Soon after the 9/11 attacks my sister and I were in downtown Philly, and stopped at a local convenience store. We walked in, babbling away about God knows what, took our items to the counter, and proceeded to pay. I have a tendency to be overly nice to mean looking people, so a bubbly hello went flying in his direction. The clerk just looked at me, not responding. We paid for our goods, I said thank you and he just stared, and as we were walking out, he said “Say hi to Bin Laden.”
Islamophobia: “Dislike of or prejudice against Islam or Muslims, especially as a political force.” [Google]
Now, nearly 15 years removed from that incident, there have been multiple hate crimes committed in the United States against Muslim-Americans, just within the past week alone.
Many things have changed for me since then. For instance, I’ve lived in two different continents, I’ve had children, and I now carry pepper spray – and while I did not immediately start carrying around pepper spray, these days have called for safety first more than ever – and I know how to use it!
As someone who is visibly Muslim, I’m now planning our summer outings with these incidents planted firmly in the back of my mind.
Whenever I am out, I find myself thinking – is that man/woman staring at me because they like my style, or is it because they simply do not like my presence?
Although I like to give people the benefit of the doubt, I highly doubt the stoic expressions are in appreciation of my sense of style.
So now that we are in this reality, what do we, Muslim-Americans [and Allies], do?
Empower: Self-Confidence via Knowledge
It is a matter of survival. It is not enough to have a surface understanding of our faith or our beloved Prophet (PBUH). Seek out the questions that have gone unanswered in your mind. The questions that weren’t answered in your Saturday school, or Islamic school, or by your parents. Give yourself the education of someone who is not taking his or her Islam for granted. Self-educate, and build a love for your faith. In doing so, it makes it so much easier to not be broken by the constant negativity that is bombarding our faith each and every day.
What is your talent? What is your profession? Find your strength, and apply it within our community. Now is the time for us to build our institutions as an integral part of this society. Send the message that we are here – we’ve been here – and are here to stay.
We can only do this by building our schools, community centers, and each other. Let’s stop waiting around for someone else to lead the way. You are perfectly capable of contributing to change just as you are. Ask yourself, how you can contribute; don’t wait around anymore.
Empower: Know Your Rights
Did you know the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has regional offices across the country? If you experience a hate-crime, or want to better understand your rights, visit CAIR’s website and familiarize yourself with the resources available.
In essence, now is the time to empower yourself with knowledge, community service, and understanding our place in this society, which is in the very fabric of this nation. Do not allow anyone to tell you otherwise.
What did I miss? How are you dealing in the uptick of Islamophobic rhetoric in the media? Or maybe you’ve been surprised by the kindness of your neighbors. Let us know your experiences in the comments section.
Contributed by Ahlam Yassin, a 24/7 on-call mom, educator, grad student, and writer.