Photography by Fringe Photography
Meet Layla. She is Beauty Revived.
Born and raised in America, Layla is part of the first generation that does not remember 9/11. Though the event itself is history, she constantly answers to the lingering effects. She reads the assumptions on social media, the campaigns to demolish mosques (peaceful places of worship) in America, and the overall consensus that Muslim=Middle Eastern=Terrorist.
The kids at her suburban Indianapolis school don’t know what to make of her culture. They are caught between a prevailing idea and the Americanized reality of this calm, beautiful young woman.
Get to know the true story of a Muslim girl growing up in America.
First of all, let’s talk about the difference between origin and religion. What do you say when people ask you where you’re from?
When asked where I am from, I always say I’m Palestinian, but I was born in America. My dad is Palestinian and migrated from the Middle East. My mom is American, so I am half-half.
When I’m asked about my religion, I say I am Muslim.
Do you think that people associate you being Middle Eastern with you being Muslim?
Yes, there is a stereotype that all Middle Easterns are Muslim and all Muslims are Middle Eastern, and I don’t think people understand the difference. For example, I have been asked if I speak Muslim (which is not a language), and it’s the lack of understanding that makes people ask ignorant questions. A lot of it comes from the media and what they perceive us to be.
Do people offend you? Do you think they have a fair chance to know if they’re being ignorant?
I do get offended, but not often. Sometimes people say things without thinking about who is listening around them. I stand up for my religion and myself immediately when I hear things being said.
Throughout my life, I think I’ve had a big impact on people. I tell them about my religion and myself so I can change their views of Muslims. When I explain the misconceptions, it gives people the opportunity to understand what my religion stands for. In my opinion, the only time someone is ignorant is when I defend myself, and they still going along with the stereotype and name-calling.
How are you like Americans? How would you say that you’re different?
I was born here, and I am an American citizen. I’ve grown up here with my parents. My mom is American, so I grew up just like any other American child and experienced what everyone else experienced in their childhoods, such as holidays and traditions that American families share. For the most part, all of my friends are American.
I see myself as primarily American due to my upbringing, but as I’ve gotten older, I’ve gained a new respect for my culture and religion. It’s made me lean to be more Arab in the sense that I am more modest and respectful of my religion. The influence of going to Jordan every summer has had a great impact on the switch I have made. I keep a good balance of being American and Arab. I get along with people in my life and understand both sides of my culture even when they conflict.
What do you wish people knew about your culture? If you could give a message to people who didn’t grow up diversely, what would it be?
I would like to tell those people to not be afraid to ask others about their foreign backgrounds or different religious viewpoints. I know people are afraid of offending others, but you are less likely to offend someone by asking and getting a clear perspective than creating your own opinion that could offend others. I also think you should get to know someone before you judge them. Getting to learn new things builds a better foundation for developing an open mind. It’s better to agree to disagree than disagree and create tension.
How would you define true beauty?
I don’t define beauty from the outside; I define it based on what is inside, in someone’s personality. Pretty girls are girls who are selfless, caring, and respectful. A beautiful person has a smile on their face even when they aren’t truly happy, they have a heart that is pure and doesn’t care what others think of them, and they live to be happy and not pessimistic.
What do you hope people will get from reading our interview?
I hope the people who read this interview become more respectful and humble in their lives towards other. Always remember to be kind to one another (like Ellen DeGeneres would say), and look at the glass half full in situations that could bring you down.
About the Photographer
Safina Jamal is a high school senior and child photographer specializing in dreamy outdoor portraits. She currently resides with her fiancee and 3 year old in the Indianapolis area.