Growing up, I distinctly remember that I rarely saw a face in my neighborhood that looked like mine. When Christmas came around every year, I would see beautiful trees adorned with unique ornaments from our neighbors’ windows. Large presents lined their floors, and iridescent lights glowed from within their living rooms.
Our house was always the only one on the block without an ounce of decoration during the holiday season. As the neighborhood celebrated, my parents and I sat mindlessly throughout the day. Sometimes when I was young, we played a CD of nasheeds, songs performed according to Islamic tradition, to pass the time. I sat on the floor; despite not understanding anything, I sang along.
Homogeneity characterized my childhood. Among a sea of white and Christian students, there were only a handful of other students that looked like me in my classes. I made my first Muslim friend when I was six. She was one of four other Muslims in that school, and the only one remotely close to my age. Back then, neither one of us really knew what it meant to be Muslim, but just knowing that we shared something was enough for me. Two years later, I moved to a different school, and I didn’t make another Muslim friend until I was 14.
My parents wanted me to assimilate more than anything else. As immigrants, their priority was making sure that I didn’t experience the ostracism they did when they first arrived in the U.S. When it came down to enrolling me in a Sunday school, they decided that playing sports or learning an instrument, activities that other kids around me pursued, were probably more valuable ways to use my time.
Aside from a very occasional trip to the masjid, place of worship for Muslims, or being forced to pray with my grandmother or a family member, I had no concept of what it meant to be a Muslim. According to my family’s beliefs, I ate zabiha meat, slaughtered in accordance with Islamic guidelines, but didn’t completely know how to pray and read the Quran. I didn’t know much about Islamic history or various traditions either, and I successfully got away with being a Muslim who didn’t actually know anything about Islam.
My extended family was always religious. While they pushed my parents to enroll me in Sunday school from an early age like their own children, my parents assured them that if I wanted, I could enroll myself in Islamic school much later in life and faithfully adhere to the Five Pillars of Islam.