A Sense of Community

As the semester comes to an end, so does Melanin Matters. I’ve been reflecting lately on the topics we’ve discussed, such as intersectionality of black gay men, the evolution of masculinity in fashion, mental health, colorism, natural hair and interracial relationships. And while these are all elements of black culture that we may not discuss as much as we should, many topics still remain.

One of which I plan to discuss today — religion and race, particularly those of the Muslim faith.

When I first started writing this article, I would start to type and then delete something and then type again — only because I was afraid of speaking on something I myself have never lived, or known.

Over the last year or so, I have had the privilege to get to know many international students who live in my complex, on a much deeper level than I anticipated. They have shared their stories with me in passing, in the kitchen of my dorm, and even at a program.

For today’s post, I spoke to someone at the mosque who put me in contact with Nura Abubakar, a graduate student from Nigeria who will be receiving his Masters in African American Studies this spring.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

Nura, a 32-year-old man, who is an international student, represents many different identities. Not only is he of the Muslim faith, but he is also African, an international student and a male. Growing up in Nigeria, he explained that about 75-80% of where he is from, people identify as Muslim. He represents many marginalized and feared identities in this country, however he is completely fearless and unbothered by them.

He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison, before attending Ohio University, and prior to that comes from a very educated family — although he was the first of his siblings to receive his degree. And when I say he is absolutely brilliant, I mean he is absolutely brilliant. He finished reading and studying the Quran by age 12. He explained to me how it is very easy for some, while others may take longer to process and apply it to their life. At the end of the day, I find it beautiful that it is something people can interpret at their own pace, like the Bible.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

Having gone to school in different places, he found that the best way to adjust to the different environments was to immerse himself in each of the different cultures. However, he was always fully aware of his sense of self.

“Being someone from Northern Nigeria you also have to learn the culture, you have to always act like a Muslim, be a Muslim and do so many things as a Muslim,” Abubakar said.

However, Nura went on to say that he didn’t know that he was considered a minority when he came to the United States, where he realized the amount of attention placed on the difference in religion and even the color of your skin in black culture.

“In Nigeria you don’t even look at your color, but again there are some people who are fair in complexion than me. So they look and see, oh you are white but we are all African,” Abubakar said.

Photo by Nick Oatley.

Learning about Nura and what his family taught him growing up about prayer throughout the day, doing well in school and embracing all it is to be a Muslim man is beautiful — simply because it is based solely on bettering himself as a man — truly focusing on self-reflection and building a strong foundation and sense of community.

What made me smile most, was the optimism in his voice when he talked about coming here. He focused on what he knew he had control over, which was his faith, his degree and his love for his country. It made me wonder what it feels like to have a strong tie to two places. In one sense, it is nice because he has exposure to so many people, and is able to create another strong community of likeminded people.

We see things through such a narrow lens, and much of what he shared with me was the interesting thing about what people see first when looking at him. The whole interview his head was held high and a warm smile was on his face. It made me reflect on how strong we are as people of color and how much we endure, but even more so if we aren’t native to the United States. When I asked him if he felt a strong sense of community here at OU, he responded saying that he did.

At the end of the day, people may never know what it’s like to be stared at because you are wearing a hijab, or know what it feels like for people to just consider your one identity and disregard the others, but you will never know if you don’t seek every opportunity to learn.

I smiled because I recently saw Kanye West feature a model who is Muslim, Halima Aden, in his show.

It’s great to have different types of representation for young women, but let’s take it a step further.

Let’s not just feature them in fashion shows because they are “exotic”, let’s be inclusive each and every day in our daily lives. Let’s stop generalizing and putting people in categories. Let’s not be tone deaf, and for goodness sake, let’s take it upon ourselves to embrace every person’s differences.

For more by Lindsey Mathews, click here!