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Honorable mention: People of color essay contest — Tamanna Sheikh

Tamanna Sheikh

It’s not about religion, it’s about the people

By Tamanna Sheikh

Religion has always been a topic to make me grimace a little. On one hand, I’m trying to accept it for the sake of my parents and culture. Od on the other hand, I’m finding inconsistencies and having doubts. In 2000, my parents immigrated from Bangladesh to America, where I was born shortly after. As such, I have also been raised with Bengali culture in mind. This meant Hindi movies, having big parties where I dress up in my nice salwar-kameez, and in conjunction with over 90 percent of Bengalis, practicing Islam.

Despite dreaming of coming to America for many years, my parents were firmly against adopting many aspects of American culture (which is fine of course, holding onto culture is deeply important for many). However, this set the tone for much of my cultural and religious turmoil. Growing up as a Muslim in America lends to a lot of conflict from many opposing sides. Americans don’t always understand Islam and the media has a tendency of bastardizing it while promoting the ideology of terrorism alongside it. My family and culture, however, glorifies the value of Islam and expects me to continue upholding the faith my entire life. Simply said, the general consensus around my American environment told me that Islam is bad, while my parents believed it was the best. The conflicting lines of thought were pretty jarring, especially for child-me who desired to find my own path. I wanted to embrace American culture, but I also wanted to please my parents and believe Islamic dogma despite slowly feeling disconnected from it.

At 11 years old, I can remember the bulk of my doubt against Islam, and religion as a

whole, beginning to form. Being just a child, it was difficult to put my feelings into words, but I could tell something wasn’t right. I began to wonder how people could use religion as a justification for their heinous actions, especially for those who were, in reality, simply out to hurt others. On top of that, I began to wonder if people really believed in their religion or were simply acting as they did to avoid societal backlash. After all, religion is largely enforced through family/community and most people don’t feel they can say anything contrary. This gave my unease with religion a form and slowly led me to be entirely nonreligious.

I think for people of color especially, religion is so intertwined with culture that it can be difficult to maintain an ethnic identity while not practicing the common religion. They’re still held under specific expectations and stigmas due to their religion, and it can be frustrating to have to tell insisting relatives, “No, I don’t think praying to Allah will bring a solution.” ​​I believe we, as people, especially people of color, need to be better understood as the people we are rather than use religion as a fill-in-the-blank answer.

Ultimately, I reject religion because I want to realistically understand the ugliness and beauty of humans on my own terms, without the backdrop of religion. I want people to be able to see me for who I am rather than what I may represent. I want to understand the significance of love, morality, justice, humanity, crime, hatred and so many other human acts in their full authenticity, but more importantly with the focus being on the person, not who they worship.

Tamanna, 20, attends Virginia Commonwealth University, majoring in psychology. “I have a passion for volunteering and I regularly go to United2Heal meetings, where I help sort and organize medical supplies,” Tamanna writes.

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