On September 11, 2001, 19 militants associated with the Islamic extremist group al-Qaeda, hijacked four commercial airplanes and carried out a series of attacks on American soil. Two of the planes were flown into the North and South towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, a third plane hit the Pentagon in Washington, D.C, and the fourth jet crashed in a field in Pennsylvania.
Often referred to as 9/11, this date changed the course of history as we know it. We all remember where we were at the exact moment the first tower was hit. We all know how it felt when we saw the smoke and debris suffocating the city we all call our home. We all know how hard it must have been for the families who lost their loved ones. And we all know how hard it was for the Muslim-Americans to walk out in public with their hijabs and/or kufis on their heads, also mourning and praying for those who were killed in the attacks.
Oh, wait. You all don’t know about the last part.
It is a funny thing to think about actually. New York City alone has almost one million Muslim residents, but of course, it’s easy to forget that the people of a particular faith have feelings. It’s easy to forget that pulling off a woman’s hijab in public (click to read) will have some sort of emotional affect on the person. It’s easy to forget that some of those who did die on 9/11, were Muslim. And it’s definitely easy to forget that every Muslim in the world is not a terrorist.
(I’m being sarcastic for those of you who are too dim to realize this)
I am not trying to overlook the tragedy of 9/11. I would never do such a thing. I am an American, who was born and raised in New York City. I mourn with our city—our country—every year on the anniversary of the attacks. I feel for the families who lost their friends, relatives, and peers on that horrific day. That is what humans are supposed to do. Feel. Sympathize. Console. But from every TSA checkpoint in an airport, to every nasty remark made on the rationale behind wearing the hijab, Islamophobia is ever-present in our society. And this prejudice needs to be addressed.
What is our reality?
Well, it is so much different from what the world perceives it to be. Our reality involves being targeted for our religious beliefs. Our reality includes being labeled as terrorist sympathizers when discussing 9/11. Our reality involves being weary while being in public, hoping that our name, skin color, and (in a woman’s case) headscarf do not suggest any sort of involvement in ISIS, al-Qaeda, or the Taliban.
Our reality involves death threats, racial slurs, and endless discrimination:
- If your name is Muhammad, you will be stopped at the airport. (My father just so happens to be “randomly selected” every single time).
- If you build a suspicious-looking clock, and you have a Muslim name, you will be arrested.
- If you read prayers in Arabic on any form of public transportation, the non-Muslim man sitting next to you may scoot over bit.
- If you wear a hijab in public, you will be looked at differently.
- If you carry around a paintball gun on Eid, and you are a Muslim, you will have the NYPD searching everywhere for you. (Click here to read my take/experience on this in my Eid al-Fitr post).
- If you are a Muslim child who dreams of becoming the President of the United States, it will never happen. Ever. (Thank you GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson for making that crystal clear. Click here to read more).
That is OUR reality, and it is a reality we choose to ignore.
9/11 not only sparked U.S. involvement in combating terrorism in the Middle East, but it permanently changed the way Muslims were viewed in society. Islamophobia found its way within schools. It is 2015, and a child was arrested for building a clock because it looked like a bomb. His name is Ahmed Mohamed (read here). No parent ever wants to tell their child that they cannot create and build on what they love to do because of their faith. It is wrong, but it is apparently a consequence of being racially profiled.
On March 5, 2014, The Daily Mail reported that thirteen-year-old Jamie Edwards had planned, and executed, the construction of a nuclear reactor in a classroom. His headmaster was “a bit stunned” and “a little nervous” when his student suggested this plan, but young Edwards assured him that he wouldn’t ‘blow the school up’ (article). All they needed was reassurance, and he was ready to go. How exciting!
If Jamie Edwards had been an Ahmed Mohamed, do you think the result would have been the same? Do you think that an Ahmed Mohamed would have been able to construct a nuclear reactor without being investigated and/or arrested?
In the long run, the answers to these questions do not matter. What matters is how much weight a Muslim name can hold in society. What matters is how your faith can dictate how you are perceived by the people around you. What matters is that if you are a Muslim, you will have some people monitor your every move, and question your every motive.
Every religion has its extremists, but not every extremist is a Muslim. There is a great line from an episode of The West Wing, which was an American political drama television series set in the White House. In the scene, Josh Lyman, the White House Deputy Chief of Staff, attempts to illustrate Islamic extremism to a group of high school students. He gives the students an SAT style question: “Islamic extremism is to Islam as ________ is to Christianity.” He later fills in the blank and states, “Islamic extremism is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity” (here’s the clip). Ever since 9/11, people have had the tendency to equate Islamic extremism with all of Islam. The Ku Klux Klan (KKK) is a faith-based Christian organization, yet nobody blames Christians for the thousands of murders committed by the group.
Islamophobia has also found its way through social media. Recently, with the Syrian Civil War raging in the Middle East, and with the outpour of refugees trying to leave their homeland, Islamophobia has resurfaced in a new way. Although many people on social media are sympathizers of the refugee crisis, there are a surplus of individuals who believe that aid should not be provided to “ISIS” (because again, every Muslim trying to flee the war is a part of the extremist group, obviously). It has become easy to ridicule Islam, and abhor Muslims through social media. All it takes is a Facebook comment, a tweet, or a post, to spark a conversation.
I have also read dozens upon dozens of comments on social media claiming Islam is indeed a violent religion that condones the killing of non-believers. Let me just start off by saying that most of these baseless claims come from people who have not read the Quran in its entirety, or have taken the religious text literally. Context is everything. Yes, there are parts of the Quran that support the use of violence. But, there are also reasons behind these verses that are constantly being used by Islamophobes to justify their anti-Islam arguments.
“A careful and unbiased study of these and other verses, in their proper context, will reveal that the exhortations to fight “idolaters” and “unbelievers” are specific in nature and are not general injunctions for the murder of all those who refuse to accept Islam as their way of life.” -Kabir Helminski (full article)
There will always be people hell-bent on hatred, but there will also be people who wish to understand. So, here are two more links that further explain some of these verses from the Quran:
Before anyone makes any assumptions about Islam, I beg you all to educate yourselves. Please, do not be ignorant. I feel for the naive people in the world who view Islam as a religion that advocates for the use of violence. It is sad to see the World’s second largest religion (composed of 1.6 billion Muslims—23% of humanity), be looked at as a violent faith that oppresses women, promotes bloodshed, and encourages rampant abuse and brutality.
It’s just not true. None of it is true.
The reality is that at Islam’s core is peace. The reality is that there are many different ways Muslims practice Islam, just as in any religion. The reality is that a few people who called themselves Muslims, carried out an attack on U.S. soil, and destroyed every ounce of compassion and humanity that existed within our society. Those people were NOT followers of Islam. THEY were terrorists who used the Quran as an excuse to kill. ISIS, al-Qaeda, the Taliban, and other extremist organizations do not represent Islam in any way, shape, or form. These groups represent a very small percentage of “Muslims” in the world, and it’s time for people to understand that.
There is an excellent site for anyone who wants to learn about Islam. It is the website of the Hartford Seminary, which is a non-denominational graduate school dedicated to religious and theological studies. Located in Hartford, Connecticut, this school provides graduate degrees and certificates to people of different faiths, and “prepares leaders, students, scholars and religious institutions to understand and live faithfully in today’s multi-faith world” (CLICK HERE FOR THIS FANTASTIC LINK)
In fact, Khalid Latif, a Chaplain for the NYPD, and the executive director/University Chaplain for NYU’s Islamic Center, attended this school after pursuing a degree in Middle Eastern and Islamic studies at NYU. Imam Latif is a great speaker, and a phenomenal leader who works to guide a young and varied Muslim congregation. (He was also one of the religious leaders who met with Pope Francis last week).
I really do hope that I have gotten my message across clearly. If I haven’t, then I apologize sincerely because I did try my best.
To my Muslim brothers and sisters: I hope I did right by sharing my thoughts on Islamophobia. To my non-Muslim friends who have always been by my side, regardless of my faith: thank you for being so tolerant. And to my fellow members of society who still believe that Islam is a dangerous religion: I’m sorry you feel this way. All I ask is for you to remember one thing:
Terrorism has no religion.
P.S. I’d like to give a special shout out to the Muslims I have met through the MSA at my college. I grew up in the suburbs of New York City, where there was a steady Muslim population, but less diversity. It wasn’t until I hit college that I met my very first Muslim convert (which was awesome), and dozens of other converts/Muslims from all over the world. This entire experience has really strengthened my relationship with Islam, and I could not be more grateful.
The UNHCR, which is the Refugee Agency of the United Nations, is fundraising for the refugees who are fleeing from war-ridden countries like Syria and Iraq. It would mean SO MUCH to me if people would donate to the cause. Please, please get the word out. Ask your friends, family, colleagues, peers, neighbors, etc,. because at the end of the day, we are all human. And as humans, it is our duty to help.
“Courage. Kindness. Friendship. Character. These are the qualities that define us as human beings, and propel us, on occasion, to greatness.”
-R.J. Palacio, Wonder
HERE IS THE DIRECT LINK TO DONATE: United Nations
Thank you all so much. If you want to learn more about the refugee crisis, visit this page: World Vision