In light of Muhammad Ali’s passing, I am reminded of my solo trip to Phoenix, Arizona back in February. It was my birthday month, so I thought, what better way than to celebrate it by taking a long break from work? It was my very first time traveling alone, and also the first time I stepped foot into the United States; thank goodness I had someone to bring me around while I was there. It was exciting, yet a little nerve-wracking (after all, it was not long after Donald Trump suggested the ban of Muslims from entering the country).
Upon reaching the airport in San Diego, I was one of the first few in line to have my immigration cleared. Unfortunately, during my turn, I was asked to head back to the end of the queue as I did not fill up the Customs Declaration Form (that was given out while I was asleep on the plane). So I filled it up and obviously ended up last in line. The queue was pretty long, the officers were taking their time doing the clearance, and I was getting a little worried about missing my connecting flight.
Eventually, I reached the front of the counter; the area was empty by then, with just the immigration officer and my left. He was pretty friendly, but as he was checking the records on the system, his confused expression raised alarm bells. He then asked me to reconfirm my name, in sequence.
“Mohammad Azryl, first name. Ali, last name,” I said.
“Sir, your name is not showing up on the records properly,” he replied.
I panicked a little because I somehow felt that I was going to be detained. True enough, I was held back for them to run a detailed background check on me. I acceded to their request and was made to fill up my recent travel information. After which, I patiently and calmly waited for the outcome, outside their office.
By this point, I was worried about two possibilities — that I will miss my flight, OR get deported back home. The latter did not make sense, as I obviously did nothing wrong. So I just held on to my composure (which I am really good at) and wished for the best. All I kept thinking of was, “THIS TRIP IS GOING TO BE FUN!”.
Voila! The thought began to manifest because right after, I was called back to the counter and the officer did the second round of clearing.
He probably felt my worry wafting through the air, and attempted to joke about my name.
“So, are you related to Muhammad Ali?” and chuckled.
I ended up smiling, as I found it amusing that he really thought that my surname was Ali.
You see, my full name is Mohammad Azryl bin Ali. Ali is NOT my surname; it is my father’s name. The “bin”, when translated from Arabic, means “son of”. Another variation of this is “ibn”.
Therefore, this is where I find that the name fields when filling out forms are flawed in a way. After all, not everyone in this world has a surname, and it does not apply only to Muslims or Malays. Even for Indians, they would have the abbreviations, “s/o” or “d/o”, which actually means “son of” and “daughter of” respectively.
However, considering that we are a racial minority in most places that we go and that these name fields are of a “universal” standard, there is nothing that can really be done about it. All we can afford to do is just conform with the majority.
I am not trying to make a mountain out of a molehill, but if we could just have a single field called “Full Name (underline Surname)”, I believe there would be fewer complications.
Though, I wouldn’t have minded at all, if I was related to Muhammad Ali; since he lived in Phoenix, I could have moved over. I fell in love with the city (and with someone as well) while I was there.
Or, I could just play along and be the other Mohammad Ali.