Muslims don't have to be Pakistani?

8:20:00 AM

When you’re growing up, you hold with you a set of beliefs, most of which have no basis more reliable than your own reasoning, backed by the fact that no event has happened in your limited existence to tell you otherwise. You also believe what you do because you have limited exposure to the world around you.
Part of my childhood was spent in Hong Kong, where I started my schooling while my elder brother and sister continued in senior classes.
Back there, we grew up amongst children from all across the globe, for us diversity was a common aspect in school and connecting with them was second nature.
However, having friends in school is one thing, having family friends is a completely different story. And this is where most of our belief system starts to take shape.
When you grow up outside of your home country I think the urge to have some connection with it increases with every year you’re apart from it. And in such cases it’s natural to try and find ties with people who share similar cultural and religious values as you. With this in mind I remember very clearly how almost all our family friends were from Pakistan and we all followed one basic belief system and way of life – i.e. Islam.
For me growing up it was therefore easy to interchange Pakistan, Islam, Urdu, Arabic and all such aspects of our version of Islam into a small part on the globe that defined us as Pakistanis. It was difficult for me to imagine a Muslim who didn’t belong to Pakistan because those were the only Muslims I grew up around.
Sure I knew that Muslims came from all over the world and on occasion I saw them in the Mosque in Hong Kong (whenever we got a chance to go on Fridays) but even then it never occurred to me that Muslims can be of another race.
Even though I grew up listening to stories of Hazrat Bilal, a black slave who converts to Islam and is one of the closest companions of the Prophet (PBUH); the fact that he was a Black Muslim never occurred to me. Why didn’t I realize that you didn’t have to be a Pakistani to be a Muslim?
I had a friend in school named Terrance Hussain, but the second name doesn’t matter to you when you’re young and so I just knew him as Terrance. One day his younger brother comes up to me and says “You are in the presence of ADAAM Hussain – so beware I may just nuke you!” He was trying to play on the similarity of his name with Sadaam Hussain. I looked at him curiously and with a pondered expression said “Hmm, you have a very Muslim name”, which of course caught him by surprise and as he was walking off he turned to me with one eyebrow up (something I still can’t do) and chuckled out “that’s because I AM a Muslim!” And I thought to myself - Wow! That means, I have a Muslim friend who’s name is Terrance! That is so cool.
That day I frantically roamed the playground looking for Terrance and the moment I found him I started talking to him about everything related to Islam (or what little I knew of it at the age of 10) – did he say his prayers, does he believe in the Prophet (PBUH). Was he always a Muslim, does he fast during Ramadan. I was so excited about it all as if I had found a survivor other than myself on an uncharted island off the coast of human existence! For a small brief moment he was truly unique to me. I even asked him about the type of cuisines they had from their home land (which was Morocco) thinking that the type of dishes we had would also have relevance to Islam regardless of where you lived – there needed to be more similarities then just our faith. But the most remarkable thing was – there wasn’t any and that’s what made it even more enriching an experience.
I realized then that the fact we share a single belief system is in itself the most common of all denominators. It doesn’t matter what country you’re from or what color or race you belong to. Islam transcends boundaries of our self created divisions. The farcical concept of a clothe woven together with particular designs which we refer to as a flag doesn’t really unite us at all, it in fact creates the boundaries that Islam tries to break down. The flag is great when you’re playing cricket but life is more than just sports it’s about living and that’s what Islam teaches us… a way of life.
That day I also started asking the real important questions from my parents, questions like what really is Islam, who can be a Muslim and then of course the Islamic stories of our prophets from the Quran. I’ve realized that most of these questions have answers that come with time and even after twenty years from that day I’m still in search of most of these answers.
It makes me wonder then that by not being able to see the world clearly we sometimes grow up in our own small bubble, encapsulated by our beliefs.
I strongly believe that the bloodshed and the calamities that are unfolding today are a result of our myopic vision and the brainwashing that is being amplified by the disjointed and skewed media we have out there. No one is really questioning the lies behind the so-called accurate stories of the news channels.
Conspiracy theories make more and more sense now than ever before.
I can only pray that we start looking beyond the race, color and demographic boundaries that break us apart and can come together as Muslims and genuinely pure individuals.

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