Day 3: Tectonic Plates

Although I am no marine biologist, from what I understand, the area where two tectonic plates meet is rich with flora and fauna. Of course, this area is also the epicenter of earthquakes. I have often longed for a metaphor that would encapsulate my identity as a WASM (White Anglo Saxon Muslim). I used to talk about myself as some sort of colossus who stood astride multiple cultures. I would muse about how I was as at home in the corporate boardroom as I was on the floor of a rural mosque. In fact, this is how I packaged myself in some of my real college essays. I even coined a term for myself–Mayflower Muslim–that simultaneously paid homage to my ancestors (on both my mother and father’s side!) who landed on Plymouth Rock and my adopted faith. I remember my father’s saying at my wedding back in 2004 that any offspring from our union could trace their lineage to William the Conquerer and the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Maybe my kids can use that when they apply to college.

Over time, the usefulness of the colossus metaphor has waned. After all, the Colossus of Rhodes eventually toppled into the sea, and this image seemed a bit grandiose. My next inspiration was to describe myself as a “Cultural Chameleon.” I have many identities (or aspects of my identity), but my real super power is my ability to match my identity with whatever cultural backdrop I am currently inhabiting. On the tennis court I blend in as just one of the guys, albeit with a puzzling name. At the Roxbury mosque, I look the part, dressed in my flowing thobe and eating Indian curry with my hands. I can travel between my dad’s saltwater farm on the Maine coast and the humble Somali mosque in Lewiston without drawing undue attention.

But it’s not just my penchant for moving between mainstream American and Muslim cultures that sets me apart. Even within one “culture” I find myself seeking out the middle ground between quietly warring factions. Take my two tennis identities in Blue Hill, Maine. On Wednesday mornings, you can find me at Men’s Day at the achingly beautiful Blue Hill Country Club. Here I exchange shots with an august group of Boston brahmin. My doubles partner might be a retired CEO and major philanthropist, while my opponents might be the Dean of a Business School and a world-renowned doctor. Come Thursday afternoons, however, I am just down the street at GSA tennis courts playing “Turkey Ball” with a colorful group of salt-of-the-earth Mainers. These two groups tend to look askance at the other, but I am welcomed and fully at home in both. I’ll never forget when our stove broke, and my mom called the appliance repair shop. Upon seeing my turkey ball compatriot in our kitchen, I simply said, “Hey Glen,” much to my mother’s surprise and delight. My latest challenge of calming the feud between pickleball and tennis players is still a work in progress.

This ability to blend in, chameleon-like, and to feel completely myself no matter the setting does not come without its challenges. In fact, the new metaphor I’ve landed on to describe my multiple identities is tectonic plates. Most of the time, conflict between my identities lies dormant, and beautiful and unusual flora and fauna are able to flourish. Occasionally, however, the tectonic plates rub against each other and cause minor earthquakes. With that teaser in place, I must again call it a day, as it’s time to ride my electric scooter to my Islamic school.

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