Ahmed Mohamed’s rise to internet fame has been skyrocketing. People across the world
have been posting their support on social media — from President Barack Obama to Mark Zuckerberg to Sophia Bush — united by a single hashtag: #IStandWithAhmed.
This entire movement can be drawn back to one 23-year-old MuslimGirl from
Arlington, TX: Amneh Jafari.
We had an exclusive MuslimGirl interview with Amneh, who is the previous president of her Muslim Student Association at the University of Texas at Arlington, an employee at a local neurosurgery clinic and the eldest of 10 children. Jafari is soft-spoken, heartwarmingly kind, and always has “alhamdulillah” at the tip of her tongue.
MuslimGirl: How did you react to Ahmed’s arrest?
Amneh Jafari: Several different ways. It was really sad, you know, especially in the Muslim community, to think… again? It’s like a routine now. And I was angry, like I didn’t want to break anything, but my heart started racing. It gets under your skin, and when I saw the picture of him in handcuffs, I was just like, “Wow.” Look into his eyes and look at the innocence and you can honestly tell: He did not see that coming.
What obligated you to start the hashtag #IStandWithAhmed?
When Ahmed’s story first broke local news, I initially saw one of my friends tweeting it from a Dallas media outlet. I was in shock after seeing his picture in handcuffs and thinking, “How can this happen in Irving, so close to home?” So I felt like, “Okay, I want something to express my sentiments,” so I just felt those words just stood out the most. I really didn’t plan to start anything, I just hashtagged words to represent where my heart was at the time: Standing right beside him.
Did you expect the hashtag to blow up like that on social media? (Pun not intended.)
Yeah, I don’t know, haha. I went to sleep that night, and a couple of hours later, it made the 20th trending thing on Twitter. And my sisters were like, “Ok whatever.” Mind you — this was like, 3:00 AM. It just got big, and I didn’t expect it to blow up that fast. You see Mark Zuckerburg, Sophia Bush… I was like, “Oh my god, I’m about to pass out.” And I’m not very big on celebrities, but it’s a positive hashtag about a Muslim, like this never happens. I’m blessed that so much good has come out of this.
Have you ever experienced something similar to Ahmed?
Not to his extent. But, a few years ago I started wearing the hijab, alhamdulillah, the biggest blessing in my life. Within the year that I wore it, I noticed everyone treated me differently. So, one day we were going to Walmart and I was holding my brother’s hand, crossing the pedestrian lane, and this lady just sped so fast, and I pushed my brother back out of harm’s way. I looked over at the lady and she rolled down her window and yelled, “Go back to your country, go back to Iraq.” Alhamdulillah, nothing serious happened. But I was really young at the time, and I didn’t understand. It hurt. I remember I went home later that day and I cried.
I’m just so proud to be Texan, and I’m always advertising it, you know, but stuff like this kind of just brings me down.
“Go back to Iraq” -Ancient Islamophobic proverb.
Do you know Ahmed personally?
I’ve actually never met him personally. But yesterday, he called me with Alia Salem, a friend of mine, and the executive director of CAIR-Texas Dallas Fort Worth, as a surprise. I had messaged her earlier that I would love to meet Ahmed before I kept agreeing these interviews, you know, I wanted to meet the boy behind this hashtag. He was being so grateful and thanking me, and I was just like “No, I want to thank you. You’ve inspired me.” He was like “Amneh, I want to tell you something. They invited me to MIT!” and I was so happy for him, I cried tears of joy.
Have you heard anything back from law enforcement?
No, I haven’t. Nothing from law enforcement, and I wouldn’t expect there to be. My hashtag, and the intention behind the whole movement was to be there for Ahmed. It wasn’t for the police or the authorities, that’s not why I started it. We have CAIR for things like that. I know my limits, and I hope they never question me! I didn’t do anything, haha.
Do you think what happened to Ahmed will draw attention to the hardships Muslim-Americans face on a daily basis?
I really do. That’s why I’m so so happy. I’ve just been happy these couple of days. If you watch his interviews, he said people were calling him names in school, like “terrorist,” and he felt like a criminal when they arrested him. I have siblings, they tell me what happens in schools. My little sister Lulu is in fifth grade, and they brought up 9/11 in class, and the way they kind of word it against the Muslim and Arab demographic… It made her feel awful. So I really hope the hashtag creates hope for these young people, that we stand with all the “Ahmeds” out there.
Are there any other crises you would like the media to draw more attention to?
You know I am biased, but I would say the crisis overseas and the Syrian refugees, but
alhamdulillah, they’ve been getting more attention. I just feel like there shouldn’t be hate between us, there should be respect amongst each other. All around, you hear that America is the melting pot, and you believe that — and then you go to school and your dreams are crushed. That shouldn’t be happening. And we need to pay attention to what our kids are dealing with at school. It’s systematic bullying.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
To everyone that reads this, and is struggling to always find light in the darkness: There’s always a positive outlook on everything. Be that strong person to stand up for what’s right. Be that leader. Be united.
Amneh has a dream of one day working with the United Nations, simply to help people.
“My family all lives in Jordan, you know, near the Zaatari camp, where there are so many kids that suffer from PTSD, and I just want to sit there and help them. So my dream is to intern with the UN. Truly, Allah (SWT) is the best of planners,” she said.
Amneh’s friends have started a hashtag movement of their own to send her off to her dream: #AmnehtotheUN.
Who knows? Maybe with more of us out there to call bullshit where it needs to be called, we can all live respectfully in this country.