Growing up as a Muslim in Dearborn, Michigan, I often struggled with my Identity. In a way, I felt like a minority, despite living in a community with people who were just like myself. While my neighborhood had a large Arab population, there were numerous cultural divides. Many residents in Dearborn immigrated from various Middle Eastern countries over the years resulting in the formation of segregated cliques. Also, the divide between the Shia and Sunni sects kept the primarily Muslim community from being truly united. Even living in the broader United States I often felt like an outsider because of my race and the intolerance I witnessed regularly. When I visited Jordan, the country from which my family immigrated, I also felt like an outsider for being an American. Sadly, I did not feel truly accepted in either my own neighborhood or my country of origin. I found myself ultimately thinking “what am I?”
I carried this search for my identity with me in my journey to Michigan State University. My interest in MSU began in high school when I realized I had a desire for independence, but still felt the need to remain close to home. This transition was not as easy as I had imagined it would be. During the first few months of college, I often tried to hang out with the White crowd and hide my Arab identity so I could more easily fit in. While trying to fit in, I held steadfast to my faith. I continued intrinsic practices like going to the mosque even though it was not always easy. Living in Hubbard Hall, the trip to the mosque was quite a hike and the lack of prayer rooms in the dorms made it difficult to find a quiet place to pray. Despite continued obstacles, I managed to maintain my traditions and never became disconnected with my religion. Though initially I had little support when it came to practicing my beliefs, I had a tolerant Christian roommate who welcomed productive dialogues, and I was grateful for him. My Resident Assistant and other students on my floor were also very tolerant of my religion.
Unfortunately, not everyone was so tolerant. The first instance of intolerance I experienced was with a group of friends at Bubble Island in East Lansing. I was with a diverse group of friends with a wide range of race and heritage. We were simply hanging out and talking when a group of three White males entered the restaurant and began taunting us. They chanted, “USA”, “USA,” and yelled “Get the F*** out of our country and go back to Saudi Arabia.” This was a really gut wrenching experience for me and it resonated in my thoughts for some time.
On another occasion, I was playing in a glow in the dark dodgeball game hosted by a student organization. I was walking off the court after the game as a fellow player made a subtle remark that at first, I didn’t think anything of. He said, “Now it’s time for the real Americans to play.” It later occurred to me that he made this remark to imply I was not a ‘real’ American because of my ethnicity. Other instances included someone pouring a beer in the hood of my sweatshirt, and being rejected for a job when the only explanation provided was because of my beard. The ridicule got to a point that I almost did not want people to know I was Arab.
This all changed one day when I found a support system in the Black community. They were friendly, and open to my beliefs. They liked me for who I was. I then began to embrace my Arab identity. To be honest, I stopped giving a shit about what people thought of me. I sought to become more involved in the Muslim and Arab communities on campus. I became a member of the MSA, an organization for Muslim students. I also decided to join the Divine Nine fraternity Alpha Phi Alpha, which is historically black. I am now continuously proud of my roots and beliefs. I wear the Palestinian flag on my hat, and don my stylish Kufi’s with pride. These are the communities that have supported me throughout my journey here at Michigan State, and the ones I continue to want to be a part of.
I also felt the impact of being a First-Generation college student. I genuinely did not have anyone to help me make the transition out of high school or prepare for intolerances I might face on campus. Having someone to give me advice on things such as the importance of getting involved in groups that shared my beliefs could have immensely impacted my happiness in the first few years. As a graduating senior, this remains a major regret of mine.
With all this being said, I have big aspirations in life after my time at Michigan State comes to an end. The recent election has made me think about the institutions in our country, especially because I will be in Washington D.C. studying public policy. The growing amount of public expression toward the Arab community and recent immigration ban have made me realize that there is a need for Arab people in leadership positions within our government. I aspire to one day fill one of these positions. My dream is to be the U.S. Ambassador to Palestine.
I have family that are still living in the Middle East. They got out of the dangerous areas in time but still live under poor conditions, and in the case of my cousin, wrongful imprisonment. There are tons of people like my family who are living in unstable conditions and cannot come to our great country due to recent legislation. Intolerance seems to be growing in this country and my story is a testament to that. My hope for everyone that reads my story is to seek education. Go out and learn about Islam and what it stands for. Be tolerant, or at least be informed.
Don’t let the media and public misconceptions lead you to bigotry. As for me, I hope to one day hold a position where I can have an impact on this country. I am a Muslim American of Arab Heritage and I am proud, and although my time as a undergrad student is coming to an end, my story is just beginning.
This story originally appeared in Facing College: Diverse Student Voices, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan.