Me: “Can I get that with no bacon, please?”
Unnamed person: “You don’t like bacon?”
Me: “I don’t eat pork.”
UP: “You’re Muslim?”
UP: “… but we just finished having drinks … you took shots …”
Hello again, it’s your girl Rasha. I’m a Black Muslim woman and the above was a variation of the many conversations I’ve had about my lack of pork consumption due to my religious beliefs, despite enjoying the occasional sangria or whisky shot (it depends on the day, OK?).
Most everyone I meet is surprised to learn I’m Muslim for multiple reasons: I don’t wear a hijab. I drink. I could be found in the club pre-pandemic poorly twerking what my mother did not give me.
But I’m also not an exception to the “rule.”
And as Ramadan begins, I’m here to remind you that Muslims are not a monolith. And neither is the way we practice.
But first: Race and justice news we’re watching
Important stories of the past week, from USA TODAY and other news sources.
Are you fasting?
Ramadan is the holiest month in Islam and this year it will span from April 13 to May 12 (maybe, there’s a whole moon sighting thing that goes down so the dates could vary). During Ramadan, Muslims are supposed to abstain from food, drink and sexual activity from sunrise to sunset. The ninth month of the Islamic calendar is supposed to be a time of spiritual reflection and is dedicated to worship, charity and community.
And though most if not many Muslims are partaking in Ramadan, there are a few who may choose to forego fasting altogether or will be participating in a different way.
That’s because Muslims are, say it with me everyone, not a monolith!
Some Muslims may very well do Ramadan the traditional way where they don’t eat and drink anything (no, not even water) from sun up to sundown, but others may choose to give up certain things like social media or behavior deemed “sinful” for the month.
Others may decide to just drink water throughout the day, but not eat. A few may have a glass of wine as they break their fast. There are even Muslims who may be extra religious during the month, praying the obligatory five prayers a day, wearing a hijab and giving up alcohol.
In short: If you see me with a mouthful of French toast and a glass of bubbly at brunch this upcoming month, keep it moving.
Muslims on TV
Growing up most, if not all of the Muslims I saw on TV or in movies were portrayed to be an “exotic” love interest at best and a terrorist at worst.
At that point, I was just excited I didn’t have to read the subtitles when an Arab Muslim father was arguing in Arabic with his “rebellious” daughter about dating an American white boy and how she’s a disgrace to the family. Hey, some representation was better than none right?
But as time went on, Muslims on screen got more and more cringeworthy and frankly annoying to watch.
So when Ramy Youssef’s “Ramy” premiered on Hulu in 2019 and followed the story of an Egyptian-American millennial who was struggling with his religion, I was intrigued. Yes, it was still about an Arab family, but they touched on taboo-ish topics like sex, drugs and dating outside the religion.
But even “Ramy,” though entertaining, fell flat with its portrayal of Muslims – especially Muslim women. Ramy’s sister Dena was characterized as rebellious. A Muslim woman Ramy went on a date with turned the titular character off because she was too sexually aggressive and Ramy wasn’t expecting a Muslim woman to be so sexually liberated. In the second season, we’re introduced to Ramy’s new love interest: a Black Muslim woman named Zainab (Dear Allah finally, yes!).
And though I’m thankful Zainab’s character allowed the series to spotlight racism within Islam, even her portrayal was a bit stereotypical.
We want to see Muslim women in all their glory living their best lives on TV. Show me the women having a drink with her parents. Show me the one who makes her boyfriend lie about his religion so her parents will accept him. Show me the one who makes Hennessy sangrias and hosts taco nights for her friends.
Just show me authentic Muslim women. Not what you think Muslim women are like.
Muslim women are not “rebelling” for living
There are many Muslim women who have tattoos, eat pork, marry non-Muslims, have sex, wear bikinis and get drunk at 11 a.m. on a Tuesday. Most of which are behaviors that are considered haram (forbidden/sinful). And while there’s a good portion of Muslims who don’t abide by what’s perceived as “normal Islamic behavior,” oftentimes media portrayal of Muslims leads us to believe there’s only one way to be Muslim: Arab, hijabi, oppressed, judgmental, etc.
If you see a Muslim woman wearing a mini dress and downing shots at the bar while loudly recounting a story filled with expletives, please remember she’s not “rebellious.” She is just a woman who is living her best life and who happens to be Muslim. And just because she doesn’t fit neatly into the category of what a Muslim is supposed to look and act like, does not mean she’s any less of a Muslim.
As of 2017, there are at least 3.45 million Muslims in the United States and in about 20 years Islam will replace Judaism as the second-largest religion in the country after Christianity, according to the Pew Research Center.
There’s absolutely no way all 3.45 million practice the same way.
P.S. Ramadan Mubarak!
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