I doubt you can recognize us anymore. It’s difficult to live up to who you thought we would be and everything you wanted us to become. We wanted that for ourselves, too. We never imagined it would be like this, that it would be this hard. But should you ever find yourself wondering where we are, know this: You will never have to look too far.
We are a part of you, and you of us. We are the pulse of your heart—without us, you are nothing—for we are the reflection of your efforts and the manifestation of your actions, the sigh of relief at the end of a long day and the ache that keeps you up at night. We are your downfall and your only hope, your heartbreak and your salvation. You are a reflection of us just as we are a reflection of you, and while we define each other, together, we define the future.
Find us, learn us, save us.
We are inhabitants of a digital world. We are navigating our way through tweets and statuses, through profiles and articles and newsfeeds, essentially scrolling our lives away. Because this is how we live: gazing out of monitors instead of windows, choosing the hum of a laptop over the thrum of the trees, taking pictures of thousands of brilliant sunsets that we’ve never really seen. We make wishes on blinking lights instead of shooting stars. We ignore the glorious earth that we are destined to become a part of. Don’t let the only light in our eyes be reflections of the screens that surround us. Don’t let the last fleeting thought before we reluctantly put our phones down to go to sleep be the profound feeling of missing something we’ve never really known.
We are home. Home is here. We are not from a land in which the adhan (call to prayer) echoes off the rooftops of a small village, nor from a land in which rays of light reflect off of countless minarets as the sun lazily returns to rest. We cannot promise to walk life with the confidence you carry in the faith that wove into your culture hundreds of years before you were born. We cannot promise that our tongues will roll as smoothly over the beautiful language your mouth is accustomed to carrying, nor to always wear the clothes that symbolize the rich legacy of your homeland that you don with your stunning, melancholy pride. We are looking for home on this shore thousands of miles from your own. We are finding home in this land you sought opportunity for us in, a land that, oddly enough, is often as unfamiliar to us as it is to you. We are making home in the journey. We are home.
Islam is strange to us. Islam is strange to this country, to this culture, to this media, to this society, to these schools, these books, and these people—our people. It is strange to us.
It is a religion we are still learning to love and that’s the heavy truth that you might not be ready to hear. We try not to find it where it is shoved at us: on the news story blaring about the terror wreaked by those plagued by ignorance, in the bitter words strung together by the nation’s top analysts and the books that vehemently line shelves, drawing countless readers into the defamation they perpetuate. We try not to find it in the subtle nuances that our teachers and peers disguise their remarks in, nor in the resentful glances that are haphazardly hurled our way the day after a particularly nasty story airs.
Instead, we find Islam in the room at the end of the hall that’s usually emptied around two o’clock, where a couple of us can pray in between classes. We find it in the knowing smile exchanged with the lady who we always see shopping at Target, the one whose kids always tug on her headscarf while she tries to pay the cashier. We find it in the verse that we’ve heard a thousand times that never ceases to startle us, in the reluctance of our heads to get up from prostration after a long day, in the moments our hearts ache for a fulfillment that this world cannot provide. We find it in the serendipity that allows us to conclude that good things don’t happen to us—they happen for us, and in the knowledge of the One Who we forget despite all that He does to cause us to remember.
Have faith in us.
Do not prevent us from falling, for fall we must. But understand that walking a paved road is not the same as forging one’s own path. We are aliens to this land and often to you: unrecognizable to those who birthed us and to the land we are born to. Do not let us be extrinsic. Bring us back to you. Remind us who we are because while everyone sees the flower and sometimes the thorns, you are the roots. Keep us grounded and keep us safe. Don’t prevent us from crossing the street, but teach us to look both ways. We know you worry. We worry too—all the time. There is so much at stake. The future of our Hereafter is no small price to pay. But let us find our way there, our way, and know that while our paths will not be the same, they will inevitably merge. But if you ever feel as though we are going too far, moving too fast, know that with every step we take we promise to look back for your blessing, your guidance, your prayers, and if you ever feel the distance is too great, that we are going too far too fast, that we won’t come back to you—
Don’t mind the gap. Let us grow in that space instead.
Editorial Note: A response to this letter was published a few weeks later titled, “From the 40 Somethings.”