TUM is for you. To take you to places you’ve probably seen before, but haven’t looked at quite close enough. To help you read different opinions and accept them with grace. To demonstrate to you how to identify and understand intercultural communication that happens within our own homes. To allow you to be proud of the languages your gifted tongue speaks. To give yourself the chance to forgive yourself and others. To coax you into living unapologetically live free-spirited. To help you love your family. Most importantly, to help you be yourself.
This magazine is named Tum because Tum means “you” in Urdu…this is for you, young Muslims.
I created this while thinking about my own childhood as a first-generation, Pakistani-American Muslim female.
I was born not knowing how to cry or breathe. My small, blue body fell out of my mother’s womb. She screamed for a doctor, who hit my back hard until I shrieked, signaling to my mother that her baby is alive. From that second, my mom wanted to help me survive in any way she could. She cradled me on her chest to sleep every night, cooing me in Urdu and English. Although I eventually comprehended all of the sweet endearments she said to me, I remained quiet. I learned how to use my mouth as a lid for my thoughts. I kept everything in my head–it was the safest place to keep everything.
I grew up afraid to speak, but I was inspired by the world around me. How magnificent and giving it is. How much love that Allah SWT artistically designed everything with grace, from stem to tree. From cold rock to a beating heart. I never wanted anything more than to feel that love drip like blood from my fingertips, because I always yearned to make everyone around me smile. Happiness buoyed through my household, as I remember my father holding me in his big arms, smiling at his Saima Pare, or my mother kissing my toes, telling my how much she loved her golu, chubby baby.
But then, as I grew older, the smiles and the kisses I grew up to love, distilled to tears. My mother and father began having a very rocky marriage. One of my first memories of seeing my mother’s heartbreak happened when she felt threatened that a white woman was taking my father away again. I tried to find every word to tell her that her skin was like the most beautiful honey he would ever taste. Eventually her sugary heart turned harder, until almost nothing could melt it. This man brought her to a different world. And she was learning to live in it.
Eventually, both of them tried to control the world that they created for their children. Growing up in my household felt like hiding in an egg whose shell wouldn’t crack. I was very quiet, I grew up listening. My younger brother felt like a victim to his father because my dad would listen to how other women raised their boys. But my father did not know how to raise a man. He left that job not to my mother, because my brother was her baby. Unconsciously, he left that job to me.
If you ask my parents what my childhood was like, they will tell you about all of my prodigal accomplishments. My mother is an artist. She taught me how to hold a paintbrush when I was four years old. By age seven, I already had my first open exhibition in Princeton, NJ. By age twelve, I received my first honorable art recognition from the Arts Council of Princeton for a portrait of my older sister, Ayesha, that I created for her. I was athletic as a child, engaging in martial arts, nurturing a competitive attitude that my parents wanted me to have, because this is when they were learning that in this new world, people needed to defend themselves. My father, the doctor, will tell you that I wanted to grow up to be a doctor. Really, that was his dream, but I was very proud to be his daughter because he helped so many people. And I wanted to heal too.
But I remember it differently. I remember it as a cold time where I felt that I was standing on a broken compass. There was a clear-cut divide between American culture that I had begun to thrive in, and the traditional Muslim values that my parents carried on their shoulders. “Mom, I want to be with my friends,” I begged. “No,” my mom warned. “The only people who matter are family.”
For some reason, I felt anxious, endangered even, when I was supposed to be in a safe space. For some reason, my brother understood more than I did as to why my parents hiding their daughter from the world and commanding her to be cautiously silent because of what others will say, was the right thing to do. I bitterly resented my parents for a while because I was struggling to keep up with trends in high school, I was having crushes on boys, and I didn’t know how to make friends with people.
My emotions toward my parents were consistently in conflict. I physically ached for freedom sometimes because of how pressured I felt living at home. I realized that it takes a long time for Muslim children to understand that their parents are coming from a well-intentioned state of mind, because in order to understand that, they must rudimentarily understand that their parents come from a different world. Balancing these two worlds is like sprinting on a burning tightrope. Everything moves quickly because you feel as though you’re living a double life. You need to respect your parents and their rules because it’s their household, but you also learn that you are a human with your own independence, your own freedom, and your own rights. We were raised to be merciful to God, yet we crave mercy from our own parents. But everything burns because “freedom” is the word that dichotomously enflames parents like mine, like many other Muslim parents, with anxiety while singeing their children with pain. And we are all blind to it until it’s too late.
This is why I write for you. I write to invite you into my world and to engage yourselves in your own as well. I write for you to bring love into your hearts if there is currently hate residing in them. I write for you to forgive each other, for you to understand each other. To remember to slow down and listen to each other. This is also a space for you to share your stories as well through whatever medium you prefer to exhibit them (i.e., prose, artwork, etc.) Synthesizing the relationship between American Muslim kids and their parents is one of the key reasons why I write for you. Most importantly, this is a space for you to look inward and recognize yourself. I can’t wait for you to show who you are.