When I joined the service five years ago, I did so knowing that I am blessed to be born in America. As Americans, we are afforded an amount of physical, economic, and political stability that seems a rarity in today's world. Surely, as a Muslim American, all it takes is flipping on the evening news to realize that I am considerably freer here than I would be living in many countries across the Muslim world.
But in spite of these rights, experience has taught me that -- on the basis of my faith alone -- some people will never treat me as a fellow American. Last fall, I was denied service at a commercial gun range in my home state of Oklahoma as a result of the prejudice and misinformation that caused this business to declare itself a "Muslim-free establishment." Working with the American Civil Liberties Union and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, I filed a federal lawsuit alleging that my civil rights were violated that day. When I went to the Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gun Range last October, I wasn't looking for any trouble. As an active Army reservist, I shoot regularly to maintain my proficiency in marksmanship. Like the proud Oklahomans of various faiths, I also enjoy it as a hobby that has nothing to do with my religion. When I got to the counter, I signed the waiver and was preparing to pay my fee as part of standard procedure. But the transaction was never completed because as soon as I identified myself as Muslim, things took a frightening turn.
The owners of the range grabbed their handguns and demanded to know whether I was there to "commit an act of violence" or as part of a "jihad." I was nervous about what would happen next, being outnumbered two to one, but I didn't return the animosity.
I have had practice dealing with Islamophobia by now, and I've learned that personal interaction can change minds. When people get to know me as an individual, many come to realize that their fears are unfounded.
Sensing that the owners misguidedly believed that the Qur'an requires me to commit violence, I calmly explained a few essential verses from the Qur'an that idealize quite the opposite. The Qur'an forbids murder: "Do not take life, which God made sacred, except by way of justice and law (state authority for a crime)" (6:151) as well as the oft-repeated verse that equates killing a single person with the murder of all mankind (5:53).
I continued to explain that I am a U.S. Army reservist and even accepted the condition that I could only go onto the range if accompanied by the owners. But still it seemed that the longer we spoke, the more hostile they became toward the idea of allowing me to use the facilities at all. Ultimately, the owners told me that I couldn't use the range and forced me to leave.
I've had my share of hostile encounters with people who dislike Muslims, but I've found that fear and hatred is always informed by ignorance. In fact, I've made some friends as a result of tough and candid conversations that focus on learning about one another and dispelling myths.
If people just took the time to know their neighbors -- not the religion, but the people -- this shameful blight on the American identity would become a thing of the past.
I was born and raised right here in Tulsa, Oklahoma. At least six generations of my family have called this state home, and I enjoy living here. Just as I would fight to defend American rights and freedoms around the world, I have a duty to do the same at home. Today, I'm proud to confront an injustice that erodes the constitutional value guaranteeing freedom for all faiths. Read the first post in this series: Why I Have Hope For American Muslim Equality