One Voice: Nadia Sheikh

One Voice: Nadia Sheikh

'You were meant to be something big, now go help your mom in the kitchen and make sure 60 minutes is taping.' —Papa

Nadia Sheikh
Weehawken, NJ
United States
Islamic faith

I am not really all that different from the rest of America. I have brown skin like Mr. Rajput across the street, I have similar physiques like the female basketball players who never smiled at me in high school, and most importantly, I make lasagna, I just put paprika in the tomato sauce. I have spent my entire life trying to make people recognize that being different is okay and ought to be pronounced, but I dress like a WASP. I am not looking for a philosophical solution or an Invisible Man allusion. I am really, deeply concerned with whether I should wear a pearl bracelet or the 24K gold ones that my in-laws gave me when I got married. I mean really, do they even go with my striped Oxford Shirts?
“Who and Vat are you… Ijiot?”- My mother, and yes, she meant “idiot,” “and go wear the gold before Asad’s family asks for a divorce.”
Bigger than my identity issues with trying to cover up my cultural identity from home by being more “American” was actually trying to figure out what my culture at home really was. My story is quite simple, yet complicated. I am an over-achieving, blackberry-obsessed, 22-year-old who married a young engineer who shared my passion for relief work the year we met (Now is a totally different story, he’s all about bringing home the (turkey) bacon and getting some “relaxation,” it happens to the best of us).

My parents were the quintessential odd-couple. My mother, a simple but spoiled, traditional but oddly open-minded woman in her 40s from Pakistan married my father, a 6’4, health & diet connoisseur with an American accent but who grew up in England.

And I was their child, a by-choice conservative Muslim female born in America, who studied in Saudi Arabia and Teaneck, NJ, and needed to change the World after first witnessing the torture photos of Gitmo Detainees on CBS 60 Minutes with my father. Had I not witnessed those photos, I would be a housewife to an Aamin Khan and best friends with my mother.

One thing I learned about myself was that before I died, I was going to make a difference and it would be slightly more important than standing up for all the ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis) out there and declaring, once and for all, “pearls over gold!”

“When you say you’re bored, it really just means you’re an idiot with nothing to do… go either read a book or write one.” That was Papa, a man of Indo-Pak ancestors but grew up in Kenya while the British ruled the country. He followed his pompous older brother with 10 dollars in his brown corduroy pants and began selling “I Love New York” shirts on 42nd street.

Ten years later, he out-did his brother, grew his own business, and partnered with Ashkenazi Jews he met on Broadway. I stopped going to the stores because I was bored of answering customer questions like ‘what’s that on your head?’ and salesmen wondering if I voted for Bush. I had bigger fish to fry, literally, my mother preferred tilapia over salmon, the masala sat better with tilapia.

While my mother used to yell at me for not cooking more and talking in English when she asked me something in Urdu, my father told me that I also needed to learn Swahili, Punjabi and Arabic and then impress the world to death.
“You were meant to be something big, now go help your mom in the kitchen and make sure 60 minutes is taping.”- Papa
Who Am I? I guess Papa laid it out for me, I could bridge it all and would be okay because I love dreaming about changing the world in my kitchen, standing in front of the TV with CNN blasting, while I cooked my paprika-filled lasagna and argued politics with my husband, Asad Ahmed Bandukda, while waiting for my culturally-obsessed mother to arrive, and missing my abhorrently always-correct father (who passed away recently), while in my Oxford shirt, and my right wrist adorned with a pearl bracelet and the other side shining with my gold churiya engraved Jai Ho, Victory to thee.

About the Project

"The Muslim world" is a phrase that lumps together a complex and diverse group of people and cultures, but one that rarely humanizes the personal and cultural expressions of Muslim identity. On Being’s First Person initiative is an attempt to better understand adherents of the faith by asking each individual to share his or her perspective of what it means to be a Muslim living in the 21st century.