Muslim. Somali. British. Female. Teenager. Where exactly do I fit in all of this? How do I merge together the pieces of this international puzzle? To put it simply, who am I?
As a daughter of immigrants, I often find it difficult to balance my multiple identities. I find myself feeling trapped in a daunting identity crisis. From seemingly simple struggles such as whether to wear a trouser, skirt or abayah (Islamic dress worn by women) when going out, to larger issues including how to respond to acts of discrimination in a society that sometimes seems so set up against each and every single one of my identities.
I am left vulnerable, subject to sexism in a male dominating world, Islamophobia in a generation growing further and further away from all things religious, racism in a nation currently struggling in the messy aftermath of Brexit and hostility towards any fresh-faced hoodie wearer. Although it’s truly a blessing to belong to so many groups of individuals, it can be shot right back at my face with the countless options given to a passer-by from simply one glance at my appearance- my tell-tale hijab frightening the ignorant of my foreign beliefs, my dark skin likened to all things dangerous, barbaric and horrific yet feminine physique supposedly screaming out my vulnerability.
It is a hard knock life, particularly with the media making matters worse by a tenfold- feeding like parasites off of our miseries-subtly drumming away at the minds of the clueless. Thankfully, discrimination isn’t too bad in London, where just less than 50% of the population are White-British, and so most here grow up with a range of different ethnicities surrounding them, their minds consequently being fed with blissful knowledge and acceptance of the “oh-so-scary” immigrants. I don’t enjoy playing the victim-card however, I can’t deny how embarrassing it can be to constantly hear your people being bashed in the news, from “young BLACK man shoplifts yet again” to “radicalized JIHADI blows up another bus”… What does Jihadi even mean? The beautiful meaning of the word Jihad has been completely diminished as it has been turned from an Arabic word meaning “to struggle and strive against one’s self for the sake of Allah” (alluding to daily struggles such as praying in an inconvenient situation or holding your tongue when angry) to the simplified extremist definition of a holy war warrior. It all stems from misguided ideology, to say the least.
Belonging to multiple minority groups does have its fair share of pleasures and pressures. It can be exciting to be united with groups of people and to feel a sense of belonging in such an individualistic society- finally, you are not alone! You can pick and choose snippets from each of your identities, forming your personality into a unique mould quite like no other. There has even been a sudden cultural breakthrough where embracing your “exotic” side is now the newest trend! Girls are ditching their straighteners for their natural, wild curls and boys are abandoning their barbers to reunite with their long lost afros. At last, we have been kindled with a sense of pride in our foreign qualities, our confidence stopping people from frowning over and quizzically questioning us for a change. Although I can’t help but wonder…how long exactly will this trend last?
In terms of the burdens of belonging to numerous identities, it can feel as though your limbs are being pulled north, east, south and west by the overwhelming amount of expectations that are placed upon you. It can often be exhausting trying to choose whether I am going to attend a Black Lives Matter march, Friday’s Jummah prayer or just losing myself in the impossibly demanding work of an A-level student. It’s common to be left feeling guilty due to prioritizing and showcasing one of your identities and inevitably abandoning another- whether that entails rocking your African curls or covering them under an Islamic scarf, wearing a Somali dirac to your wedding or a Western white dress, escaping from the world through your headphones to listen to the latest R&B hit or allowing the cool touch of Quranic “alifs” and “bas” (“a” and “b”) to seep through your ears and into your heart- the conflicts are endless. Is it really a surprise when some immigrants choose to deny some of their roots due to wanting to fit in just that much more and as their culture can often be too much “baggage” for them to carry alongside their entire livelihoods that are boxed, stuffed and shipped across the other side of the world. I recall a Somali once telling me that when immigrating to the UK, they too, were guilty of this denial phase- initially claiming their background as being Caribbean, a more comfortable nationality for the British tongues that they believed would trip up over the unknown Somali nationality.
To make matters even more complicated for myself, as well as being a part of various categories of people, Somalis have thrown the tiresome debate of tribalism into the mix: frowning upon “untouchable tribes” whom their daughters mustn’t marry, asking young children what qabiil (tribe) they belong to when they can barely spell their full name and instigating unnecessary disputes with Somalis of another tribe when ironically they would be perfectly happy to converse with an entirely different race. Where exactly is the logic in that? I’m in complete agreement with knowing exactly where you’re from and who your ancestors are, which distinguishing your tribe essentially allows you to comprehend, however, the problem lies with tribal matters causing rivalry and unpleasant feuds. There’s a Somali saying that reads: “Iskaashato ma kufto”- “If people support each other they do not fall”. Essentially we can’t ever solve the injustices against us if we commit injustices against each other.
Another difficulty regarding identity that many Somali youth encounter is the deafening divide between the young and old. In all societies, there will generally be an inevitable disconnection between these parties due to the generation gap however, this void is now widened with the double blow of a cultural gap as well (as the younger generation grow up in a Western society which completely differs from the older generations’ African upbringing). This immense divide results in a significant number of the Somali youth feeling alienated from their elders, often facing a language barrier, although they do find common ground by lingering in the limbo between the two languages- Somali and English. In addition to the language barrier that the two generations must hurdle over, misunderstandings are as rife as malawax (pancakes) in a Somali household. These misunderstandings often stem from the Somali elders expecting the youth to live by the exact same customs as their own, despite the huge difference in the youths’ surroundings. One particular area of dispute is the role of women. In a society where female voices are being heard just as loud as the males, it can cause a colossal culture shock for the older generation who are accustomed to the traditional gender roles whereby women, quite proudly, run the home whilst the men bring back the bread. This misunderstanding, as well as many others, cause a considerable amount of upheaval within a Somali household. However, it is a struggle that Somalis must strive to overcome but to do so they must both make an effort to step into that, sometimes unsettling, limbo and reach out to each other.
Despite the many awkward adversities that my complex identity lands me in, there are certainly many more blessings than stresses stemming from it and I simply wouldn’t trade any of them for the sun, the moon or the glowing stars in the night sky. I am comfortable in my thick skin, my many layers only benefitting me even more than a single sheet would.
This article was written by 17-year-old Sagal Farah and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org