Human: Part III

If you separate yourself from your accomplishments, titles, and possessions, then who are you really? At work, I am Ms. Naima, the math instructor. At school, I am an unfamiliar passerby on the campus of George Mason University. And on Instagram, I am Naima, the yogi, contemporary artist, and blogger. But if we tap into our subconscious mind and explore our inner selves– strengths, vulnerabilities, aspirations, fear– then we discover the aspects that truly define us. Apart from being an employee, a classmate, a community member, or otherwise, who are you? We make myriad assumptions about other people every day, an automatic process conducted by the subconscious mind.

As I stood in front of a college class for a presentation today, I couldn’t help but wonder about the gaps that my audience may have filled in their minds regarding who I am. I shouldn’t be concerned with directly influencing others’ perception of me; doing so is just as ineffective as beating a dead horse. But observing the nature of perception (of humans and the world around us) is intriguing because our thoughts are presumably flexible, and thus, subject to external influence. It is often that I spend the nights in quiet introspection, as I lay my thoughts on the floor of my mind and pretend to be an outsider. These thoughts are organized based on category: art, religion, culture, politics, academia, and more.

I challenge myself to consider the counter-view of my beliefs so that I may gain an awareness of diverse perspectives. Some may call this practice “walking in other people’s shoes.” My history professor and I call it “mental flexibility.” During this process, I observe the contours of my face and employ the imaginative part of my mind. I imagine myself as a single individual among billions of humans. These people do not have unique countenances– no unique race, religion, background, or character. We are truly a unified human race in this scenario (which only exists in the boundaries of my skull). We do not compare each other on the basis of financial status or ridicule unique gender identities (many of which were recently introduced by the millennial generation). We are mind, body, and spirit . We are one collective whole on this planet. We are not a dollar amount, a simulation of photoshopped magazine covers, or titles upon titles of resume-perfect accomplishments.

We are thoughts expressing themselves through character and action.

We are vulnerability– embraced by the self or not.

We are human.


Independent Thinker

What defines true independent thought? My history professor provided a cursory glance of the meaning of independent thought, and my intrigue followed me long after I had left the classroom. Before my professor remarked on this subject, I would have asserted that I am undeniably an independent thinker, which I can support not just by assertion (which holds no weight unless supported by action) but also by a distinguished character in a land of assimilationist culture.

In previous works, I asserted that I am not where I come from, which is to say that I do not identify with my origins, familial or cultural. It is a complex identity that coalesces diverse cultural identities with religious thought. It is quite simple for me to tell you that I am a Muslim-American female who grew up in Northern Virginia. But this title does not do justice in conveying my effort to reflect independent thought through various realms, such as creativity and self-expression.

When I was 14-years-old, thorough research on the hijab led me to making the decision to overtly represent my faith through dress. This mode of self-expression required that I learn how to not only build an identity of who I was as an American-Muslim but to also surround myself with those with whom I identified. But a startling aspect of this transformation were the questions I received, the most memorable of them being the following: “Why do you wear the hijab but your (female) family members don’t?”

Allow me to digress.

As I was growing up, I was very much an overthinker. But I didn’t understand all of the ill-informed suggestions that this question implied. I didn’t have the time to tailor my response to those who were either unwilling to consider my perspective or ignorant of major world religions.

My response stripped the issue of all of its wondrous complexity. “I chose to wear it, and my sisters didn’t. It’s a personal choice.”

To my dear, 14-year-old self. Indeed it is a personal choice. But allow me to say now the words I could not articulate when I was younger. I choose to wear the the hijab as a way to build an identity as a Muslim female. I choose to wear it as a representation of my modesty (of character and dress). Your question about why my family members and I don’t share the same practices implies that we don’t all make the same personal decisions.

Perhaps the reason why it was difficult for me to be at peace with the implications of this question was because, in most families, there exists a unity. That is to suggest unity of speech, cultural practices, religious thought, and more. However, this aspect does not exist in all familial structures, as I have had flexibility in determining my own modes of self-expression.

Allow me to reintroduce myself. I am Naima. I am a Muslim-American female. I am an artist, a writer, a blogger. I am a student attending a school in Northern Virginia. And I am not where I am come from. But I am from the diverse groups of people that I have worked with and befriended throughout my lifetime. I am from cross-country practices ending at 6pm on weekdays, from huddled masses of distance runners, from the starting gun… to the very finish line. I am from the tears of joy that spill over my eyelids as self-expression ignites a fire of creativity in my lungs, as I dance unabashedly in my local yoga studio.

If it is any fact that I can simplify, it is that I cannot streamline myself into a single, confined identification. A check box will not do justice in conveying this individuality of thought, of character, of dress…

Professor Schulze.

Can I define myself as an independent thinker, regardless of age?

Can I strip my thoughts from prejudice and external influence and think objectively, despite my demographics?

Can I consider myriad perspectives and use them to shape and re-shape my beliefs?

And if we may redirect our focus to the main question: what does it mean to be a true independent thinker? We cannot pluck ourselves from the earth, and thus, confidently assert that we are not influenced by politics, economics, or other external factors. Rather, we should make a habit of weighing diverse perspectives in order to achieve mental flexibility. We must use our minds as resources in guiding our choices in regards to our modes of self-expression. Only then do we achieve true independence of thought.


Emotion versus Logic

Writer’s Note: I am so excited that I have been experimenting with diverse genres lately. This piece will certainly catch you by surprise. I’ve written a play to illustrate the conflict between knowing what is morally right versus choosing whether to act on such knowledge. I hope you enjoy this quirky, yet meaningful, short play. -Naima

Emotion versus Logic

Emotion: Oh my goodness, hey! How are you? I’ve missed you so much! It’s been a while since we last met.

Logic: Indeed it has been. We’ve been apart for quite some time, but it’s vital that we reconvene. I’m doing swell, how about yourself?

Logic takes a seat in the interrogation room, as emotion paces about with excitement.

Emotion: Oh, don’t worry about me! I’m so excited to see you, but I’ll admit I’m a bit nervous. I feel I might explode!

Logic: Well, why don’t you have a seat and we’ll talk things out.

Emotion: Alright, fine. Whatever you say. You are the better decision-maker.

Logic: So, Emotion, tell me what’s on your mind.

Emotion: Well, I can’t seem to build a healthy distance between myself and cultural expectations. I want my values to be the core of who I am, but at the same time, I just really want to fit in.

Emotion’s face turns red as he rests his arms on the table and slouches.

Logic: Emotion, you’re right. It’s important to feel a sense of belonging amongst our friends and family. But you have to ask yourself if fitting in is worth sacrificing your values.

Emotion: Yes! I just want my friends to accept me. If I just give in to all my wishes, don’t you think I would be happier?

Logic: Emotion, you might experience a temporary boost in overall happiness. But you must consider the long-term. Which do you value more, your values, which are the very core of who you are, or your appearance?

Emotion: Ugh! I just want to look and feel… well, beautiful, and confident… ooh! And smart! Eh, whatever, scratch the last one. I’ll never be that.

Logic breathes deeply and adjusts his neck-tie.

Logic: Giving in to the pressure will only create more room for more… well, pressure. It is crucial that we don’t lose ourselves in the temptation to please others.

Emotion: Well, duh. But if other people accept me, then we won’t have to worry about this whole “belonging” thing.

Emotion crosses his arms defensively and rolls his eyes. Logic continues to listen patiently.

Logic: Emotion, before you worry about anyone else accepting you, you need to accept yourself.

Emotion: Alright, Logic, how many more clichés you got? I’ve seen all this self-love crap on Instagram.

Logic: Emotion. Listen to me. You are so much more than what you look like. Well… um, tell me, what sparks your interest?

Emotion bites his nails as Logic speaks. Emotion looks up at Logic abruptly and is taken aback by the direct appeal.

Emotion: Umm… I guess I really like cars. Oh, hey! You know what I really want? A deep blue, Acura TLX.

Logic: Don’t get carried away now. Think about this. The exterior of a car doesn’t mean a thing unless the vehicle functions properly and serves a purpose.

Emotion: So what’s your point?

Logic: Emotion, you are so much more than your exterior. You are a walking set of values, a unique individual who has so much to offer to this world.

Emotion: Logic, you’re right. I think I just need some time to distance myself from temptation.

Logic and Emotion rise from their seats and embrace each other. The two figures blend into a single being.

The Divided States of America

As we spread the popular hashtag #AllLivesMatter, countless lives of innocent people are lost. Have you heard about the three African-American Muslim boys who were shot in Indiana? Probably not; yet the death of a lion was deemed far more important by news media broadcasters. Why does the media imply that the lives of minorities are so cheap? With the divisive rhetoric that 2016 presidential candidates promote, there has been a sharp increase in police brutality and hate crimes against Muslims. Today, Americans spend more thought ordering the importance of human lives on the basis of race, religion, ethnic origin, nationality, and more. Instead, our energies should be spent building unity between one another regardless of these factors.

Our society doesn’t always agree with this attitude and would like to create as many ways as possible for us to become divided. But I would rather see the integration of all people, black or white, gay or straight, Muslim, Christian, Atheist, and more. Simply put, what does it matter if we’re not all the same?  Shouldn’t the value of our lives be equal regardless of religion, race, ethnicity, or any other factor? And shouldn’t individuality be celebrated?

With the current presidential race, don’t ever let anyone make you feel that you don’t belong here. We all belong here. This is our country, and America is a mixing bowl of so many beautiful cultural backgrounds, religions, ethnic origins, and more. So let’s celebrate our unique part of this American society. Let’s make the world around us more tolerant and inclusive. After all, this is the United States of America. Don’t let us become the Divided States of America.