Australian? Muslim? Try being both

By Mariam Bazzi.

I am an Australian born, coffee-lovin’, procrastinatin’, café-boppin’, multi-assessment taskin’, double-majorin’, don’t-talk-to-me-in-the-mornin’ 21 year-old student currently completing her undergrad degree and hanging by the skin of her teeth to remain part of a collective of educated young people, who, for the most part, see nothing about me on first glance … but my hijab. My scarf doesn’t even need to be a conversation starter for people who have never met me to know who I am. I wear my whole belief system publically, and I bare the unspoken prejudice willingly.

You see, as an Australian Muslim, I’m currently in a bit of a dilemma. A minority of people who know nothing about Islam are placing a whole nation of innocent Muslims in a very difficult position because of the atrocities being committed all over the Middle East and other parts of the world. As a result, Islamophobia has heightened dramatically, and become an everyday ordeal everywhere I go. Whether it is to the shops, on public transport, or even just to uni, I feel like I’m struggling to be who I want to be, because I fear that conforming fully to what I believe in will ultimately lead to me being shunned by the same people I believed were supposed to protect me – our own government (way to go, Tony Abbott). But alas, as the days go by I feel a growing sense of anxiety, and a deepening sense of ostracism.

Being the first in my family to be accepted into university, I’m trying to set a good example for my younger siblings, whilst also bearing in mind that I’m simultaneously trying to set a good example of my religion as a whole. I sometimes fail to see the point, however. I feel like the Muslims who are working profusely and productively for their families are also hoping that their efforts are being recognized over the slander that is being perpetuated by the vile, vicious and ruthless media. The double standards blurring the lines between ‘freedom of speech,’ and just straight bigotry and discrimination is actually sometimes funny. But, quite frankly, I’m sure I can speak for the majority when I say this. We’re all sick of it.

The everyday struggle has made my skin thick, and the hide of my tongue even thicker. It has forced me (and the rest of society) to see the ugliness of the world through a microscope rather than its beauty through a telescope. It has taken from me the pride I once felt comfortable expressing, in a place that I thought was supposed to be my home. Coming from a background and a family that built itself up from nothing but faith and hope, I looked forward to growing up and enjoying the modest luxuries my family built for my siblings and me. A home, food on the table, and most importantly, an education. Even if both my parents didn’t speak English. This has ultimately allowed me to see my life through the same lens. On really bad days, I have to remind myself to bite my tongue and utter to myself, “gratitude and hope”.

My father–my strongest support system–has always been the one who taught me to toughen myself mentally through education. He instilled a hunger for knowledge that I never knew I had and that till this day I am still attempting to quench. I came to USyd believing (and still believing) it to be an absolute honor, because not many people that were (and still are) where I was, are granted the same opportunity. I find myself constantly needing to be reminded that I’m here because I deserve to be here. Because my family and I have worked so hard, and continue to do so to get where we need to be. But in my endeavour to do what I need to do to get by, labels for which I never gave permission are barricading me. In society’s attempt to cover me with a name, I feel like I’m ironically being stripped of my identity.

I’m not ‘oppressed,’ nor am I ‘violent,’ ‘menacing’ or ‘crude’. I don’t believe killing sprees grant me paradise, and I don’t want to be associated with such a minority. How explicit does a majority have to be for society to get the message? We don’t want sympathy and we don’t want apologies. We don’t need to be loved, liked or even accepted (although it would be nice). We do however want respect and tolerance. To live our lives based on what our religion stands for: peace (in other words, we’re cool; I promise).

Here’s a verse from the Qur’an that actually doesn’t need any context for you to understand:

“And do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness.”

— Qur’an 5:8

How many media outlets have published that one?