“Persistence and Resilience: The Confessions of Fire”
by Khadija Khadjimedova

2024 Young Authors Sacred Essays Contest Winner

The first time I felt salvation was when I was 8 years old. That was also the first time ever that I felt guilty. I’m a Muslim girl and I want to be the most moral person I can possibly be. I don’t want to live like my father, running from accountability. I don’t want to weaponize a faith that is supposed to bring enlightenment. I’m running from the very thing that could complete me, but healing in the same environment where you got your wounds is frustrating and impossible. You just have to survive. Sometimes I feel the panic rising up my spine. The ominous voice that tells me I’m doing everything wrong and that I’m not good enough. That the creator hates me.

I’m Muslim, but I don’t pray five times a day. I actually haven’t prayed in a while. I make dua before I take important tests and I fast during Ramadan, but I don’t wear a hijab and sometimes I curse too much. Sometimes I hate too much. I’m too unreligious for some and to others I seem pious. I never tell people at school that I’m Muslim unless they ask. People have all these weird questions and stereotypes. They think of you differently and sometimes you look more violent to them. Reclamation of female anger is more difficult because it’s who they always thought you were. Not who they made you become.

I’ve been advocating for different causes since seventh grade. Classmates know I’m political, and not political in the way that they like. I’m only arguing and angry because I care. To be outspoken about the change you want to see in the world is the only hope holding humanity together.

I live in Tennessee, and both of my parents are from Uzbekistan. I didn’t really grow up with other Uzbek people. There was the occasional dinner, wedding or house party, but other than that it feels like it’s always been just me. When people ask me where I’m from and I tell them Uzbekistan, they hear Pakistan or Kazakhstan. People in the South associate Middle Eastern countries with terrorism, and sometimes people in class laugh when your name is called on the roster.

It’s impossible to feel beautiful when the beauty standards weren’t made for people like you. In America, the boys and girls are nice until they talk to you. They wonder why I’m always angry and why my arms and legs have so much hair and aren’t shaved and why I doubt God and why my skin is brown and 9/11 wasn’t mine and why my mind is composed like violent rain and fire at the same time. They can be cocky and conceited, but I can’t show self-support. I can’t be confident, because apparently that brings on inferiority. My veins are filled with stones covered in opium-red blood. My veins used to blossom the prettiest of flowers.

Photo by Adonyi Gábor: https://www.pexels.com/photo/red-and-orange-fire-1558916/
The thing that nobody tells you about Tennessee is that it’s impossible to feel normal. The kids on the bus will ask you if you have bombs on you and laugh at their own jokes. People will incite anger in you and then make you feel like an out-of-control lunatic who isn’t entitled to emotions. In seventh grade, everyone assumed I was angry and violent before I had the chance to speak to them. People who conform in every aspect of their lives end up never feeling empathy to those different from them. I guess it’s easy to judge others when you’ve been handed everything in life.

They make fun of the Black girl for her box braids and the Chinese kid by stretching their eyes. The Indian boy’s friend called him a monkey. They never tell you how hard it is to be a woman in STEM. The boys in Engineering troll you until the semester ends, and then you never want to take a class like that again. So many people have discussed my trans friend, and everyone tells him he’ll never be a “real man” and how it’s incorrect and disgusting. The kids said the N-word to my friend when she was just walking through the hallway. How boys speak three times as loud, yet girls wearing skirts are the distraction. I’ve witnessed the ways in which religious and patriarchal domination can harm people and break them apart. I refuse to simply watch. Apparently, that makes me “argumentative and difficult”.

I love Gatlinburg, the city where I grew up. Yet I hate it so much. I wish people were more accepting, and I wish being a person of color didn’t make things so much more difficult. Some people don’t know that our actions have an impact. It’s like they’re hopeless. They don’t think they can change anything, and maybe they don’t want to because it wouldn’t benefit them anyways.

When we find people similar to us, we tend to stick together. People who understand the detriments of white-supremacist culture. People who don’t care if you’re gay, trans, Muslim, atheist or Black. In the large crowds, you can still find accepting people because there is always light in the dark. Then you realize how much there is to truly love.

Even anger is love. Without anger we could not push ourselves to make change in the world. We would be passive about everything without a strong passion from frustration. Through the power of love and resilience, everyone can find a place in the world. The first and most important person to accept is yourself. At the end of the day, the only person you will be spending the rest of your life with is yourself. Through loving yourself you can love others more. We can grow together through our mistakes and forgive.

We categorize and distinguish ourselves so much that we forget that we’re all human. We’re all growing from the same tree. We are not perfect, as we have all consumed poison from the generations before us. It’s so easy to be reluctant to forgive, but it is the only choice we can make to progress as a society and to create social harmony and acceptance. For every act should be performed from a place of love, not insecurity.