“Mommying While Muslim”: Raising Healthy Muslim Children in a Post-9/11 World
A child born on September 11, 2001 is a young adult now. Which is to say that every Muslim child in the US today has grown up in the shadow of 9-11 and the deep hostility directed by so many against her identity and against Islam.
Watch our conversation with the hosts of the Mommying While Muslim podcast, Zaiba Hasan and Uzma Jafri, about how they, and mothers and families in their networks, have mobilized to meet the challenge of raising healthy, resilient Muslim children in an age marked by anti-Muslim hate crimes, school bullying, and travel bans. Between them, Uzma and Zaiba are parents to eight children between the ages of 4 and 17. They offer their insights and perspectives and, as always, we invite you to share yours - and your questions - as well.
EmbraceRace: Part of why we wanted to do this [webinar] is to reflect on what it means to parent children who were all born since 9/11/2001. The oldest children born after 9/11 are now 18, possibly 19 years old, which is to say that all Muslim children in this country were born after 9/11. What does that mean?
Zaiba and Uzma, first, you are lifelong friends, which is relevant to how and why you started Mommying While Muslim, your podcast. Tell us about it.
Zaiba Hasan: So, Mommying While Muslim, I call it a passion project that's expanded in a certain way. It started when I had an incident happen with my oldest son at an airport as a Muslim male, now traveling. And looking for resources that I couldn't actually find. So, part of the reason I contacted Uzma, was to look for and try to collect resources for ourselves, to be very honest with you. And my hopes was it could help other people as well.
Uzma Jafri: I don't know. I came on for the ride because I didn't know what podcasts were until Zaiba was like, "Do you think we should start a podcast?" And I was like, "Yeah, sure." I don't know what it is, but I'm on board. So that was my contribution to the podcast. I just came along for the ride because I trusted Zaiba. I knew there was a deficiency in where moms can go to find resources. Because now with social media, we have so much more information, but funneling that into a useful space and a way for moms to easily utilize it and have those important discussions that we grew up either not being allowed to, or not recognizing as important. That's why Mommying While Muslim came about.
EmbraceRace: And can you say just a little bit about the audience?
Zaiba Hasan: Surprisingly, our demographic is non-Muslim people. We were pretty surprised by that. We were like, "Why are you interested in what we have to say?" And when we did approach a couple of people, they were very honest. They were like, "Listen, you guys are answering questions that we are a little bit intimidated to ask somebody else, and we can listen and be a fly on the wall." Which made then sense to Uzma and myself, because we were just like, "Why?. I don't understand it.” But, I mean honestly kudos to those people that are reaching beyond what their comfort level is and trying to gather information.
Because our hopes is, if we can make one person hesitate, or think differently, or perhaps go and reach out for other resources or more information, I feel like for me, that's a bonus of the podcast. So it started off being a hope of providing resources for Muslim moms, but now it's added a little bit of this social outreach. Which we weren't expecting, but we're definitely embracing, which is why we're here on EmbraceRace so thank you so much for that. And, we really appreciate it.
Because our hopes is, if we can make one person hesitate, or think differently, or perhaps go and reach out for other resources or more information... that's a bonus of the podcast. So it started off being a hope of providing resources for Muslim moms, but now it's added a little bit of this social outreach.
EmbraceRace: And when you said, "Having conversations that you weren't allowed to have, or didn't know to have" what do you mean, Uzma?
Uzma Jafri: There's a lot of cultural baggage as children of immigrants, both of my parents immigrated to this country. Zaiba has one parent who is an immigrant to this country. So, it comes with a whole set of unspoken rules and understandings, and a lot of times misunderstandings when you come to a new world and are now trying to make a life for your family. So the way that we were raised is not necessarily the way we're going to raise our kids because we have some of the privileges that second generation kids have.
We're not struggling to survive sometimes like our parents were. We're not facing a lot of the cultural stigma. Or maybe it's there, and now we're not afraid to say, "That wasn't okay when we were growing up. And we're not going to perpetuate those patterns in our children and the generations that come after.” Because what we've been able to do, the advantage that we have being born and raised in the West both of us, is that we can tell the difference between what's culture and what's religion.
Zaiba Hasan: Right.
Uzma Jafri: And I don't think that our parents always had that. And it's been a constant conversation since 9/11 happened, separating culture versus religion. What represents Islam in actuality. And so we're trying to be the best representatives of the religion rather than of the cultures from which we came. Because we identify with our American cultures.
Zaiba Hasan: Exactly. That's what I was going to just add to that is, because we were born and raised here, we don't really have an attachment to any other country but America. So, part of what 9/11 did for us, was re-establish our stronghold in being American Muslims which I don't necessarily think our parents' generation had.
EmbraceRace: Mm-hmm. That makes sense. And when you say that there was a precipitating incident to starting the podcast, your son's experience at an airport. Can you tell us more about that?
Zaiba Hasan: So, my son was about to start high school, actually. And he has blossomed a little bit earlier. He's a taller kid, and if you didn't know, you would assume he was older. We were visiting our friends and family in Chicago and we happened to visit Northwestern [University] while we were there. Of course, starting those college visits early, because we are just like everybody else. And he was wearing his Northwestern shirt with his little Beats on, and we were trying to get through security, and he doesn't have an ID, right? He's 14.
So he's not going to have an ID. He hasn't started high school yet, so we don't have a high school ID. And the security guard gave us the hardest time. Questioning us and the kid. And I was traveling alone, so being aggressive or defensive isn't really helpful in situations like that. You have to sadly go along for the ride, because at any point, my fear was they would take my child away from me, and there would be literally nothing I can do. And I finally had to convince them, he's only 14, he does not have an ID. He hasn't even started high school yet. So after about 30 to 45 minutes, I think we convinced him enough to let us through.
And afterwards, my son looked up with his Northwestern shirt and was like, "What was that all about?" And I had to tell him, "Honey, you were a Muslim boy, but now you're a Muslim man." And that the world is going to view you in a different way. So I still get emotional about it, because he's more darker complected than me, so I feel like that's the unfortunate thing. I can pass, and I don't have the power or authority to help how other people view my son, who is slightly darker complected than I am.
And I don't have the same experience. And Uzma and I talk about this, and I'm very open about it. I don't necessarily come at these things from a defensive perspective. I'm going to be honest with you. Because I've never really had the same types of experiences that Uzma has. And literally when we're together, I see how people treat her differently than they do me. And I remember always talking about, "I'm all about love, and everybody getting along. Why are you so angry and upset?" And we have these great conversations, which is what started us gravitating towards talking about it openly. And she was like, "I just have different experiences than you." Which, I'm definitely seeing in my own kids, because they are a variety of different colors. I mean, the beauty of mixed and multi-racial children is you never know what's going to come out. And that's the beauty of it. And people do treat kids differently based on how they perceive or what ethnicity they perceive them to be.
EmbraceRace: Your son was then 14, is he now a 16 year old? He's the oldest one?
Zaiba Hasan: He's 16.
EmbraceRace: Okay. Right, so I'm thinking about a few things. I'm thinking about what it means for women and girls who wear hijab, clearly they tend to be more visible as Muslims.
Zaiba Hasan: Yes.
EmbraceRace: Or at least more likely to be taken as Muslims. I'm also thinking about what the example of what happened to our oldest son Zaiba, what it meant for your other children.
Zaiba Hasan: Yes.
EmbraceRace: And Uzma, your children are a few years younger than Zaiba’s children, right?
Uzma Jafri: Mm-hmm.
EmbraceRace: So, maybe you could tell us, maybe they're not experiencing, although we know that you're in Arizona. And in California, as you know, there's been a lot of work showing that in Muslim identified children are the most bullied, right?
Uzma Jafri: Mm-hmm.
EmbraceRace: Because of their identity. 50 percent in California public schools is what I remember seeing. And I'm just wondering, for the younger children, what are they seeing? What are they feeling? What does it mean to have an older brother who had this experience?
Zaiba Hasan: For me, the good news is, they didn't get it. Right? And they're not going to get it yet. The microaggressions that people feel, or experience, and sometimes you question it right? It's the, "Where are you from?" It's the, "No, really, where are you really from? What do you mean by that?" And, it's the constant need to explain yourself. And I think they definitely notice. So sometimes, they'll be preemptive, right? “Yeah, I'm Muslim, but we're not terrorists, hahaha.” They make it a joke, right? And so I'm like, "Why? Why do you do that?"
Because at least for me growing up, I never felt the need to be immediately defensive. Even today, we were coming back from basketball, literally as I was coming onto the show, and then my son was like, "Because us Muslim people always get stopped at the airport." It's just one of those things that now is just an assumed thing that's going to happen. That's a part of their day to day life. They don't know a life that doesn't have that undercurrent experience of that. So it is sad. Because I don't think they do know. I think it's a part of who they are. And the unfortunate thing for me, as I was telling Uzma, and sometimes my feelings get hurt, because I get it unfortunately from both sides.
For the Muslim people, I'm not Muslim enough because I don't look what they perceive me to be, and then I get it also from non-Muslims. So I'm in this weird, in both worlds, and I always feel like I have to be defensive. And I don't want to be defensive. So I choose to just love and accept everybody. That's my motto in general. Whether that's going to help me later on in life, who the heck knows. But I feel like if I'm coming from a pure place, that's all that actually matters, right?
EmbraceRace: Uzma, what are you seeing at home with your kids in general? I'm just talking about the degree to which they perceive themselves threatened or under threat, though they're younger.
Uzma Jafri: Even though my kids look ethnically different than Zaiba's kids, and are very obviously not that standard white, blonde haired, all of that stuff. They look like me. They're darker. For a long time, I want to say they did everything that EmbraceRace stands against. Where they didn't recognize race. They didn't see it as an issue. And the first time we ever talked about it might have been three or four. So it was a long time. Now, it was at that time that I started catching them when they would say things like, "Oh, that's the bomb." And they're talking about maybe Avengers or something? Or, "It's a bomb!" Now, when we're traveling, or we're out in public, my husband and I would clamp our hands over their mouths.
“You're not allowed to say this, honey. You can say anything. You can say, ‘it's fantastic’. You can say ‘it's awesome.’ But you're hanging out with us, and you need to not use certain words, because it will turn heads. Because I'm with you.” It's not so bad if their dad is with them, because his headgear of choice is a Boston Red Sox cap, so. However that makes you feel. Sorry if you're a LA Dodgers fan or whatever. But, when they're with me specifically, from an early age, they learned. And we had to have those frank conversations with them. Before they ever started formal education and kindergarten, it was, "Sometimes people think that Muslims are bad." "Well, why do people think that Muslims are bad? Because everybody we know is fine. They're just like us." "Well, there's some Muslims that aren't, and they call themselves Muslims and they do certain things, and they've made life hard for the rest of us."
And so, I had to have those conversations early with the kids. And, in my experience, being a visible Muslim, and being a very ethnic looking woman, I have never known a life where I have not carried my identification with me, especially when traveling. And I don't just carry my driver's license. I make it a point to always have my blue [United States] passport with me, to always have the blue [United States] passports of my children, even when they were infants. And a lot of it was in the hopes that when I'm traveling with my infant children, somebody should stop and check. And it's surprising that nobody does. I could be a child trafficker for all they know. But they don't even check an infant's blue [United States] passport.
Or what will often happen is if I'm traveling with my husband, people will talk to him when they're asking, "Can you have her stand in front of the camera, or can you have her give her passport?" And he'll be like, "You could ask her." [crosstalk 00:15:42]
Zaiba Hasan: She can speak for herself. Thank you.
"Sometimes people think that Muslims are bad." "Well, why do people think that Muslims are bad? Because everybody we know is fine. They're just like us." "Well, there's some Muslims that aren't, and they call themselves Muslims and they do certain things, and they've made life hard for the rest of us."
Uzma Jafri: So, yeah. Open the passport, and see where I was born. It's very obvious. But people make those kinds of assumptions. And I think a very visibly Muslim family, or visibly ethnic family, you do have to, I guess the best way for me to describe it is to step up your game. And so you are on a defensive. Which I don't necessarily think is a negative thing. I think sometimes it's to prevent any negative effects on your children. So you are on your guard.
Zaiba Hasan: You're proactive.
Uzma Jafri: Yeah. You have to be on your guard and prepare so that the kids have a good experience. You don't want them to feel anything negative, and so yeah, sometimes we are going out of our way to be really friendly with TSA, or whoever is out there, authority figures, so that our kids have a good experience. And if people can hear, look, we look like this, but we have no accents, and we belong here just like you do. So, in that sense, I feel like that's our defensive play in the interest of the children.
EmbraceRace: [That reminds me of] Brent Staples, African American journalist. Whistling Vivaldi is about signaling, just going down the street as an African American man and whistling Vivaldi.
Zaiba Hasan: Because he's a good person. "I'm happy go lucky. I'm not going to do anything." And actually it's funny, because when I shared this story [of my son at the airport] with Uzma at the time, she's like, "Why do you not travel with your documents"
Uzma Jafri: What were you thinking?
Zaiba Hasan: I was like, "I've never had to do this before." And so now that he's getting older, and obviously they're associating him, I definitely agree with Uzma. I travel with documents now. And we got TSA pre-approved. I'm like, "Get it all done. I don't want to go through this again."
Uzma Jafri: Mm-hmm.
EmbraceRace: So I wonder, having grown up here before 9/11, and it's so different, what are the experiences that you guys had that are different that you wish your kids would have? Or just that are different growing up Muslim here?
Uzma Jafri: Yeah. I was raised in Texas. And it's funny how people have so many assumptions about Texas, where they think it's just naturally a racist state. I did not have that experience. In fact, I could probably count on one hand how many, it's probably a politically incorrect word, but how many rednecks I've met in my life. And a lot of them were not out of Texas, to be very frank.
So before 9/11, Islam was, I feel like regarded with a lot of respect. And I'm talking way pre-9/11, back in the 1980s when Zaiba and I were kids. And I can recall playing volleyball, and my teammates would ask me to pray for us to win, and then I would demonstrate how we pray with our hands raised, and they would do it, too.
I was probably teaching it all incorrectly, but they did it. It was a respectful thing that they did it along with me. We were in solidarity because we were on the same team. Our goals were the same. My friends were the ones looking out for me. I didn't realize Canadian bacon is hidden under the cheese and sauce, so they would be the ones saying, "Hey, that has Canadian bacon, you can't eat that." Or, if we were at an event, I think one time we were in a mosh pit, and somebody tried to grab me to dance with me, he wasn't trying to do anything else.
But, I was very offended. And my friends had pulled him away saying, "No, she doesn't dance with guys. She's in a mosh pit. Leave her alone." So, those kinds of things happened before 9/11. Now, since then, I have not had to deal with a lot of the racism because A, I think I operate in a bubble as a physician. People really want me to take care of them and make them live. They don't care what I believe, or what I eat or don't eat. That's their focus. So, in that way, I have a privilege that a lot of Muslims don't necessarily have. My education is behind me, my profession is behind me.
And then I have that attitude of entitlement that comes with being an American and feeling like I belong here. So I shouldn't have to answer to anybody. So, I think my experience is a little bit different, because I bring all of that to my children as well, when I'm with them. And I operate at a different level, I think, than an average Muslim American does. Unless they were born and raised here, if that makes sense.
EmbraceRace: Yeah, so this reminds me of the conversation we had earlier. Our attention is probably drawn to the challenges that the Muslim community faces, right? For that matter, communities folks who are taken to be Muslim, but might not be. But I wonder, too, if the challenges you've faced since 9/11, have might also bred a solidarity, right? That within a community, across communities, one person reached out to us about this webinar and said, "Gosh, we would have liked to have seen a black Muslim person."
Uzma Jafri: Absolutely, yeah. One hundred percent.
EmbraceRace: I personally know very little about what's happened. How 9/11 might have shaped relationships between Muslims who are black and Muslims who are not. But, can you say is there some silver lining, I guess, the steel is forged under great pressure, right?
Zaiba Hasan: For me, and for my family, I feel like it gave us a more connection to our nationality, which is actually American. It solidified the fact that I am American. I don't have any allegiance to any other country. But I'm very proud to be Muslim. And I'm not going to apologize for that. So, for me, that's what 9/11 and post-9/11, it solidified my relationship with my religion, and with my country.
I feel like 9/11/2001 gave us a more connection to our nationality and my country, which is actually American. It solidified the fact that I am American. I don't have any allegiance to any other country. But I'm very proud to be Muslim. And I'm not going to apologize for that.
Uzma Jafri: I think the silver lining for me, I started wearing hijab actually after 9/11 happened. So, at that time, it wasn't a term to be unapologetically Muslim. That is very recent and very modern thing, and I think a brilliant thing. But a lot of us started doing that in solidarity with each other. Because if somebody's going to attack a visibly Muslim woman, who is usually the primary target, for Islamophobes, then we're going to stand with her in this way. So, would that be a political statement?
I don't think so, because for me spiritually, at the time, I was ready for it. I needed to do it. It was the right time for me. Before our families were here as immigrants, and we didn't have a worship space. So, they were involved in building the spaces. And now that the buildings are here, our generation, a very advantaged generation that is not hand and mouth struggling with language and culture assimilation, we were born right here, so we get it all. We're building the institutions. And things like the podcast, things like blogs and YouTube channels, to reach out to our community and say, "If you went through it, we went through it too. Let's stand together on this." And I think that's the silver lining that has come out of 9/11.
EmbraceRace: That's beautiful. And, yeah. So there are more and more institutions. You had said we started this because we didn't have places to go. And have you seen since you've started Mommying While Muslim, more people creating resources and supports?
Uzma Jafri: Oh my gosh, I think in the last year with the podcast going, it hasn't technically even been officially a year, but just so far since we started officially launching last March. We learned, or at least myself, I can't speak for Zaiba, but I have learned about more educational and social justice activism that Muslims in America are doing right now, than I had in the last 10 years of parenting. I've learned about more resources that are relevant to parents than I had in the last 10 years.
Because I went where every other American mom went. But there were certain things that just didn't speak to me in my specific experience of parenting my Muslim American kids. And to find out that there are other pioneers there, and we're bringing them on the show. I mean, I think it's been a fabulous resource for both Zaiba and me. Not just something that we're producing, but something that we're learning from and gaining so much from.
Zaiba Hasan: Yeah. In our quest to find answers for ourselves, we're discovering all of these resources. That’s probably been the most fun for me, and rewarding in starting the podcast, to be very honest with you. And meeting so many people. I didn't know that was a possibility, and you're doing such amazing things, and being super proud of what everybody is doing. And we always say our table extends. We are here to welcome everybody, and if you want to start a podcast, we will help you. This is just what our goal is as well, on Mommying While Muslim.
The more information that goes out there that's positive, the better it is for everybody. So, we are just going to support you.
EmbraceRace: This is a little bit off the beaten path question, but I'm thinking you've probably heard of what Ramy Youssef said at The Golden Globes, a couple of weeks ago? And I'm really wondering, A, what ripple it may have caused among your own community? What was the response? Is there a diversity of responses to that, and maybe if you're willing to share, how you personally felt about what he said on that stage?
Uzma Jafri: So, when he accepted his Emmy, he said “Allahu Akbar.”
Zaiba Hasan: That's awesome. I did not know that.
Uzma Jafri: Yeah. So, I have not seen any negativity come out of there from Muslim or non-Muslim resources. Which, when I heard that, I felt so validated, and so seen. Allahu Akbar literally means Allah is the greatest. It's what I say when I go out and talk to students or groups, I say, The two scariest words in the media are Allahu Akbar. Because people think when Allahu Akbar is being said, that something bad is about to happen. Somebody's about to bomb us, an attack is about to happen. The plane is going to go down. So, these Muslims who say it, are going to end up being escorted off the plane, and held for days before care gets involved, all that good stuff, right?
But Muslims say that when they wake up in the morning. When they go to sleep. When they're happy, when they're sad, when they're odd, when they stub their toe. There is no such thing as saying the lord's name in vain to a Muslim. So they're actually constantly saying Allah in some way shape or form to recognize the existence of god, the blessings of god, throughout the day. And this is something they teach their kids. So as kids, we had learned Allahu Akbar is a very normal thing to say.
But the media, with the specific clips that they choose to show, has made it a very scary thing. So for Ramy to get up there and say Allahu Akbar as the first things when he got his prize was like, Yes! You made it mainstream. Thank you. You made it not scary. Because everybody loves him. And so for somebody who is so lovable and we can feel empathetic to this character, for him to say these scary words was just a validation for every Muslim American out there. We'll probably hear some rap songs with it, too now. So, I'm really excited.
EmbraceRace: But people, do they know that it's, “Thank God for this.”
Zaiba Hasan: It is literally, “Thank God. God is great.” That is literally the meaning. God is great, thank God. We're grateful.
EmbraceRace: Yeah. It was the conversation around that was really powerful. It's amazing.
Uzma Jafri: Yeah. And I haven't heard any negative backlash about it since. So, I think he's made it okay to bring Allah back into the conversation.
EmbraceRace: I just have to say, it was beautiful. We probably both read something of the response to it. And just your response, Zaiba's yours too, it's like, "Oh, excellent. So great."
Zaiba Hasan: I'm so excited. Yeah. That's awesome.
EmbraceRace: But just the relief, right? That gives you a sense of just how fraught things have been.
Zaiba Hasan: And belonging, right? When Uzma says mainstream, it makes you feel like, "Okay. I too can get up there and win a Golden Globe or a Grammy. Why can't I do that? I'm just as American as everybody else."
EmbraceRace: And you will.
EmbraceRace: You will, Zaiba.
Zaiba Hasan: Oh, yay. Yes. We're putting it out there right now.
Uzma Jafri: Yes, we're looking for that podcast prize. No, but it's really important for our kids to see that.
EmbraceRace: And our kids.
Uzma Jafri: Exactly. And your kids.
EmbraceRace: All kids. Yeah.
Uzma Jafri: That all of them have the same opportunities. Because equality has been just a theory in America for so so long. And opportunity, I feel like has also been very limited. And to have figures like Ramy and incidents like this happen, our kids can now... I had never imagined, even though I knew U.S. constitutional law, I could legally run for president one day. But because of the cultural stigma, and the cultural hurdles in America, and the inherent misogyny, and now Islamophobia, it's never going to be a possibility for me. But my son is sitting in the back seat at 11 years old, and saying, "I think I need to run for president so I can fix the country."
EmbraceRace: Oh, I would vote for him now.
Uzma Jafri: Because he was born the year Obama was elected. So his first president that he ever got to know was President Obama. A colored man, whose name is Barack.
EmbraceRace: Did he literally say that?
Uzma Jafri: Yeah, he literally said, "I'm going to run for president. I'm going to fix this country. Because Trump is just messing it up."
EmbraceRace: Yeah. I'd vote for him-
Uzma Jafri: Even the 11 year olds know.
EmbraceRace: So, I wonder whether your kids have experienced bullying at school, or whether on the podcast, if you want to speak more generally, what kind of advice you give parents or teachers who are witnessing, or their kids are coming home having experienced, because it's happening a lot, being bullied for their Muslim identities?
Zaiba Hasan: So, I always encourage my kids, and granted they're unique because they tend to be more of the leaders in the classroom, to be more welcoming and inclusive. And I literally tell them, "You won the lottery of birth in the sense that you were born here. You happen to be given the parents that you are. And part of what you need to do is help other Muslim people that don't necessarily feel like they can speak out." So, there was a specific incident where they were reading a book about September 11th. And I read this book with my daughter, because I wanted to know what it was about.
And I forgot what the name of the book was, but it was essentially four different middle schoolers, from different faiths and nationalities, going through September 11th. Again, you get the view point. And of course, it opened up the dialogue in the classroom about what it is, and Muslims are terrorists. And again, my daughter doesn't necessarily look what somebody would traditionally think is Muslim. And people speak a little bit more freely in front of you when they think you're not of that particular group. And, finally she had to stop, and these two other Muslim kids in the class were cowering in the corner. And she was like, "Guys, I'm Muslim. And that's not true." And I think it was a little bit of, "Oh, I didn't realize." And of course, a little bit of back tracking. So, for me, it's always be more visible. Be open. Be willing to talk about it. I don't feel like any question is off limits. I feel like if you're interested enough in me to ask a question, there's no stupid question. I'm going to answer it for you. So for me, my advice is always be visible. Be able to be taught. Go into your classrooms and give presentations. Why not? If it's Eid, go and talk about Eid.
Be open. Be willing to talk about it. I don't feel like any question is off limits. I feel like if you're interested enough in me to ask a question, there's no stupid question. I'm going to answer it for you. So for me, my advice is always be visible. Be able to be taught. Go into your classrooms and give presentations. Why not? If it's Eid, go and talk about Eid.
Or bring cookies to the classroom and not that I'm saying they should be peace offerings, but I definitely feel like the more you make it that we're just like you, and we just want to share what we have with you, the less scary or foreign it seems to other people. That's just my personal advice. And obviously, Uzma knows a lot of the resources that people can actually go to if they are experiencing severe bullying.
Uzma Jafri: Well, I think we can talk about bullying. But as parents, what I have found really useful is to get the teachers and the administration, principal, on your side early. And I don't mean like pandering, apologizing. What I mean is to explain very frankly, hey, when we were growing up, gum drops were brought into the school, and marshmallows were brought in the school, gummy candy was brought, and we weren't allowed to eat any of that because of our dietary restrictions. And I know there's Jewish kids in my classrooms. There were.
And there were no resources for them either. So, I take it upon myself in the fall, especially because October is candy corn month, and then December is going to be gumdrop and marshmallow month, and throughout the year is going to be gummy worm month. So I let the teachers know, I will take responsibility for bringing in all of those things for the entire classroom, because I don't want my kids to sit by, and watch the gingerbread house being made, and all their friends making candy corn like chemistry, whatever, molecule sets, and being left out. And it's gotten to the point, because now that I've had a few sets go through the same school, the teachers know.
And so now they're shopping for the kosher marshmallows, and they're buying the candy that doesn't have any gelatin or pork or animal products in it. And so, that's one way to get allies is to be very frank and open, and just say, "Hey, this is what my kid is going to need if he or she is going to be in your classroom." And then, in terms of bullying in particular, when there have been instances where that's happening, I am searching for ways to ask my sons, why do you think that person said this to you? And so far, I feel like we've lived a very nice blessed life where it hasn't been because of their religion that they've been bullied. It's something else on the playground. But I'm always looking for that.
I am also listening for things like them shouting on the soccer field. “We told them to build a wall, and they wouldn't build a wall.” And this was our election year, the last election year. And I freaked out, and I contacted the principal, and I was like, "How dare children be allowed to say build the wall. Who were you saying it to?" Well, it happened to be children who were Mexican. And I was like, "You are not going to say that to other people." And they're like, "No mom, in soccer, when there's a penalty kick, the players build a physical wall." And so, there is some hyper-vigilance, which is an unfortunate fallout of that, but we're on the lookout always to listen for who is being-
Zaiba Hasan: Marginalized.
Uzma Jafri: Marginalized. Because we need to be the first to defend them. Because that's a religious tenant for us, too. And so that you know when that's happening to you, how you need to react. And you need to be empowered to react, and these are the ways that you're going to do it.
EmbraceRace: It's empowering right? It's not you, it's them, or it's these structures. And we can make efforts to change them. I think it's been shown to be empowering, right, to prepare kids to both lift them up, culturally empowerment, and to prepare them for things that will inevitably happen, right?
Uzma Jafri: Yeah.
Zaiba Hasan: Yeah.
Uzma Jafri: I did have them during Christmas this time, some of the older ones were saying, the 10 year old and the 8 year old, "Mom we don't like all the questions about why we don't celebrate Christmas. Why can't we celebrate Christmas?" And Zaiba and I have even had an episode about this, about the holidays and how it comes up every year. A different aged child will ask that every year like, "Why don't we celebrate Christma?."
Zaiba Hasan: “How come Santa passes our house and doesn't give us presents?”
Uzma Jafri: “We were good all year, too.” What Zaiba and I both explain to our kids is A, for the younger ones, please don't go tell your friends that Santa is not real. And B, in my house, if you want to celebrate Christmas, then you have to give up one of your two Muslim holidays, which is a super big deal in our house. And so they don't want to do that. They would rather have their two holidays than have Christmas. So, it's just a revision of that. But this year, I had two kids saying it at one time. And I was like, "I thought we already did this?"
EmbraceRace: So, Uzma, first of all, I've done the calculation. Your 11 year old will be eligible to run for president in 2044.
Uzma Jafri: All right, let's get started. We'll start campaigning now.
EmbraceRace: He’ll be 35. We'll be waiting.
Uzma Jafri: Absolutely. I will certainly push him, yeah.
EmbraceRace: And then I wonder, generally, right you are I think both pretty notably optimistic.
Uzma Jafri: Yeah.
EmbraceRace: Not quite the right word. I won't speak for you, I just want to know what is your outlook and why, going forward? So from this perch early in 2020, clearly with some reasons to be dismayed about the treatment of Islam and Muslims in this country at the very highest levels and below that. And doing this work in general, one reason for optimism for us is just seeing how many people actually have mobilized to push back against all sorts of injustices. What are you seeing, and how is it making you feel?
Zaiba Hasan: So, this is random. There's a church by my house that has the best sayings. And it changes every week, right? And this last time, it said, "Faith is the courage to let God have control." And when I read it, it gave me goosebumps, because I'm like, That's literally what it is. Right? There's only certain things in our day to day life that we can control, right? But the reality is, we have no control. We can't control the outside, we can't control how somebody perceives us. We can't control how someone's going to treat us, but what I can control is my faith in God and my faith that I'm doing the best that I can, right?
And my kids are doing the best that they can. And my hopes is, it's a spiral effect. You do unto somebody else, and they do unto somebody else, and then I can't control what's going on in the country right now, but what I can control is I'm going to try and flip the Senate. I'm going to try and things that are tangible, that I can physically do to make my situation less negative, that's what I'm going to focus on. And I don't want my kids to ever come from a perspective that the world is against them. Because I want them to think if you do right by other people, whether it's in this life or the life hereafter, it's going to be given back to you.
And I don't want my kids to ever come from a perspective that the world is against them. Because I want them to think if you do right by other people, whether it's in this life or the life hereafter, it's going to be given back to you.
Uzma Jafri: I think it's an integral part of our faith, as well in Islam, that with every hardship comes ease. And, this is probably a time of hardship. For a lot of marginalized people, and certainly for Muslims. But, we have that promise of an easy time. And Zaiba and I have seen it before. We knew a world before 9/11 happened. Before there was a Muslim ban. Before TSA was a thing.
When the airport was a fun people watching place. Not a place that you're trying to get in and out of so that you don't get stuck. So, we have that promise from God himself in our scripture, in our Quran. So I think that's why it's not even a stiff upper lip, you just have to smile and carry on. Because there's so many Islamic tenets that tell us this is what you have to do. You can't just freeze and wait for something.
That the strongest in their faith is the one who changes it with their hand. And so that's why we have, I think so many up and coming Muslim leaders, activists of our generation and the generations after us, who are trying to change things. It's so different than what we saw men and certainly women doing when we were growing up. That it is empowering, it is heartening, it does give us some optimism.
I have a healthy level of skepticism, because I know that there will always be somebody that I'm going to have to set straight. But, even in keeping people straight, we have such opportunities to educate people. Just through these political and cultural icons that are coming up from our community now, that I think that it will be easier for our children. Especially because Zaiba and I have grabbed the reins and taken on a podcast about parenting Muslim kids in America. And we think we're probably the first of many. Because certainly what we're saying now is going to be different for our kids. They're going to be completely different. We won't be relevant anymore. But we'll talk about grandparenting our grandchildren.
Zaiba Hasan: Oh my god, that would be so fun.
Uzma Jafri: That would be cool.
Zaiba Hasan: And speaking of grandparents, part of, I'm just going to put a plug in here, my dad came as an immigrant to this country, and he is now literally running for Congress in Chicago. So, this country allows the opportunity for coming here with a hundred dollars in his pocket, to creating a family, creating a life, where he's like, "You know what? I may not win, but I'm going to do the best that I can. And perhaps pave the way for somebody else." But hopefully he'll win. District 8 in Chicago. But, a country that is allowing somebody who came here when he was 19 to now run for Congress, that's a pretty cool country.
EmbraceRace: I would say that's pretty cool. Yeah, your dad's going to need to give your son, or no, Uzma-
Uzma Jafri: My son. My son wants to run for office. Not Zaiba's.
EmbraceRace: My son. I think because we're in the DC area, they see all of that. And they're like, "We have no interest in participating in any of that.”
Uzma Jafri: That's so funny.
EmbraceRace: There's questions about microaggressions, and what conversations do you have with your kids around microaggressions? And I also wonder the flip side of that, things they might not notice, or they do notice, and when somebody maybe means well? Or doesn't know? How do you intend that, when someone doesn't know they're offending you? How do you handle it? And by answering the question of course, you're also answering the question what are those microaggressions that people don't know they're committing? And how can we get them to stop doing that?
Uzma Jafri: I have a couple of examples of that. So, we went swimming, I think it was sometime in the late fall. And my son went to go buy a popsicle at the concessions. And this is not a place we frequent, but we're members, so whatever. The girl at the concessions asked him, “What are you?” And he provided his name. He was like, "I'm a member." And she was like, "No, where are you from?" And he was like, "Right here. I'm from Phoenix." And she was like, "No, where are you really from?" And he was like, "No, I'm American." And she was like, "No, that's not right." So then he came back, and told me. He was like, "That was really weird."
And this is literally less than a year that this happened. And I was like, "Why don’t you go back and tell her that you're American?" And he was like, "Well, I don't know why she asked me in the first place." So, I think one of the major microaggressions that there is is just to assume that somebody who is ethnic looking is not born here. Are we going to be known as a nation that pulls passports from people just because they're not of a certain color now? Is that going to the precedent that we set? Or am I going to now have to carry my blue passport to go buy a popsicle at the pool.
Zaiba Hasan: You're going to have to carry a real ID pretty soon. I don't know if you are going to be doing that in Phoenix, but I know we have to have our real ID come October.
Uzma Jafri: When you're traveling.
Zaiba Hasan: Yeah.
Uzma Jafri: Yeah. But not when you're going to the pool, right? Not yet. So, I'm hoping that this will all die down by the time our kids are old enough.
Zaiba Hasan: Let's hope so.
Uzma Jafri: So, simple things like that. People assuming that we weren't born here. Asking us how do we like America compared to where we came from. Or, I think something that adults often do, I don't know that they do it to kids, but they do it to us certainly, is well, “Why is this happening in that country?” And they'll say, "Well, why in London are these Muslims acting like this?" And it's like, "I don't know. I'm not from London. I'm from Texas and Arizona. I have no idea." Or, "Why are these people acting like this in Iraq?"
And it's like, "Do you understand that these human constructs of borders that y'all have created have now determined how people will act within those borders?" And that's not a reflection of anybody who looks like them outside of those borders. So, I think people want to be nationalists, but then they forget that we are in this nation. And we do not answer for somebody who is acting any different way in another nation. That's just not going to happen. Or assuming that all Muslims have the same exact culture.
Do you understand that these human constructs of borders that y'all have created have now determined how people will act within those borders? And that's not a reflection of anybody who looks like them outside of those borders. So, I think people want to be nationalists, but then they forget that we are in this nation.
So we must know why something is happening in the Burmese, or not happening in the Burmese, or why something is happening in Sudan right now. We don't know. Because we don't know the politics of that. We're too busy trying to avoid the political fallout of what's happening in our own country. Exactly. So those are the simpler microaggressions that I can think of and explain and say you might want to refrain from that, and if you feel compelled to ask, maybe check a map first.
Zaiba Hasan: Yeah. I agree with that.
EmbraceRace: Another question. So members of a particular group are made to feel responsible for the actions or beliefs of others in the entire group because of that shared identity, right? Even though as you say, there are multiple identities that aren't shared across all sorts of lines. I'm guessing that you as parents are trying to support your children in making that distinction and being resilient in the face of that. I'm wondering if you see any slippage? It does happen all the time that there's respectability politics within these groups. So you might have some black people trying to police other black people, because gosh you're making us all look bad. That is a real thing that happens.
Zaiba Hasan: Yes.
EmbraceRace: Here’s a point that definitely happens. Someone did something bad, right? There's a news report. And there's relief when it's not a member of their own group.
Uzma Jafri: Yes. A hundred percent.
Zaiba Hasan: All the time.
Uzma Jafri: All the time. We're always holding our breath.
Zaiba Hasan: Any kind of plane crash, or anything, we're like, "Oh my God, please god, let it just be…”
EmbraceRace: They go,“He's white!” “He’s white!”
Zaiba Hasan: Yes.
Uzma Jafri: Yes.
Zaiba Hasan: Or a shooting. But I would imagine if somebody ran the statistics, and I'm not one of these people, the shootings in this country are more I think by male, white-
Uzma Jafri: Supremacists.
Zaiba Hasan: Men, than by Muslim people. There is some of that in the media, that they have mental illness. The way that they're labeled and called, I do think that, I can't speak for every Muslim person, but I do think there is that annoyance factor a little bit when we do hear white shooters being described as their mommas didn't love them, the violin story. But then if it was somebody with an ethnic name, or somebody that wasn't of Caucasian descent, that it's something totally different. It's a little bit more negative sounding.
EmbraceRace: But especially your children, Zaiba, because they are somewhat older, do you see this anxiety?
Zaiba Hasan: Yeah, for sure. A hundred percent, for sure. And again, I don't want to ever speak for them, but there is some of that. If we go to a mosque, and a man or a woman isn't traditional, they feel a little like, why are we calling attention to ourselves? And part of me wants to smack them upside the head and be like, "We don't need to do that." I'll be honest. But they were born feeling defensive. So, I have to take a step back, and take my personal viewpoints of what I think and try to get into their head, that they have always been in a situation where they've had to defend who they are as Muslim Americans. So of course they don't want to have any extra. They're teenagers, right? They want to just blend in.
But they [my children] were born feeling defensive [of their religion]. So, I have to take a step back, and take my personal viewpoints of what I think and try to get into their head, that they have always been in a situation where they've had to defend who they are as Muslim Americans.
Uzma Jafri: Make TikToks.
Zaiba Hasan: Exactly. Make Tiktoks and do all of that. They don't want to stand out. And part of going to these things, for instance, I'll be honest with you, I don't pray in public. I just won't do that. And I admit that I won't do that. And so my kids, when they do see that, they're like, "Oh my god, why are they praying in public?" It's almost like they're asking to have people say things for them. And I'm not proud of that, by any stretch of the imagination. But it is a definite reality for my kids, especially as they're older, and they're definitely more aware of how other people perceive them.
Uzma Jafri: For myself, I can say that my kids, at least when they were younger, were unaware of race. So they thought that they were white. And I had to tell them. It was the crayon box conversation, that kids those age will have. It's like, "No, I'm this color." And they're holding up that pale, I forget the color that it is. I think it's a nude. The color nude by Crayola. And I was like, "No, honey, that's not your color. We're brown." "No, momma. We're not brown. We're white. You may be brown. We're white." And I'm like, "No honey, this is the mirror, you look like me." And so we would have those conversations. And I don't think it was because they didn't want to associate with it. I think they really just thought that.
Zaiba Hasan: Yeah, they didn't know any better.
Uzma Jafri: Yeah. But there's no way for me to hide my visibility and my religion. I'm always going to look the way I'm going to look. So in public, I do pray in public. I've asked my kids, I've invited them to, but it may be now that they're older, that they're too embarrassed to do it, and they don't want to, and that's okay. I don't push them. I'm going to do me. And when we get home, you can do your prayers. But, I grew up being told no matter what happens, the white man will not consider you his or hers. You will always be othered.
So you may as well be an overachieving, over successful, really just a very strong Muslim, because you're going to be othered anyway. And so, I've raised my kids to never be afraid of being different. Because everything different, and everything that's radical and not acceptable in its time, is historically, this amazing thing. Malcolm X, Martin Luther, they were the radicals of their time. Rosa Parks was a radical of her time. Susan B. Anthony. So, we want to be like those people that history remembers. And so our job is to be different. And it's coming to me now, but I was taking my son out to day. We take some classes together.
Uzma Jafri: And in the car, the 11 year old is like, "I'm okay being Muslim." And I was like, "Well, why would you say that? That's a random comment." And he was like, "I'm just okay being different." And I felt a little hesitation in it, because I think he wanted me to say more, but I wanted to leave it at that, and open the door for him to say something else. But that didn't happen. So I think we'll be having more of these kinds of conversations as we grow up.
EmbraceRace: Yeah, that's beautiful. And that's a great note to end on. I'm okay with being Muslim. Sometimes it's a long and ongoing conversation, but you get there.
Uzma Jafri: Yes, absolutely.
EmbraceRace: Well, thank you so much both of you for this conversation and everyone who joined. I know you guys prepared an action guide, a tip sheet that we'll be putting up in the next days with more advice. And we'll put up the video tomorrow. And the transcript later in the week, and send it to everyone who's on, and who's not on. So, thank you so much.
Uzma Jafri: Thank you for having us, y'all. This was wonderful.
Zaiba Hasan: Have a good night. Bye.