An outcast is defined as a person who has been rejected by society or a social group.
The definition does not state the reason behind such rejection nor does it assign any value, positive or negative, to such a status. It just defines a recipient of an action.
Such rejection however is almost always related to a perceived negativity or harm to the group from the individual who is ultimately rejected. Defiance of norms, questioning of long held views or scoffing at said group’s defining hallmarks, is typically grounds for executing such a sentence. And I fully appreciate and understand how this can be the outcome for someone who insists on defying a foundational truth held by the group (e.g. a Muslim rejecting monotheism) but what about the ones who are deemed societal rejects for defiance of a widely and systematically accepted practice that is fundamentally wrong (e.g. those who sought to end legalized racial discrimination)?
I am intrigued by the tug of war that must go on within the mind of the latter. I think that we, as humans, seek comfort or perhaps validation in numbers. “Everyone is doing it” is many times offered up as justification for accepting a norm that is wrong. I think it is ultimately easier and less taxing on the mind to have this sense of validation even if some doubt exists. So for someone to risk such comfort, to risk rejection and isolation is not an easy decision no matter how noble. Something is special about that “outcast” and I find myself asking the following questions
But most importantly to me is
The question I’m asked most frequently, once people realize that I am a Palestinian, Muslim immigrant is
“Have you faced discrimination living here?”
Such a heavy question with many more questions enveloped within! And it is not an infrequent question that I’m just choosing to shine a light on, it is literally the question I am asked most once someone realizes I am an immigrant.
And the answer is not a simple yes or no as neither will do it justice.
So how can I answer it while making sure that my own personal experiences do not eclipse the experience of others?
And why do we ask it in the first place?Better yet, what question should we be asking? And if we insist on asking the first question then what are we willing to do when we don’t like the answer?
Allow me to elaborate
First, what a sad reflection of our current reality is that question! What kind of a statement about our society does it make?! I know that it comes from concern about my well being but why have we gotten to a point where fascination with someone’s immigration story or tales about their homeland is replaced with fear and worry about their safety? What does this say about our society? Don’t be quick to dismiss this as oversensitivity on my part or this is a question that only I get asked or was asked once. This is a consistent question asked by many and of many. Take a second to think about why it is at the fore of our minds.
Second, I, the one being asked the question must be cognizant of what my experience represents and what it doesn’t. Especially when I am asked the question as a panelist on immigrant experiences or when I am speaking as a member of the immigrant community.
So here is my story
For me personally, my blueish-greenish eyes and white skin don’t signal “foreigner” and for the untrained ear that doesn’t pick up on my slight accent I “fly under the radar”. I hate myself for thinking that way! No, not that I think “phew, I can just get by and no one will notice and I will escape whatever misinformed hatred some may have towards my faith, my home land or my status as an immigrant” but the fact that overt discrimination is a reality for my brown-black skinned and/or religiously garbed friends and I happen to scoot by because of how I look. So really, aside from a couple of instances like someone telling me to my face, and in public, that there is no such a thing as Palestinian, in my 24 years of living here I have not faced discrimination directly. And so if I say no, without paying heed to the superficial privilege bestowed upon me by virtue of my look then I am discounting the daily experiences of thousands of others.
Another privilege is my echo chamber. I have two college degrees and have always worked in a professional setting with others who, for the most part, have engaged and experienced other cultures. As you read that sentence you’re probably thinking to yourself “what an elitist, pompous ass” but I hope you continue reading to understand my point. Education does not automatically make a person more open minded or less likely to discriminate. Unfortunately there are many examples out there of systematic discrimination and racism in and by institutions of higher education. Similarly, lack of higher education does not mean one is less likely to appreciate or value someone from a different culture or that they will automatically be racist. But I must acknowledge that my education is a huge privilege that has allowed me to be in work environments where I am granted time and opportunity to engage in discussions and conversations about my experiences. The audience that chooses to engage me comes from a point of seeking understanding and is usually privileged in similar ways. If I am to say no to the original question of whether I have faced discrimination or not, I am representing the experiences and views of many others who continue to face discrimination whether they are white or blue collar.
Finally, I have personally jumped head first in many difficult conversations and thereby developed a tolerance level and a high threshold for what I’d pick up on as discrimination.
So what should we ask? I believe our questions should be about what we can do to ensure successful transition and integration into our society so that we can benefit most from diversity of thought, experience, culture and talent. This is not to skirt the issue of discrimination as discrimination will never go away. However, discrimination is a manifestation of hate that is a product of ignorance. Ignorance about each other, ignorance about shared values, dreams and concerns. We can reduce ignorance and its repercussions by coming into interactions without preconceived notions about the other, by looking at ways in which we can grow and develop and by addressing the deeper issues of disinformation and misattributed fear
I’ve been going back and forth on whether to share this publicly or not but I eventually decided that it’s important to put it out there
I was robbed today.
I’ve always felt safe and secure in my city. Never have I had a reason to worry about my safety nor be concerned about publicly expressing my faith, my heritage or my opinion. I know it’s a luxury not afforded to all, especially for Muslim immigrants living in today’s America, and so I have always cherished and appreciated my city.
But today was different.
As I walked into the mosque for Friday’s prayer, I noticed a package sitting by the door. A simple, harmless package. Addressed, labeled and stamped. But in the split second between realizing there is a package by the door and recognizing that it was the printed material our imam has ordered online, I felt a strong sense of panic and a sudden pang of fear.
I have no reason to fear for my safety. There are absolutely zero indications of any threat to me or my family.
So why was that my instinct when I first saw the package?
This question has preoccupied my mind all afternoon. I couldn’t even focus much during sermon and prayer and up to the point of writing this post, I am not sure my thoughts are cohesive enough to be comprehended.
This thought pushed me off kilter. Maybe the first serious chink in my armor.
Today, the peace that gets renewed, recharged and reenergized every Friday was not there.
Today I was robbed.
One of my biggest insecurities and the thing that I have been struggling with for the past 22 years is the expectation of perfection.
Part of it is self inflicted; I don’t want to disappoint so I strive to be perfect in school, at work and even when playing soccer! That drive can be healthy when honed and matured after one inevitable faces failure. I failed, it sucks and I struggled/still struggle with that failure but I learned/am learning to temper my expectations of perfection and with a strong support system I can grow as a person.
That healthy drive becomes destructive when others expect that from those who show an ounce of promise. We do this most to the ones we’re closest to and the ones who we consider to represent us. We mold them into this image of perfection, we exalt them and rob them of the chance to display any humanity. We are threatened by any deviation they may display of the image we have created for them and project our failures and shortcomings on them. We don’t allow them the opportunity to learn and grow and many times we kick them while they’re down.
I notice this a lot with my fellow Muslims and Arabs, especially if they are immigrants. We do this a lot to our own kith and kin. But this is not exclusive to us (or the minority group) as the majority is also culpable in their expectations of perfection from whomever they consider a representative of the minority. I am to be a perfect Muslim, a perfect Arab, a perfect Immigrant because all those whom you consider me to represent will be judged by my actions.
People are not God. Give them back their humanity
There is a very powerful inner, almost subconscious and visceral, dialogue that takes place when you find yourself an immigrant trying to make it in a new place. I am going to explain this “dialogue” from my perspective as an Arab/Muslim/immigrant although I have a feeling that much of what I’m about to share is felt by others who do not necessarily fall into my categories of otherness.
For many, the aforementioned dialogue is short lived and quickly fades away into occasional whispers. Often, the dialogue ends abruptly with a conclusion that is along the lines of “the hell with the rest, I am who I am and nothing will change me”. They end up with an almost antagonistic view of the majority.
.....I am an Arab.
.....This (insert non-Arab cultural practice) does not jive with my Arab culture.
.......being with “them” will make me forget who I am and I’ll become one of “them”.
Assimilation in this case is akin to conformation, or worse subjugation, and thus become a threatening thought. Insulation becomes a protective mechanism. Eventually everything revolves around this identity and when such identity is marginalized, it becomes the lens in which they view their new world.
.....That person was looking at me funny because of my accent
.....I am going to stick with my kind
.....I didn’t get that promotion because I am Arab
Many others, conclude the opposite from their own short lived inner dialogue. They overcompensate by complete immersion in the new majority culture and full detachment from the culture of their upbringing
....I want people to see beyond my Arabness.
....I want to be viewed as one of “them”.
....Maybe they’ll find my accent cool.
Their full on immersion and complete detachment also become protective mechanisms. They’re unable to bridge the two cultures and it is much easier to “go with the flow”
For some however this dialogue is constant and never fades away. They are, on the one hand, conscious of where they come from, and on the other, receptive to what they experience in their adopted environment. They are in a state of mind that is constantly trying to balance learning, adapting, adopting, modifying, building and rebuilding of new and old concepts. They are well aware of such state of mind and, for the most part, enjoy the growth that comes with straddling both worlds.
They are however exhausted by the self awareness that comes with striking, and the effort it takes to maintain, a balance. It is incredibly easy to slip into either of the camps discussed above and many times can even be justified.
.....did I not get that promotion because I am Arab?
.....is my accent really that thick for them not to understand what I am saying?
.....maybe I should change my name to Alex if I’m going to run for office.
This last mindset is, in my opinion, the most fragile yet most beneficial for a society.
Beneficial because they help challenge a society’s long held views and either reaffirm them as timeless or expose them as flawed/in need of attention. How we respond to such a challenge is a measure of the mettle of our society and whether or not we truly believe the slogans we throw around while thumping our chests and bellowing that we are the greatest nation on earth.
Fragile because a society can easily push them into one of the two camps thus losing on their contribution to society.
This afternoon, in recognition of International Day of Peace, Manchester University dedicated a peace pole at the Fort Wayne campus. The peace pole has the message “May Peace Prevail on Earth” in the four languages most spoken at our Manchester University Pharmacy Program English, Arabic, Urdu and Spanish.
I was honored to offer opening remarks that I include below
As I thought about what to say today, I chose not to prepare my remarks well in advance and to rather quickly jot down this morning what comes to you straight from my heart; A heart, and mind, that is heavy by the recent loss of our friend Sue.
With that real and palpable sense of grief, I found myself reflecting on the number of lives lost we hear and read about in the news. Lost Lives that for the most part have unfortunately become mere cold numbers, numbers to which we have become accustomed or worse, numb.
So I asked myself, how can peace prevail on earth? How can we, as members of the Manchester family,
as persons of ability and conviction who are guided by our respect for the infinite worth of every individual,
inspired by a church steeped in the history of peace making,
how can we stem the tide of aimless, endless wars that cause immeasurable amount of pain and suffering on earth?
How can we help achieve such noble goal?
And every time I think about this, I find that the answer lies in one place.
If we want peace to prevail on earth then peace must prevail within, for when peace prevails within we become an unstoppable force of love that strives for justice for all.
May the peace, blessings and mercy of God be upon all of you. And may His everlasting peace shine through each and every one of you.
(Hoping to get a good discussion on this and would really like your input)
I have had a couple of conversations with friends recently about a concept that I will dub "luxury of thought"
Basically, I think, people whose day to day concern is basic survival/putting food on the table/making ends meet do not have the luxury of time to be able to spend on thinking/contemplating/deeper reflection.
Don't get me wrong; It's not that they are incapable, or that they lack the intelligence. Rather, it's that when making priorities, thinking about immigrants/climate change/war....etc does not make the top 10 list of concerns for them.
I believe that when people are not given the opportunity to have such basic rights as the time and mental comfort to think, thinking/contemplating/self reflection becomes a luxury and opt for the basic, often myopic, understanding of the world around them.
This concept is weaponized by those whose interests are best served by those who enjoy such "luxury" but use it with ill intent.
What do you think?
FIFTEEN YEARS AGO while attending pharmacy school in Big Rapids, Michigan, I was asked to give a short talk about Islam to a small group of students during the month of Ramadan. I was not what you would consider a religious person at the time. My adherence to faith then was at a basic level of simple compliance with standards I grew up with, had some understanding of and had some ability to express in a manner that others can understand. Yet I went, stood up in front of the small crowd and shared what the five foundational pillars of Islam are to the best of my abilities.
Fast forward eight years later, I get an email from an old classmate who happened to stumble upon my faculty profile and thought to shoot me an email to reconnect. We were at best acquaintances during school and I remember him as a nice, quite, socially awkward and somewhat introverted person. We exchanged a few emails and decided that the next time I was to visit Michigan, I lived in Maine at the time, we were going to go out to dinner and catch up. Within a few months he came to pick me up from my sister's place in Michigan and we went out for dinner and conversations.
During our conversations he shared with me that a couple of years back he had a Muslim colleague with whom he used to discuss religion, and that through such discussions he grew fond of and converted to the religion of Islam. He'd been working on his faith since and was growing his relationship with God through Islam. I was fascinated and excited by his story but then he told me that the original reason why he started looking into Islam was because he heard what I shared about Islam when we were in school.
My words intrigued him,
piqued his interest in something he was unfamiliar with,
and stayed with him until he met that person who embodied them for him.
MY simple words, during a time when I was not the best representative of my religion, led to such a significant impact on a person's life.
Why do I share this story with you now? Especially when I have this nagging feeling that I have shared it before?
I share it because I don't want you to underestimate the power of what you say, whether in person or on social media. Your words have an impact. That impact is certainly more magnified if what you say is a reflection of what you do but if all you can do is share a status, retweet something you found meaningful or post something that made you see things differently then that is still meaningful and impactful.
Especially during these times.
Go ahead, make your beautiful voice of justice, peace and mercy heard. Drown out the voices of bigotry and hate.
About 17 years ago while I was having a cigarette outside the undergraduate library of Wayne State university, a young black man, who was about my age then and dressed in a dark blue suit,a white shirt and sporting thick rimmed glasses, approached me. With a very calm and respectful yet determined manner says "may I ask you a question?"
I said "sure, go ahead".
He said "If I let you borrow my suit would you return it to me with all kinds of holes and tears in it?"
confused, I said "Of course not"
He said "Well, God gave you this body. Your suit. Why are you tearing it apart with this cigarette?"
I remember putting my head down in shame and feeling all kinds of embarrassed as I didn't know what to say then.
But now I do.
I would like to tell that random person "thank you" as he was one of the many signs God has put my way to help me quit 9 years ago.
God bless the random and seemingly small acts that have a major and positive effect
Palestinian, Muslim, American, Husband, Father, Academic, Pharmacist, Coffee Addict, Nutella phene, Pseudo writer, Soccer player, former Canadian, Community servant, Pinch hitter imam, interfaith ninja, Intellectual vigilante, and the undisputed KING of snark