Ilaf’s edge: The sharing of cultures

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I stared at the comment on my Instagram post, dumbfounded. I didn’t know whether to be pleased or offended, so I settled for confused. “m’A” stands for “Mash’Allah,” an Arabic phrase used to express joy.

I stared at his reply, curious as to why an Asian Buddhist was using a term I’ve only ever associated with other Muslims. The situation felt like a reversal of the controversy surrounding Kylie Jenner’s dreads. Instead of posting a questionable photo riddled with appropriation, I received a questionable “mash’Allah” as a comment on a picture of my face.

I’ve said “mash’Allah” a thousand times and, I’ve heard it a million more, but I was usually wearing a hijab and talking to other Muslims when these things happened.

So again, I wondered, what is an Asian Buddhist doing typing “m’A” as a comment to my selfie? After all, if Eminem refrained from using the “N” word, maybe non-Muslims should refrain from using “mash’Allah.”

That was my ignorant train of thought. I thought my culture entitled me to owning a phrase. I thought that I should feel offended even though I didn’t want to. I thought that I should be mad even though he didn’t mean any harm by it at all.

In fact, I later found out that the phrase isn’t even religious. It’s just Arabic, which is a common language amongst Muslims. I didn’t even know that, and I had been saying “mash’Allah” since I was in diapers. How sad.

I laughed at the irony of the situation  it took a non-Muslim to teach me more about Islam because I didn’t know if I should applaud his curiosity or deem it as overstepping.

He’s probably reading this right now, he may even feel a little awkward but he shouldn’t. It was my attempt to understand the politically correct nature of UC Berkeley that even sparked an iota of concern.

But in all honesty, I’m glad my community is getting some positive exposure. I’m glad we’re not being erased from history like colonial-era Africans in Taylor Swift’s “Wildest Dreams” video.

America may be a melting pot, but we are still struggling to put differences behind us. There is still a disgruntling sense of “other” that plagues every community. Tolerance and acceptance are two different mechanisms. Ignorance and appreciation are two different mechanisms. We need to move toward welcoming and understanding our society rather than thickening the divides. But appropriation is not the right way to go about it.

The difference between my friend’s use of “m’A” and Miley Cyrus’ use of “mammy” is that my friend actually took the time to learn about the phrase. He knew where it came from, how it was used, why it was used, and I’m sure that he checked to see if it was offensive in the slightest.

He was learning and growing. That is what a melting pot should be. My friend was not saying “m’A” because it’s a fad. He wasn’t instigating any divide. He was simply being nice.

It would be one thing for Urban Outfitters to promote the meaning behind henna and its cultural uses before selling overpriced tubes to all the Coachella fans who wear bindis with their feathered headdresses, but the company doesn’t. Instead, its questions stop at “What is that?” instead of continuing onto “Why is that used?” This lack of understanding is where the problem lies.

There needs to be a sense of understanding to go along with the sharing of cultures.

I want someone to know where I come from, why I am the way I am and I want to know their story too. But that curious nature can only be satiated if the right questions are asked.

I do see the merit in the publicity that these stunts garner. Yet, I do think that people should broaden their perspective and understand the roots behind these phrases before adopting them into their lives.


Contact Ilaf Esuf at [email protected].