Sunday, October 3, 2010

Muslimah Goes Nigerian?

As salaam alaikum,

[The title of this entry is dedicated to my father, and his memories of "Broadway Goes Latin." Heh.]

{Currently Listening: Try a Little Tenderness (Live) - Otis Redding}

So, I didn't end up going to the presentation by the guy from Ta'leef project. I had a full day of class on Friday and while I thought the presentation would have been enlightening, ultimately I wasn't in the right spiritual place.

I reasoned it like this. I've spent the last seven years of my life (the first four more than the last three, lets say) developing my identity as a Muslim. I am also Nigerian. My view of Islam has always been that it's not meant to supplant our cultures but enhance our cultures...enhance in the sense that it brings out more meaning to the positive things embedded in our culture and helps us avoid the deleterious.

Admittedly, while I'm comfortable identifying as both Igbo Nigerian and Muslim, I'm not comfortable identifying as both of them at the same in, in the same breath, in the same sentence, in the same context. Well, taking it a step further...I'm comfortable letting Muslims know that I'm Igbo, but not as comfortable letting Igbos know I'm Muslim.

Case in point: no one of the members of my family in Nigeria know that I'm Muslim, and they just found out that my mother is. I mean, I'm sure it'll be a hump to get over, but once they meet me and see how I live and get to know my values, it shouldn't be an issue. No one in my family is super religious or super proselytizing as I can tell.

But anyway, these were all things I used to rationalize not going to the young Muslim intensive, but in the end, participating what I will call from here on out the Nigeria conference has been the clear choice.

It was a real conflict for me, though, because I'm funny about a lot of things. Probably in college, the clear choice would have been the intensive because I am, after all, Muslim first. The thing about that attitude now is that I'm not only Muslim first, but Muslim stronger. Because of my fear of being a Muslim Igbo around Nigerians, I have done my fair share of avoiding certain Nigerian events (especially in the days of hijab), and I cannot say that in that time I've not developed some damaging and unfair ideas about Nigerians...and when I say Nigerians, I mean Nigerian men.

Well, heh, actually, my attitudes about Nigerian men have nothing to do with religion and presumptions made about religion. It has more to do with how so many of them I've encountered (usually those born in Nigeria and who lived there for some time) have had negative game, have done stalkerish things, and in general did not know how to act.

But it's not fair to blanket them in this stereotype and I don't think that's fair...not that I think I've ever blanketed them in the stereotype, which is partially why seeing a Nigerian man now.

So, B...I spent most of yesterday with him. The more I get to know him, the cuter he is, seriously. He excused himself, saying he didn't talk a lot. I told him, no...I talk too much. I have this nervous habit of filling empty spaces in conversation with randomness. I'm really outgoing...somehow, after a childhood of shyness I've become an I think people can't tell that when I talk a lot, I'm actually nervous. But he's...interesting. Like, on one hand, he portrays himself as an awkward PhD student, but on the other hand, he doesn't really carry himself like he's that awkward...

...either that, or he's putting up a grand effort and making a great front...he could have fooled me!

So yesterday, we went to two panels. One was on Media and getting messages to Nigerian Youth. That one was excellent. Then we had another one about Nigerian professionals in the diaspora. I joked to my roommate that they didn't really need that panel because Nigerians are already overrepresented as professionals for the less than 0.1% of the US population that we make up, but it was a great panel, including a man who may just be my first role model, Dr. Chidi Achebe (yes, Chinua Achebe's son). Dude has got to be one of the smartest people I've ever encountered and has done amazing things in Boston, like starting up a community health center in Dorchester. I mean, seriously, masha'Allah!

Then we hung out, then I went home to change to look classy classy and go to this gala in the evening. It started about an hour and a half late and ended an hour and a half late, but it was beautiful. I liked it. It was also terribly random, as they opened up the dance floor to dancing to Nigerian music (which I need to listen to more of...I definitely like it more than what's out right now in the US) before the end of the program, which, in favor of leaving on time, I think we didn't have to do.

But man, one thing I have to tell my one eats foo foo with their hands anymore! I was excited to have real foo foo (my father's imitation Cream of Wheat/mashed potato foo foo comes amazingly close to yams, though, bless his heart!) and then, people were just cutting it with knives, spooning the soup onto the fork, and eating it. I was like, exclamation point, dude.

I felt sad for my dad a little at that point...he hasn't been back to Nigeria in so long. He's here all alone in the United States, and hasn't seen any of his family members since 1984 when he completed youth service. Add to that his misunderstanding why I'm Muslim (first him thinking it was my wanting to be South Asian, then thinking it had to do with black nationalism) and it was, before he got in contact with his friends, a very lonely road.

Anyway, the gala was a lot of fun...the most fun I've had in a long time, I don't know since when. I looked around, and I saw my people, some in traditional dress, some not (me included...I've never worn any Nigerian clothing), and I was comfortable. I felt at home, and I felt a greater obligation to my people than I've felt before...especially after the media panel, where I met the founder of SaharaReporters, Omoyele Sowore.

I've never believed in only supporting Muslim causes, because I feel like in doing that, you'll get the majority of Muslims, for sure, but you miss so many more believers. Haha, this journal is not going to change from Invisible Muslimah to...I don't know, Nigerian Chronicles, from Half to Whole or something, haha, I'm just going to work harder to reconcile my culture and my Islam, because ultimately, that will make both stronger. I'll go from Muslim first and stronger to Muslim first and strongest.

With my ethnicity and my religion no longer at odds [which I believe I can do, if I work at it...example, my race and my religion have never been at odds, though they could be with the stigmatization of black Muslims in many communities, black people among non-black Muslims and an ugly history of some early Muslims in the slave trade], I'll no longer feel so conflicted about being an Igbo Muslim, and I'll no longer feel the need to renounce my Nigerianess in favor of being Muslim, which is no doubt a pathway I could have taken, but I think it would ultimately do more hurt than good in this life and yes, the life after, because all of the pain it would cause me and others. That was never an option for me, though...

Subhan'Allah, it's taking me so long to realize that, but I guess I'm on my way may be an unconventional road that I'm taking right now, but since when has anything about me been conventional? Adorei!


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