When I was writing this piece for Layali Webzine, I was asked by one of its editors on whether or not I was afraid as a Muslim American in the wake of so many tragedies around the world. I had to take a second to think about it. It wasn't a simple yes or no answer.
I looked back at the 27 years of being Muslim in America and being able to practice my faith in this country, my country. I thought of the many times I was able to pray in public without fear. The day I chose to wear the hijab in fourth grade, despite my parents' hesitation, I knew I would be supported by loving neighbors, classmates and friends.
My faith has always been the foundation of my identity. My character. My style. The hijab has never been just a piece of fabric on my head, but it was and still is me.
So much fear, hysteria and ugliness has been spread. And at times it seems there is no end in sight.
I think of my passion for activism during my college days; volunteering at my local mosque, providing food and hygiene kits to the homeless in downtown Ft. Lauderdale, or putting on interfaith events to create awareness and understanding of our fellow students of other faiths.
I think of how I decided to turn that activism into my career, having worked with Muslim American youth who are passionate about government affairs, media and the arts. Now working with the Arab American community to ensure we are always on the forefront of issues affecting Muslims and Arabs.
So you see, I couldn't just answer with a yes or a no because my faith has opened so many doors and opportunities for me in life. I couldn't say yes or no because the choice I made to identify as a Muslim in a very public way brought me compliments and admiration from complete strangers.
Being Muslim has led to fruitful conversations with co-workers at various places of employment or fascinating discussions with students I taught during my master's program. I couldn't give such a simple response to something that has so much meaning behind it.
And now in the aftermath of another mass shooting right here at home, the fear of being targeted by ignorant individuals is a concern once again.
After the horrific attacks in Paris, many Muslims and individuals of other faiths who were thought to be Muslim have been attacked physically or verbally. Young children have been bullied at schools, others told to go back home and social media has become at times (a lot of the time) an ugly place to be on.
Bigots hide behind their computers spewing hatred and darkness into the world. Politicians tell us that we are not welcomed in our own country or even worse, should be marked or hold ID cards that state we are Muslim.
And now in the aftermath of another mass shooting right here at home, the fear of being targeted by ignorant individuals is a concern once again. So much fear, hysteria and ugliness has been spread. And at times it seems there is no end in sight.
I refuse to allow the extremely un-Islamic rhetoric and actions of violent extremists who claim to follow my faith shake me.
I wore the hijab before 9/11 and continue to wear until this day. I refuse to allow the extremely un-Islamic rhetoric and actions of violent extremists who claim to follow my faith shake me. I refuse to allow those who think I am associated with the horrific actions of terrorists make me question my faith or choice to wear the hijab.
I still take the necessary precautions for my safety, like avoiding being out late alone or standing too close to the metro platform on my commutes to and from work. If someone happens to look at me in a weird way or make a comment under their breath, I don't respond. I call a member of my family after work to let them know I am on my way home or throughout the day when out during the weekend.
This is a reality I and many other Muslim Americans unfortunately live with; it is something that I have come to get used to. It is important that as Muslim American women, whether or not we wear the hijab, we take extreme caution. If we feel uncomfortable in a situation, it is important that we report it to the appropriate authorities.
My message to my fellow Muslim American women, is to not be afraid. Know that above all, God is always with you. I know how tired you are. I know how exhausting it is to hold the weight of an entire faith and group of people, regardless of whether or not the actions of a few are not part of the faith you love so dearly. I know you can't just shed your religious or ethnic identities. After all, it is part of you, it is you. Just know that with every hardship comes ease. Stay vigilant but more importantly, stay strong!
And to my friends of other faiths, thank you. Thank you for always being by my side and speaking out against those who try to demonize my faith. Thank you for your constant love, support and inquiries of my safety. Thank you for being able to judge my faith-based on the actions you see through me or other friends who are Muslim. Thank you for taking the time to learn about my faith rather than blindly following what you may come across from unreliable sources. It is because of your support and love, that my faith in humanity is still strong. I truly love you and am thankful for your friendship.
This post was originally published in Layali Webzine.