My name is Sami Shah, and I’m not a Muslim. I was born a Muslim, I grew up a Muslim, but at a point in my life I stopped being a Muslim. You can do that, but it’s not encouraged. No religion gets excited when an adherent tries to leave and Islam tends to frown on apostasy: it’s illegal in most Muslim countries, punishable by death in some. This is what the Quran says about apostates: … if they turn their backs, take them and slay them, wherever you find them. [Quran 4:89]. Now, I would really like that not to happen to me.
Every time I meet someone new, their first assumption is that I’m a practising Muslim – it’s practically an occupational hazard. It doesn’t upset me. I know that I have a Muslim-y name and a Muslim-y face. Brown skin, black beard, “Allah 4 lyfe” tattooed across my forehead. OK, so maybe not the last part. But I do have a face that’s Muslim-y enough that in a hostage situation, I’d be the suspect. Even if I was the hostage.
Growing up, I didn’t know it was a Muslim-y name or face. I was living in Pakistan, so it was just another face, just another name. Then, in 2012, I migrated to Australia, and all of a sudden I went from background scenery to curiosity. That’s actually unfair to parts of Australia. In Melbourne, for example, you can have a 17-syllable name only pronounceable through a combination of whistles, semaphore, eyebrow curls and a 13-person flash mob, and people will go out of their way to make you feel as though that’s just how it is for everyone. And having a beard means you’re expected to own a ukulele, not implement shariah law.