The M Word seeks to elevate, amplify, and celebrate the contributions of Muslim Americans to our country’s varied and inspiring cultural landscape. To help us, we are inviting audience members, online followers, panelists, and others—both Muslims and non-Muslims alike—to share their personal experiences with what it means to be Muslim in America.

Today, we share Nasrin Akter‘s story. This piece is Akter’s response to The M Word’s questionnaire

Do you identify as a Muslim? Or have you been identified as a Muslim? If yes, please tell us about it.

Yes, I am a Muslim Bengali-American woman, and it is very easy to identify me as Muslim because I dress with a headscarf, even when it is summer and humid.

Describe what it means to be Muslim in America.

I grew up indoctrinated by the idea of America as a melting pot, where people of all races and nationalities were welcome to pursue freedom and happiness as long as they pledged allegiance. I grew up in a neighborhood of immigrants, where we all understood each other as multicultural and bilingual. We had questions about each other’s cultures and customs, but we never questioned each other’s right be there. Now, I wonder if the America I grew up in wasn’t just a certain neighborhood in Brooklyn, NYC, New York, USA. What is the rest of America like? Why does the rest of America question what it means to be Muslim in America when I had always accepted that as a fact of being? Why do we now question it?

Given the current climate and public discussions about Muslims in America, what responsibility do you feel you have to the larger conversation?

I would like to move beyond conversation with other Muslim Americans and move toward action. I have been living in my Brooklyn bubble for too long. I want to use my profession as a means of expression. Instead of working as a physician in a large, diverse city like Brooklyn, I want to work in “middle America” and expose others to me, a visibly Muslim (and practicing) brown woman, so that they can start questioning their presumptions. We can’t expect that everyone who fears us will actively seek to learn about Islam. I think Muslims must leave their enclaves and interact with the rest of America to confront their stereotypes. We will be uncomfortable and it might be lonely, but that is the only way to contribute to productive conversation.

We want to hear your stories! For the chance to be featured by The M Word, submit your own video story with us on Facebook or submit your story in writing here. By submitting your story, you grant PEN America the right to use all still and motion pictures and sound recordings you provide in furtherance of its nonprofit charitable mission, including the right to advertising, promotion, and future marketing of PEN America and its activities via radio, television, video, DVD, the Internet, podcasts, PEN America publications, or any other use, by any means now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, throughout the universe. 

The M Word is generously supported by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art’s Building Bridges program.