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 Sidra Sheikh’s story on being a Muslim American. The piece is Sheikh’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.

I identify as a Muslim largely because Islamic values are what I was raised on, and faith in Allah kept my family together in the most difficult times. Now, even though I have a complicated relationship with the religion in terms of day-to-day practices, its teachings on social justice and treating others and oneself with kindness are a large part of who I am and my career in working with young people.

Describe what it means to be Muslim in America.

To be a Muslim in America is to hide your faith in some settings and elevating it in others, which is much easier to do as a woman without a hijab. To be Muslim in America is also to worry about the safety of your hijabi mother and your South Asian brother who can’t help but grow a beard. It’s worrying on major holidays and going to mosques; it’s worrying riding public transit and planes; it’s worrying when someone learns your name; it’s defending when someone passes judgement thinking it is okay to do so when you don’t wear a hijab.

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

I’m trying to learn from leaders of the Black Lives Matter movement—to be unapologetically Muslim while standing for the injustices against my community and others.

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.