When I penned my first religion blog four years ago, I do not think I realized how much I would personally benefit and grow in my own faith from the experience. At most, I thought I would be providing some insight into the life of a “Young American Muslim” as well as a few basics about Islam. But when I look back now on how much my spirituality, character, and indeed life has changed since I made the decision to write, the effect it had on me is startlingly clear.
The fact that I was identifying myself as a Muslim blogger in the first place was actually a bit out of character for me. Although I was raised as a practicing Muslim who attended Sunday school at the local mosque, prayed, etc., I was never one to speak openly about my faith (I attribute this to the fact that I was living in the suburbs of Houston, Texas, where a majority of my classmates were non-Muslim).
Fast forward a few years to college where I met many more Muslims and became involved in the campus Muslim Students Association. There, I began to not only openly identify as a Muslim but also to pay forward the Islamic values I cherished through activism and outreach activities.
After I graduated from college, I decided it was time to don the hijab. Now, any stranger passing me on the street could obviously see that I was a Muslim, whether I opened my mouth or not. And honestly, I was completely okay with that. I had embraced my Muslim identity and didn’t really care what others thought about me anymore. It was absolutely liberating.
However, I realized that not everyone would understand my decision. I had many non-Muslim friends and co-workers who probably knew little to nothing about hijab or even Islam for that matter. I needed a way to reach them (and thousands of others like them) to remove the mystery of what being a Muslim American really was like. So I turned to writing. As an opinion columnist and news writer for my college newspaper, I was comfortable sharing my ideas in print. So I called up the Houston Chronicle, pitched them a few ideas for their online and print “Belief” section, and became their newest religion blogger.
Since then, I’ve written numerous articles on my life experiences as well as my views on local, national, and international events. I’ve talked about everything under the sun including my travels to Jerusalem and Makkah, reflections on 9/11, my Ramadan schedule, and even the Kardashians. It has been an interesting ride, to say the least, and the feedback I’ve received from readers (both positive and negative) as well as my interactions with other religion bloggers has certainly taught me more than I expected.
Soon after publishing my first blog post, I quickly discovered that there are a lot of ignorant and hateful people out there who want nothing more than to insult you and your faith without bothering to learn anything about it. I certainly receive my fair share of comments from those types. Instead of letting the internet trolls get to me though, I’ve developed a pretty thick skin over the years and learned how to tactfully deal with them. If, after explaining my views or providing religious sources to answer their attacks/questions, a commenter continues to spew vitriol, I drop the conversation and move on.
As in real life, it’s not worth it to engage with someone disrespectful toward me or my religion. Like they say, haters gonna hate.
The positives that have come along with my blogging experience certainly outweigh the negatives. Personally, I’ve grown a lot in my faith simply by researching religious topics to provide background on my blogs or to answer questions posed by readers. Whether they are inquiring about a Quranic verse, a Muslim practice, or my take on the behavior of Muslims abroad, my readers have created a great opportunity for me to educate myself about Islam. This has strengthened my Muslim identity and faith because subhanAllah, the more I learn about Islam, the more I appreciate it and recognize how fortunate I am to be a Muslim.
As a religion blogger, I interact daily with bloggers and readers of other faiths and am constantly learning from them. Whether it is a new custom or belief, blogging has certainly broadened my horizons and made me more tolerant and open minded toward the views of others. Even if I don’t personally believe or agree with their faith, I still make it a point to be respectful because I know that their religion is important to them just as Islam is to me. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) treated Christians, Jews, and polytheists with kindness and respect during his life, even though he did not share their religion. Shouldn’t I strive to do the same?
This has opened me up to new experiences both within and outside the American Muslim community. I’ve attended interfaith dinners, distributed Eid goodies to my neighbors, and served Thanksgiving dinner to the less fortunate, all while representing and staying true to my faith. I’ve also had the unique opportunity to speak to other Muslims around the nation and world about blogging, media, Islamophobia, and the American Muslim narrative. My opinions have been broadcast over the airwaves during my own radio show and were even represented in the Arab world via Al-Jazeera television.
These activities gave me the confidence to pursue my passion of working for the Muslim American community in my professional life. About a year ago, I decided to attend graduate school in order to broaden my mind and gain skills in a field in line with my interests. I am now pursuing a Masters in International Affairs and the knowledge and experiences I’ve been exposed to so far have been absolutely worth it. I am excited to see what the future holds for me after graduation.
None of this would have been possible had I not made the decision to put my Muslim American identity out there and write. Whenever young Muslims approach me and express that they would like to do the same, I always wholeheartedly encourage them.
We need more Muslim Americans taking pride in their faith and speaking out, whether it is through writing, poetry, spoken word, art, etc. so their friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans know what Islam and Muslims are really about.
Their world will open in ways they’ve never imagined if they just take that first step.