Anytime I walk through campus’ Turlington area, it’s a speed walk with headphones in and eyes down. Like a hook waiting for a fish, clubs and campus tables jump at the opportunity to persuade you to their cause. With some tables more popular than others, students in passing may crowd around common interests.
But whenever I walk to my Arabic class, a flash of discomfort and guilt fills me as I pass the Islam on Campus table, averting my eyes to the floor.
Like a black sheep, years of Islamic upbringing remind me of the physical and mental distance I’ve created from my faith. Wearing every sin of the religion, I brush past with an internal feeling of disclusion.
I was born to immigrant parents in Pembroke Pines, Florida. Continents away from my roots, my parents placed me in a local Islamic school to teach me the fundamentals of my religion and language. It wasn’t until the third grade that they realized my learning would benefit from a secular education. That’s where a rift in my identity began to open.
I was immersed in a pool of diverse backgrounds, religions and trains of belief. Sheltered by parents whose Arab identities began to wither at the rate of our American immersion, I never questioned my faith. It was right, but it was just different. Any and all opinions on others were answered by mom and dad.
Obviously that ignorant childhood bliss begins to wear off as we grow into teenage years. My conformity to American culture quickly gained heavy disapproval from my parents. God was used as a guilt tactic against anything and everything they didn’t want me to do.
And so my relationship with religion was one of fear. The love and curiosity began to dwindle. Things like clothing, social interactions and practices were restricted — just because everyone else was doing it, doesn’t mean I should go against the word of God.
I memorized parts of the Quran and kept practicing Arabic thanks to tutoring. Yet, my divorced parents became outcasts in the Arab community. With no communal or spiritual connection anymore, I felt lost and undeserving of the title “Muslim.”
That brings me back to the heavy feeling I carry around Turlington every week. I have not met a single person in the IOC club, but my anxiety tells me they carry the same judgment that the Arabs I grew up with would have. It’s important to note that not all Arabs are Muslim, but all the ones in my community were.
It wasn’t until I came to college that I realized I may carry some religious trauma. It's partially due to the exposure of Arabs who felt the same.
Moving from a comparatively homogeneous South Florida to an extremely diverse campus allowed me to cross paths with people like me. People who struggle to find something in their wardrobe when visiting family. People who have to mute their phones around family, so they don’t know you have a boyfriend. People who carry the guilt of living their life differently because we are not our parents.
Now that my age labels me as an adult, and I’ve grown very independent of my family with mylife here on campus, I had to face my faith as an individual consideration. I don’t get judged for who I am in a sea of differences. I no longer view religion as a law I follow. It’s become a choice.
I hesitate now to share that I’m Muslim. Rather, I say that I was born into Islam. It’s bittersweet.
The belief in a higher power can support my life without feeling that I’m not worth enough for the higher power. But my roots carry with me wherever I go, especially in Turlington. I almost feel relieved that I don’t “look” Muslim so I don’t get stopped and asked about my faith.
I remember the first day of classes, I struggled with what to wear in my Arabic class. With the presumption that it would be filled with Arabs, I pulled the most conservative pieces out of my closet and changed my background screen from my boyfriend to my cat. I anticipated having to live up to this image of an Arab American. I thought I couldn’t disclose many details about who I was or I would get judged.
A few semesters later, I’ve found that the best students in that class actually have no Middle Eastern origins whatsoever. I feel comfortable in the lifestyle I live amongst Arabs and non-Arabs alike because our lived experiences don’t succumb to one image.
We’re ever growing college kids whose degrees come with a minor in “identity crisis.” The fact of the matter is this time of my life has allowed me to explore my faith outside of societal pressures. Knowing that the IOC actually has nothing against me, as well as any faith group on campus, invites me to take that initiative rather than the other way around.
On campus, I don’t feel boxed into the label of Arab American. I can be who I want to be and feel how I want to feel. I can join the IOC if I want, but won’t have every Arab student around me shun me if I don’t. To me, religion is a personal relationship with a higher being or beings. I hope to heal the part of me that wants to reconnect with my faith, and my time here at UF may be opening that gate.
Noor Sukar is a UF journalism sophomore.