Monday, February 12, 2007

What is an Identity Crisis?

This is going to be short. It's a question for the readers, and food for thought for those who contemplate. It is the question of our very identity, a crisis of sorts that many may have undergone, that many may be undergoing, and that many may undergo.

When is it that when you try to fit into a different mold from a mold that you feel you have worn out, when you change your ways sufficiently from what they were before until the new way is one that you don't sufficiently recognize, when you run away from your past to a future that isn't really you, when you say what you don't firmly believe in, or don't say what you would have said unabated, when your friends become liabilities and their opinions become embarrassments, when is that you are no longer you? When you aim for the stars, yet you have to hitch a ride in a vehicle that you don't really fit in, that you don't really belong in? But you are being pushed from every direction. Where a heap of people want you in that vehicle, and somehow you feel that you 'owe it to them', even though in your heart, it is not them that you are doing this for, but rather for own self?

When is it, when the real 'you' that got you to where you are now is no longer the real 'you', but is someone else? And then you stand alone, neither here nor there, just alone. When the friends you left behind have moved on, and the friends who hoard you now, are really friends with the person you really are not?

Stop. Contemplate. And ask yourself over and over again, "what is in for you in being someone else?" Should you go there and really, why would you want to go there?


AnonyMouse said...

As-salaamu ‘alaikum wa rahmatullaahi wa barakaatu,

Masha’Allah, great post!

Identity crisis’… funny thing is, I was talking to my mom about it just a few days ago! I had my identity crisis a while ago, in grade 4 (when I was in public school). I wanted so much to be like the other kids, but I knew how important it was to be Muslim and stick to Islam. I made a few mistakes, but al-Hamdulillaah I think I’ve recovered from it and learned lessons from them too.

Right now, I think I’m pretty sure of my identity… first and foremost I am a Muslimah, and if I feel like it I’ll throw in adjectives like ‘teenager’ and ‘Canadian’ (I use the former most often because it works best in describing myself; I use the latter when I think it’s useful or relevant).

But anyway, I think that growing up where I did – at an Islamic centre (yeah, I know it sounds funny, but it’s true! Because my dad ran it, by extension my whole family was totally involved with it, to the extent that we called it our second home) – and around such a wonderful group of people (the sisters there were THE most amazing people I’ve ever been with, masha’Allah!) I was saved a lot of the trouble that so many other teenagers, and especially Muslims, have gone through…

Mind you, though, seeing as how I really haven’t experienced life properly as of yet, I wonder if I may yet experience an identity crisis in the future… and if I do, may Allah help me get through it easily and emerge stronger in Deen than I was before it!

Your little sister in Islam,

Tariq Nelson said...

Complex question and has many different meaning for different people. For those of us that are converts, we are often given the impression that we must leave everything that we are, including that which is not in opposition to Islam. This creates an identity crisis in us and our children. Everyone else has a firm idea of EXACTLY who and what they are, while converts are often not sure what to say when asked that question.

One brother asked me the other day if he should teach his kids that they are Blackamericans or "just Muslim". Problem with teach one's kids that they are "just Muslim" is that no one else teaches this and given the realities of the world - and especially the Muslim world - one MUST chose an identity and embrace it (without nationalism of course)

Umm Reem said...

Br. Tariq, thats interesting what you said.

I am confused about this issue too of teaching my children what they are. I used to teach them they are Pakistanis but my husband tells them that they are Americans!

I don't think just becuase they were born in America, they become Americans. I think, they will always stand out and be different, and run into an identity crisis later in their lives if they grow up thinking they are Americans!

So, I think we non-converts also run into this problem :)

Amad said...

Tariq, thanks for stopping by. The questions are intended to mean something different for everyone. From the layman to the 'rising star'. The question of identity is of paramount importance in the land that pulls from all directions, in religion, in thought, in philosphy, and all facets of life. Converts have their challenges, one that you highlighted, immigrants have their own, one that Umm Reem mentioned. But, I cannot start to compare the struggles of immigrant identity to the mountain that converts have to climb.

Blogs contribute in creating many identity crises, some for the good, some for the worse. Hopefully, we can be from the former.

Umar Lee said...

I think that this happens when people do not have a center or a base and this happens a lot with converts because they are detached from the traditions of their families and Americans in general because we are a historical nation and always looking for something.

BintMuhammed said...

Assalamualaykum warahmatullahi wabarakatuh!

Great post, I dont think identity crisis's ever go away. No matter how sure of your identity you are, you are always haunted at the fact that you might be fooling yourself or that you have the potential to be something else.

I mean the identity of being muslim alhamdulilah never leaves us, but its other identities that usually confuse us. The concept of "where do i belong" is a question that usually never really gets the desired answer.


Ruth Nasrullah said...

Asalaamu alaikum. Great post, Br. Amad. You've written about an idea I jotted down months ago and never got to! I have a lot to say about it but, as with my blog, may never have time to get to it.

Umm Reem, your comment surprised me. If your children are born and raised here, how can they not be American? Or at least Pakistani-American? Maybe it's my American viewpoint coming through, but I woud imagine they would have more of an identity crisis if they live here but always think of themselves as being from elsewhere. The most important thing, of course, is how well you've raised your kids as Muslims - and masha Allah you've done a great job!

Speaking more generally, I think we need to strive to create a Muslim-American identity, and to make America itself more Islamic. I'm not sure if the burden for doing that rests more on converts' or immigrants' shoulders, and I wonder what other readers think.

Another question I have is: What did the companions and other early Muslims do when they migrated to other countries? How did they integrate their new communities and their Islamic faith?

Umm Reem said...

Ruth, JazakALlah khair for your kind words.
Pakistani-American, wouldn't that be two different identities, different cultures...more confusing?

I always get to hear, 'where you from' and if I say, 'I'm an American' then the questioner insists, 'NO, where you 'originally' from!'. And so I got tired of that and simply started sayin, "i'm from pakistan".
Okay, I wasn't born here but I grew up here.

I think if my children grow up thinking that they are American but never get to 'fit in' as Americans, woudln't that be a crisi in itself? Rather, if they live here and know that they don't belong here, they will have an identity to lean on to?

Maybe I'm wrong...what do you think? :)

Ruth Nasrullah said...

Asalaamu alaikum, sister - I know exactly what you mean about being asked where I'm "from"! I wrote about it in one of my earliest posts ( on my blog. As a European-American (i.e., white) convert, people always ask me where I'm from, and I say "New Jersey"! I know the real question is how I ended up Muslim, and what they're really thinking is "Aren't Muslims brown or black?" LOL. In my case if you ask where my family's "from," it's a complicated answer - both my parents were born and raised here, my mother's father and father's mother are immigrants, but the other two grandparents are not. And they're all from different countries "originally."

And really that's what America is about - the idea of the "melting pot" is very apt. Because we come from so many different countries, religions, cultures, languages, etc., we define ourselves by our values, not our language, dress, customs, and so on. That's one of the big reasons Islamophobia is so rampant in Europe - French or Germans, for example, define their identity by language and geography, so Muslim immigrants really are "not French" or "not German." Americans, on the other hand, define themselves by values such as honesty, fairness, truthfulness, etc. Obviously that doesn't mean there hasn't been discrimination, racism and violence against minorities, but even though we have a history of that we also have a history of righting many of those wrongs.

So I think our job as Muslims is not to define ourselves by culture/language/customs but to make American values more Islamic. So your children shouldn't feel they don't fit in - if they are proud of their background and believe they bring something valuable to American society, they belong here and should feel that they do.

One final thought - you mentioned that you've gotten tired of explaining where you're "from" (i.e., Pakistan) - but that could be a good thing - when people see that you're so pleasant and polite and friendly they'll think twice when they think of Pakistanis as violent or backwards :)

AnonyMouse said...

Re:The ‘where are you originally from?’ question – I had to grin when I read your comments, UmmReem and Ruth! I get that question all the time… from everyone! My parents are South African Indian (i.e. originally from India, but the last couple generations were born and raised in South Africa), but we don’t ‘look’ like it – my father wears a thobe and ghutra (something he picked up in Saudi and continued to wear even when he moved back t Canada), and my mom wears all-black ‘abaayah, hijaab, and niqaab… which means that they both look like they’ve just gotten off the camel! :P
Anyway, whenever we go out people usually think we’re Arab – until we open our mouths and out comes flawless English in a purely Canadian accent! Then of course they end up asking where we’re from… I used to say ‘Canadian’, but then they’d go, “but where are you ORIGINALLY from?” and I’d say, “My parents are from South Africa.” Most people look confused, but to be polite they just nod and go, “Ahh… okay…” It’s really quite funny watching them trying to figure out why (1) if we’re from ‘Africa’, why aren’t we black? (2) Why are we dressed like Arabs? (3) How come we speak perfect English?!


Umm Reem said...

It gets a little bit more complicated :)
So when I say I'm from pakistan, people think I was born in Pakistan, but then if I tell them I was born in Saudi Arabia, they genuinely ask 'oh so you are Saudi??!!'. But when I say I'm still a Pakistani, they get this look on their faces, 'how in the world did you become pakistani if you were born in saudi and you grew up in US!!
(Imgaine what will happen if I go into my parents background which is also different :) )

But I guess, as everyone said that the identity of being a Muslim is far more superior and can never leave us inshaAllah and that is what matters the most :)

Amad said...

I have to chime in now...
Here's the difficulty with the 'nationalistic' or 'race' identity of my kids. I think we all agree that having the "Muslim identity" or the Muslim ID works great among Muslims. All Muslims are or should be proud of that and it should trump all other IDs. Not that those other IDs don't exist, but that they are secondary to the identity as Muslims. That is why many of our friends, those who we truly 'hang out' with, those that we truly can relate to, our usually Muslims. For instance, I have been in a Corporate environment for over 10 years. Yes, I have had 'friends', even some who I went out to have coffee/lunch/dinner with. Even one or two who came to my house for dinner. But, even those moments were not 'natural', they were a little hard to deal with. What would we talk about? What would we reminisce about? Esp. someone like me who has gotten over the pro-sports (yes, I knew the whole Houston Rockets and Astros lineup at one time)... there isn't much to relate with. That is why when I had a Muslim friend who joined my company, it was awesome. We used to discuss our lives over lunch, issues related to our religion, to our lives, completely different from the average Joe.

That's that. The other ID that we are talking about is the one related to race or nationality. That is the harder one. You see, I was not even raised in Pakistan, I was raised in Dubai (my wife was similarly raised mostly in Saudi)... I came to America when I was a teenager, my wife in her pre-teens. If you take out the first 5 years of life, then I have lived longer in America than anywhere else. The same for the wife.

Coming to the kids, they were born here, they are being raised here, and the total time they spent in Pakistan is in the months, not even years. The only reason that I was Pakistani is that I had a passport from there. Now, I have dual citizenship, so I would consider myself a Pakistani-American (though again the Muslim-American trumps that). Well, that's fine for me. But, my kids are not dual-citizens, they really have nothing to do with life in Pakistan, so HOW in the world are they Pakistanis?? I believe that if we continue to feed them this myth that somehow they are Pakistanis, they will always have a little identity crises... And being American does not mean you are not a Muslim or contrary to what some might think, it doesn't also mean that you are a 'bad' Muslim or a 'traitor' Muslim. Just because American foreign policy is disastrous does not define the Americans who live in it, who for the most part are compassionate, honest people. Furthermore, why should my kids have a prefix (I hope that is the right use of this word) more so than anyone else in America? I mean the only people who are REALLY native here are the Indians, yet ironically they almost need the prefix more than the remaining nation, which is truly immigrant in its roots. EVERY single white, black or anything-else-American has an immigrant history. But, when I ask the average Joe on the street, where he or she is from, I don't hear "From New Jersey, but really from Ireland, and well, my father's parents were from Poland, so I am an Irish-Polish-American". Rather, he or she says straight up, "New Jersey ... and what about you fella?"

Sr. Ruth, you made some excellent comments, but I am not too fond of the 'melting pot' analogy, because it implies that somehow, we all come out the same, by the melting of our identities. Rather, the mosaic analogy is better, each diverse group, race or nationality providing its own color or nuance and making America as wonderful as it is (less foreign policy :)).

So, I tell my kids they are Americans. And if someone asks them where they "really" are from? They should ask the person asking them, why don't they first tell us where they "really" are from, and we can then all have a discussion of our ancestors.

khawla hurayrah said...

I am just wondering if Bilal, Shuaib Ar Rumi and Salman Al Farsi, Adiyy ibn Hatim ever had identity crisis from amongst the companions.
What about Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman? When he asked the Prophet (peace be and blessings be upon him). The answer:
"If you wish you may consider yourself among the Muhajirin or, if you wish, you may consider yourself one of the Ansar. Choose whichever is dearer to you."
With these words, the Prophet, peace be upon him, addressed Hudhayfah ibn al-Yaman when he met him for the first time in Makkah. How did Hudhayfah come to have this choice'?
His father, al-Yaman was a Makkan from the tribe of Abs. He had killed someone and had been forced to leave Makkah. He had settled down in Yathrib, becoming an ally (halif) of the Banu al-Ash-hal and marrying into the tribe. A son named Hudhayfah was born to him. The restrictions on his returning to Makkah were eventually lifted and he divided his time between Makkah and Yathrib but stayed more in Yathrib and was more attached to it.

My question: Do we have to dwell on nationalities or racial issues instead of focusing on why Allah created us, and let us travel to different places on earth?

Simple answer: To worship him; spread the message across the globe and marvel at His signs.

My own thought says: There are certainly a lot of blessings that we can focus on of having varieties of nationalities or coming from different roots. For us to learn from one another; the advantages of having to speak many languages (to my families in the east, my American husband of German and Irish origin speaks funny); and very importantly to go through this “test” not to look down on others or to think highly of oneself i.e to learn humility be thankful.


Abu Amr said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
ExEx javascript:void(0)Blogger said...

Make sure to read my response to Shaukani on Ibn Hyderabadee's site. Full FORCE!!!

Please comment.

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