Tuesday, May 28, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

Losing (and discovering) my religion

What it means to be a Muslim from Bangladesh in the US

Update : 09 Apr 2024, 08:55 AM

Since the religion’s foundation, Muslims have always been relevant; from the 1300-year trade routes of the caliphate in the Middle East, to the 400-year Ottoman Empire and its rich legacy of culture, art, and literature, Muslims have managed to solidly leave our stamp on the ever-expanding books of history. Even today, Islam is the second largest religious demographic, dominating the Middle East and Southeast Asia and Oceania.

However, outside of these areas, the population is spread more thin. For most of the rest of the world, Christians control most of the population. Even here, in a place like the United States, considered to be a “melting pot” of different cultures, ethnicities, and races, Islam comprises only 0.9% of the population.

Living in the US, you’re made very much aware of the fact that you are the minority. Barely any mosques can be found here, with the landscape dominated mostly by churches. Despite there not being any actual hostility, the culture shock when I come home from Bangladesh after summer is still very real -- no azan sounding through the streets, no friends praying, and the occasional feeling of isolation because of the religious difference between my peers and I.

There are, of course, the high points where I’m able to connect with other Muslims -- however, for the most part, my friends are Christian or Jewish, and don’t understand what I’m talking about when we talk about religion. Of course, I don’t particularly understand some of their traditions and cultures either, but sometimes I can’t help but feel jealous that they have more people to turn to than I do.

Of course, I don't ever mind teaching other people about my culture. Whenever the holidays come around, like Christmas, my friends always ask me about whatever equivalent Islam has. Watching them learn about Ramadan and Eid with so much acceptance is always wonderful to see, and in return, I happily take the opportunity to learn more about them. 
I have plenty of friends of different religions, and learning about the unique history and traditions they all have is an eye-opening experience. There’s never anything that seems dull or uninteresting to me. Everything’s worth learning about at least once.

There’s always a dichotomy between my two countries -- two different lives, almost, like they’re irreconcilable, a yawning gap between American and Bangladeshi culture just as big as the oceans that separate them

But when I do get to connect with another Muslim kid, it’s an amazing feeling. I’ve started conversations with plenty of people over offhand comments about their religion, and there’s a mutual understanding that always forms. There’s plenty of things to bond over -- grievances and enjoyments -- and from there, the conversation can be directed to other shared interests.

Since enrolling in a school with a large population of Ethiopians and other people of African descent, some of my best friendships have been formed over a start with talking about religion. The feeling of connection is hard to copy with other people, minorities bonding with each other.

Ramadan, especially, is always an experience while being a full-time student. I still sit in the cafeteria with friends, of course, but the smell of food is always floating around and it’s more than a little difficult to pretend it’s not affecting me. Just this year, in fact, my math teacher handed out popsicles in class as awards for a competition, and I’ll admit, my brain blanked at the thought of a refreshing lime-flavoured stick of deliciousness.

I ended up eating the entire thing, and only realized I had broken my fast after my friend, who also happens to be Muslim and sat happily watching me devour the entire thing, told me five minutes later. (If you’re reading this, you know who you are.) Either way, fasting’s always something difficult to keep up, but worth the reward of Eid celebrations.

There’s always a dichotomy between my two countries -- two different lives, almost, like they’re irreconcilable, a yawning gap between American and Bangladeshi culture just as big as the oceans that separate them. But in those moments of understanding, everything can become worth it.

Liyaana Rahman is a freelance contributor writing from Maryland, United States.

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