As a Muslim growing up in a small Midwestern town, I had an interesting upbringing. My brother and I were the only Muslim students in the Madison Central School District for most of my 13 years there. I was the only Muslim most of my classmates had ever met. Something not all of them realized immediately, because they didn't know I was a Muslim until we were older. To be completely fair, none of them were ever outright rude to me based on my religion, but I became the token spokesperson for Muslims in Madison, South Dakota very quickly.
My classmates and teachers felt more comfortable asking me questions since I wasn't an adult, so I was less likely to think of them as idiots. Usually, I don't. I appreciate people asking questions and trying to understand a different perspective, but there are certain questions that I've been asked ever since I can remember. These questions range from "slightly racist" to "I'm not even dignifying that with a response". The following are the top ten questions American Muslims, like myself, rarely appreciate hearing.
1. Where are you from?
The USA, thank you.
2. But where are you REALLY from?
Um, didn’t you hear me the first time? This is a question I used to answer with “my parents are from Egypt,” until I realized how racist it was. Now I prefer to say that I’m from Hawaii, which some people take as I’m a native Pacific Islander. (Again, I thank you for your racism.) If I say I'm from South Dakota, I get a lot very confused looks. Or I opt for a simple death glare, which is my favorite answer to this question.
3. Are you REALLY a Muslim?
Nah, I was kidding. I’m actually a magical unicorn from a parallel universe.
4. What church do you go to?
I don’t go to a church, I go to a mosque. Unless you count the Lutheran and Catholic churches I used to go to to practice piano until my parents bought a piano. This is why a friend of mine thought I was Catholic until freshman year of high school.
5. Don’t all Muslim women wear hijab?
No, it's a personal choice. It differs based on each person's interpretation of religion. The choice of wearing, or not wearing, hijab doesn't make a woman more or less Muslim. It also doesn't give you an excuse to question their life choices.
6. But how can you be feminist and Muslim at the same time?
Exactly the way I’m feminist and Muslim at the same time right now. (Notice how my head hasn't exploded yet.) It’s not my fault that Muslim men use what they choose from religion to try to control women. It's not dissimilar to how the GOP is trying to control women’s reproductive rights.
7. Why does your religion hate women?
It doesn’t, but unfortunately men do. This is true all over the world. Brock Turner got SIX months for rape. Let’s not forget that he can get out in three months if he behaves AND he gets protective custody. Oscar Pistorius got six years for murdering his girlfriend because he’s an Olympic runner and he tried to apologize. (We all know that apologies bring back the dead.) So really, the problem isn’t one religion at all.
8. Are you going to have an arranged marriage?
Sure, if you count fate and/or God as my matchmaker.
9. How can you be same religion as ISIS?
How can you be the same religion as Hitler? Or the KKK? Or the Westboro Baptist Church? I don’t constantly ask you about the crazies in your religion, so please stop asking about ISIS. I don’t have telepathic control over them, and I certainly don’t have their phone number to call and say, “Habibi, please stop killing everyone. K? Thanks.”
10. Not even water?
During Ramadan, we can’t eat or drink anything from sunrise until sunset. Yes, that "anything" includes water. And before you ask, it is very hard. That's the point: to feel the hardships that others go through in life and appreciate how fortunate we are.