I’m an African woman. I’m Arab. I’m American. I’m Muslim. Ethnically Sudanese and Islamic reformists, my parents became American citizens through political asylum. In January 18, 1985, one day after my father’s 24th birthday, his godfather was executed by hanging for his bold stand against the implementation of Sahri’a Laws. Three years later, in 1988, my father got a Fulbright scholarship to the United States. In 1991, my mother followed. This was a major shift in my parents’ lives. As they tell it, they cheated death so many times in their lives that they never thought they would make it this far. The execution of their revered teacher was only one incidence of their many trials and tribulations. Malaria, typhoid, civil war, forcible relocation, and other causes of tragedy abound in their lives. However, Ustadh Mahmoud has been the most staying influence in their lives.
Ustadh Mahmoud taught my father about democratic ideals in Islam, including equality of all people regardless of gender, religion, and ethnicity or national origin. I feel unfortunate that I never got to meet him in person. My father, however, along with others, including my mother, continued his legacy by embodying this ideal of equality in their own lives. For instance, as a female child I never felt that my brother was in any way preferred as a male child. On the contrary, my sister and I were equally afforded every opportunity to grow as equal human beings. We saw this strong commitment to equality when my parents would meet with their Sudanese Republican friends, sitting together and discussing social and political views or chanting hymns, men and women, taking turns as equals, or eating food at the same table, which is not the practice in most Muslim and Arab settings.
For instance, I was thirteen when we moved to Saudi Arabia, where my father took a teaching job. One day, I was shopping. I picked out a couple of tops and walked to the “Changing Rooms.” Mistakenly, I assumed it was for everyone. I walked into one of the stalls. I tried on one of the shirts, and then came out to look in the mirror. An employee came up to me. He
puzzlingly asked what I was doing. I realized what had just happened! Embarrassed, I crawled back into the stall, changed back into my clothes, and I left the store without any purchases. Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to try on clothes while shopping. Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to drive. Women in Saudi Arabia are not allowed to vote.
On 9/11, I was four-years-old. I was unaware of the impact it would have on the way people viewed Muslims. On the same day, my father wrote an essay entitled “Muslims, Too, Love America.” I read that essay every time someone tells me I’m not American because I’m Sudanese, or I’m not Sudanese because I’ve never lived there, or I’m not Arab because Arabic isn’t my first language. It reminds me that I am all of those things and more: I’m a woman who comes from a world of many worlds. The fusion of cultures that I have experienced has molded me into the character I am today; one who believes in the equality of all people; one who dreams of portraying this ideal of equality fairly, peacefully and without bias. I am a global citizen.
I learned all of these things quickly as I became aware of the lack of equality between genders in the world my parents came from. Now I know that I should not take my life as a U.S. citizen for granted. Given that two of my grandparents were completely illiterate, and the other two were early dropouts of primary school, I appreciate the mighty struggles of my parents and their commitment to their ideals.
As a product of that commitment, I aspire to convey a message of equality between all people, men and women, black and white, and Muslim and non-Muslim through the use of media, in which I plan to pursue a career. I’m currently a student at Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia.