By Bhairavi Thanki
Aisha Khan (a pseudonym) is a 24-year-old hijab-wearing Muslim woman. Aisha is young and ambitious, so I asked her whether she felt Toronto’s alcohol-friendly culture was a career impediment.
Bhairavi: Tell me about the drinking culture around you, from high school going into university.
Aisha: I grew up in a really ethnically and culturally diverse area at Jane and St. Clair. The only kids that really drank in high school were basically the rich white kids. It was never really an issue till later on in university. In the beginning I wouldn’t drink and I would say that it was for religious reasons. But that was kind of the monotone answer that I was almost expected and conditioned to give.
I did experiment with drinking in university. It did have something to do with fitting in that I had to try it. How do you spurn something without trying it first, right? It just didn’t appeal to me when I did do it.
BT: Was drinking an issue in university?
AK: I wouldn’t say it was a huge problem in university or in high school. It started becoming more of an issue at my first job, when I worked for a communications firm. There were only 15 of us. It was tight knit and the office had a big drinking culture. I had become more observant in my faith too, so I had more of a personal reason to refrain from it.
Whether it was taking a client out to a bar, or getting together after work for drinks, I felt like the odd person out. The firm wasn’t ethnically diverse, so I just felt like the odd person out period, let alone as someone who practiced a faith. At that time I had my own insecurities around praying in the work force, or telling people I was fasting, or how I dressed and all that stuff. In retrospect I wasn’t strong enough to say “it’s not that I just don’t drink, it’s that I don’t even want to be in a bar.” I just felt really polarized. That’s the only time I felt polarized because of drinking.
BT: Did you have a problem with friends drinking around you while you were hanging out with them?
AK: When people get tipsy is when I get uncomfortable. Not really uncomfortable, but I ask myself “should I really be here?” When there were gatherings at my first job, I would feel out of place to the point where I left events early. It felt weird to me to be the only sober person in a room full of people who were inebriated.
I didn’t want to make people who did drink feel like there was something morally wrong with them. Even now I am careful about how I describe things to people, because I don’t want it to seem like I am holier than thou. For example, when scholars in the Muslim community talk about “modest dressing,” I don’t like using that terminology when describing myself. “Modest” means different things to different people.