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Are You in the Closet?

06/09/2013
taj-mahal-mosque-doorway

Several years ago, before I began working as a substitute teacher, I saw an ad for an Administrative Assistant who was experienced with social media.  I was looking for a part-time job a few days a week, and this job seemed to be a good fit.  I had experienced with MySpace, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.  I also had been writing here for about 6 months at that time.  I thought I was fairly adapt at what I was doing and thought I’d be right for the job.

Since I had been out of the work force for 10 years, I proceeded to update my resume.  While I was doing so, I asked if I should add my experience online writing here at My Islamic Life and being a small business owner through Etsy, selling religiously minded items.

I was told No.

I mentioned that the job I was applying for specified that I be social media savvy and this experience was directly applicable to the job requirements.  I pushed further and was told not to list my blog or shop specifically because they are Islamically focused.  I should find another way to list my experience without opening myself to the potential discrimination.

Since I opened my Etsy shop and began writing, when people ask me what I do, I tell them I’m a Stay At Home Mom (even when I was working far more than keeping my family) or I tell them I’m a Substitute Teacher (even though I work as a sub to support my little business.)  I rarely even mention my business.  Even when I tell people, I downplay my mission of making devotional jewelry.  I push forth The Wudu Cling because it is easier, less personal, and simpler to explain.

When I started getting orders for non-religious jewelry from my friends and family members, I thought to open a separate Etsy shop so they would feel more comfortable ordering from me.  I thought I’d reach more people and I’d be able to create more pieces of non-religious jewelry.  The one time I participated in a craft fair, it was at the secular school where I work and I chose to use my VianneFere storefront to present my work.  I thought I’d be more approachable if people didn’t associate me with Islam.

Why?

I think it stems from being told to shelter myself from the potential backlash.  The clear message was to hide your affiliation, don’t let people know.

The problem with hiding my affiliation to Islam is that I am not reaching potential customers by hiding.  I am not reaching people who are in need of what I have to offer because I’m afraid to reach out to them.  By hiding, I am not reaching those women who, like me, have been told to hide their association with Islam but are in need of a support group who share their same experience.

Over the last several months, I have had the opportunity to become affiliated with an Origami Owl Hostess.  She sought me out because she heard about my custom stamped jewelry.  The women attending her Owl parties were asking her for personalized plates and charms.  Since then, I’ve added 4 sizes of stamped plates specifically designed to fit inside the Origami Owl Living Lockets to my My Islamic Life Shop on Etsy.  When I did my initial trial pieces, I used Arabic names, phrases and symbols that would be attributed to Islam.  Since then I’ve had many customers place orders.  Not one of the orders have been religious in nature.

Last week, two co-workers asked me about my jewelry and wanted my business card so they could see my work and possibly commission an order.  I considered this request carefully and had to make a conscious decision about what business card I would give them.  I have the VianneFere shop still open and I carry business cards for that shop in my bag right next to the My Islamic Life cards.  My Islamic Life is my main focus, but would I lose these potential customers if I gave them one business card over the other?

When my co-worker started asking questions about the necklace design, and what was possible to create, I casually mentioned that if she wanted me to stamp a cross on her family charms, I would be happy to make that part of her design.  Or, if she wanted me to stamp a Bible verse (because I know she’s particularly religious and I’ve answered questions for her about Islam before) it would be okay.

She laughed a little and said, “Do you realize that your voice drops when you mention anything about religion?”

No, I didn’t.

I feel like I’m straddling the threshold of the closet door in any setting.  When I’m inside the Muslim Community, I can talk about the need for a support system for the non-Muslim spouse/parent in family, and I can talk about reaching out to answer questions that non-Muslims have about Middle American Muslims.  But I’m not truly accepted as a part of the American Muslim life because I don’t pray like a Muslim.  When I’m in an environment where I don’t know how I’ll be received, I’m inside the closet with my pinky toe peeking out.  I’m not afraid of people finding out that my family is Muslim, but I’m not outwardly identifiable.  Maybe this has more to do with my not knowing where I am in my religious journey, I have no clearly defined religion, so I have a problem taking ownership of something I’m not sure I have a share in.

How do I get from where I am to where I need to be?  How do I get out of my own way?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. atozmummy permalink
    06/09/2013 12:44 PM

    Mashallah what an honest piece. I can fully identify with so much of what you say. I am in the closet at times. I have very recently started wearing hijab (although not in front of certain members of my family yet) and going from being able to “hide” from being instantly identifiable as a Muslim has been a massive shock to me. I was unaware of how often I played down my religion or just never even mentioned it… sometimes easier to say I’m veggie etc etc then explain why I’m not eating meat.
    On a side note I love the sound of your jewellery and will be scooting off to take a look next inshallah :)

  2. Rachael permalink
    06/09/2013 5:23 PM

    Exactly what i think! When you figure out how, let me know! Lol

  3. 06/09/2013 8:00 PM

    Assalaamu Alaikum! : )
    I can really understand where you’re coming from here. I personally am openly Muslim in every day life; I’ve had people see my table at a craft show, start to walk towards it, then see me and very deliberately turn around and walk away. I’ve also had people come right up to me, talk a bit, maybe buy something, then go off and come back 10 minutes later with 5 family members. At the same time I use the name my parents gave me, which does not look or sound at all like a “typical” Muslim name. I’ve been told this is a kind of fence straddling. I don’t see it that way, rather I see it as my way of expressing the universal nature of my faith, that Islam doesn’t belong to just one group of people, or one part of the world, but belongs to anyone who wishes to embrace it. Of course this can lead to people refusing to sit near me on the bus or shouting nasty things out car windows, but it can also lead to wonderful brief connections to total strangers. I am not going to claim it’s easy to shed fear, but I will say there are many rewards for doing so. And yes, one of my heroes is the Cowardly Lion from the Wizard of Oz. Courage! : )

  4. 06/09/2013 9:45 PM

    Being visibly identified as a member of a minority is tough. It holds you to this uncomfortable standard, in a way that one’s own ideology sometimes doesn’t. I find it a pretty mixed blessing- but I’m also a rabbi, so it’s something I rather need to claim.

    I think that it takes an additional level of comfort to be able to comfortably talk about someone else’s religion, too. And with the place you’re in- it seems like one that’s uniquely complicated for being out.

  5. 07/10/2013 2:16 PM

    Asalam Alaikum

    Ramadan Mubarak! I feel like it’s a Ramadan miracle that I found you! Yay!! Lol. You are inspiring, inshallah I look forward to reading more!!

    Salam

    • 07/10/2013 3:01 PM

      Wa’aliakum Salaams! Ramadan Mubarak to you! Thank you so much for your kind words. (I’m off to follow you now….:-) )

      Blessings and Hope,
      Kristina

  6. nour permalink
    07/14/2013 1:26 AM

    salam

    first of all, ramadan moubarak.

    from my experience as a convert, ex-hijabi, living in france and several other places i’d say the first thing to do to feel comfortable with your religion is to know it. it will help you to detach yourself from the awful things made in the name of God by self proclaimed muslims who make the news and give that terrible fame to our religion. just get rid of the guilt or shame then you’ll be able and comfortable to face the questions, comments and reactions.

    if you want to make your life easier you can also decide with whom you feel secure enough to display your real identity and faith and with whom you won’t. it’s not part of your faith to put yourself in danger or trouble. faith is supposed to help you to have a goal, a purpose in your life, to keep in touch with your creator and to interact with people in a positive way.

    if wearing a hijab or telling everyone you’re a muslim helps you in doing so, go for it. if you’d rather have people notice something different or special about you and then talk about it, that’s for you to decide what works for you.

    may Allah help you and it make it easier for you.

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