No, I will not share my thoughts with you about “the Arab Spring.”
No, I will not give you my opinion on “women in Islam.”
No, I will not talk to you about “honor killings in that part of the world.’”
Pretty much all I’ve been hearing for the last year, maybe even the last four years, is how much your college major “doesn’t matter.” Okay, well then riddle me this. Why is it that when I tell people I am a political science major that they always want to talk about Middle Eastern politics with me? It doesn’t matter that much of the politics that I studied ranged from classes on the politics of migration to political science statistics to race and political theory. Everyone just wants to know what I think about “the latest conflict in [insert Middle Eastern country].” I just had a job interview–for a job entirely focused on local politics, by the way–and when the interviewer read my resume, he wanted to know what I thought about ISIS, “because I seem to have studied comparative politics and have an interest in global affairs.”
While it’s factually correct and that I was interested in global affairs in college (among many other things, including the history of American religion, which was my minor), I am really and truly tired of feeling like I represent all Arabs, all Muslims, all “people from over there,” since the people grilling me on my opinions seem to lump all these categories (and more) together. But rather than rant and rage against the frustrations of ignorant questions and even more arrogant assumptions, I have decided to confront a critical question: Should I even answer?
Growing up, I wouldn’t even have entertained such a thought. Not answer one of these questions, foolish (or worse) as they may be by an obviously well-meaning stranger?! Practically blasphemy, that’s what I thought about that. But now I’m at a point where not only are these questions, as relevant as some might be to current events, annoying, but they actually cause me stress and rob me of energy. And while I don’t want to presume anyone’s intention, I don’t know, in this day and age of Wikipedia and information overload, how anyone can feel that it makes any sense at all to ask one person’s opinion–though really, it’s an apology or defense I often feel people want from me–in regards to something they probably know nothing about as an excuse to help them be able to formulate their own.
Perhaps I’m being reductive and forgetting the main point here: after all, the most important thing is that people leave an interaction with me understanding and maybe even wanting to educate themselves more about Islam since Islam and Muslims have been slandered and lambasted in the media since before most of us Muslim-American kids could even spell the names that our teachers butchered (it’s actually sah-FAY-uh, not sah-FIE-uh. Not Safia either. And no, not the name of the only other hijabi in my school, either). Right?
I’m not going to answer my question above on your behalf, of course. Just on my own. But the next time someone asks you why Shari’a is creepin’ through Congress, or where you’re “really from,” or maybe more innocuously, is your family ok in X country because of Y insurgent group, remember that not only are you not obligated to answer. They’re in fact the ones more likely in the wrong for even asking. We’re individuals, and if you ever feel that you’re being made to quote for the internal printing press of some overly, anxiously inquiring mind that doesn’t even endeavor to explain to you what they want your answer for, well then, I say toss them a “peace, friend,” and move on to your next endeavor.
I think sometimes I’m so worried about messing up someone’s opinion of Islam and Muslims by not answering an asinine question that it’s taken me years to even stop and think if that’s really what the meaning of “da’wah” is. Sometimes, I feel muddled about what to do because for every four or five “did your dad force you to wear that thing”’s, there are one or two people I’ve been blessed enough to feel like I actually impact and even feel connection with when I tell them about Islam.
I guess I’m still answering my own question. I don’t want to establish a blanket policy for rejecting people who may one day learn to educate others on my behalf or even on behalf of Islam. But I want to save my energy, too, for bigger and better things.
At the end of the day, more often than not, it’s good to remember that when it comes to learning about other faiths, for a majority of the people asking ignorant questions, it’s their own job to take initiative and educate themselves. Y’know, if you wanted my personal opinion on that topic.
As a reminder to myself: I can always say “no, thanks.”
And hey, if I’m ever totally at a loss for words, I can take comfort in the fact that this cool hijabi’s snapchats will probably be a great substitute for anything I have to say.