HomeBad Ass AsiansSpiritual Retreat Inspires Youth to Stop Hiding Muslim Identity

Spiritual Retreat Inspires Youth to Stop Hiding Muslim Identity

 Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association
Muslim Youth gather in Yosemite for a spiritual retreat in 2016. Photo from: Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association

By Ahmed Sharma
AsAmNews Intern

On September 10, 2001, Iftikhar Khan was 23, fresh out of college, and ready to begin life as an adult. Having just moved to Los Angeles, young and educated, the world was about to be his oyster; that is, until the very next day. Khan says, “I was scared right then and there. This is gonna change everything.” Until then, Khan did his best to conceal his Muslim identity. And as he predicted, life would never be the same, but not in a negative way.

Khan describes his upbringing as being raised around “a very religious, Muslim family…It was all I knew, up until I actually got to college, my whole life was centered around faith.”  Ethnically, Khan is Pakistani but despite being born and raised in England, Khan “never felt like [he] was English.” Instead, he was stigmatized by his ethnicity and constantly seen as “Paki”. It as not until the age of 13 in the 90’s, Khan came to the United States, “in North West Palm Beach, Florida,” where he would find himself “stunned” by how accepting everyone in the country.  Khan describes that despite living next to flag-wielding neighbors, “I never felt unsafe. I remember people would drive in their trucks and just wave and nod… and over time, they just got to know us and we would go fishing with them.”

A few years later, Khan moved to Detroit, Michigan. At the age of 15, Khan and his family were heavily involved in the Ahmadiyya Muslim community and as a result, so was he. When he started college, he gradually saw his faith fading. Khan states, “I lived a bit of a sheltered life” and with the freedom granted by life as a college student, “I basically fell off the wagon…. I  stopped going to the mosque and for about five years, [1996-2001,] I stopped being a Muslim.” Surprisingly, it was not until shortly after the attacks of the twin towers on 9/11, that “[after the end of 2001],  in my heart, I just felt like I was missing something. And so, I just had to start coming back [to my faith]. And ever since then, I had become religious and coming back to the mosque”

However, Khan claims in order to fit in, he kept his religious beliefs to himself. In other words, Khan describes this experience as “operating in two different lives: a Muslim life and a non-Muslim life.” In doing so, Khan sought to avoid bringing attention to himself by not telling anyone he was Muslim, but remained actively praying and holding on to his faith. However, the emptiness Khan felt during his hiatus from Islam, had not completely been filled.  “I didn’t have any relationships with people in the Mosques…all my relationships were with my non-Muslim identity.” Khan says this dual lifestyle only ceased most recently: “up until 2016, I was still sort of living these two different identities: the Muslim identity and the non-Muslim identity.” However, call it an act of fate or perhaps an act of divinity, “there was an announcement in the mosque about a Muslim gathering, sponsored by the Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association (AMYA) in Yosemite, California.”  The idea of the gathering was to establish brotherhood among fellow Muslims through sports, and other fun and games. Moreover, to rejuvenate faith and spirituality.

 Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association
Photo from: Ahmadiyya Muslim Youth Association

At the gathering, Khan was surrounded by people just like him who shared his struggle in how to reconcile their faith with their everyday lives and inspired him to be more involved and faithful, “I met a lot of people, I felt I could look up to, who really…I really admired their faith.” Additionally, Khan states, “I realized… if I wanted to have a stronger faith… I had to stop [living these dual identities] and just merge the two and have one Muslim identity. By that, I mean I now have Muslim friends.”

Today, Iftikhar Khan is a blogger on parenting and heavily involved with the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (AMC). Earlier this month, the annual Muslim gathering by the AMYO was held in San Francisco. He tells AsAmNews that the gatherings continue to inspire Muslim Americans to be stronger with their faith. In the age of Trump and Islamophobia becoming more rampant, it is vital for Muslim Americans to do their part in serving as loyal citizens and excellent examples of Muslims.

A recent Pew article suggests many people still do not know enough about Muslims. Therefore, the AMC host many types of events for people (including Non-Muslims) to meet and converse with Muslims. Like the annual Muslim gathering that just passed, these are informal events for example, Non-Muslims are invited to have coffee and cake with Muslims. Khan asserts it is important for Muslims to remain steadfast in our faith and humble in the face of adversity. Indeed, many young Muslim Americans, like myself, could heed this lesson. 

(Editor’s Note: Some links in this article have been corrected. We also inadvertently misidentified the name of AMYA. We apologize for the errors)

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