This week I interviewed Farheen Raza, host of Authentic + Unfiltered with Farheen, previously known as Musings of a Modern Muslim. Farheen is a Muslim-American community activist, radio personality, and mom of three boys from Flower Mound, Texas. She describes herself as a fearless communicator, loud on social media, and active on multiple fronts.
Born in Dubai, Farheen’s family moved to New York and then eventually to the Boston area, which she still considers home. She very clearly remembers 9/11, when all three of the planes taken over by terrorists flew out of Logan Airport. Farheen described that feeling as “surreal,” and it made her feel unsafe. In her first year at a small Catholic college, Farheen remembers the dean assigned a police officer to protect her when the anti-Muslim frenzy began simmering. We talked about the way Islamophobia has further grown since the 2016 election. She said,
“In college I wrote a lot of school papers about Islam and like most religions, we’re a religion of peace, but of course we have a few bad eggs...but it became harder and harder to constantly defend ourselves...and now, going on 20 years of this, we’re at the point when we’re not going to be apologetic for people doing bad things...we don’t expect white people to apologize for all white people when some mad shooter comes out and they’re a white person...we don’t expect that of you; why is that put upon us?”
As we discussed, it’s tiring to have to defend your religion or race constantly...every religion has bad apples, and every religion can be used for violence. We expressed worry about the current Islamophobia in the United States, and there’s a lot of unrealized trauma in the Muslim community right now. “It’s bad already,” Farheen commented. “How much worse can it get?”
I asked Farheen what she likes about being Muslim. She said that a lot of the restrictions in Islam make sense...for example, refraining from pork and alcohol can actually make you healthier. Conversely, the most challenging thing about being Muslim is being around people who see themselves as authority figures and think they know better than everyone else. (And I would agree with that about being a Christian too!)
When I asked her if she has gotten flak for not wearing a hijab, she said she actually tried wearing a hijab for a year and a half, but she found that it just wasn’t her and it was harder to be herself.
The most recent obstacle Farheen has overcome is surviving COVID last spring, not too long after the world shut down. Her fight with COVID actually landed her in People magazine. It took three attempts to get a correct diagnosis after she had incredible back pain and what felt like a fever (but her temperature was normal). She felt in pain all over her body and had no energy, and everything tasted like dust. Her physician husband was convinced she had COVID, but it wasn’t until he actually conducted the test correctly that she got the positive diagnosis. After surviving COVID, she gets frustrated when people don’t take the pandemic seriously. As Farheen said,
“It’s a time for us to be selfless. Unfortunately most people are being selfish.”
I was keen to ask Farheen about the movie “Cuties,” because she’d been talking about it on Facebook. When she saw that people had condemned it as misogynistic, sexualizing children, and Islamophobic, both Farheen and I got interested to see for ourselves. What critics do not understand is that Maïmouna Doucouré wrote this film in response to her shock at seeing a similar dance performance by young girls at a park in Paris.
Farheen pointed out that while people want to censor this movie, Cardi B’s “WAP” is the top video in the country. Not only that, but we’ve normalized sexualization for young kids by supporting “Toddlers and Tiaras” and “Dance Moms.” As she said,
“When little girls and little boys watch this, they assume that this is what you need to do to get that attention, because the sexualization of the world is so constant now. Why wouldn’t a little girl fall for this or mimic this, or do something drastic to get the likes?...She was only doing what she thinks is done.”
I highly encourage you to listen to Farheen’s podcast episode, when she delves deeper into “Cuties” with author Soniah Kamal and Sumana Syed, a first-year film student and production manager of Authentic & Unfiltered.
We talked about Farheen’s podcast, which launched as “Musings of a Modern Muslim,” but it’s now titled “Authentic & Unfiltered.”
Because we both have boys, I asked her what kind of messages she wants to send her boys as they grow up...her response:
“Just to be respectful of everyone, regardless of gender, creed, sexual orientation, or whatever. Because if nothing else, these past four years have taught us to look inside ourselves...that we all have biases and these little tendencies to be prejudicial, and we’ve got to stop...Everyone deserves respect, and everyone deserves a chance to live.”
Although she began her life as a mom feeling really scared, when she and her husband moved to rural Wisconsin, she had to grow up. Her husband often worked long night shifts, and Farheen was left at home overnight with a baby and toddler. She realized she was the only line of defense for her sons. He still works nights sometimes, but she doesn’t get scared any more.
I enjoyed my conversation with Farheen, and I'm glad she survived COVID-19 and is done with apologizing for being a Muslim! I encourage you to check out Authentic & Unfiltered for more thought-provoking conversations.
Next week is my birthday, so I will have a special episode when I’ll share my own grit and resilience story. After being born with birth defects, I faced countless childhood surgeries, adolescent bullying, a traumatic incident at age 13, giving birth to my first child at just 24 weeks and enduring 117 days of his stay in the NICU, secondary infertility, and finding out I had a rare benign tumor in my ear that required me to have four more surgeries, including one on my brain. My job was eliminated in the company I worked for 28 years, I found a job within a month that I thought would be my dream job, and I got laid off after a year on the job. Then I started my own business, but I applied for 130 jobs last year before finally realizing I needed to take the leap completely and believe in myself. As Freddie Mercury said, “Don’t stop me now!”
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