The Muslim Diaspora Experience

Welcome to Muslim Voices Rise Up, a month-long project taking place during Ramadan where Muslim authors and bloggers share their experiences on various topics! This project is dedicated to centering Muslim experiences and showcasing the diversity within our own narratives. You can find more info, along with other blog posts for this project, on this introduction post. This post features Muslims speaking about their experience in the diaspora:


Zoulfa Katouh

What does it feel being a daughter of many countries?

It’s like I owe each part of me somewhere. My loyalty and heart are divided all over earth, and everywhere and nowhere is home for me. It’s like a wandering soul, walking side by side with people who belong. It’s the raised eyebrows when I claim Canada as my country because that’s where life was given to me, and the oh’s when I tell them of my Syrian ancestry. It’s the subtle racism, an infection spread further than I could bear. It’s the narrowed eyes, confused stares, defensive glances and all the secret conversations spoken. It’s the hurtful words towards my hijab and ethnicity.

It’s watching my non-diasporic friends speak of their family homes, family vacations, family celebrations and family stories with nothing of my own to share. It’s me seeing my grandparents once every four years if I’m lucky. It’s the feeling of never truly belonging. It’s people thinking I’m ungrateful for all the opportunities I’ve been given, not knowing how much I had lost in the process. It’s me never knowing what Syria’s soil smells like today or how the sun looks setting over the mountains. It’s the surprised happy jolt in my chest when I see other girls who look and dress like me. Whose Arabic accents aren’t a jigsaw puzzle put together from the many people they met. It’s all the cultural history I was deprived from. It’s me, an anomaly to both Arabs and non-Arabs.

It’s me, forever searching for a way back home.

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One of the first thing I noticed when I moved to a country without a Muslim majority, is how everybody believes in the lie of secularism. Making me pronouncedly Muslim.

In the country where I was born, I got to be a person who practices a religion. I got to pray five times a day (or four, or three, or two…), fast during the month of Ramadan, celebrate Eid with my family, and never have to explain myself or my humanity.

In my new “secular” country, it feels like I’m Muslim first, and a person second. Suddenly, the things that are second nature to me, an every day part of my life, are things that need constant explanations. Things that are scrutinised, and pointed out for being strange. If I speak about my religion, I’m accused of “preaching,” at best. At worst, I’m attacked for having faith at all.

I live in Ireland, which has a really complicated history with religion. After a lifetime of living under the thumb of a corrupt Catholic system, which operated in some really horrific practices, many Irish people have a grudge against religion. Something I guess I can’t blame them for. The problem is, a grudge against their religion, somehow translates to a grudge against all religion. At the same time that many of them will berate people of faith, they will practise a culture that is totally reliant on Catholicism, and not even realise it.

For me, this means that at a young age, practicing my faith was also…complicated. Even though I had spent ten years living between two Muslim majority countries—Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia—where I experienced the two Islamic cultures and communities, I still internalised a lot of Catholic grudges about religion, even though it had nothing to do with my faith.

Being a person in the Muslim diaspora comes with a lot of baggage. For me, it meant not just having to sift through a crisis of identity of my own religion, but also to have to figure out a crisis of identity of another religion completely.

Upcoming author if The Henna Wars

Twitter: @adiba_j

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I hope you enjoyed reading about The Muslim Diaspora experience!

Thank you to the contributors of this post, and to Aimal for the beautiful graphic!