Assalamu ‘alaikum. I wrote this article when I was sixteen years old. Since then, my views of things, especially in regards to Islam, have changed and developed.
The question of identity is one that every person battles with, particularly during adolescence, when we find ourselves confined within a grey area between the euphoric joys of childhood, and the endless responsibilities that come with adulthood.
This state of uncertainty can, understandably, lead to an identity crisis (or, in my case, a procession of consecutive identity crises) during which one questions the very nature of one’s existence: Who am I? And why am I here?
These questions are undoubtedly exacerbated by the sleepless world of social media: we are constantly being bombarded with expectations, labels, and stereotypes pertaining to our collective sense of self, which have now become impossible to avoid. Essentially, we are being placed into categorical cages, which shape our thoughts and our behaviours. One is either a nerd or an athlete- always introverted or always extroverted-masculine or feminine. We are so often forced to define ourselves.
Hello, my name is Sadia Ahmed and I am… a girl? A South Asian person? A teenager? A Muslim? A writer?
But I am forced to wonder: who am I, and what truly defines me? Do social circumstances (over which I have no control) define me? And if so, what if my circumstances change? Will I gradually lose fragments of my personality?
These thoughts remind me of an interesting philosophical idea- the Theseus’ Ship paradox. If one replaces every wooden part of a ship over a long period of time (resulting in the creation of a completely identical vessel) would it be correct to state that the replicated ship is still the original ship? Similarly, do we maintain congruous identities, even after being subjected to varying experiences and ever-changing ideas?
My qualms surrounding the theme of identity have always been lodged somewhere in the deep, dangerous recesses of my mind, but recently these qualms have been amplified. Sylvia Plath once said, “I know pretty much what I like and dislike; but please, don’t ask me who I am.” I can relate very well to this statement: I am constantly being asked to define myself- to encapsulate my entire existence within a handful of words, whether it be at social gatherings, or school, or even in social media biographies. To be able to respond appropriately, I must favour some aspects of my identity over others. I am a nerd who enjoys travelling, writing, and reading. This is what I usually respond with. However, by doing this, I am forced to omit other aspects of my rather fluid personality:
I like eating takeaway near my windowsill at night when it is raining. I love having ‘packed lunches’ while watching something nice. I love the texture of paper that has been adorned with words and feelings. I love observing people, because every time I engage in this practice, I am reminded that human beings can be such wonderful and sincere creatures.
Our idiosyncrasies can never be contained within a string of words, or even within several strings of several words, and other people’s perceptions of us can often be very superficial, centered on little more than their own woes and insecurities. Do I talk too much? Good. Does my existence bother people? Even better.
We are all born to different families, in different places, with different destinies. Sometimes it is comforting to know that others can relate to our perspectives and experiences, however in reality, other people are very quick to (subconsciously) stereotype and assume things based on meaningless observations. Some people speculate that because I am a ‘nerd’ whose interests are rooted in academia, I must love science. I must wish to become a surgeon, or an engineer, perhaps. I seem like I take everything too seriously. I must spend all my hours revising. ‘Intellectually capable’ people love science, want to become medics, study incessantly, and have no capacity whatsoever to embrace humour or affection; these must be facts of life, right? Wrong. These stereotypes are false, but they place a lot of pressure on me to be a certain way, unless I want to betray myself by straying away from my own ‘identity’. But alas, in reality, I possess an ardent love for English and History, and it truly irritates me when people surmise that science is more intellectually challenging, or more rewarding, than the humanities. Also, I would like to become a professor or a lawyer in the future- medicine is, no doubt, a fascinating field, however I prefer fields that involve writing, speaking, and analysing different viewpoints. Oh, and finally, education is indisputably a priority to me, but so is friendship. So is family.
And so is occasionally sitting back and simply enjoying life.
Sadia Ahmed, 2017