“Are you fasting?” A question of identity

On August 11, 2012, my wife and I were at a department store at our local shopping mall where I was trying out new shoes. A young lady who worked at the shoe store walked up to my wife and me and asked if she could help. As I tried to decide between two shoes, she asked me, not my wife whose hijab gave away her identity ,“Are you fasting.”

“Yes,” I said.

After a moment of silence, I asked her, recognizing a clear accent in her voice “Where are you from?”

“I am from Morocco,” she said. “I am Muslim, too,” she added. Confirmed, but not surprised, I said “Assalamu alaykum.” She said, “Wa alaykum as salaam.”

What struck me about this exchange was the markers of identity. My wife’s hijab was a clear marker. She seemed to have concluded that my wife was surely Muslim. On the other hand, she didn’t ask me directly if I was Muslim, but if I was fasting. Thus, in her mind, fasting was a definite marker of a Muslim identity. If I was fasting, I had to be Muslim. I do not know whether she had a follow-up question to ask if I had said I was not fasting. On the other hand, I asked her where she came from, hoping that her answer will give me a clue as to whether she was Muslim. Neither of us felt comfortable directly popping the question of religious identity, conditioned by a pluralistic social milieu.

Markers were what we were looking for.

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