I Don’t Do Labels

// February 7th, 2009 // Blog

I have recently discovered something about myself.

I really don't like to be labeled.

I am not referring to my Islam (i.e., Sunni, Salafi, Shi'a, etc.). Rather, me, as a person.

Like, people ask me what I do.

Now, being that I have a PhD in Biology, I should say: “I'm a scientist”. But I don't work in the lab anymore, so I don't feel comfortable with that title.

When they discover that I blog: “Oh, so you're a writer?”

Me: “Umm… nope. I do write now and then, but I wouldn't call myself a 'writer'.”

Them: “What about your videos: a producer… a reporter… a journalist??”

Me: {silence}

You see, with every label comes a set of obligations:

If you're a writer, you must write.

If you're a reporter, you must report.

If you're a scientist, you must… erm… science?

Anyway… I don't like the idea of being forced to do any.one.thing. I feel claustrophobic at the prospect of being defined by a single job description.

So, what at first began as a personal 'in-joke', now seems to be more appropriate than ever:

The above is a portion of the business card that I had designed for me a few months ago. I wasn't sure what to write on it, and so ended up listing pretty much every label that could describe what exactly it is that I (i.e., the person: 'iMuslim') do (does?) – or at least, has/have done recently.

Maybe I'm just a commitment-phobe? Or greedy? Or indecisive?

Agh, more labels!

I think that sometimes, labels can actually be liberating. If you know who you are, and what you want to be, then you can focus all your energies on that one thing, and become really good at it. You can compartmentalise your life, gather some sense of direction, and actually achieve something.

Right now, I can't seem to focus on anything. I thought a break from the normal routine of work/study/home would provide me with some insight; but I feel more confused than ever before.

I recently began job hunting. I really do not miss working full time, but I do need something to ground me. As well as the cash. But most importantly, I need focus.

Because, as much as I hate labels, I cannot survive much longer without being defined.

11 Responses to “I Don’t Do Labels”

  1. Marahm says:

    Nice business card!

    I know what you mean about labels, but I appreciate them for what they can say as well as what they don’t have to say. Besides, labels are subject to change as often as several times a day. As you get older, you’ll collect more and more of them. That’s not a bad thing!

  2. naziehah says:

    I faced the same problem too!

    I guess there are just some people (like us) who can’t do ONLY the one thing. We are more free-spirited and do not like to be tied down to one thing.

    But I guess as we mature, and we get to know ourselves better, we will be able to do many things in the area of our interest and expertise.

    Of all the labels I am most comfortable to be labelled is ‘entrepreneur’, as defined by Merriam-Webster Online dictionary

    ‘one who organizes, manages, and assumes the risks of a business or enterprise’

    You can call yourself this too if you like ;)

  3. gess says:


    You should write more research articles! and publish. It does not have to be science, and I am sad that you are not into theology. How about literature criticism? Did you not had CS Lewis in School? I am sure you read “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe”.

    It would be nice if you wrote the Islamic perspective on works like CS Lewis.

    Anyway, lately, I became more interested in quantum mechanism. It was the only subject I was really good at in Uni and where I got the highest score, but then I drifted away into crystallography because at the beginning there so much theory (again, got the highest mark) and end up at lab! Became a slave actually! I should have listening to my teacher, he advised me to continue quantum mechanism and praised actually my work. I thought at the beginning he was nice to me and say it because I am Muslim woman with Hijab. Few days ago I was sitting at physics library and end up grabbing a Japanese science journal (very tiny) on quantum physics and as I leafed through the pages, it was not actually hard to follow the many equations. Also, there is a fine line between quantum mechanism and theology :)

  4. gess says:

    “listened” and “said” :)

    See you next week, because I will be off line most of the time


  5. Sumera says:

    Down with labels!

  6. bedou says:

    Excellent concept for the business card.

    Just tell people what you are: a Renaissance Person. Or even better: an iMuslim.

  7. hfm says:

    I love your business card!

    Say you’re you, defining yourself is like limiting the water supply in the rivers.

  8. Haleem says:

    Er, I think you are a good designer of visiting cards.

  9. iMuslim says:

    Marahm: more labels means I’ll have to update my business card. ;)

    Naziehah: You’re not the first to suggest that I take up that label – though I don’t think it is fitting as yet. I find it to be quite a ‘romantic’ term. Not in the sense of love hearts and candy, hehe. Society has a great respect for entrepreneurs, even though their rate of success is much lower than other sectors. It’s because they’re willing to take big risks and go out into the unknown. I pray for your success!

    gess: Sorry to disappoint you! I am not a Physics girl. Actually, it’s more the Maths. I don’t have the brains for it. But I am glad that you do, masha’Allah! :)

    Sumera: Indeed!

    bedou: I think the only label I would be happy with (other than Muslim, Mu’min, Muh’sin etc) is “polymath”. That would be cool! However, I don’t at present “excel” in many different fields. I just do ‘okay’. :)

    hfm: Nice analogy!

    Haleem: Do you call business cards “visiting cards”??

  10. AnonyMouse says:

    I like labels… they’re fun for me, more than serious. It gives me an idea of what I *could* be, rather than what I really am… so I like playing around with them, sticking them after my name and marveling at the transformation that a word or two can create.

    But in the end… we are just ourselves, as we see ourselves. How others see us is (mostly) out of our hands :)

  11. Leena S. says:

    thats a nice visiting card!
    And does it matter what label is given to us? People would just start calling u something based on just 1 or 2 things that they might have seen u doing or heard u saying. I hate being labeled too but then thats how it is :)

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