Identity ~ From the book, “The First Muslim,” by Lesley Hazleton

In much of the world today, the question, “Where are you from?” is answered with either where you were born or where you grew up. to a greater or lesser extent, your childhood home still defines you.


One way or another, whether gladly or resentfully, some part of you always belongs to that place.

Every immigrant knows that leaving home is not simply a matter of geography. Whether the move is from a rural to an urban area, from one city to another, or from one country or even one continent to another, it is often a wrenching experience.

It means uprooting yourself – tearing out your roots and leaving yourselves vulnerable. You abandon what is known and open yourself to the mercy of a new world, or the lack of it. Nothing is certain. Invariably, the questions of rejection and acceptance arise.

What does it take to be accepted in a new place? Does it necessitate the rejection of the old place? What if the place you move to, does not accept you?

Where does that leave you, especially if the place you always thought of as home has already rejected you?

Yet no exile ever really breaks the ties of home. Even someone who leaves by choice tends to focus on the place left behind.

Emigrants turn first each day to the news from their country of origin. They search out places to buy familiar foods, and befriend fellow emigrants they would have never talked to “back home.”


This is more than simple nostalgia. It’s as though by such actions, they might lessen the degree of physical separation,
even assuage a certain guilt at having left. If they are lucky, they adapt.

But when emigration is not chosen but forced, the place left behind assumes even greater proportions in the mind.

“Exile is the unhealable rift forced between a human being and a native place, between the self and its true home,” wrote Edward Said.


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