To be a good Muslim in the face of secular media might be the hardest thing ever for most people especially for the Arab or Muslim immigrant family. The only type of Muslims most people like are the secular ones and if you find yourself in a foreign country, surrounded by different people with different cultures and religions, you might tend to drop your Muslim identity under pressure as a result of the dark portrayal of Islam and Muslims in the western secular media.
A classic case in point is a Muslim family man with the name Khaled. Once Khaled got to Vancouver in Washington State in the US, he started calling himself Kyle. He had two sons, Muhammed and Hamza. He changed his children’s names from Muhammed to Mike and Hamza to Charles. When asked why he had to go through such extreme lengths, his answer was, “I want to keep my family and I safe. If changing our names in the presence of others is the only thing that would do that, then I won’t mind changing our names a million times over.”
For people like Khaled’s sons, being good Muslims would be the hardest task for them because they don’t know anything about their culture and religion. They were young and were too busy learning other things from different cultures. We all know that adapting to a new culture makes you think critically. For the kids, everything their parents tried to teach them, they criticized. Religion seemed arbitrary to them and they rejected spirituality in favour of figuring out their lives.
This shows you that sometimes the situations are super complicated and we can’t really judge anyone. Khaled’s wife still cries that she can’t sit down with her kids to teach them what her mother taught her. Other people around her told her that telling people she is Muslim would make them uncomfortable and she did not want to make people uncomfortable because of her religion. They told her that she couldn’t wear her hijab else she would endanger herself and her whole family as well.
But despite everything Khaled did for his family’s real identity not to be revealed, the difference between them and the white people they were trying so hard to emulate was still there. And his sons were struggling with that because any time any of their classmates learnt that their real names were Muhammed and Hamza then they will be looked just like the so called jihadists always plotting terror attacks as often reported on TV.
So as they grew older, the duality of their identities began to weigh on them. Other Arabs they met were surprised to hear them speak Arabic and the white people they met were surprised to find out they were not actually white and for those reasons they were outcasts in all groups, neither belonging here or there.
It requires real courage and self confidence for a Muslim or Arab family to maintain their identity in the western world, especially in this age of secular media that sees religion, not just Islam as arcade.