Searching for my identity

Category: Americas, World Affairs Topics: Somalia

TORONTO -- Once, while I was working at my job at Toronto's Pearson International Airport as a customer service representative, a woman approached me to inquire about the whereabouts of her grandmother who was scheduled to arrive in Toronto hours earlier.

The young and frustrated lady asked whether I could check the flight manifest and tell her if her grandmother had boarded the aircraft or if she was on a different one.

I politely explained that passenger information was not given out. I could only give her a list of the flight numbers that were to arrive that day.

The woman then angrily said, "Can I speak to someone from this country, please?"

Since that unfriendly encounter, I have become hesitant to believe what my passport says under the nationality section. Despite receiving Canadian citizenship and holding a Canadian passport, I question whether I am indeed a Canadian. What does "Canadian" really mean? Is there only one Canadian identity, or are there more than one connotation?

My own questions about identity did not start in Canada. I belonged to a visible minority in Somalia, the country of my birth. Our ancestors, mainly from Persia and the Arab world, settled in the seaboard town of Barawa, about 250 kilometres south of Mogadishu, in the year 10 AD.

We are different from other Somalis. We have our own dialect known as "Chimini," which is similar to the Swahili language. And the majority of our people are lighter skinned.

Despite the 2,000 years we lived in Somalia, we were still considered foreigners. When civil war erupted in early 1990s, our beautiful city was occupied and terrorized by successive warring factions and armed bandits, each more savage than its predecessors. The residents of Barawa were subjected to rape, murder, robbery and torture.

Amnesty International and other humanitarian organizations have documented some of the atrocities committed against people who did harm to no one.

When the Islamic Courts took over the city, worshippers were chastised because they did not follow the strict rules of Wahhabism, a form of Islam widely followed in Saudi Arabia.

My family and I fled in 1993 from a country that was no longer welcoming. It was a difficult choice, but there was no other option but to search for our identity in another place that we could call home.

I boarded a ship headed to Kenya. People were packed like sardines. It was a horrifying journey. Almost 1,000 individuals occupied a vessel designed to take no more than 300. There was no place to maneuver. People were urinating and vomiting everywhere. Children were crying and elders and women were pleading for help, but there was no one around to do anything for anyone. There was nothing to eat and no water to drink. Seasick passengers on the upper level of the boat were vomiting into a small hole on the floor. They probably didn't know or didn't care to find out that the waste was landing on the people who were jammed onto another deck below.

Although Kenya welcomed us, it was still obvious that it was not ready or willing to accept us as its own. We had great difficulty traveling about the city of Mombasa, as we were regularly confronted by police demanding kitambulisho, an identity card. You either gave them some money or you disappeared.

So we continued to search for a new home and identity, knocking at the doors of other countries where we thought we could be accepted. We had great hopes that one of the rich Gulf States would open its heart to us. It would not be difficult to live there, we thought, because there we could freely practice our faith, as Islam was the dominant religion and the majority of our people spoke Arabic.

The Gulf States not only slammed their doors on our faces, they deported back to Somalia those who had managed to sneak in despite the fact that the civil war was raging in Somalia.

I thought my quest had finally ended when I landed in Canada. Soon I was considered one of the citizens of this land. There was no difference between me and any other person who identified himself as a Canadian. I had convinced myself that I found the treasure that I had been looking for so many years.

For the first time I was in a country I could freely claim to belong to. Under "Nationality" on my passport, I have Canadian -- no hyphen attached.

However, the young woman at the airport made me question again whether I really found my true identity. Is there a such thing as a Canadian? Can a person be a Muslim and a Canadian at the same time? Am I as Canadian as Stephen Harper or am I little bit lower on the ladder of Canadian identity? What does it mean when a person identifies himself as a Canadian?

Why am I always asked where I am "originally" from even though I identify myself as a Canadian? What about my children and their children? Will they be considered children of this land, or will they be questioned as myself?

After all these years of searching for my identity, I now realize one fact. An identity is something that is difficult to achieve. It cannot be bought by gold. It can also not be achieved by merely having a passport.


Abubakar N. Kasim is a Toronto-based freelance writer.

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  14 Comments   Comment

  1. Shahed Anwer from Canada

    Reading the whole article I feel that the writer is much better off here then her country of origin.I myself am a Canadian immigrant.I do find some people who consider themself more Canadian then others but they are a minority.I would definately like to live in my country of origin if it gave me the same respect and care that Canada has given me.I am a Muslim I do practice my religion freely with no fear.As for expectations from the Arab countries they are more Arabs than Muslim.I lived in one of them for nearly fifteen years and left in disgust.We as Muslims should live a tollrant life and try to show the good part of Islam by doing so.Let us not get frustrated by a bad egg in the basket.

  2. Mohammad SHAFIQUE from CANADA










  3. saleem from usa

    Thank you Hoffman, FYI: They already have a name for it, they are called a CULT.

    One can easily identify member of a cult from a muslim.

  4. Babandi A.Gumel from U.K.

    My comment was unfortunately distorted or deleted by the computer which I only realised later but it was too late.Anyhow what I wanted to say is as human beings we are from Adam who was created from clay.So who are we? Well we are Muslims followers of Rasulullah and the best Ummah Ukhrijat Lin Naaas who command people to do good and forbid them from evil as simple as that . Whats the problem we are not in any sort of identity crisis.Remember as Muslims we are followers of Islam like all the Prophets from Adam down to Muhammad that included Abraham,Noah, Moses,Jesus and all of them.They submitted to the same Creator so this is why they were addressed as Muslims.The Sun ,the Moon and the Stars and all what are in the Heavens including all the Angels Gabriel,Michael and all those on the Earth have submitted willingly to the Ceator.This is why they are called Muslims.So also the Sahabah Companions of the Prophet (S.A.W) were Muslims. We are also followers of these great companions of the Prophet who never descriminated against one another unlike us who are so proud and unfortunately carried away with our identity crisis as Americans Canadians,Somalians,British Africans or Europeans.But after death we are no body therefore we should be proud of our identity as Muslims first who have submitted their will to the will of the Creator.So therefore we are Muslims here and wherever we may be or present in any continent,we will be Muslims in Qabar,we will also be Muslims when Allah raises all of us and we will be presented on the Day of Judgement as MuslimsIn Sha Allah not as Middle Eastern, Asians,Australasians Africans,Europeans or any other culture we try to identify ourselves which make us forget our real identity causing an unfortunate identity crisis.In search of identity first we are Muslims then whatever people call us is secondary. The name our Creator has given us as Muslims is the most important which we should be proud.

  5. Kam from USA

    Mr. Abubakar N. Kasim

    These feelings are not at all unknown that pass through an immigrant's mind. The author should think again that he has been given a chance to live in a land of peace, free of wars and fears and admirable governance. He must nt forget only few years ago he fled his homeland for his life. Didn't he? He must thank heavens for that. Canada or other countries which gave him a new place to

    live are not paved with gold and don't expect too much. Be realistic. Did any other Muslim land offer refuge ask to alive among them? Where is all the Islamic brotherhood and feelings in his travels?

    So stop complaining and get on with life.


    Hope this post will not be censored!

  6. Adam from Nigeria

    Sorry Abubakar but i think the turmoils you've gone though might have had a negetive effect on your iman. I'm not doubting your islam though but truely you need a rebirth so that your iman increase to the level of accepting islam as your true identity. Babandi has said it so well in his comment.

    Remove the CHRISTIAN in clifford's comment, replace it with MUSLIM that gives you an answer to ur predicament.

    I bid you peace.

  7. khan from USA

    We all are MUSLIMS and born as muslims :pure, free of all sins ,period. Then some change or get 'baptised' or think 'born again' depending on where they born. There is no conversion or ceremony in Islam as it is the first and final religion.

    We came from ADAM and EVE who preached one GOD ALLAH (Monoethesim), Period.

    The same GOD-ALLAH sent HIS messengers/prophets(Adam >Abraham >Moses> Jesus > and Final Prophet Muhammad-Period.

    The same GOD-ALLAH sent the Holy books Suhuf(Scrolls)thru Abraham-Ibrahim, Torah thru Moses-Musa, Zabur thru David-Dawood, Gospel(thru Jesus-Esa, Quran thru Muhammad -PEACE BE UPON THEM. PERIOD.

    Any questions, Please read Quran and Hadith you will find this true on Judgement Day.

  8. Roger Smith from Canada

    Thank you Hoffman, may God bless you for telling the truth. Do not take me wrong I am a muslim and according to Islam, witness the tuth if even it goes against you or your kin.

  9. Romesh Chander from USA

    Canada is a country with population from all over the world. So, 'Canadian Identity' is an oxymoronic term. Similarly, 'American Identity' is an oxymoronic term.

    The author did not come to Canada to find his identity; he came to make a reasonable living in a peaceful manner (relatively speaking). If he was looking for his identity, he should not have stepped his foot outside his environs in Somalia.

    .. Life is not all wine and roses; it is a series of compromises. So, evaluate, and make reasonable compromises.

  10. Clifford Ishii from USA

    I am a CHRISTIAN period and have no problem with my identity.

  11. a from canada

    Oh yes what a familiar teritory...I have heard from countless number of "so called Immigrants" how one is never accepted here in the western world. Everyone is just a .. immigrant and becomes even worse when one commits an offence of any kind. My bro you spoken the truth when everyone else just pretend.

  12. M Hoffman from USA

    Talk about an identity crisis, I think many Muslims have been suffering long from this malady. This can be attributable sometimes to a nation having endured generations of oppressive colonial rule which has done nothing for the country but deprived it of its resources and made its people question their own history, religion, culture and identity. Case in point - Pakistan. As an anthropologist visiting Pakistan, on reading its many journals and newspapers and in meeting Pakistanis, I could not help but wonder why Pakistan insists on calling itself the "Islamic Republic of Pakistan"? Its people, culture, pseudo-Islamic beliefs and traditions are deeply entrenched in Hinduism which the Indian Muslims fleeing the massacre and oppression in India, brought with them. Hinduism in the average Pakistani remains alive and well, as observed in Pakistani weddings, religious practices and social norms. Hindu festivities of "Basant" (harvest celebration); "Mehendi or Obatna" (similar to Hindu colours festivities); "Dhoolki" (similar to Hindu drums celebration), "Mangni" (Hindu matrimonial engagement); Quwali (raucous Hindu religious singing); veneration and worship of dead saints and their graves and the practice of the black arts and the belief in amulets and charms. Pakistani teens idolize and emulate Indian movie stars and in their attire they push the barriers of decency that would even alarm progressive Hindus in India. Drugs and pre-marital sex are also quite common place, where once these were outright taboos. As in India, there is this general maniacal obsession with skin colour- the lighter, the better. Money and status are really the true gods in Pakistan.

  13. Farhad from Canada

    It is very true that "an identity is something which is very difficult to achieve." Although i was born and raised till the age of 10 in Afghanistan, and although we belong to same villege since the history can remember, but i am still considered an outsider. it is because i escaped the civil war to Pakistan and then to Canada. After the age of 10 i never experienced the feelings of belonging anymore.

  14. Babandi A. Gumel from U.K.

    Remember Inna Lillahi Wa inna Ilaihi Rajiun w e are from Allah and going back to Allah .Everysoul will taste death and you would be given your reward on the day of judgement.So he who is saved from hell and is made to enter Paradise then he is successful,this duniya life is nothing but only illusion.In search of your identity you should remember you are mie with Iman then Alhamdu Lillahi Jannah will In sha Allah be wajeb.We are created as different Nations so that we know each other but ththis is why I said as Muslims wherever we are uslim and Allah asked us to live as muslims and also die as muslims.Where ever you die if you dwe are Muslims first then whatever identity follows later.So this is our identity we dont feel inferior having identity crisis unless you donte most honourable amongst you in the sight of Allah is he who has got Taqwa.So let us make effort to inculcate Taqwa in our life.There is no difference between Arab and Non Arab or White over black or vice versa except in Taqwa.So practice Deen.