My name is Hassan Ahmad Khan. I’m a 24-year- old individual who was born in Hackensack, New Jersey and I currently reside in Budd Lake, New Jersey.
First of all, I am grateful to be a part of Project WhY as the first Muslim, and to all those who read my story, I thank you in advance. The success you’re getting makes me genuinely happy since I know how passionate you are about this project, and what it means to you. Let’s all be a little honest here. What is the first thing that pops into your mind when you hear the word ‘Islam’ or ‘Muslim’? Extremism? A religion with strict rules and high walls? Or even worst, terrorism?
Growing up in a Pakistani Muslim family had its own pros and cons, much like any other culture or religion. At the age of 10, my parents decided to move to Pakistan to keep my sister and I connected to our culture. At first, I didn’t like it because of the huge culture shock; a totally different world. My sister being younger than me adjusted much faster than I did. As time went on, I grew comfortable with the people and my surroundings. Because of my strict Muslim father, I went to an Islamic school till the age of 12, so I’ve studied the religion and the Quran pretty well.
By the time I hit 15, I started feeling like the environment I was in wasn't suitable for me. My mentality wasn't on the same level as others, including my family’s. The mindset of the people in Pakistan is much different from those in America and I respected it, but it was just different from my own. That lead to everyone judging me and keeping a distance from me. I came back to live with my dad in the United States, trying to readjust to a lifestyle that I left 5 years before. I was starting my life all over again for the second time.
I love my culture and I love everyone who’s part of it. The one thing I dislike the most, however, is the mentality; the way that concepts and elements are perceived and interpreted. We’re very narrow minded about a lot of things and that’s something I feel like we should work on. It will take time, but we have to start somewhere. When I first started out to make a name for myself at the age of 18, suddenly there were countless people interested in my life and work. They raised various questions like: “Why does he need to work?”, “If he works, why does he work with so many girls?”, “Why do girls come to his house to work?”, “He works so late into the night, what does he really do?”, “There’s no way he’s making that much money just by selling drinks, he must definitely also be selling drugs”, etc. At first I wasn’t very fazed about the curious talks and eyes that followed my every move. As time passed, it increased, and it became quite irritating, especially when people would call my family and feed them bullshit which was far from the truth.
You know how by the time the “rumor” reaches to you, it actually becomes a rumor because it’s been changed and shaped into something totally different from what actually happened? It’s like everyone decided to add their own spice to make the story “masalay-dar”. The way these rumors can affect someone’s life never comes in to mind for these people, and they care less and less about the consequences. My dad started doubting me, my intentions, and even went as far as spying on me, thinking I was doing drugs. Since the female rumor was already attached, why not assume the drugs part too?
Each conversation we had was about religion and lectures and the things I’m supposedly doing wrong and that I should quit my job because of what people think. I respected the way he thought, but there was no way I was cool with that. I had a good thing going for me and I wasn’t going to let people's opinions decide what is good for me and what is not. That lead to differences between us that caused rifts, drifting us further apart every time we spoke. It eventually led me to move out of my house. I asked God, “Why me?” As I was laying on a bench a block down my old apartment, I told Him I never did anything so why me? But everything happens for a reason and God’s plans are something we can never understand. This was my journey and I had to live it my way for me to understand it.
Now here’s what’s funny. I’ve always been the type of guy that people loved, especially girls. I don’t say that in a cocky way, I say that as a fact. I don’t know what it is but that’s just how it’s always been. They get comfortable with me right away, but I’ve never taken advantage of that. I’ve never looked at them as if they were an object for the male gaze and I’ve never wanted to be friends for the sole purpose of expecting something in return. I gave them the respect they deserve, regardless of who or what they were, and maybe that is the reason they all liked me. Because they all hung out with me often, it was seen by many people who twisted it into something very different. Do you know how many times I’ve heard that someone was “my girlfriend”, which wasn’t even true. People make assumptions and are quick to judge, even starting rumors when the odds are not in their favor. The worst thing is how in our community, a girl and a guy can never just be friends; there always happens to be some sexual connotation behind their relationship. Months went by, but the rumors didn’t stop, instead it kept spreading. As much as you’d like to think you don’t care, you sometimes end up over-thinking about the things you don’t want to. This just leads to more overthinking. Negative thoughts increased more than the positives. I smoked a blunt for the first time that night and I decided to go rogue. I said, “fuck everything, Imma do me.”
That's where my journey began. The journey of life.
I started discovering myself, I started to learn things about myself that I never even knew of. All my life I was basically controlled under this “society bullshit” theory; of what people will say, or if I do this or that or say this or that and it made me realize how much time I wasted living like that. Now I say whatever I want, however I want, and I do whatever I want. It felt good, really good.
As I was on the path of finding myself, I lost my best friend in a tragic incident. My life changed that day. I was supposed to see her 3 days later, on the 4th of July but that didn’t happen. Getting her out from the ambulance to burying her, I didn’t leave her side for a second. I couldn’t believe what was going on. I couldn’t sleep for months. I started smoking weed on a regular basis to stay calm. I smoked occasionally before that and 2-3 hits would have me ripped, I’m out here going through eight a night and I would still feel that wasn’t enough. A few people who were friends with her started becoming my friends and we all helped each other recover from this incident.
You never know when you will lose someone, so you should stay kind and humble always. I still miss her but I have to get used to the pain now. A few months later the woman of my dreams walked into my life. Love is a funny thing. I grew up watching Bollywood movies and my favorite actor has always been Shahrukh Khan, so love had always played a huge role in my life. I also know many success stories of people falling in love and eventually getting married to their best friend and I couldn’t wait for mine to happen too, but life took an unexpected turn. One day you have something and the next day, poof, gone. I don’t know where my mind is at right now, but all I know is that I continue to love, even to people that don’t like me.
As every love story starts, I met this girl in high school. She was beautiful and when I say that, I mean she was the most beautiful girl I have ever met or seen in my life. It was love at first sight. She knew everything about me. From my likes to what I’m feeling without saying a word. She knew every little detail about me that not even my close friends knew. She could read my emotions without me needing to express them. She was everything I had ever expected. From personality to loving me and to looking past my flaws etc, it was amazing. It felt so unreal. She has seen me at my worst and lowest points that no other person has. We were quite happy. We understood each other like no one has ever understood us at all and the connection and mental peace we had, it was something we both didn’t feel before. She introduced me to her mom, and I introduced her to mine. Everything was going well until suddenly her mother decided to get her engaged to her cousin. The reason she gave us, was that we belonged to different castes. She was Punjabi and I was Pathan. We fought for a whole year to somehow get married to each other but got nowhere. Then one day I woke up and saw that she got married. Imagine finding out your girlfriend got married to someone else. How’d you feel? I felt worthless, betrayed, and used. I was heartbroken. Speechless. I didn’t know what to do. So, I went to work. I couldn’t focus all day, I didn’t talk the whole day. Finally, those 10 hours at work passed and I came home. I rolled myself the fattest blunt ever and started smoking and I didn’t stop. About like 6 hours into me just sitting in one corner and smoking, I finally let it out. I cried. I cried like a baby. My world was torn apart and I didn’t know where to pick myself up from. I gave years into something that simply ended overnight.
I battled depression for a year and a half, and it’s something I wouldn’t wish on an enemy. If you’ve battled depression, you’re a champ. And if no one has ever told you this, I would like to say that I’m proud of you for fighting by yourself and going through things you weren’t ready for. Love makes you nicer and more genuine. Just because life is hard right now and you are dealing with a major heartbreak, doesn’t mean life is over. Life has just started. You are in control, to make life what you want it to be. Life, the biggest, most cruel thing, but the most lovable thing.
The largest support of my life has always been God. The aftermath of all the tragedies in my life has always been terrible, but I always turned to God in time of need. When I was living in Pakistan, everyone labeled me as an American and here everyone sees me as a Pakistani. It got confusing to the point I decided to make my own way by combining them to what I thought was right. I wanted to make myself a better human being first. As far as religion goes, I’m not 100% religious but I try to follow it as much as I can. The problem with a lot of us is that we mix the religion and culture our own way and expect people to blindly follow it, whether it makes sense or not. I believe in facts rather than blindly following the majority. I've seen people who think they are so religious but have absolutely no education on what they believe in, and I've met people who are of no faith and are more educated about religions and are filled with more empathy. What is the point of following a religion if you don't have any knowledge about it or have wrong information about it? If you leave a new born child in a jungle with no one around, that child will eventually find God too. He doesn't know religion, but he’ll still find God. And because of that we shouldn't judge any person based off of their beliefs or values because at the end of the day we all pray to the same Almighty. Stay kind and stay humble because whatever religion you are, you’re told to love people.
Side note I want to add is that you can’t judge a person if they don’t pray or drink or smoke! Yes it’s strictly prohibited but how many things are prohibited and we still do it? Just because you sin differently doesn’t mean you have the right to judge. What I’ve learned through my life experiences is that we should be grateful to God at all times. There has been time where I’ve been stuck in situations and if it wasn’t for God, I would’ve never gotten out of it. Every answer I’ve always asked for, I’ve gotten right away. Whether an article popped up with that answer, or a quote, or someone I hear is talking about it etc etc. That’s God giving you an answer through things and people. Though I didn’t study religion more in depth, whatever I have learned, I have believed and I follow it firmly. I always ask God to guide me the right way because I’m eager to learn and eager to get closer to Him. My connection with Him has gotten even more stronger and I know that because of the way things happen in my life. The things my dad taught me that I couldn’t understand as a 15 year old, I understand as a 24 year old now. I’m not satisfied as being a perfect Muslim but I’m satisfied with my connection with God and that’s what matters to me the most.
I’m a proud Muslim who had to lose his way in order to find God but the journey was amazing. I’m in a new phase of my life now. Rediscovering myself. After all, life is nothing but an adventure.
My name is Hassan Ahmed Khan and this is my Project Why.