When I look in the mirror, I see short dark hair, brown skin, big eyes and probably a leather jacket. I’m pretty impressed with that woman.
But you know what a lot of other people see? A terrorist. Someone to be feared. Someone uneducated. Someone oppressed. Someone who can’t be trusted.
They see ... a Muslim.
The sad fact is that many Americans are afraid of Muslims. After the terror attacks that have been associated with Muslims ― 9/11, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, to name a few ― it’s no surprise that Muslims are seen as bomb-hugging monsters. In movies, on TV, in the media, we are the bad guys. And if you are presented with the same image over and over again, it’s bound to stick.
Is it fair to blame all Muslims for the acts of a few bad people? No, of course not. Muslims in America are just as American as everyone else. We have the same hopes and dreams, the same fears and worries. To be brutally honest, we actually have more to worry about than other Americans.
Why? Because along with having the same fears as everyone else, we have the added fear of being Muslim in America.
Muslims in America are just as American as everyone else. We are more alike than different. We have the same hopes and dreams, the same fears and worries.
Though many people are afraid of Muslims in this country, we are afraid of their fear. We are afraid of how we are perceived and how we will be treated.
For example, as a Muslim parent, I am extremely hesitant to send my kids to public school, because my kids will be associated with Islam, a religion blamed for hate and terror.
I send my kids to a private Islamic school. I want them to know their religion and get a good understanding of it while they are young. But it’s not feasible to keep them in a private school for too long. Even if I could get over the high cost of private schools, lack of school bus transportation and the distance from our home, an Islamic school lacks the one thing I want my children to be exposed to: people who are different than them.
I don’t want my children growing up in a bubble where everyone is just like them and believes exactly what they do, because that’s not how the world works. I think going to public school and befriending and making real connections with people who are not like you is important to becoming a well-rounded, accepting and tolerant human being.
However, I’m afraid of how my kids may be treated because they are Muslims and visible minorities. I’m afraid they will be bullied by other students and called terrorists. I don’t know if their teachers will think less of them or if they will be stereotyped every day.
I think of the video I saw on social media about a teacher from Nashville, Tennessee, taking off a young girl’s hijab and posting the video on Snapchat. I think of the way Ahmed Mohammad was arrested and accused of having a bomb for creating a homemade clock. I am scared that if something does happen to my children, no one will believe us or justice won’t be served. What effect will these stereotypes have on my children’s self-esteem and self-worth?
It’s ironic that so many Americans fear the very people who are feeling so vulnerable themselves.
I have heard from countless Muslim Americans about their fears of growing up in a country that perceives them as the enemy, a country that promised freedom of religion. The No. 1 one thing Muslims fear for is their life. They are afraid that they will be murdered in cold blood for nothing but their faith, the very faith that teaches them tolerance, patience and love. The story of Deah, Yusor and Razan, three students who were gunned down in their own apartment in Raleigh, North Carolina, is one that sticks with us all. Or the story of Nabra Hassanen, a 17-year-old girl who was abducted, murdered and dumped in a pond, chills us to the bone. These realities make us fear for not just our lives, but the lives of our children, our family and our friends.
I’m afraid for my kids. I'm afraid they will be bullied by other students and called terrorists. I don’t know if their teachers will think less of them or if they will be stereotyped every day.
We fear harassment and hate. We fear the way we are treated at the grocery store or the airport, scrutinized and judged. We are afraid to follow our religion in a country that hates it and that makes us worried that we will lose our faith altogether. We’re even afraid to defend ourselves or defend our religion because we don’t want our defenses to be taken the wrong way.
You know what else we fear? Terrorist attacks. Yes, we fear them and hate them just as much as any other American. And we fear the backlash that comes to our community because of those acts.
Some of us even fear being associated with other Muslims. It’s sad, really, but if someone looks “too Muslim,” we don’t want to be connected with them, scared that we too might be judged, harassed or kicked off an airplane. We want to look moderate next to a conservative-looking Muslim.
There is a high possibility that one day our daughters might want to wear a headscarf. Or that our sons might want to grow a beard. And if they ever do come to that decision, we fear that they will be judged and mistreated. We don’t want to fear for our children or sway them away from following their religion because others may treat them differently.
We are afraid of you and you are afraid of us and maybe there is no need for either of us to fear the other. We want all Americans to know that our faith does not make us the enemy. It makes us more compassionate, tolerant and loving. We want all Americans to know that we are scared too, just like you. We want good for our country, just like you. We want safety, just like you. We want a better life, just like you. And we want to be treated like one of you, because we too are American.
Have a compelling first-person story you want to share? Send your story description to firstname.lastname@example.org.