Gathered by ‘Afifah Shameemah
These pieces are collections of candid responses from South Asian Muslim Women. These pieces were written to share some of the experiences of ladies in the community and to hopefully inspire some type of change. These pieces were written by South Asian women, for South Asian women.
This is for us, Brown Skin Girls.
What is the most prominent memory you have of a racist/prejudiced encounter as a South Asian Muslim woman?
The most impactful incidents happened in childhood. Feeling ashamed that my mum was wearing the black abaya because it was seen as ‘off-the-boat’, poor, uneducated, standing out for wrong reasons. Another instance was Chinese classmates and teachers not understanding what indian muslim is. I had to explain throughout pri,sec, tertiary why I was Indian but not Hindu.
I was in class one day and as we were discussing where to go for our graduation trip and when India came up everyone started freaking out and saying they’re scared of going there. When I asked some of them why they said that they’re tons of rapists over there. Of course I think we ALL have encountered the occasional “south asian stinks” slurs and people around you have made fun of how south asians speak English like it’s funny!
I think a better question would be to ask how all of it had/has affected me. It doesn’t feel right to state just one when it’s obvious that so many of us minorities have faced racist/prejudiced encounters all our lives.
Personally, I can’t choose one because what affected me the most was the continuous, repetitive microaggression that I had faced from young. It was the upfront racism, when people would call me slurs and throw insults structured just for Indians, that eventually made me feel ashamed to be an Indian. My insecurities stemmed from all these encounters. I started to hate the physical attributes of me that people would associate/stereotype with being Indian. For a long period of time, I completely disassociated from my heritage as much as I could. It took me years just to step out of that sense of inferiority that focused on the negatives and to learn to embrace my culture.
FZ. Sri Lankan.
The first memory that pops into my mind is when I was in primary 3 and could hardly understand Malay. I had not done my malay homework on that day. Knowing very well that Malay was a new language to me, my Malay teacher chose to scold me in Malay instead of English and stopped every once in a while so that my friend beside me could translate what she was saying. Finally, she said that I could only sit down if I said “I love you ” to my friend in Tamil. I was so embarrassed and shy as I could feel everyone staring at me. It took me sometime to finally get the words out of me. That incident still scars me till today
On another occasion, a girl came up to me in school and asked “So do you celebrate Deepavali?”
When did you feel the most proud to be a South Asian Muslim woman?
I can’t think of an exact moment. It kind of was a journey. I grew up watching my relatives and family friends be so confident in their skin, comfortable with their ethnicity. I was always envious of that.
A year or two back, I realised there wasn’t much representation of South Asian Muslim women in mainstream media. I wanted to meet people like me who shared similar interests and passion. So I started searching and slowly found a whole community. These people whom some I’ve got to know are nothing short of inspiring and amazing. I’ve learnt so much about South Asian cultures through them and the more I was exposed to it, the more I wanted to be part of it.
It was inspiring seeing them be incredibly proud of their own heritage. Watching them be unapologetically vocal about the good and bad within our culture, witnessing this community start painful, but very much needed, discussions so as to bring about positive change. It all made me want to be a part of it. I was so proud to see them redefine all the stereotypes and negative encounters they had faced into something absolutely beautiful and positive.
FZ. Sri Lankan.
I was probably the most proud to be a south Asian Muslim woman when I’m in the presence of my family, and still am til today. To be honest, I never felt proud to be south Asian when I was in school. I always felt a little left out. Some teachers would purposely fake an indian accent (even though I wasn’t Indian) in front of the whole class when talking to me, and classmates would talk about me while being in my presence, thinking I didn’t understand a word they were saying. Being in such an environment made me feel embarrassed about my ethnicity.
I haven’t faced any outward stuff. More of intrinsic pride. I’m proud that my family has done well in SG considering that we had no help/relatives in singapore when we came. We have done very well with our limited resources and network. Me and my siblings are all doing well alhamdulillah:)
Ever since I realised that I was different from the people around me, and that was quite early on actually, and I’ve NEVER stopped being proud! I’ve always felt proud to have such amazing ancestors who had the courage to come all the way from Pakistan to Singapore, and did pretty significant things in their lives! For instance, my great grandfather was a detective and passed away while in office here, and I’ve always admired his bravery!
Do you have anything you want to say to other South Asian Muslim women who might be struggling with their identity?
FZ. Sri Lanka.
Try as much as possible to educate those around you so that they can educate others and so on. Don’t ever feel that those of other ethnic groups are far more superior to you.
Your skin colour and ethnicity is part of you, but don’t forget there is more to you than just that. Don’t let anyone tell you who you can and cannot be. You are enough. Your identity is yours to create. Don’t conform and lose parts of yourself just to make the ignorant feel comfortable. In fact, take pride in making them squirm in their seats as they watch you reach your dreams and goals.
Our culture, heritage and traditions are breathtakingly beautiful. There is so much we can learn and benefit from once we learn to accept and embrace that part of our identity. Carry that identity with pride and give it life.
Embrace the beauty and diversity of our culture! Growing up, I used to, at times, feel SO out of place because there’s not many of us here, especially in the community I was from. I used to question why my friends don’t love qawwali like I do, why am I the only one who knows who Abida Parveen is, why am I the only one who wears salwar kameez, I was SO confused! I have felt unaccepted too, by people around me, because of this difference, and I used to get so upset over this. However, once I realise the beauty of being different, and the richness of our culture, I’ve embraced ME so fiercely and wholeheartedly! Give it time and eventually you’ll realise how blessed we are!
It’s very important to surround yourself with people who not only accept you, but celebrate you for being ALL of you! You don’t have to be friends with people who are the same as you, who have the same background and culture as you do, in order to feel accepted and to feel motivated. You CAN be friends with people from all walks of life as long as they are people who uplift you!
At the same time, it is essential that you have role models who share the same background as you are, someone who is relatable and approachable, who can not only understand, but empathise and give practical advice in situations when needed!
To not dismiss their roots in order to fit in. Having a long family history, two cultures and two countries is a gift. Integrating does not mean giving up unique parts of your background. I have family in India who aren’t educated. That doesn’t mean they’re any less than me. It was their rural setting and the fact that I got lucky to be brought to a developed country. We downplay our history and laugh it off so that it is more palatable for others. Be proud of where you’re from, and where you’re right now.
‘Afifah is an aspiring Social Worker who is passionate about Social Justice and holding up safe spaces to discuss anything and everything for anyone and everyone
Illustration by Ishibashi Chiharu