Grade school is an ugly, dangerous world. It is the first place you are asked, “What are you?” and answers your parents have fed you (our little princess, the most handsome boy in the world) no longer suffice. Classmates want to know if you are like them or not. The first time I was asked to identify my religious identity was when I was nine. When a group of loud- mouthed girls demanded to know whether I was Shia or Sunni, I honestly did not know. They asked me if I believed Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was the last messenger which I did. “Well, at least she is not one of those,” said a classmate.
The girls were not bullies. They were friends with each other, often regardless of sect, but their desire to know exactly who believed what continued. Whenever a new girl joined school it would not be long before she would be asked the inevitable question.
One girl in my class, B, lied. She was not Shia, Sunni or Ismaili. She belonged to the Ahmadiyya sect. Her mother Mrs C had told her she must never tell the truth about her beliefs when asked. Later, Mrs C told me that their family had been ostracised from various neighborhoods and clubs. “The last thing I want is for my daughters to go through the same thing I have,” she said. It took over three years of close friendship before B told me that she was Ahmadi, fearing that I may not want to be friends anymore. Apparently, it had happened before.
Like so many of their sect, B and her family live in a quiet state of dread. They have worried about everything from mobs attacking their house to teachers discriminating against their children. They have learned that there is no protection for those who don’t have the right answer to the child’s question, “What are you?”
Published in the Express Tribune, June 1st, 2010.