Being Muslim in America has been anything but easy this past year. The presidential election has been particularly hard on many Muslim-American children's psychological well-being. For my children, it started back in September, when Ben Carson said he didn't believe a Muslim should be elected president. A few days later, my 7- and 9-year-old daughters came home from school with stories of a man who was going to be president and who hated Muslims. We talked about President Obama and how not too long ago many Americans thought a black man would never be president.
After the Ben Carson comment, I made sure not to watch news programs around my children. However, they came home from school talking about Trump, his wall and his plans to ban Muslims.
My 7-year-old was vocally the most scared. She would whimper when an image of Donald Trump appeared on TV. To her, he was the bogeyman. She was convinced he would become president and "build a wall around us because we were Muslim."
I always taught my children to be proud that they were both Muslim and American.
I told her he wouldn't be president (I honestly didn't believe he'd get this far), and even if he did win, he couldn't do anything to us because we were American citizens. She was a second grader, and didn't really understand what a citizen was. She said, "Baba (Dad) wasn't born in America. Will they make him leave?" I reassured her baba was an American citizen and nothing would happen to him or to our family.
I always taught my children to be proud that they were both Muslim and American. Our religion teaches us to serve humanity, and our country is great because its people serve and respect each other. My children love their faith and their country, but their identity has been under attack by political candidates this election season. What they hear from friends at school and on TV is that there's something wrong or un-American with being a Muslim in this country.
My children changed this past year. They are more conscious of how strangers look at us. They are bilingual but too embarrassed to speak Arabic in public. They worry about me in the hijab (the headscarf) after having encountered a few Islamophobic incidents.
Then the Olympics happened. We've never been big sports fans, but we were watching the opening ceremonies, and my children were mesmerized by the glitz and the display of different cultures from around the world. They would jump up and down every time a woman wearing hijab walked into the arena. "Look Mama! A hijabi! She's in the Olympics!" These women were proud, accomplished athletes and came from Muslim countries around the world.
When Team USA walked into the arena, my daughters were surprised by a beautiful Olympian who wore a hijab. She was in the front row of Team USA. Their eyes lit up as they cheered, "USA! USA!" She represented their identity to the world. She showed the world that being Muslim in America was very much an American thing. Her status as an Olympian was a shining example of a strong Muslim American woman
My children now dream of meeting Ibtihaj Muhammad. They want to be Olympians, just like Ibtihaj. They love Simone Biles and Laurie Hernandez and jump off our couches trying to practice fancy gymnastic moves. Generally, I don't allow jumping on my couches, but I lax the rule for the Olympics.
They are proud that the greatest Olympic athlete, Michael Phelps, is an American, and they should be because he's representing their country. Their sense of identity has been normalized again. Instead of walls and deportation that no 7- and 9-year-old should worry about, they are counting the number of medals the USA has won.
For the time being, media focus has shifted to sportsmanship and friendly competition. My children aren't bombarded with messages attacking their faith and identity. The bogeyman has gone to sleep for these few weeks. Hopefully, he'll stay away for a long time.