Explaining my faith has helped me explore it, in good times and bad

As a practising Muslim living in Australia, I have shared my reflections on my faith many times.

In fact, my journey of explaining my faith began when I was 12 years old. That was when my family migrated to Canada.

I remember how my classmates used to ask me about why I could not eat in daylight hours during the month of Ramadan.

Muslim girls celebrate the end of the fasting month of Ramadan in Peshawar, Pakistan.Credit:AP

They were curious about many of my faith practices and cultural traditions. I always felt pride when I had opportunities to explain – it was a feeling that I was creating awareness and passing on knowledge by sharing insights and views about my faith and culture. I also felt that my peers who asked these questions did so out of a healthy curiosity and willingness to learn.

These feelings continued until I was about 25 years old. That is when 9/11 happened.

By 2001 my family had moved to New Jersey and I moved with them. Post-9/11, there was a sudden shift from positive curiosity to something less positive. I haven’t been able to figure out whether the questions now come from a place of willingness to understand or eagerness to ridicule.

In Victoria, we are fortunate to live in a multicultural and multifaith society. I have been associated with the interfaith community since the day I arrived in Australia in 2005, and found a supportive and understanding space. I realised however, that the interfaith community exists as a silo and there is much hostility and discrimination towards Muslims when we remove ourselves from that place of understanding and support. That environment, where sentiments of discrimination are brewing just beneath the surface, has not deterred me in any way from my faith.

I wear the hijab which identifies me as a practising Muslim woman, I fast during the month of Ramadan and I proudly wear my traditional clothes and eat my traditional foods. I celebrate the holy days of my faith and I participate in our faith celebrations as well.

Whenever presented with the opportunity I continue to educate people about my faith. I have friends from all backgrounds.

I truly enjoy the month of Ramadan, which naturally provides a platform to share a meal with people of all faiths or none. My heart feels truly joyous when I see messages of “Ramadan Mubarak” from our political leaders and I see similar signs in local grocery stores which stock up on dates and other Ramadan-related products.

I am trying to instill these faith practices in my children too, although I think it is very challenging to do so because the new generation does not have a positive attitude towards religion.

That effort is part of my own spiritual journey, in which I continue to explore the meaning of religion, of God and of spirituality as I mature in my own identity.

Naureen Choudhry is a community leader and recent recipient of the Victorian government’s Meritorious Service Award for Excellence in Multicultural Affairs.

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