To the compass needles

For those who applied skin whiteners to bleach their skin to a more favorable tone, who wore colored contacts and considered surgically altering their face to get the classical nose and wider eyes: you are genuinely beautiful. Your color, your features, your entire structure is shaped magnificently, and everything from your wide lips to your dark hair has been carefully crafted by the Master of Creators.

For those who slurred their words so that their foreign accent wouldn’t be so apparent, who neglected to learn the language of their parents or grandparents because they wanted only to be part of the English-speaking world: your country’s language is melodious; lyrical. Bilinguals are amazing beings who can weave together two worlds by their speech alone.

For those who dreaded being picked up from school by their parents because they didn’t want their friends to see their moms wearing abayas or shalwar kameezes, or their dads’ thobes or kurtas: traditional clothing is dignified and expressive. The long garments and geometric patterns reflect a culture elevated with love, family, and solidarity.

For those with names like Mohammed, Khadijah, or Fatima, who shortened their names or chose different ones that didn’t sound quite as foreign: you’re named after the most beloved of mankind. Your name, like your country of origin, is replete with depth and meaning, and has a long history worth a thousand hollow substitutions.

For those who avoided taking their friends home to meet their family because they were embarrassed at how traditional their at-home lifestyle was, or because their furniture was old and peeling, Allah is the Bestower of wealth; you’ve been blessed in so many ways. The richest of people are those whom are rich in culture.

For those who sat apart from everyone at lunch break, who unwrapped their lunch under the table so the smell of spices or the sight of pita bread wouldn’t stand out in a room unfamiliar with ethnic food: embrace your heritage, it’s enviable. You are as piquant as the food you eat, and should not be hidden away.

For those who wore tighter jeans and shorter shirts so they could be viewed as progressive and moderate Muslims, who wanted nothing more than to dress like everyone else: you are a trendsetter. Fashion doesn’t compromise modesty, so let your style express both your personal identity and your self respect.

For those who cursed, smoked, or did other things with their friends to be accepted into the “in” crowd at the expense of a guilty conscience, you’re admired just as you are. Adhering to your good manners and righteousness is something everyone, everyone, wishes to do.

For those who stayed home on prom night, who tried and failed to be indifferent and to not pity themselves, who had to think of excuses to tell people why they didn’t have a boyfriend or girlfriend, or why exactly dating was not allowed: may you be rewarded for your sacrifice. Piety is a jewel rarer than diamonds, and infinitely more prized.

For those who tucked their hands in their pockets so that the marks of henna wouldn’t show, who shaved their beards and wore hats low on their faces so they wouldn’t be so easily recognized as different; for those who simply didn’t feel white enough: you are celebrated for everything that you are. You are beloved. You do not need to worry about your worth because you are loved by The Most Magnificent and His messengers. Could you possibly ask for anything better?

For the Compass Needles like me, who waver between East and West, whose roots originated there but have branches that grow and stretch here: you are not alone. I, too, am trying to find my identity between two worlds that sometimes seem incompatible. I, too, feel neither here nor there. In my struggle to find balance, though, I’m learning that we are all here for a reason, we Muslim expats in the West. We are here to bring the richness of our culture – the beauty of our people – to the rest of the world. We are the painters and our pallet is our heritage and religion. We are the ones who possess colors so vibrant, so rich, every brushstroke dazzles. Hiding our colors away out of shame is like stripping a phoenix of its plumes.

For those who feel ashamed of their race and religion because they live in a conformist society: grab a brush, we’re not here to be washed out, we’re here to make art.

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