Ethnicities, Nationalities and/or Socially Constructed Identities That I’ve Been Mistaken For

Put on a kufi and grow a beard and it becomes harder and harder to take advantage of institutionalized white privilege.

Middle Eastern

  • I’m sure all the converts have gotten that one before.


  • The late Mawlana Shaykh Nazim al-Haqqani (q) emerged from a doorway. Huge smile on his face, he gave me a heavy pat on the chest, spoke to me in Turkish, and laughed out loud. He, of course, knew English and this was in Chicago.

Arab: unspecified

Arab: Syrian

  • On the flip side, a Syrian I ran into at a gas station looked at me and said, “you’re Ukranian, aren’t you?” My mother’s side of the family is in fact from Ukraine. He explained that he had met a number of soviet engineers who were in Syria offering technical assistance, the Baathist government being soviet-aligned in those days, and I looked just like them. Huh.

Arab: Lebanese

  • When I lived in Dearborn, home to tens of thousands of Lebanese, I had to memorize the Arabic for, “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Arabic”, to which a lady once cocked her head at me and said, “Eh? Why not?”




  • When Malays guess this, I can understand. I was more surprised when I went into a store last week and asked the Pakistani uncle “Adakah jual songkok disitok?” (Do you sell malay hats here? …in Malay.) He cocked his head to the side as if to wonder why I would speak Malay to him and answered gently, “Nai, beta.” (No, my child.…in Urdu.)



  • The boiled sheepskin hat I was wearing at the time contributed enormously, I’m sure.


  • Back when I was barely aware of where Malaysia was, and had not yet sprouted facial hair. In fact it was about 12 hours after I had taken shahada.


  • I was working this temp job and had been there several weeks when a few of the Black guys I worked with started telling this white girl that I was Black. I don’t know what they could possibly have presented as evidence besides the fact that Islam is the Black Man’s Religion ™ but they had her fooled.

In Malaysia, the response I’ve gotten most often when I clarify that I’m actually an American is,

Aren’t you kind of short for an American?

To which I reply:

“I’m an Asian export model.” 


Published by bingregory

Official organ of an American Muslim in Malaysian Borneo, featuring plants, pantuns and pictures from the Malay archipelago. Oversharing since 2002.

Join the Conversation


  1. I’m an Asian export model… hehe funny.

    Wanna know about the Turks, Persians, or some arabs.. Lebanese? ask me… i’m an expert… oh and Yemeni too…

  2. Assalamualaikum
    I was searching for “ingat lima perkara sebelum lima perkara…” on the web that would link me to some authentic hadiths or something. Somehow I got your link and ended-up spending the pass 2 and a half hrs reading your blog. The way you write about banana, rambutan, buah salak, bunga kantan etc etc, keeps me going from page to page. Arent you observant? Keep on writing. Salam & best regards

  3. You think that’s weird? How about ‘German’, ‘Russian’ and, most deliciously ironic of them all, ‘Jewish’. Yes. A wahhabi who looks like a Jew. I’m not kidding.

  4. Very funny post. Don’t shelve the “silly” from now on. It all comes from the source.

    When I lived in Damascus, everybody’s first assumption was Turkish or Russian/Eastern European. Who says blondes have more fun? Since I was speaking Arabic, I liked to make people guess. Several cab drivers told me “You can’t be American! You speak Arabic!”

  5. Amazing. Back on the google earth page you posted I could see OUR houses! How on earth have you been, my friend?

  6. Well, Omar, I mistook one of my friends for being a non-Muslim, even though he was hosting an event for Islamic Awareness Week on campus. Cropped beard and longish hair, the problem was that he started off with an English translation of the salam.

    My verdict?

    ‘A very knowledgeable Jew’.

    I will never live that down.

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