Dear my past self by Burhana Islam


As part of The Stories We Tell Ourselves, we commissioned 12 writers from Australia and the UK to write a letter to their past or future selves. In response to the question “Who are we now?”, these writers consider what conversations and stories need to be had and created for us to reimagine, rethink and rebuild the world around us.

Writer Burhana Islam writes to her past self:

“To the little girl I once was,

Like you, I’ll never forget that quiet afternoon in middle school when we walked into assembly in silence. Neither of us knew back then that we’d never be the same again. We sat in rows at the front of the hall and something just felt off. It was like we were underwater. It was like the air was heavy. 

The date was September 11th, 2001. 

Growing up around that time wasn’t easy for either of us. Within a few hours, the concept of race, being the ‘other’, and what it meant to belong confronted us head on and nothing could have prepared us for that. Even now, 20 years later, I can still close my eyes and find myself back there, wanting to be invisible, wanting to disappear. It was the first time I had heard the headteacher utter the word ‘Muslim’, quickly followed by ‘terrorist’, ‘murderer’, and ‘cold-blood’. I can still remember it. I just wish I could shake it off. 

So to my younger self, if I could rewind time, I’d give you a big hug and I’d tell you to have faith – to have hope. I’d tell you to hold onto that part of yourself that the world tries so hard to take away from you. I’d tell you that it gets easier and that you’ll find your voice in the end. 

My younger self, don’t ever forget that you are the eldest daughter of immigrants. That’s a blessing, not a burden. You are the middle child, one who knows that you don’t have to raise your voice to be heard. You are generation 1.5, meaning home was never in the concrete jungle of the Western world nor the golden shores of the East. Home, for you, is where you’re at peace.

So my younger self, be at peace. The path laid out for you means that deep inside you is a teacher, a leader, and a woman with power. You are not judged by the words of people who don’t understand you. You are judged by your actions and intentions. My younger self, know that you are a Muslim with both agency and influence. You will demand respect, know your self-worth, and finally find a home that no one can take away from you.  


The woman you’ll become”

Born in Bangladesh, raised in Newcastle and currently residing in the outskirts of Manchester, Burhana Islam is a storyteller who is passionate about exploring themes of heritage, belonging, identity and faith in both her children’s and YA works. She studied English Literature at Newcastle University before deciding to become a secondary school teacher, sharing her love for stories with a new generation of curious, young minds. Burhana is also the author of Amazing Muslims Who Changed The World and the ‘My Laugh Out Life’ series.

The Stories We Tell Ourselves is a partnership between Spread the Word, The Wheeler Centre and Melbourne, City of Literature. It is part of the UK/Australia Season; a joint initiative by the British Council and the Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

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