Label: Muslim; Type: Secular

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Ruhie Jamshaid

Ruhie Jamshed is a freelance writer, based in Singapore.

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It is no secret that the world changed after September 11, 2001. Even secular Muslims, who do not display any visible proclamations of their faith and who have always been “camouflaged” amidst the secular society, have had their lives transformed. For instance, Muslim names, such as Mohammad and Akbar, have received additional unwarranted attention, especially at airport security checkpoints. Regular men and women with the “Muslim” tag have been zoomed in for the sake of security. Being treated differently on the basis of their religion has left many secular Muslims feeling confused and even alienated.

Likewise, the second generation Muslims, who have always identified themselves as European or American, for example, are suddenly finding themselves isolated with the label of ‘Muslim’. They are being compelled to choose sides. There is a loud yet peculiarly subtle declaration that says: “You are either American (for instance) or Muslim.” An identity that was previously a comfortable blend of both is being forcefully split. Secular Muslims, grappling with their identity, are reacting to bring about some sense to their existence in Western societies.

Many have tried to bring some sanity to the situation by embracing the identity of a globalized Muslim. They have put aside their cultural identities to integrate Islam into their lives. They also support secular beliefs as long as they don’t overstep the requirements of Islam. Indeed, this identity crisis amongst these Muslims might prove to be more of a boon than a bane in the long run to erase the phobia of Islam.

Box Feature

From the pen of an agnostic Muslim

I don’t have a lot of significant moments to cite in order to state that the events of 9/11 have affected my life. I’m probably one of the luckier ones. I was born here. I have no accent. I don’t wear a Hijab, scarf, or any other clothing that could distinguish me as a Muslim. I don’t even consider myself to be a Muslim. But when people ask me about my heritage, I always tell them I come from a Muslim background and I always find the need to defend the religion when it comes under attack.

I don’t consider myself to be a Muslim for personal reasons. During undergrad, I was majoring in religious studies. My study into the various religions gave me an understanding about the purpose religion can serve: both good and evil.

9/11 was an example of the evil purpose! However, it does not define the entire Islamic religion and those who practice it for good. The most profound effects that 9/11 had for me were in my interactions with others when it came to discussing Islam. I remember a Christian friend innocently asking me if I felt there was some aspect of the religion that contributed to 9/11 and the terrorism that is oftentimes associated with it. The conversation turned into a discussion about religions and how religious beliefs and doctrines, found worldwide, can be used to justify some of humanity’s most despicable acts.

Yes, I have heard of horrible, ignorant acts committed against Muslims in America post-9/11. Once, when my sister was wearing Islamic clothing, a Ridah, to go to the mosque, some neighbours yelled: “Go back to where you came from.” My sister couldn’t believe someone said that to her. Right after 9/11, the mosque my family attended in California decided to post a USA flag in the front yard to show that we were Americans. Many hate crimes were occurring throughout the nation; this act was a precautionary move in order to avoid more serious harm to the mosque. I have heard of my male relatives being stopped at the airport, because of their beards and names, or told they were randomly selected for a bag search, while going through security.

Personally though, I have not had to go through any of these issues. But there was a change for me post 9/11 – talking about being a Muslim or that my family is Muslim seems to have become a fascinating point now. People are very cautious about it, especially those who do not know anything about the religion or those who practice it. People are curious. The religion has been pushed to the forefront and has become a talking point. I feel it every time I hear someone mention the words ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim’ in my presence.

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