Karachi vs. Kansas: Finding mangos in the Midwest

Karachi vs. Kansas is a clash of personalities, stories and experiences brought together to harmoniously respond to pressures and happenings of the world around us.

Natasha (N): As 21st century Muslim women, I feel like we are constantly misunderstood, with both internal and external stereotypes pulling us in different directions. On the one hand, I have to put up with “bomb” or “goat” jokes, while on the other hand, I have my grandmother glaring at the way I “immodestly” dress. On top of this, I feel as though there is a severe lack of role models for us. I remember as a young history nerd in middle school, I developed an obsession for Abigail Adams. I felt like if I learned everything about her, I could somehow legitimize my presence in the United States. Like any young girl, I was in need of a role model.

Faryal (F): I honestly can’t think of one positive portrayal of a Muslim character where their Muslim identity was not revealed in the context of a malicious terrorist plot. Even in real life, it is still so hard to find positive Muslim role models.

N: After Malala came to prominence a few years back, it really hit me how few mainstream Muslim women role models we have.

F: It was weird how the whole Muslim community got so excited by her. It was because it had been a long time since we’ve had a positive role model to rally behind. There was finally a story in the news where “Muslim” wasn’t coupled with “suspected terrorist.”

N: I was almost shocked when I learned about powerful Muslim women like Zeenat Mahal and Razia Sultana. Don’t get me wrong, I did grow up surrounded by very strong and successful Muslim women, but I’ve never had someone who I was really excited about meeting. That’s why I was so excited when we were both able to meet Khizr Khan, the father of a deceased American Army captain who spoke at the Democratic National Convention, this summer. I will never forget the excitement that surged through me as I waited in line to get my picture taken with him.

F: He gave the most incredible speech after addressing a sea of Pakistani-American adults an hour before. He insisted on speaking with the children of these adults because he understood the power of a role model. He understood what it means to be Muslim in America right now. As we sat there, I had tears in my eyes — something very rare for me — from sheer happiness. I couldn’t believe that I was finally hearing what I have internalized for so long verbalized and legitimized by a public figure.

N: Donald Trump’s hurtful comments have birthed a new generation of more vocal American Muslims. The current political atmosphere has almost been beneficial in this respect because it has encouraged Muslims to talk back, even though we shouldn’t have to do that to be, you know, respected. American Muslims are craving for more Muslim role models to “come out,”  use their public role to combat Islamophobia and represent us in our complex realities. While I sometimes wish we didn’t have to, we really need inspirations with similar backgrounds to spark a larger and more sustained conversation.

F: I guess this is sort of the purpose of this column? Either way, stay tuned to help us figure it out!