It is summer, and my kids are home all day long. What could be more normal than that? Everybody's kids are out of school and annoying the heck out of their parents. There is nothing extraordinary about my family except that we are Muslim American. I was born in Pakistan and immigrated to the United States in my early twenties. I'm now forty and raising two American born children like millions of other moms. Homework, bedtimes, snarky attitude... we all know and love it. My faith doesn't mean I do any of that differently, it's just an added dimension to my parenting.
This is not a unique story, and it's a well-told story because I'm an author and public speaker. Wherever I go, people ask me about my life, about how I balance being Muslim and American at the same time. It's a strange question, no stranger than asking a Christian or Jew how they balance their faith and loyalty. It's all a mix inside us, and we as human beings have enough capacity to hold more than one thing dear. In some ways, it's not unlike a mother with several children. Are any of them less dear to her than the others? This juggling is what makes us human after all.
Yet after a terrorist attack like the one yesterday in Orlando, Muslims are somehow downgraded from Americans to suspects whose every action is suspicious. If you wear a hijab or visit a mosque, you may be radicalized. If you go to Mecca to offer pilgrimage, you may have met with terrorists abroad. If you pray five times, that is a sure indication that you love God more than country. It should be ridiculous but it is actually very scary, not just for me as a person but for me as a mother.
My greatest wish as a mother is to protect my children from the harsh realities of life. In the case of this recent tragedy, that's not at all possible. Since they are home, they have been watching the news along with me. They've learned new terms like Islamic terrorism and jihadist, and they argue with me when I try to convince them that jihad is a beautiful term meaning self-improvement. If the television tells them otherwise they will believe it, for they are young and impressionable. My son wants to know if we will have to leave America -- his home -- because of our faith. My daughter worries about bad guys under her window at night. My heart aches for them, because this is not what I want for my children, or for anyone's children.
As a public speaker and writer, there is tremendous pressure on me as well. I am in the middle of writing my second book but have to stop what I'm doing to pen essays and op-eds to defend my faith. I do so with eagerness, but also a sense of extreme frustration. Islam does not need defending, for it is a religion full of peace and beauty. But some Muslims have made it seem ugly due to the ugliness in their own hearts and minds. I hesitate to call them Muslim, but I also believe that we all have a right to our faith, however distorted it may be.
If I could say one thing to my American brothers and sisters, it would be this: if you want to see what Islam is, look at my actions as a law-abiding citizen, a mother, a writer, a community activist. Look at the millions of American Muslims who are working in their communities, helping their neighbors, studying, being gainfully employed. Look at Muslims around the world who just want peace in their lives. Please don't look at that one insane perversion of my religion who thinks killing is good, violence is sanctioned. He's lying.
Islam does not promote violence, even if some Muslims do. Christianity doesn't tell people to go to war, even if some Christians do. Our faiths ask the best from us, but sometimes our human nature gets in the way of becoming our best. That's what I want to teach my children: how to be Muslim and American at the same time, how to ignore those who hate you while still showing love and patience towards them. Many in politics try to divide us, but my children will not be divided. They will work towards making this the greatest country on earth, God willing.