"Once I go back to America, I'm going to officially change my last name. Just imagine me working in a clinic and someone telling my patient, 'Ms. Mohammad will see you in a moment.' That parent would drag their kid right out of the clinic and never come back."
I saw my friend, Samar's name pop up in my social media inbox whilst she continued typing. I didn't click on the message indicating that I just read it. Instead, I sat there and weighed her words against what I know, what America's media is portraying, and what the 2016 United States presidency candidates are saying. I remained quiet until the next day.
"I see" was all I could reply.
A part of me wanted to narrate the story I learned about America when I was a child in a public elementary school. This was the story of an America that was diverse and accepting. It was the story of an America that did not judge me for being an Arab or a Muslim a week after the September 11 attacks when we went back to school the way some of my friends told me they were. It was the story of an America that gave second chances.
Another part of me wanted to tell her that she should keep her last name and be proud of the fact that she is a young, Muslim American woman. I wanted to tell her that being the person she is and with her last name, she has the ability to break the stereotypes associated with it and with Islam.
But I couldn't and can't tell her any of that...not while I believe she has a point.
Candidates calling for the banning of Muslim Syrian refugees based on the fear of "radical Islam" are not helping my case. Neither are the candidates declaring the murder of Muslims with pigs' blood. The fact that flight attendants are kicking Muslims off of flights for merely speaking in Arabic would only encourage my friend to move forth with her decision.
After the Brussels attack, one of the Republican presidential candidates, Ted Cruz, suggested that Muslim neighborhoods should be patrolled and secured by extensive law enforcement for fear that "radical Islam" may be brewing among Muslim communities. However, Cruz fails to realize that with Islamophobia spreading around the West, including America, Muslim neighborhoods and communities need to be protected. What is frightening to Muslim-Americans, even ones currently half way across the globe like Samar and I, is that some Muslims, though assimilated into the American society, cannot escape the fate of discrimination, such as the fate of Deah Barakat, Yusor and Razan Abu-Salha, three young Muslim-Americans who were shot to death a little over a year ago in their North Carolina home.
It is with such unfortunate cases Muslims in America call upon the American people for their support. Muslim-Americans need to have their constitutional rights as American citizens to be protected. Their rights to exercise freedom of speech and religion need to be protected. It is with these rights that Muslims in America can continue to help others understand that Muslims can leave a positive impact in American society. What was promised for the average American was promised for all Americans, including Muslim-Americans.
Often, Muslim-Americans I am acquainted with in the Middle East speak of raising children in the United States as opposed to the Arab world, but instead of that prospect being reassuring, it only exacerbates a concern we, Muslim-Americans, try to deny, until someone speaks of changing their last name so it would sound "less Arab/Muslim."
Samar makes a point -- a good, relevant point that America wants to ignore. America is ceasing to make room for acceptance of individuals of various races and religion. America is ceasing to be the land of opportunity for refugees and immigrants. America is ceasing to protect communities that are often threatened in the name of the craze for security measures. America is asking its citizens around the world to think twice before bringing their children back to the U.S. America is asking me to forget what I have been taught and tell my friend what I know. America is telling Samar that it would be better for her to hide her last name because individuals may give her the "scarlet letter "M" for "Muslim". America should not be asking anyone to hide.