Background: So I guess my name is “Stefan” and age, 22.
Faith: I grew up as a Muslim, in a Muslim family, but they weren’t the most extremist or people who would care. They care about religion but they would tell me go pray but you know how some families would literally hit their kids if they didn’t pray. Technically it “says that” in Islam, I’m not sure if it’s true. Like there is the Friday prayer which most families make their kids go to. I think in all of my life I’ve only been to the Friday prayer less than ten times. Now I don’t believe in religion. I don’t like to say that I’m an atheist because I believe if you’re an atheist there’s some specific things that you have to believe in, some things that you have to be against. I don’t believe in superior power, I don’t believe in God, I don’t believe in religion. I just believe in, hey, do whatever you want, whatever makes you happy even if that involves praying to…I don’t know, anything you want…if that makes you happy inside. But, yea, that’s for me no religion. I mean even when I was a kid I never thought about religion as a religion, I feared religion.
Aspects of your life which have shaped your faith? I would say maybe because I didn’t grow up with my father and in our society the father shapes a lot of the religious aspect because he’s the one who takes you to the mosque and stuff like that because women are not allowed to go to the mosque except in one month which is Ramadan. Maybe that would be a lack of belief of religion and my mom would just come to my bedroom and tell me “Hey, did you pray?” and if I said no she would be like, “go pray” and if I said yes and she knows that I didn’t she would be like “ok..” and I’m sure she knew that I didn’t pray cause you use a specific carpet for that or whatever, praying mat, so she would see it like unfolded the way it was unfolded last night and it didn’t change so yea that was part of her telling herself yea, he prayed but he didn’t use the praying mat, I guess. I remember in high school I actually started believing more in religion for, I would say, a year of what I grew up from, like me being gay…and I knew that I was gay since I was like five years old…and the fear of that, people knowing or me being like that…I’ve been told that it’s not ok, that it’s not normal, that it’s not human nature…made me believe more in religion because religion supposedly, it will save you. So I thought, hey, let’s turn up for God and say, “Hey God, I’m going to pray for you and see if what I have is wrong. Hey, cure me.” I started praying maybe for a year or so, last year of my senior year in high school and I got close to one of my cousins at that time. He’s a really fun guy and everything, he does everything, but he still believes that you can do anything and everything but at least pray. That ’s what he believes in so I guess me being close to him at that time made me pray more cause he would tell me, “You should pray” and he would like try to make me pray with him or whatever so that, I guess, helped a lot. I guess you get influenced at that age a lot by whoever you hang out with. Then I remember praying and like, praying to God that “Hey, if this is wrong, cure me” and I guess after that I would be like, “nothings changing…why is this not working?” And then I really do believe that I stopped believing in religion and God when I turned 20. That’s when I was like, yes, I’m comfortable that way and why should I believe in something when I don’t feel comfortable believing in it and being who I am so I think I found some peacefulness at 20 in knowing what I want and what is this and what makes me comfortable.
Do you feel included with your peers? I’ve known some people who are gay and yet they, let’s say, they would do the most “sinful” thing to do in Islam, which is sleeping with a guy, and then they get out of bed and go pray which I found amazingly weird and amusing. How can you do that? How can you find this comfort in yourself? Good for you that you found comfort in doing that and at the same time accepting that your religion is not ok with that and yet if you confront them about it, they would be like, “No, I don’t do that.” So they are not really comfortable. I remember meeting some gay guys in America who are actually Christian. Christian, yea. They believe in Christianity and they go to church, I still find that amusing. I mean, yea, I guess the church accepts you. I don’t mean to be judgmental, but uh hey, that’s good for you but I never found that appealing to me. I feel like there is some kind of…we want you, although, technically you weren’t meant for us but we still want some people. I mean, it is nice but I believe that the structure of the religion basically 2000 years ago, whenever it was, really asked for you to be stoned or beheaded or whatever so I still think no matter how much you change it, there’s still going to be some hate in it.
A time you felt included: I wouldn’t say it’s more about your religion ‘cause I’ve had some friends who are actually Muslim and identify as Muslims and practice religion but they’re pretty open with everyone else. They’re like, “Hey, you want to do this. You don’t want to practice religion. You’re an atheist. That’s your life, do whatever you want.” ]I don’t care if people are Muslims or whatever, just don’t try to enforce your beliefs into someone else just because you believe in them and you think it’s right. I don’t think I find comfort, me personally, in someone just because we share a same belief or a same nationality or a same color of skin, or even same sexuality. I think I get along with straight people more than gay, I can’t lie, but, um, it’s just…how I get along with you is just for the person himself. It’s not about his belief or anything. It’s just how we react and I guess our energy.A time you felt excluded: I’ve never been open about it until recently, like two years ago, and me being open about it is me being comfortable with it too. So I guess if I’ve never felt excluded… it would be maybe my religion, maybe based on where I’m from. I lived in South Carolina for six months when I first moved in here and I remember on a Sunday afternoon, I lived in this like college town, it was a college town but you know how the University Village thing is? It’s like it but it’s actually houses so all of the people who were there were college kids. So, I remember walking down the street, going back to my apartment. I looked to my right there were people screaming, a group of…white kids and I know they were conservative, they were Republican, yea I think they were Republican, ‘cause they had flyers out for whoever was running at that time. So they looked at me and they were like, “Hey you terrorist!” They were drunk, I saw a lot of beer on the ground. So they were drunk and he was like, “Hey, you brown boy, Middle Eastern, you terrorist, go back home! What are you doing here?” I just looked at them, stood there looking at them, and I was like, “I’m not having this argument with you guys. First, you are drunk. Second, you are just being ignorant.” So I was like, “You’re being ignorant and you are drunk, I’m not having this conversation with a drunk or I think I said even “this argument,” it would never be a conversation, and you guys are ignorant so I just walked and left them. So, yea, there was that. Being discriminated because of who I am.
How did it affect you? They didn’t have any lasting effect because I knew those people were ignorant and those people were just stupid and I knew that not everyone was like that but I gotta say that I was surprised that there were still people thinking that way.
Advice for someone who is feeling excluded: First of all I would say don’t think about everyone else, just think about yourself, get included with yourself first and then think about what everyone thinks. Well, actually, don’t ever think about what everyone thinks. Just do whatever makes you feel comfortable and just try as hard as you can to be comfortable with yourself ‘cause being included in any group or anything is not better than being you peaceful with yourself, that’s where it all starts to be better.
Advice to people doing the excluding: Get over yourself! I mean, seeing as you’re hating someone for just his race, his beliefs, his sexual preference or even the way he dresses or looks, who are you to judge them? I’m sure there’s tons of things that are wrong with you and just because you wear conservative clothes doesn’t make you normal and to judge people.
One thing to make the world a more inclusive place? I would say people need to be less judgmental, need to be more understanding and open-minded and need to not hate for stupid reasons. I mean, hate alone starts all the crap that is going on around the world. I guess people just need to be peaceful with themselves at first to be peaceful with others. If there’s hate in you, and hate in yourself, then you’re going to let it out on other people. It’s going to be hard to accomplish, but, yea, I guess people just need to understand that not everyone is like you or what you like. There is what, 7, almost 8 billion people living on this planet, we’re not all alike, live with it. Everyone likes his own and just be ok with it, they’re not hurting you. If they’re hurting you, yea you have the right to fight back but if they are not doing anything against you or to hurt you just be cool, get along with it, everything will be fine.
“I’ve known some people who are gay and yet they, let’s say, they would do the most “sinful” thing to do in Islam, which is sleeping with a guy, and then they get out of bed and go pray which I found amazingly weird and amusing. How can you do that? How can you find this comfort in yourself?”
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"human." is a culmination of the writing, photo, video and design work of Harrison Brink and Alisa Miller. It is meant to act as a forum where we show the vitality of the human spirit through the strife that people face and overcome. If you have any suggestions for the project, please contact us. All input is welcome.