Detroit, Michigan

Finding Community through Faith: Yasmeen Khan and Sumayyah Ahmed

First Recorded

May 10, 2017


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Yasmeen Khan and Sumayyah Ahmed are second-generation Americans of Indian descent who often grapple with cultural misperceptions, especially as Muslim women. In this conversation, the childhood friends discuss how they find community through faith, from connecting with other women who wear a hijab to participating in political protests against anti-Muslim policies. 

This story was produced by StoryCorps.

This story is a part of the American Pilgrimage Project, a conversation series that invites Americans of diverse backgrounds to sit together and talk to each other one-to-one about the role their religious beliefs play at crucial moments in their lives. The interview was recorded by StoryCorps, a national nonprofit whose mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.

Yasmeen Khan and Sumayyah Ahmed

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Sumayyah Ahmed: People don't associate a lot of the times being Indian with being Muslim.

Yasmeen Khan: Yeah. That's one thing that I had to deal with growing up, because people just didn't know that much about different religions or cultures. So, when they saw me, they wouldn't ask, but if it ever came up, they would assume that I was Hindu or some other Indian religion.

Sumayyah Ahmed: You don't wear a hijab either, so it's hard to tell. 

Yasmeen Khan: How has it been different for you after you started wearing hijab? What is the perception people have of you?

Sumayyah Ahmed: Automatically, okay, they say I'm a Muslim, but then they just automatically assume that I'm Arab, but I'm like, "No, actually I'm Indian."

Yasmeen Khan: Have you gotten any questions from people who aren't Muslim about why you wear a hijab?

Sumayyah Ahmed: A lot of people may think that it's something that I was forced into wearing or that it's oppressive. But in reality, my scarf is the most American thing about me. It allows me to be fully me and allows me to be unapologetically Muslim. And when you go to the store or a gas station, and you see another Muslim woman wearing a scarf, you automatically say hi to them and you smile at them. And there's just a sense of unity. That's just one of my favorite parts about being Muslim. 

Yasmeen Khan: That's so beautiful. 

Sumayyah Ahmed: Have you ever resented your faith?

Yasmeen Khan: As a girl and as a girl who dresses modestly, there have been times where I wish I didn't have to dress modestly, or that I wish I could do other things that the faith doesn't necessarily permit. But at the end of the day, I have to think about what is more important to me. And I think that makes me a stronger person. And that makes me more closer to God, because I'm really thinking about how I want to live my life.

Would you say that your Muslim identity has changed from high school to college?

Sumayyah Ahmed: Yeah, for sure. Especially because our transition between high school and college has also been the exact moment where the political climate has changed a bit. You turn on the news and you just hear all this anti-Muslim sentiment everywhere you go. There's two things that can happen when you hear anti-Muslim sentiment, you can either try to fit in and blend in and try not to be noticed, or you can speak out and take action.

We just went to one of the protests together a few weeks ago, that no ban no wall at the Detroit airport... [crosstalk]

...Right. That was probably one of the first times where I ever had to sit there screaming and yelling and just fighting for my faith and my freedom.

Yasmeen Khan: Yeah. I went from feeling unwelcome in my own country when that ban came out, to going to that protest and feeling so much unity and so much community. And it was beautiful. I had never felt that before.

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