As a religion blogger, dealing with Islamophobes is part of my job description. Nearly every article I write is attacked by people claiming to know more about my religion than I do. In fact, it was Islamophobes who first introduced me to “controversial/violent” Quranic verses, the misconstrued concept of “taqqiya,” and the allegedly nefarious Shariah law. So to see a few of them in person, standing and yelling across the street from our press conference on Thursday, was no big deal for me. For the young students who I heard crying behind me, though, it was.
Perhaps it was the first time they had ever encountered people who hated them simply for the way they worshipped. Maybe they were unaware of the million dollar Islamophobic industry which encourages fear mongering and violence toward Muslims like them. Whatever it was, it affected them negatively and at an intensely emotional level. Instead of feeling excited and proud to be at their state’s capitol, they felt marginalized, confused, and afraid.
No American should ever feel like this. Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are rights afforded to all people who live in this great nation, not just those who believe themselves to be superior to everybody else. We cannot allow others to define our beautiful religion, nor silence our voices when it comes to decisions that directly affect us and our ability to follow that religion.
These were the thoughts running through my head before I took the podium at Texas Muslim Capitol Day. I knew I would face hecklers, as did every speaker before me — the hecklers even yelled through the singing of the national anthem. But, I knew I had to stay strong and stand my ground, not only for my own sake, but also for those young girls and millions of other disenfranchised Americans of all faiths and backgrounds. As a proud American, it was my responsibility to exercise my right to free speech, just as those critics did, to define my own narrative, and defend my right to be politically engaged in this country.
Thankfully, I knew I was not alone in this struggle. I was surrounded that day by people of various faith and racial backgrounds who supported my right to be there. Discussions online following the event have also echoed this sentiment, with one Facebook user condemning Rep. Molly White “on behalf of my fellow Christians” for her discriminatory comments regarding the advocacy day. Reddit users decried the excessive media attention on the hecklers and dismissed them as “redneck bigots.”
To be honest, I felt sorry for the protestors who showed up, armed with an Israeli flag, and screamed things like “Go Home and Take Obama with You” and “No Shariah in USA.” They were clearly educated by the likes of FOX “News” without any solid understanding of what American Muslims really believe. If they did, they would know that we ARE home, and we live by American laws. During my speech, one heckler yelled, “Jesus loves you!” I didn’t hear it then, but if I had, I would have immediately responded, “We love him too!”
Maybe if the hecklers had actually listened to what was said that day instead of shouting over it, they would have realized that we are not so different after all. All Americans want to live in peace and security under the protection of our constitutional rights. Hate and irrational fears are unproductive and waste precious time, money, and resources that could instead be used to tackle more important issues, such as poverty, social justice, immigration, and the criminal justice system.
Today, the Islamophobes have two choices: they can remain behind the picket line and continue to wage a losing battle against Muslim Americans, who are becoming increasingly engaged in political and civic spheres, or they can cross the line and join us in making the country a better place for all Americans. This understanding is what propelled me to speak with strength and conviction from behind the podium that day. I am willing to have the conversation – are they?