I have lived much of my life trying to make my own country comfortable with my presence. But that is difficult to do when I embody so many things that it opposes. As a Muslim woman, my religion is contentious for my fellow Americans. I figured out later in life that “one nation under God” meant a Christian God, not Allah.
I was raised by a Muslim father who took me to Friday prayers and always bought me a present for Eid. But after Friday prayers, I would take my hijab off as soon as I got into the car, because once I left the mosque, I didn’t feel safe. I decided not to wear a hijab as a young girl, because I was initially too scared. I had anxiety about being physically or verbally assaulted. Now, because of my race and that I choose not to wear a hijab, it is never assumed that I am Muslim.
The intersections of my identity have deeply informed my cultural and political beliefs. At the epicenter of Islam is empathy and the ability to practice it. Ramadan is an important time for us, because it is an opportunity to humble ourselves and recognize the collective suffering that is experienced across the world. We are asked to lead our lives with empathy and take time to understand our positionality in this world. That could be from an economic, social, or even cultural privilege. This mentality is intertwined with the teachings of Islam and has engrained a firm belief in me that we are not here to dictate the lives of others. As we are in a moment where people with the capacity for pregnancy are being denied abortion care as a constitutional right, I have reflected more on how my religion and support for abortion are not at odds.
As a young girl, I had every right to choose how I physically expressed my religion, never being pressured to wear a hijab outside of prayers. Though it was never explicitly said that I had the right to choose an abortion and would have my family’s support, it was suggested through subliminal messages that it was my body, my choice regardless of religion.
My support for others’ right to choose has never been challenged by my interpretations of the Qur’an. I have always viewed religious texts as subject to individual understanding. Within Islam, we have different opinions when it comes to abortion. Some Islamic scholars have concluded that Islam forbids abortion no matter the context of the pregnancy. Although some believe that the Qur’an suggests that a woman’s health is the exception to that prohibition. Truthfully, these conversations are often dominated by men in our community, much like the larger discourse in America about abortion. But as a woman in this space, I have learned that Islam holds the life of a woman and her needs to high prestige.
It is stated in the Qur’an, “We have enjoined on man kindness to his parents: In pain did his mother bear him, and in pain did she give him birth.” It is emphasized here and throughout the Qur’an, the sacrifices made by those who give birth. As the bearers of that pain, the Qur’an implores others to respect us. As people with the capacity for pregnancy, it is our final decision, because often we are left with the responsibility of caregiving in a country that does not provide enough systemic support to raise a child. I can confidently say the way I understand Islam supports not only my right to choose, but those around me. It empowers me by making it clear that it is truly a choice that involves one person and not an entire country.
Regardless of my religious beliefs and being supported by them, religious validation should not be required to support abortion care. We live in a country deeply influenced by Christian ideology that excludes the rest of us while maintaining a monolithic American vision.
I want to see Islam acknowledged respectfully. I want my fellow Americans to know that our lives are not filled with apple pies and church on Sundays. Rather, my life in this country has been going to the masjid with my father and brothers, trips to Toys “R” Us after Eid prayers, and learning the Arabic alphabet in Islamic classes at the mosque.
To live in America means to accept Christian ideals as the foundation of our politics. To be included in American politics means to conform to Christian ideals. And this was proven to be true on June 24, when the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade. The overturning is another red flag in this abusive relationship with America. Roe v. Wade is not only an issue of the right to choose, but religious singularity.
I have been a threat to those ideals all my life and paid many consequences, my Blackness being a reason for others to dismiss my humanity and fear to safely express my faith. How am I expected to plead my allegiance to a country that can’t even ensure my constitutional right? A country that won’t enforce its own expectations to separate church and state. I have watched white Christian politicians insist that little girls be subjected to pregnancy regardless of the assault that caused it, because God wills it. Well, the God I was raised with, Allah, does not will that. But regardless of my religion, as a human, I do not will that. I’d rather shove the hypocrisy of this moment in history into the faces of all the “good Christian” elected officials who believe God wanted any of this.
To use God or any religion as justification for violence is a sin. And I see this overturning and the years of religious subjugation in this country as violent. It is violent to force those of us who are not Christian to curate our lives around religious ideals that are not universal. This is a country that is apparently “indivisible,” yet so much effort has been made to divide us. Those with the capacity for pregnancy are no longer constitutionally protected. Many of us have to hide our faith out of fear of violent rejection and a need for patriotic validation. Others agree with me. Most recently, in Florida, a rabbi, a Buddhist leader, and a Unitarian minister have banded together to sue the state over its recently enacted 15-week abortion ban. They argue that such restrictions infringe upon their faiths’ religious liberty.
Abortion is not a morally religious problem for me, although I respect that it may be for others. That doesn’t mean that our religious teachings should dictate the rights of others. And this is not a collective judgment on all Christians, because many believe in the right to choose. But religion does not belong in politics. Religion is an individual choice that people make to help guide their lives. It can provide meaning and solace, but it isn’t a collective system we all have to live by. I make the choice every day to engage with Islam, which is personal to my individual needs and helps make sense of my lived experiences. It taught me that it isn’t our responsibility as people to judge others or force our will onto them.
To be Muslim, for me, has been defined by agency and freedom of choice. My parents empowered me to make my own decisions about how I practiced my faith. The relationship I have now with Islam is an evolutionary journey. It is a relationship between myself and my faith that doesn’t involve others. Islam gives me freedom of choice even if I can’t get that from my country.