Part 1: Born Into Darkness

Once upon a time, I was 17 years old, a freshman in college, and the only Muslim girl on my campus in Arkansas. While my roommates and friends were spending their free time attending campus parties, getting drunk, and hooking up, I would hole myself up in my dorm room, scouring chat platforms such as AOL, PalTalk, ICQ, and a little known platform called FireTalk. This was my window to the outside world of Muslims. Born and raised in small-town Arkansas to Pakistani-immigrant parents, attending a private Christian school, with a tiny Muslim community, it wasn't easy being a third-culture kid. Throw in an ugly divorce and a mentally ill mother, and “dysfunctional” doesn’t even begin to describe my experience.

I learned the "Lord's Prayer", sang in the school choir, and attended chapel service every Monday morning. My grandparents happily filmed my sister when she sang a solo as Angel Gabriel in the school play, with me singing in the chorus with the other little angels. When Christmas season rolled around, we put up a Christmas tree and lights, and sang Christmas carols to senior citizens in the community.

The Muslim community was tiny. Our mosque was a vacant, one-bedroom home in the "bad side" of town. We were the only Pakistani family in a small community of mostly African-American reverts and a couple of Arab families. We attended Sunday School occasionally, but I would constantly get Biblical stories and Quranic stories about the Prophets mixed up. We would beg our grandparents not to send us to Sunday School, going as far as feigning illness to avoid having to go.

At home, religion was for old people. My Nani would sit on her prayer mat, and as she would go down in sujood, I would jump on her back, wrapping my arms around her neck, and squeal in laughter as she swung me down and up, like a human see-saw. She would sit on her favorite spot on the sofa and softly read her Quran.

“Muslims don’t eat pork”, I would tell my friends matter-of-factly, when they asked me about my religion. “We believe in God the Father, Jesus is a Prophet, and we don’t eat pork.” Other than those three things, I felt no different from my peers. We played together at recess, joined the same sports, went Girl Scout camping, and performed in the school orchestra together. At home I was invisible. At school, I was social and popular. School was my home. Friends were my family.

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