Searching for My Pakistani Identity

by Guest Contributor Jehanzeb Dar, originally published at Broken Mystic

It started off funny. I was at the mall buying a birthday gift for a friend of mine and, as usual, the store manager was friendly and conversational. After she took a good look at my gift, the following conversation took place:

    MANAGER: Aww, is this for your girlfriend?

    ME: She’s not my girlfriend.

    MANAGER: That’s an awful lot of money for just a friend.

    ME: (smiles) Well, maybe you can lower the price for me.

She laughed as she scanned the item through. Another customer approached the counter and waited patiently. She decided to chime in:

    CUSTOMER: Ooh, you’re buying gifts!

    ME: (smiles) Yeah, it’s for my friend’s birthday.

    CUSTOMER: Aww, that’s so romantic, your girlfriend is going to Love it.

    ME: She’s not my girlfriend.

    CUSTOMER: Hmm, maybe she’s a special friend!

I laughed at how both of them were teasing me while I waited for the manager to package the gift. The manager was really helpful that day, so I asked her if there was a number I could call to give her an “outstanding” customer service rating. She showed me the number on the receipt and thanked me for asking. As the manager wrote her name on the receipt, the customer waiting in line caught me off guard with an unexpected question:

“What country are you from?”

For some reason, the question struck me in an odd way, as if it triggered an alarm in my head and sprung forth countless things I’ve been ruminating about over the past few weeks. It wasn’t a new question at all. I have brown skin; it’s easy to notice, so I understood. People ask me where I’m from all the time, but it was different now.

Almost immediately, I thought about the current crisis in Pakistan, I thought about the corrupt Pakistani president Asif Zardari, I thought about the Taliban taking control of Swat Valley – a beautiful place that I visited once – and I thought about the U.S. drone attacks in Pakistan and my sheer frustration with Obama’s foreign policy. Even though it only took me about two seconds to respond, I still had more thoughts and feelings swell inside me. I feared that disclosing my nationality would disrupt the friendly interaction I had with the manager and customer. I worried that their response would be offensive or ignorant and that I would go home feeling like an “outsider.” It was too late for that. And it wasn’t their fault.

“Pakistan,” I said slowly with an unfamiliar discomfort in my voice.

I was shocked at the way I responded, it sounded like I was ashamed of it. I noticed the shift in her body language when she replied with a simple, “Oh.” It was the typical response I usually get after I tell people I’m Muslim. An awkward silence followed before she politely said, “cool.” Again, it was nothing new to me, but when I nodded and forced a weak smile, I suddenly felt the urge to leave. I left quickly after the manager handed me the gift. “It’s ok” I told myself as I heard the fast paced rhythm of my shoes walking on the marble floor, “they didn’t say anything wrong.” I thought about the possible conversation that took place behind me. Maybe they said something ignorant. Maybe they didn’t say anything at all. Maybe they had negative thoughts about Pakistan, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they wondered where it was on the map. Whatever they said or thought didn’t matter. What mattered were the countless thoughts that surfaced in my mind.

As I walked to the other side of the mall, my memory traveled back to January of 2008.

Former Pakistani Prime Minister, Benazir Bhutto, had been killed in late December and it was the hot topic for a while in the mainstream media. I was on my way out of a post office one afternoon, minding my own business, when an older man smiled at me and placed a hand on my shoulder. “Are you Indian or Paki?” Caught off guard by the random question and his use of the word “Paki,” I smiled at the silliness of the question. “Umm, I’m Pakistani…” I said. The man’s face turned grim. “Shame on you!” he growled. Since there were so many things I was going through at the time, my grief reached a point where I couldn’t even get angry anymore. I laughed instead. “Excuse me?” I asked. He threw his hands in the air, “Your country is a mess! You guys are killing your leaders and your women!” You can’t be serious, I thought to myself. I couldn’t believe I was standing in a post office and listening to a man flipping out on me just because I’m from a certain part of the world.

I stood my ground and called him out on his ignorance. I told him he was generalizing about me, as well as the people of Pakistan. I also told him that it wasn’t fair for him to treat me as if I had control over what country I’m from. He apologized, “I’m sorry, you’re right. See, you’re good because you’re here. You’re good because you’re an American.” Right. Typical “melting-pot” remark. Let’s mix everyone together, cut them off from their culture and heritage, and give them one identity: American. “So what about my family members who live in Pakistan?” I asked him. “Are they ‘bad’ since they’re not American?” He replied, “Well they should come over here.” Yeah, like that’s a piece of cake. And besides, what’s up with the assumption that people living in the Muslim world want to come to the United States (or any Western country)? He apologized again and then asked, “Are you Muslim?” Oh boy. “Yeah,” I said. Before I know it, he was going on about Christianity and how democratic values are also Christian values, so Muslims could benefit a lot from Christians. I tried to enlighten him about Islam, coexistence, and how we’re all created by God, but it didn’t seem like he was receptive to what I was saying. He ended up making an insensitive remark about Muslims standing at the end of the line in the afterlife. He was trying to be funny. I couldn’t stay there. I shook my head, “whatever.” As I walked out the door, I heard him say “Ah, I’m just kidding!”

I had to disengage from the conversation because it brought back memories of something that happened to me in the summer of 2007. I was working a part-time job in the photo lab at CVS Pharmacy. I Loved my job, which is why the managers always called me first whenever they needed help. It was a really happy time in my life, I had friendly relations with my co-workers, and I was really good with customers. We were incredibly low on help that day though and at one point, I was the only person on register. The line only got longer and longer, and eventually, a cranky customer started swearing at me for moving too slow for her. I ignored it at first, but then she cursed at me again and told me that I “shouldn’t work here.” I explained that we were short on help and I politely asked her to stop cursing at me. It only made things worse. “Who the f*** are you to tell me to stop talking?!” she shouted.

Finally, my manager rushed back to the front of the store. He couldn’t help but notice the angry customer and her friend. “What’s the problem here?” he asked. Before I could answer, the customer pointed at me and said, “You better watch out for this kid otherwise he’s going to blow up the store.” I froze in utter disbelief. I felt the anger rushing through my blood and then I broke out, “What did you say?! Are you judging me by the color of my skin?! Why did you say something like that?!” She shouted back, “man, just do your f***ing job!” My manager intervened and told me to take a break. I listened and began to the break room, but I heard the customers talking behind me, “if he’s going to wait for us in the parking lot, we can take him! There’s two of us.” I was so outraged and furious. I turned around and said, “Who’s talking about violence here?” She said I threatened her first because I told her to “stop talking.” I shook my head, “No, I told you to stop cursing.” My manager stepped in between me and the customers. He pushed me back, as if I was going to hit the customers or something. “Just stop,” he said to me, “Just ignore them.” The customer’s friend stepped forward and said, “F*** you, terrorist!” I was so angry that I just stormed out of the building and drove home. I was notified a week later that I was terminated because the incident “created a problem” for the store and I was supposed to “bite my tongue” just like the “company policy” expected all employees to (how I handled the case, with the help of CAIR, is another discussion!).

I reflected on these two experiences as I walked out of the mall with my friend’s birthday gift. When I started my car, I sat and spaced out for a while. I thought about how my past experiences sometimes make me so tense and uneasy whenever non-Muslims ask about religious and/or ethnic background. With the current crisis in Pakistan, I worry that the ignorant and offensive remarks will only get worse, but amidst all the politics and personal fears, I am also bothered immensely by how distant I am from my ethnic background.

The next morning, I stood in front of the mirror and felt so unusually distraught. I stared at my brown skin, my black hair, my half-Kashmiri and half-Punjabi nose; I thought about my suburban-American accent and my inability to speak Urdu and Punjabi fluently. I felt a mismatch, like I was some kind of cheap import. I felt fake and counterfeit. I thought about all the times I see older South Asians working at local stores and feeling terrible for speaking to them in English when I could be speaking in Urdu or Hindi. When I walk away, I always wonder if they’re thinking, “oh the kids in this country forget their culture and their language, it’s such a shame.” In South Asian culture, we always refer to elders as “Auntie” and “Uncle,” so whenever I see elderly South Asians, I want them to know that they are “Auntie” and “Uncle” to me. Sometimes, it feels like my skin color and name are the only Pakistani things about me. What does it mean to be Pakistani? I can put on my shalwar kameez (traditional South Asian dress) and attend a South Asian event on campus, enjoy the music, dances, and food, but does that make me Pakistani? What do I know about Pakistan – the history, the culture, the people, the great mystics, thinkers, and leaders of the past, or even the politics? Although I’ve made attempts to re-connect with my Pakistani identity in recent years, I feel that current events (as well as things I’ve observed in other Pakistani-Americans) have caused me to turn inward again in efforts to attain a richer understanding of what my ethnic identity really means to me.

I was born in Lahore, Pakistan. My father’s family descends from Kashmiris who migrated to Lahore, and my mother’s family is Punjabi. Although I’ve never experienced what it’s like to live in Pakistan (since my family moved to the United States shortly after I was born), I’ve stayed there on long visits. The first time I visited Pakistan was in 1999 and I remember hating it. The bumpy roads, the crowded traffic, the poverty, the pollution, the electric cutting out randomly – it all made me miss the United States. At the time, as a 15 year-old, I admit that I felt better than everyone else because I was an American citizen. When I returned to the U.S., I would tell my White non-Muslim friends how proud and grateful we should be to live in America. Like many other Pakistani-Americans that I knew at the time, I made fun of Pakistani/Indian music, culture, language, accents, and dress. I associated all of those things with my parents; it had nothing to do with me. I was American.

I went to Pakistan again in 2000 for my Uncle’s wedding and my opinion of the country didn’t change much. I still thought it was backwards and uncivilized, although I remember seeing something that struck me as oddly positive. On our way to the wedding, a truck accidentally hit one of our party’s cars. The respective drivers – complete strangers – got out and shook hands! Then, we invited the truck driver to the wedding! That was something I don’t ever recall seeing in the United States. Still, I longed to leave Pakistan, so much so that I couldn’t even appreciate the fact that my Uncle’s wedding lasted for three days (as opposed to the typical single-day weddings I would see in Hollywood films). I couldn’t appreciate the decorations, the dancing, the beautiful South Asian dresses, or the immense amount of preparation that went into it all. I regret that now.

It wasn’t until I visited Pakistan in early 2002 when I really learned to appreciate it. As many of my friends know, 2002 was a special year for me. It was the year I discovered my inner voice. I remember sitting in the car while the driver navigated us through the busy traffic of Lahore and without warning, a question struck me in such a profound way. The question didn’t come from someone, it came from within: I asked myself, “Why do you hate this place so much?” I stared out the window and saw people walking with their spouses, children, and friends. They were going somewhere. To school, to work, to buy something, to have fun with their friends – every day activities that my friends and I would do except in a different part of the world. This place was home to them. “This is where you were born,” I said in my thoughts, “This place is in your blood.” It helped that I had a great time with my family that year too, but I also believe that these questions didn’t come to me randomly or without meaning. For the first time, when I left Pakistan, I was sad. Sure, I was happy about going home and seeing my friends again, but I also felt like I didn’t get enough of a chance to explore more, i.e. explore more about myself.

Since it was post September 11th, I was already experiencing a lot of hostility and prejudice in my predominately White non-Muslim high school because of my religious background. When I returned from Pakistan, classmates and teachers asked a lot of ignorant questions. Questions like: “Why do they have weird names?” or “Are they Taliban?” or “Don’t they hate America?” The most insulting one probably came from my friend’s mom, “Are they very pro-bin Laden over there?” I told her that Osama bin Laden was the last thing on my mind when I was there and I also added that she should visit Pakistan some time since it’s a beautiful place. As a result of my new appreciation for Pakistan, I started to become more religious and spiritual. It was the first time in my life when I read the Qur’an on my own free will and it was the first time I prayed without anyone instructing me to do so. It was a very special turning point in my life since I began to contemplate religion and spirituality in ways that I never did before, but what I didn’t realize was that my attempts to become a better Muslim actually distanced me from my ethnic identity rather than compliment it. In actuality I was doing something that many young Pakistani Muslims do these days: I was trying to be Arab.

Over the years, I’ve found that discussing Pakistani identity is quite problematic and controversial at times because it’s often perceived as “religion versus culture.” Generally speaking, we Pakistanis try to distance ourselves from India as far as possible because we think India is synonymous with Hinduism, therefore “kuffar” (nonbelievers/infidels). It’s silly actually considering that (1) India has the third-largest Muslim population in the world and (2) prior to the partition in 1947, Pakistan was part of India; therefore the similarities in culture, dress, food, and language are inescapable. In any case, many Pakistani Muslims in America cut themselves off from India and Indian culture in pursuit of an “authentic Muslim” identity, which happens to point to the Middle-East. In other words, we take on a pseudo-Arab identity.

So many times, I’ve heard fellow Pakistani Muslims saying that we should abolish culture completely because there is no culture in Islam. We’re Muslim and that’s it. I bought into that for a while. “Yeah, we Pakistanis watch too many Bollywood movies,” I would say, “We have girls dancing at our weddings, that’s not Islamic!” As I condemned Pakistani culture, I didn’t realize that I was adopting another culture: Arab culture, or at least what I perceived to be “Arab culture” (saying “Arab culture” is inaccurate since the Arab world is filled with diverse cultures, religions, and dialects, it can’t be narrowed down into “one culture”). In my freshmen year of college, I would wear my keffiyeh (traditional Arab scarf), drive around blasting Arabic music, and making enormous efforts to learn Arabic. To give you an idea of how much I studied Arabic, I can put it like this: my Arabic pronunciation is much better than my Urdu and Punjabi pronunciation. I don’t regret learning the amount of Arabic I know now; I admit that it helps understanding your prayers a lot better, but I feel a tremendous amount of shame when I make pathetic attempts to speak Urdu. When I throw in some Arabic phrases when I meet Arab-speaking people, they smile and tell me how good my accent is. When I try to speak Urdu with South Asian friends and family, they laugh because they can hear it mixed with my American accent.

I became discouraged when I saw the same Pakistani Muslims who despised culture taking dabkeh lessons (folk dance of Lebanon, Palestine, Syria, Jordan, and Iraq), smoking hookah, or wearing thobs (traditional Arab dress for men), as if there wasn’t anything cultural about those things. They would also rebel against the South Asian pronunciation of their names and pronounce them the “correct Arabic” way. It dawned on me that we weren’t getting rid of culture; we merely getting rid of South Asian culture – our culture. As Fatemeh Fakhraie writes in her brilliant article, “The Arabization of Islam:”

What is troublesome about all this is that most Muslims who are non-Arabs complain that they’re not seen as Muslims because they’re not Arab (or ethnically Middle Eastern, in some cases). But when non-Arab Muslims take Arab names or wear Arab clothes under the guise of “Islamic authenticity,” we’re all reinforcing the idea that we’re not really Muslims unless we have some link to Arab culture.

I have seen many Pakistanis Muslims using Arabic words like “akhi” (brother), “ukhti” (sister), “wallahi” (I swear to God), and even non-religious words like “yanni” in their conversations. There’s nothing wrong with this, but if they inserted Urdu words instead of Arabic words, they wouldn’t be taken seriously. Why? Because we don’t take Urdu seriously. The only time we’ll use Urdu is to be funny. It’s like, “haha, you sound like a FOB!” The only time we’ll use Urdu in a serious manner is when we’re speaking to elders (because it’s an “older people” thing, right?). Speaking Arabic, on the other hand, is taken seriously and even makes you look like a better Muslim. We attribute more religiosity to Muslims who can give khutbahs or speeches with “proper Arabic pronunciation.” Even at the recent CAIR event I attended, one of the guest speakers was a South Asian Muslim woman who made sure she pronounced every Arabic word and Muslim name “correctly,” as if not doing so would lower her credibility. It was interesting because I didn’t hear any of the Arab speakers pronounce Pakistan correctly (they said “Pack-istan” rather than “Paak-istaan”), and yet you see young South Asian Muslims striving to pronounce Arabic correctly.

But it’s not just pronunciation that’s changing. Words are changing and being replaced too. The best example is how the Urdu phrase, “Khuda hafez” (God be with you), has been replaced with “Allah hafez.” They both mean the same thing, but thanks to the growing influence of Salafi movements among Sunni Muslims in Pakistan, the use of “Khuda hafez” became gunah (sinful). “Khuda” comes from the Persian word for God (pronounced “Khoda” in Farsi), but since Arabic is taught to be the “Muslim language,” it has been replaced with “Allah hafez.” I remember, on one of my trips to Pakistan, I heard some of my relatives say, “don’t say ‘Khuda hafez,’ it’s gunah! Say ‘Allah hafez.’” As Pervez Amirali Hoodbhoy elaborates:

Persian, the language of Mughal India, had once been taught as a second or third language in many Pakistani schools. But, because of its association with Shiite Iran, it too was dropped and replaced with Arabic. The morphing of the traditional “Khuda hafiz” (Persian for “God be with you”) into “Allah hafiz” (Arabic for “God be with you”) took two decades to complete. The Arab import sounded odd and contrived, but ultimately the Arabic God won and the Persian God lost.

And of course, there’s nothing wrong with saying “Allah hafez.” I say it now and then, but why are we labeling “Khuda hafez” sinful? Is one “more Islamic” than the other? Have Muslims forgotten that God teaches logic and reason? Does it make any sense that God can only understand Arabic? The same kind of propaganda was used against those who followed Jesus, peace be upon him, when they were told that Angels could only speak Hebrew and not Aramaic. Consider this Qur’anic verse:

“Call upon God, or call upon the Merciful; by whatever name you call upon Him (it is the same), to Him belong the most Beautiful names.” (17:110)

Avoiding the use of “Khuda hafez” is also an example of how Salafi Muslims strive to abstain from biddah, or innovation, which in turn explains their strong opposition towards culture. Subsequently, we see Salafi Muslims seeking to purge Sufism (Islamic mysticism) out of Pakistan. The Sufis are Islamic mystics, who do not see Sufism as a separate sect of Islam, but rather an inclusive and necessary mystical dimension of Islam that explores one’s inward journey for God, self, and Divine Love. The Sufis often express their Love for God and the Prophets through music, dancing (notably whirling meditation), and Divinely-inspired poetry. Conservative Muslims perceive this as “Indian Islam” and accuse the Sufis of committing biddah and even shirk (associating partners with God), even though the Sufis, like all Muslims, don’t worship anyone else besides God. Qawwali music, for example, is a Sufi musical style of South Asia, but since Salafi Muslims condemn music, many Pakistani Muslims don’t learn to appreciate Qawwali for what it is. I remember one of my dad’s Pakistani co-workers was sitting in my car and he heard me listening to Qawwali music. He said to me, “man, why are you listening to this? You’re not supposed to sing about Allah in songs, that’s a sin.” I couldn’t help but think about the times I sat in his car and heard him listening to hip-hop music with excessive profanity and pornographic lyrics – he’s telling me that listening to Qawwali is sinful? This is just an example of how deep the conservative Salafi brainwashing is on Pakistanis. As is evident from my father’s friend, the conservative teachings even affect those who aren’t as vocal about their Muslim identity. As Sufi Muslims teach to be accepting of others, I’ve often found that conservative Muslims tend to be more about conformity, and this is a huge problem because it’s not only an attempt to pull us away from ethnic identity, but it’s also a way of “infidelizing” Sufi Muslims or anyone else who doesn’t agree with Salafi interpretations of Islam.

Recently, I gave a Pakistani cricket jersey to a friend of mine who became Muslim earlier this year and a couple of Pakistani Muslims in their mid-twenties made silly remarks about the jersey. They said, “We should get him a shirt that says ‘Islam.’” I felt like responding, “If he wore a shirt that said ‘Free Palestine,’ you wouldn’t say anything, right?” And it’s true, we see Muslims – both Arab and non-Arab – wearing Palestinian keffiyehs or “Free Palestine” shirts in the Mosque and no one makes an issue about it. No one accuses them of being more cultural than religious.

The little secret about us Pakistani Muslims is that we like when people mistaken us for Middle-Eastern. We get all flattered. Really? You thought I was Arab? Wow, thanks! But when people ask if we’re Indian, we respond in disgust. The first time I noticed this difference was in college when my professor felt like bashing on Muslims one day (she was one of the most Islamophobic teachers I’ve ever had). She asked, “Where are all my students from the Middle-East?” She immediately looked at me because she knew I was Muslim. “I’m actually from South Asia,” I said, “but thanks for the compliment.” Smile. I said that in defense of Middle-Easterners since there’s such a negative perception of them in the media (and also because Middle-Easterners get lumped together with Muslims). About a week later, I remember asking a non-Pakistani girl if she was Pakistani, and she responded with disgust, “No! I’m not! Why does everyone always think I’m Paki?!” Well, excuse me, I didn’t mean to offend you. I mean, ew, Pakistani? Who wants to be Pakistani? Ask us if we’re Palestinian, Lebanese, Egyptian, or even Iranian, and we’ll totally be cool with that. Why? Because we don’t want to look like Pakistanis. We don’t want to look like what we are.

The “Arabization” of Islam has gotten to the point where religious scholars from immensely popular Islamic websites like SunniPath.com teach that Arab Muslims are superior to non-Arab Muslims and that praying behind Shia Muslims will invalidate your prayer!

If Malcolm X was Pakistani, he’d have a lot to rip into us about. On one hand, we have Pakistanis completely emulating the images and behavior they see in Western pop culture and on the other, we see Pakistani Muslims trying to behave Arab in order to “authenticate” their Muslim identity. Either way, we’re distancing ourselves from our Pakistani and/or South Asian roots. Where did all of this internalized racism and self-hatred come from? Malcolm X was Muslim, but he also taught African-Americans to be proud of their roots and heritage. Why can’t Pakistani Muslims do the same? When bombs fall on Gaza, Pakistani Muslims throw on their keffiyehs, pump their fists in the air, and chant “free Palestine,” but where are they for Pakistan? Now, our country is in trouble. There are U.S. drone attacks killing innocent Pakistani civilians in tribal areas. The Taliban have taken control of Swat Valley, imposed their oppressive Taliban law, and destroyed over 200 schools, mostly girls’ schools. Did you read that? Good. Read it again. According to Tariq Ali, Pakistani author of “The Duel: Pakistan on the Flight Path of American Power,” the majority of Pakistanis are not only anti-Taliban and anti-extremism, but 70% of them perceive the U.S. as the greatest threat to peace in Pakistan. Will we Pakistani Muslims in America start educating ourselves about Pakistan or will we do what most of the Pakistanis at my Mosque do when I tell them the latest news from Pakistan: shrug their shoulders, shake their heads, and simply say “yeah it’s crazy”?

I have always told people (and myself) that I am Muslim first. I still say this, but it doesn’t mean that I can’t be appreciative or proud about being Pakistani. I am not encouraging fellow Pakistanis to support the Pakistani government – that’s not what I’m suggesting at all since the government is absolutely corrupt. What I am encouraging is that we care about the country we come from as much as we care for the country we live in. As Tariq Ali writes, the people of Pakistan cannot be blamed for the failure of their politicians or the recent violence that is unfolding. I am not saying we shouldn’t learn Arabic either. I still want to learn Arabic, I still wear my keffiyeh to represent the Palestinian people, and I still listen to Arabic music, but not at the expense of forgetting my South Asian heritage.

I try to make as many efforts as I can to brush up on my Urdu and Punjabi, and I also read about the history of Pakistan and India. I know all humanity descends from Adam and Eve (peace be upon them both), but why do I have to ignore the people in between? I am not ashamed of my Buddhist, Hindu, or possible Jewish (many Kashmiris claim to be one of the ten lost tribes of Israel) ancestry. I embrace that. Why should we ignore the great mystical poetry of Amir Khosrow, Mirza Ghalib, Bulleh Shah, and Allama Muhammad Iqbal? Why should we ignore the beautiful architecture of Shah Jahan (he built the Taj Mahal)? I remember when I was listening to a Qawwali song by the legendary Pakistani singer, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, I felt like I was reconnecting with a missing part of me. I would constantly listen to his beautiful wailing and hear so many emotions being expressed: Love, yearning, pain, sorrow, grief, joy, and happiness. “This is the voice of my soul,” I would think to myself, “this is that other side of me that I have forgotten.”

The last time I went to Pakistan was in 2004 and it was the first time I visited the country with respect and appreciation. I hope to visit again someday. I often wonder if the country will recognize me as the child of its land or as some tourist just passing on by. I know I stand out when I go to Pakistan. It’s in my body language, the way I walk, the way I speak, but all that doesn’t matter to me because I know that I am striving to re-connect. I know I am making an effort. I would like to revisit the Tomb of Jahangir in Lahore to reflect on the timeless history. I want to see the city of Muree again and enjoy the beautiful mountains. I want to visit the Sindh and let my heart mourn with the tragic Love story of Sohni and Mahiwal (depicted left). I would like to visit Mohenjo-daro, one of the largest cities of the ancient Indus Valley Civilization. I would like to trace my ancestry, visit Kashmir and then India.

I am a Pakistani who has grown up in the West and I know that my experiences may be completely different from what people in Pakistan experience, but it still hurts me to see what is happening in Pakistan today. I still care. It hurts even more when I see such a strong anti-Pakistani sentiment in the United States. Discussing Pakistani politics is another blog post, but I would like others to know that Pakistan is a beautiful place filled with a rich culture that is struggling to survive amidst Westernization and heavy Salafi influences. I find hope in the fact that the majority of Pakistanis are strongly against the Taliban and the corrupt politicians governing them.

Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said in his last sermon: “All humankind is from Adam and Eve, an Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over a black, nor a black has any superiority over a white- except by piety and good action.” The Prophet would not have addressed this issue if there weren’t noticeable differences among human beings. As the Qur’an says: “Another of His signs is the creation of the heavens and earth, and the diversity of your languages and color. There truly are signs in this for those who know” (30:22). There is also this famous verse: “O people, we created you from the same male and female, and rendered you distinct peoples and tribes, so that you may know one another.” (49:13)

In closing, I would like to share that as I wrote this reflection on Pakistani identity, I found myself asking, “Why is Pakistan so important to me?” I responded simply: I was born there. Many of family members are there. My ancestry is there.

Those answers suffice for me.

Khuda hafez.