My Coming Out Story

Maya Mikdashi writes at Jadaliyya on her personal experience with sectarianism in Lebanon:

When I say I am a “Sunni” this is what it means: it means that my father is a Sunni and that therefore, I am categorized as a “Sunni” Muslim by the Lebanese state. It means that if I have children with anyone other than a Sunni Lebanese man, those children will not be Lebanese Sunnis. It means that I can never be the Lebanese President, the Speaker of Parliament, or the Head of the Army. I suppose that my being a woman makes this point redundant. Being a Lebanese Sunni means that if I marry, I must (unless I marry a Christian abroad) receive my marriage certificate from the Sunni authorities. It means that I inherit according to the Hanafi code of personal status. It means I cannot (legally) adopt children, and that if I were to have political ambitions, I would be counted in the quota of “Sunni seats” for public office. The fact that I am a Sunni does not mean that I believe that ‘Uthman was the right man for the job, or that I pray without touching my head to a rock five times a day, or that I endorse, or gloat, over what happened in Karbala. It does not mean that I feel some sort of affinity with Sunnis in other parts of the world, or that when the Saudi King or Mufti speaks in my name I do anything other than laugh. It does not mean that I support the Bahraini regime’s brutal oppression of a democratic uprising, and it does not mean that I am “afraid” of those Iranians. It does not mean that I am anti-Hezbollah, or that I am part of a “culture of life.” Being a Lebanese Sunni doesn’t even require me to be abeliever in, and practitioner of, Islam. I am a Lebanese Sunni only because my father, and his before him, is a Lebanese Sunni from Beirut. The fact that my mother is an American Christian from a quiet tree-lined suburb does not matter. My ID and my census registration records say so.

I have a running debate with my friend, another Lebanese Beiruti Sunni. Whenever anyone asks her where she is from, what she “is” or what her last name is, she either refuses to answer or gives a different last name. She feels that nobody has a right to ask these questions, and that refusing to answer is an act of shaming the questioner. I have a different approach. I answer all of these questions, honestly, because I believe it is more powerful to play the game yet subvert it. Therefore, I answer that I am from Tariq al-Jadidah, that my last name is Mikdashi, and that I am, and was, against the agenda of both Hariri the fatherand the son. I say this unequivocally, voicing my support for resistance movements (which is not always the same as supporting the sectarian political party that Hezbollah has revealed itself to be). If prodded, I always argue that one should never assume what “being a Sunni Lebanese” actually means, beyond being a registration number in the Lebanese census. But I know that I cannot control what others will read into my name or the neighborhood I grew up in. I have made my peace with the fact that I am not in charge of how people will impart meaning onto me, whether this meaning is being produced by reading my family name or by scrutinizing my short hair. Furthermore, it would be unethical for me to act as if this meaning does not carry with it a history of politics, violence, and shifting discourses of “us” and “them” that I am implicated in. This discourse reaches towards me even as I try to position myself differently, and in times of violence being recognized as a Sunni Lebanese can mean the difference between life and death, between being a potential ally or enemy, and between safety and vulnerability.”

Click here to read the article in its entirety.

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