Sometimes I feel that our communities do not appreciate the small steps that young girls would take to become good believers, and are only concentrated on how you outwardly present yourself, rather than the actions God wants of you. This is something Islam does not teach, as we must do things for God and only for God, not for the aunt we’ll see at the market next week. However, the compartmentalisation of what a Muslim is in the West has been a real challenge to deal with, especially for women like me.
Whilst trying to gather ideas for this article, I found that many women like myself, hijabis and non-hijabis have experienced similar treatments from their own communities, especially if they are seen to be breaking stereotypes of what a Muslim woman should be like.
I was either not Muslim enough, or I was seen as “too Muslim” or “too religious” in certain situations.
As a Turkish Muslim woman, I struggled to fit in with the Muslim and non-Muslim communities in London. I was either not Muslim enough, or I was seen as “too Muslim” or “too religious” in certain situations. I could never fit in with the white people in my school as I felt that I always had to explain myself and my boundaries with them, which always left me feeling alienated by the time I had finished. It felt like I was being alienated in both my Muslim and non-Muslim communities at school. I always felt like I was stuck in-between. I pray, I fast, I dress modestly, I donate to charities, do everything expected of a Muslim but I just don’t wear the hijab. My mum who also didn’t wear one until 2015, made me feel like less of a Muslim than those who did wear a hijab, which is toxic and damaging for many Muslim girls growing up in the diaspora as we already suffer from so many problems with identity and fitting in. These feelings of not being a part of a community were reinforced at my Saturday Turkish Islamic school where I received a lot of judgement as I had no one to help me practice Qur’an at home, as my parents were not taught it very well. The place where I was meant to feel at home made me feel more isolated than ever, because of these prejudgements from my own community.
In addition to this treatment, there was always this stereotype of Turkish people not being “real Muslims” in secondary school because many of our mothers in London did not wear a headscarf, but at the same time, a lot did. Although I went to the mosque on Saturdays and knew my religion well, I felt like my identity was not valid, as I did not wear a headscarf and my origins were Turkish. I also believe that because the majority of Turkish people do not speak Arabic, it gives way for further separation within the Muslim community in the diaspora. Growing up it seemed like the epitome of a good Muslim was one from an Arab country, and who could go and understand the teachings at the Arabic speaking mosques, which seems bizarre to me today. However, this ultimately brings certain communities closer, as they can pray and talk to each other, which would make them more tightly knitted. My local Turkish community could not understand English that well and did not have the common language of Arabic to socialise with other Islamic communities. Language barriers once again prove to be one of the biggest struggles of the diaspora and feeling like you’re a part of something.
Despite all of this, as someone who is a part of the second-generation diaspora, I am hopeful for a progressive change to tolerance and the welcoming of those who don’t always tick our boxes of what it means to be a certain type of person, and I have already seen improvements. The more I become vocal about my own identity and struggles, being Muslim and Turkish, amd the daughter of immigrants, the more I see that they’re more common in the diaspora than we think. I hope that these conversations are continuously vocalised so that we become closer as one community.