Me dressed for Eid celebrations in Bangladesh. When I started this project, I’d have rather died than share/disclose the fact I was Muslim.
Today is Eid-ul-Fitr. In Islam, this is a day of celebration marking the end of 30 days of fasting for Ramadan. I’m one of the people celebrating because I’m one of the many Muslims around the world who have fasted for 30 days.
If you’ve known me for a while, you know how difficult it is for me to write that.
Back when I started this project, I took great pains to keep my ethnicity and my religion secret. I hid all traces of my last name (an obvious giveaway – Ahmed) and gave non-answers when directly questioned about my religious beliefs.
Why did I do that? Here’s five reasons why:
5) The Uncultured Project Isn’t a “Muslim Project”: We live in a world with double standards. A Christian can say that Christ inspires them while still being able to claim their work is secular. This is the case behind the people who founded Charity: Water, One Day’s Wages, and even Invisible Children. In a post-9/11 world, whether or not it’s fair, the same isn’t true for Muslims. I feared (and still fear) the cost of speaking about my religion would (and will) be less support for my work.
4) YouTube Haters: Before starting this project, I did a quick search on YouTube on videos that were done by Muslims or mentioned Islam. Needless to say, the comments on those videos came straight from the deepest cesspools of humanity. YouTube is a big part of how I connect people to my work and it’s hard to build an audience and momentum on YouTube if haters are flooding your videos with vitriol and pressing dislike on every video.
3) Real-Life Islamophobia: I don’t want to be treated like a terrorist. But, even when lecturing at a university and not even touching upon my religious beliefs, I’ve been accused of being (and I quote) “an Islamic terrorist gaining dupes”. If that’s how I’m treated simply for being brown and having the last name “Ahmed”, imagine what doors (and minds) will close if I “come out” as Muslim?
2) Aid Bloggers: “Hack”. “Idiot”. Comments about my masturbation frequency. These are actual comments sent to me by aid bloggers. Why? In 2010, without stating explicitly my religion, I started to openly talk about traditional Muslim approaches to aid and development. Online, aid bloggers lauded and applauded the vitriol coming my way saying one needs to “man up” and just take it. Offline, I received sympathy and support that eventually led me to learn that some of the most vocal anonymous vitriol (including one from a prominent anonymous aid blogger with over 3,000 followers) were actually from employees working at a large Christian NGO with a Christian-only hiring policy. My experience with the aid blogosphere left me feeling that aid bloggers were intentionally cultivating a vulgar (or “snarky” if you’re being euphemistic) and unaccountable atmosphere (due to the ease of creating anonymous social media profiles) with a bias against minority and non-Western viewpoints. What sucks is that, if I were to be more vocal about my religion and put my experience with aid bloggers in its proper context, aid bloggers could say that I’m “playing the race card”.
1) I Don’t Represent Islam: I’ve had Muslim friends on Facebook unfriend me for my pro-LGBT rights tweets and posts. I’ve had Muslims say its Islamically forbidden to listen to music – or use them in videos. I’ve had Muslims call me a coward when they felt I tweeted or said something that didn’t make Islam seem superior to other religions. I’ve had Muslims argue with me at length about my views that Israel has the right to defend itself or by supporting Rabbi Berkowitz and his message calling for the (now successful) release of Gilad Shalit. The number one reason I didn’t want to talk about being Muslim is because, while I happen to consider myself Muslim, I don’t know how Muslim other Muslims consider me to be.
The reason I decided to not keep my religion a secret anymore is because, in order to build bridges between different cultures and religions, you can’t keep your own culture and religion a secret. So, for better or worse, I hope you stick around for whatever comes next.