were no longer walls; I had built a fortress. At the slightest inkling that someone was going to hurt me, I quickly would recede back into my citadel and cower away in the corner.

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