Where Are You REALLY From?

It’s that question that all Muslims are used to hearing: Where are you from? And when I say “California,” without fail I get the follow up question, no, where are you from?

Sometimes people just make it simple and give me two options:

Are you from Syria or Lebanon?

Are you from Iraq or Iran?

Are you from Turkey or Albania?

And my answer is always “no.”

So I thought today, I would put an end to this question for once and all. (And, in the spirit of honesty, I am working on guest post for another site and didn’t have the time necessary to do the research I need to do for the post I had planned today, so I needed some filler content in the meantime!)

I am from California, United States of America. I was born and raised in the same small town for the first 18 years of my life, and my parents are from not that far away from that small town. I went to university three hours away from that town.

As far as my cultural heritage is concerned, I am mostly European. I know it is hard for the average American to believe, but this scarf on my head does not actually denote any Arabic heritage. My main background is Scots Irish, and I believe I have some English and German tossed into the mix too. I have ¼ Italian from my mom’s side, but my freckles and perpetually sunburnt skin would never let on to that, as much as I tried to convince people in high school that I was Italian.

The thing that really gets me, though, is the fact that it shouldn’t matter. No one is asking me where I am from out of sheer curiosity; they want to put me into a neat little box, or at least I have found this to be the case especially within the Muslim community. Oh, you are Algerian? So you must be X, Y, and Z. You are an American convert? So you are X, Y, and Z.

But really, I am not defined by my nationality or my cultural background. Yes, I love my heritage. And yes, there are some aspects of my personality that come straight from my American upbringing. But I also have elements of my personality that I have picked up in Europe or North Africa, and plenty of bits that are just pure ME.

All you really need to know, however, is that I am a Muslim.

Really, that should tell you all of the important stuff.

Any maybe, if everyone stopped being so hung up on where everyone else is from, and only hanging out with their own cultural cliques, and only going to the Arab mosque or the Nigerian mosque or the Pakistani mosque, and only eating their own cultural food, and only talking to people who speak the exact dialect that they do, there could be a lot more exchange, learning, and community within our so-called Muslim “community.”

Also, I am going to start a social experiment where I just say yes to wherever people assume I am from and see if they all figure it out! I am going to have to learn some better Arabic….

Peace, everyone.


8 thoughts on “Where Are You REALLY From?

  1. Besides your splash of Italian, I’m basically from the same stock, with Irish and German dominating. Not that that matters in a place like the US if your parents aren’t immigrants. Growing up in a suburb of Orlando and in the Southern Baptist Church had more of an impact on my socialization than what haplogroups my blood falls into.

    I completely agree that getting hung up on culture to the point that it causes snags is something that should be avoided at all costs, but so is the sentiment that being Muslim is all that matters. There is no culture known as “Islam.” In fact, there exists a principle in fiqh that “(good) custom carries the weight of law.” Salwar kamees and pagri is no more or less “Islamic” than thawb and ghutrah, or suit and tie, just as an example. Islam is the broad principle, culture is the specifics. You really don’t have one without the other. Try it, and you’ll end up a bedouin-style Wahhabi bent on murdering everyone for what you imagine as shirk, or you’ll apostate.

    We just don’t have an American (or British, German, etc.) Muslim culture quite yet.

    These boxes have major benefits when used properly. They make it easier to sort through what’s actually inside, I think. The problems start when the box is all a person bothers looking at.

    Have fun punking people about where you’re from though; I’ve passed myself off as Lebanese on more than one occasion. And what a laugh it was.


    1. ashleybounoura

      Yes I totally agree with you- I think what I meant when I said that my being Muslim should tell you all the important things is more along the lines of in my interactions with other Muslims, the fact that I am a Muslim should tell you about the things that are really important, I.e I am your sister in faith, I will help you if you are in need, I am trustworthy, I expect a certain degree of mutual respect in an interaction, things like that that are more important than “where did you get that nice white skin from” which is basically what people are asking me most of the time they want to know where I’m from.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Like when I assumed that your husband is Maliki just based on him being North African. And then being basically right. As the Qur’an says, these differences exist to facilitate *knowing* eachother. If we used them that way, everything would be peachy. Except I hate peaches 🤔


    1. ashleybounoura

      And yes I agree that they can be quite useful, if used the right way; like when you made that assumption you were making it for knowing/understanding purposes, not dividing, “well he’s a Maliki and I’m not and there are things I don’t agree with in that school so why even bother in this conversation” purposes. If everyone used the cultural boxes to know each other the world would indeed be a lovely place 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  3. You hit the nail on the head with this post about the sub division of certain mosques attended by a select race.

    I’m Vietnamese and whenever I visit a mosque everyone assumes I’m lost and not aware it’s a mosque. What could be more welcoming than a blatant sign that they don’t think I belong there 😏

    Liked by 1 person

    1. ashleybounoura

      Awww that’s awful! At least being white they assume I understand where I am, but that I need every basic rule of Islam explained to me before I am allowed to pray 😝

      Liked by 1 person

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