TELL YOUR STORY: JENN MARTINEZ
"As an extension, the Qur’an is a greater mystery. I find it hilariously heartwarming that these words tug at every heart-string, completely content in my surroundings. These same words leave me sobbing, pouring myself into my hands as I release the tension and anxiety that has been soaked into my bones since I was 13-years old." - Jenn Martinez
WHO ARE YOU?
Asking me who I am in most (if not all) settings is incredibly awkward for me. There are so many identities that I encompass; with each new face, I am continuously improving on or changing it. It seems silly, but I take pride in my generic name. I am Jennifer. Along with my first name, I carry Martinez as my last. It didn’t start loving my name until someone had asked me once when I was going to change my name into a Muslim name. I was confused, but brushed the comment off until a friend explained to me that some people find it necessary or advise new Muslims to change their names. I was given that name by my parents, Jennifer Jesus Martinez. I find it enjoyable to see someone’s face twist in confusion when they put together that I am Muslim. Everyone is so used to hearing Arabic and/or Urdu in relation to Islam and being Muslim. Someone once asked me if I was ‘half-Muslim’ once.
I am not half-Muslim. I am Muslim: human, flawed, beautiful, and dynamic.
My name is Jenn Martinez and it’s nice to meet you.
WHAT DOES BEING MUSLIM MEAN TO YOU?
This is something that I struggle with on a daily basis. Four years ago, I began tinkering with my spiritual beliefs in secret until it had grown into something much greater; two years ago, I took my shahada. Since then, it has been quite a journey. My identity as a Muslim is dynamic, evolving alongside me as I gather knowledge. Over time, I have noticed that I have increasingly become humble about my presence in this dunya. Being Muslim feels like the sun in our universe; my personality, dreams, memories, what I do, and who I interact with are the planets. ‘What does being Muslim mean to me’ cannot only be encompassed by my present; there’s also a past.
When I introduce my epic tale, I always start with the premise, “when I was 13-years old…” At that point, I stopped and lose myself for a moment; no matter how many times I have explained to someone how it all started, the memories still pull me into my 13-year old self. Due to the circumstances that took place in my adolescence, I was livid at God. As I grew older, I was interested in why faith was able to bring people closer and give them a sense of peace. I wanted that; I needed that. I later coined a term for myself, religion hopper, since I frenziedly read through texts to understand different spirituality and faiths. Some felt better than others, but each offered their own realities and escapes that kept me sane throughout middle school.
Initially, high school was my first exposure to the Qur’an; at the time, it became a distant memory as it was swallowed by every text I read on faith. In college, a friend of mine was the president of the Muslim Student Association (MSA). At the time, the MSA was small and there weren’t many people that were willing or had time to help set up for events and Jummah. One afternoon, I decided to stay behind and witness Jummah. I heard the adhan and felt my heartstrings pull gently to its call; I was ensnared, enamored by such beautiful words.
I didn’t tell anyone from that moment onward that I was exploring Islam. Discovering the core beliefs and practices of Islam was (and still is) my priority; I did not want cultural Islam to muddle my decision and lead me into a stray path. When I do find myself lost in stories and advice from friends, I use the adhan as my beacon. Although I ‘understand’ the adhan, I am still lost in translation since I do not understand Arabic. As an extension, the Qur’an is a greater mystery. I find it hilariously heartwarming that these words tug at every heart-string, completely content in my surroundings. These same words leave me sobbing, pouring myself into my hands as I release the tension and anxiety that has been soaked into my bones since I was 13-years old. That day has engraved itself in my soul and keeps me going.
Gracias Dios por las bendiciones recibidas.
(Thank you God for the blessings [I have] received.)
WHAT DOES ISLAMOPHOBIA LOOK LIKE TO YOU OR HOW DOES IT AFFECT YOU?
I do not personally experience Islamophobia, unlike many of my friends. I am not visibly Muslim nor do I fit the contemporary idea of what a Muslim looks. In the public eye, I am Jennifer Martinez. Even though it doesn’t affect me daily, I do see others being scrutinized that passing stares and deep frowns. If your features vaguely resemble someone of Middle Eastern or South Asian descent, I’ve seen people give you those glances. I’ve heard those whispers as women in hijabs walk by crowds of people. I am still exploring the boundary between breaking those whispers and being outlandish since snapping at someone once did not help me or someone else. Understanding and knowing how to navigate these spaces while ensuring a degree of comfort for both parties is important. Again, it’s a work in process.
When people do find out that I am Muslim, I get mixed reactions. Most are apathetic while others are confused, becoming an oddity in their eyes. It’s hard to break away from the group and explain why I stopped doing certain things or why praying is time that I consider precious. I have seen many people leave my life or make it hard to abstain from the things I vowed to keep away from myself.
Islamophobia has many faces. It can be that raging, hateful person yelling at someone to leave the country. Or that person who wants to change their friend back to normal after they’ve adopted this new belief.
WHAT DO YOU WANT AMERICA TO KNOW ABOUT ISLAM?
It is common to hear that Islam means peace, emphasizing that it’s one of many core principles. While this is true, it holds much more than that. Islam is a battle within oneself. It is the desire to change people’s negative perceptions of Muslims, forgiving those who have hurt you, showcasing the beauty that Islam brings to its believers, and being centered in a world that’s constantly out to get you.