..This month we highlight the insightful and funny stories of Muslim American Arif Choudhury, who shares his experiences being “the other”—and reminds us that there’s much more to a person than his race and religion.

 

How do you know you’re different? When do you realize that you’re an “other?”

For Arif Choudhury, our featured storyteller this month, that discovery has been a process. American born and raised in Chicago with his Bangladeshi Muslim family, Arif realized he was not like everyone else in his kindergarten, when one of his white friends looked at his dark skin in the sandbox and asked if he was black.

“I don’t know,” Arif told his friend. “I’ll go home and ask my mom.”

Years later, taking the SAT, he was asked to fill in his ethnic origin for demographic purposes. His choices: white, black, Hispanic or other. As he filled in the box for the only option he had, he truly began to feel like “the other.”

And in the days after 9/11, Arif was again painfully aware that he was an “other” to many Americans. It wasn’t just the difference between Muslim and Christian, or Bangladeshi and white.  Within his own Muslim community, Arif realized, he was also different. When his cousin, eating a halal kabab in accordance with strict Islamic dietary guidelines, observed Arif eating a fast-food cheeseburger, he was stunned. In his cousin’s mind, Arif imagined, he wasn’t Muslim enough.

Considering the great diversity of Muslims, not just in America but around the world, Arif’s discovery is not surprising. Estimates of the Muslim population in the U.S. range from three million to eight million. They come from all corners of the world: Asia, Africa, the Middle East, South America. And according to a recent NBC News report, roughly 20,000 Americans convert to Islam each year. In geography, ethnicity, traditions and language, the Muslim community is marked by tremendous diversity.

But it is what makes us all the same—human—that means the most to Arif Choudhury. For him, the question is not so much where you’re from, or what religion you practice, or what box you check on a demographic form—it’s simply “who are you?”

Hear more of Arif’s stories about growing up in Chicago.