Note: Muslima is the female form of Muslim, meaning someone who practices Islam.
I was born in a Chicago suburb to extremely nerdy parents. At <2 years old, I moved to Saudi Arabia.
I’ve told my story many times (tedious for me and others who have heard it sooooo many times). I’ve lived mostly in the Middle East and Mauritius, only recently coming to live in the United States. Most people who know me are aware of my travelling past and I forgive them every time they slip up when recounting it*. Everyone who knows me is damn aware that I am a huge nerd. However, my Western friends – they get confused. It’s like they see me as a nerd, but never seem to realize that I’ve been nerdy all my life. Yes, even during my childhood in such “terrible”** places as Saudi Arabia!
“How did you get to play games in Saudi?” one has asked. I imagine some dark underworld, unlabeled crates containing old NES cartridges, shifty men opening their coats. It wasn’t like that, oh please. Playing games in Saudi was just like playing games here. Sometimes, stores have low stock, and there are raids, but you can always find a game***. And movies? Pssh. NO problem. Sometimes censored, but sometimes not.
I guess it’s difficult to think of Middle Eastern countries as having awesome things because of how the media portrays them. The trepidation is reserved for Islamic countries especially, since the Western world finds Muslims terrifying. Saudi Arabia looks like Hell to the outsider when a landscape is painted with women unable to drive, movie theaters banned, and Shari’ah law. When I think of what Westerners think Arabs/Muslims are actually like, I imagine a bearded, turbaned brown man in a thobe**** wagging his finger on one hand saying “no fun allowed!” while bombing America with the other. Because of this, I can understand why my American friends, lovely as they are, are surprised that my nerdiness bloomed in Oman, Qatar, and yeah, even Saudi Arabia before I got here.
Another thing that some have found curious is that I am a passionate nerdette while still being a practicing Muslim. With that image of the restrictively-ruled Saudi Arabia in their minds, I know why Islam looks forbidding. After all, the Kingdom is home to Islam’s most holiest sites – one of which I used to visit just about every week. And here I am, missing that holy city of Makkah every day when I think about it – even while trying***** to get one stupid-ass headshot with my Psycho character in Borderlands 2. Ya Allah, just give me one headshot Insha’Allah!******
Being a Muslim nerd in a Muslim country is like being a nerd anywhere else. I cannot tell you how it’s different being a Muslim nerd when, uh, I don’t know anything else. The sad thing is how I’m alienated by so much of the content in nerdy art forms, like video games, books, and movies, because there is nothing about someone remotely like me.That’s how many Muslims and Middle Easterners feel – the characters who could be like us are enemies, not protagonists. We’re caricatures, not people. And if we are people, we are whitewashed. Just look at the Prince of Persia series, movie or game. Even Assassin’s Creed, which is on the road to something better – Islam is hardly mentioned, if at all, although it was a huge reason that Saladin was who he was!
It’s not unbelievable that I played Fallout 2 while living in Oman, or Diablo in Saudi Arabia. It’s unbelievable that I still haven’t been able to play a game with a Muslim protagonist yet. I know Westerners are scared of fatwas on their heads, but maybe one day a Muslim will rise in the ranks of a company and make a decision to represent a Muslim or a Middle Eastener respectfully. From one Muslim to you, it is possible – but Allah, when?!
*I look this way because my mother’s ancestors came from India, not the Middle East. No, I lived in Riyadh, then Makkah, then Riyadh again. No, I went to school in Jeddah, but lived in Makkah. I know it is confusing. I know…
**ugh, people, please. Saudi’s awesome.
***so, uh, the shifty men? They did exist, but they were chill.
****that white long dress things Arabs wear
*****and absolutely failing
******Oh God, God willing – things Muslims say