The privilege of choice: A rediscovery of Islam

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Being born into Islam was the greatest privilege, yet I took it for granted. It was never forced down my throat as a kid, but it was always implied that this was a way of life. It was implied that this was a way of my life. I always struggled with this privilege and wondered how much more I would appreciate being Muslim if I had come across Islam on my own. I appreciated my Muslim upbringing, however it always remained to me as a birthright, which is why having the choice to practice Islam on my own became so significant to me. It was through family and through being at home that my culture and religion existed during my adolescence, but as I transition into adulthood, it didn’t touch my everyday life anymore. UC Berkeley blessed my life in more ways than one. I gained this newfound appreciation for the communities Islam nurtures in young environments such as the ones UC Berkeley has to offer. I found Islam again, so to speak. 

So many intersections exist in Muslim communities. For example, I am a North African, Middle Eastern, Arab Muslim. Muslims everywhere, just like on UC Berkeley’s campus, are composed of many different cultures and backgrounds. My Muslim experience on campus didn’t really even come from the Muslim Student Association, but rather from cultural, non religious-affiliated organizations and clubs I was both formally and casually involved in. It was through the Arab Student Union and Middle Eastern North African Recruitment and Retention Center that I met Muslims who became some of the greatest influences in my life. It was through those friendships that I saw that being a Muslim was a choice and even though I was born into Islam, it could be my choice too.

College years are our defining years. We’re free from parents (for the most part, that is, if you’re not Brown like me) and most of us are living on our own, making our own decisions, so it’s motivating and inspiring to see the Muslim youth cling to their religion autonomously. Muslims all around the world hold Friday prayers around noon, and to see my friends take time between classes or breaks from studying to come together and pray was a revelation. Even if they don’t know it, each and every one of these students, who makes the personal choice to go to prayer while ultimately being free(r) from parents proves the stigma of Islam being a “forceful” religion wrong. It isn’t only through this act of worship that this community on campus speaks volumes about Muslims around the world. It’s through the acts of generosity, welcoming arms, and understanding which exemplifies what this beautiful religion stands for.

Most Muslims come from collectivistic cultures that originate from the Middle East or South Asia. And it’s common for culture to intermingle with religion. The hospitality that a newly acquainted, Muslim girl offered me in her apartment or the protection extended by a group of Muslim boys to walk my friends and I home at night, comes out of the goodness of their hearts, but it is also cultivated by their cultural upbringing. Cultures that are densely present in Islam aren’t really embraced by the media because the truth about these cultures are misconstrued. If only those people could gain from the outpour of kindness I’ve received.

It’s hard for individuals as young and moldable as we are to find ourselves in a world that claims to know who we are. Before we get a chance to make a name for ourselves, we’re already being called names. This is the tragic and ironic reality, us Muslims have to face. But before this piece brings pity to our generation of Muslims, know we’re resilient and stronger because of the communities like the one Cal has harbored.

 

Nora Elatar is a sophomore civil engineering major who is involved with the Middle Eastern North African Recruitment and Retention Center as the social retention director.