Muslim in America: Coming of Age in the 9/11 Era

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brucehijb2_resizedGuest Post

Author : Anonymous by Request

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A friend of mine asked me to write about my   opinions on the current “political tensions around Muslims in America”. Before I talk about how I feel NOW, I think it’s important for readers to understand my background growing up as a Muslim in America.

 

My family and I immigrated to this country in the early 90’s.  We came during a time when South Asians were minorities within the minority groups.  Moreover, the Bangladeshi community was almost non-existent.  I remember identifying myself as an “Indian” and locating Bangladesh as a very small country next to India because people knew about India and recognized rather quickly.  This made even growing up in Queens NYC more difficult, cruel and confusing.  The constant need to identify myself and categorize as someone that I wasn’t easy to deal with.

 

What made it more painful was the fact I found others more accepting of my “Indian” identity than my religious identity.  For example, I couldn’t talk about my Islamic faith or the fact that I was a Muslim.  People just found it funny, maybe because it was unfamiliar to them or they just wanted to be mean and cruel.    It was especially difficult to survive through the 3 years of junior high school because the kids wouldn’t give up calling me “Hindu,” no matter how much I tried to explain and differentiate between the two faiths.  And of course the teachers didn’t know how to deal with me or extend support either. And I didn’t explain it was necessary to explain either,

 

As a young girl my parents never forced religion on me.  They just made sure we didn’t eat pork and learned to read the Quran on the weekends and pray.  As a result I started mingling more with the few “Indian” kids in the school and learned Hindi to belong in a group to feel safe and accepted.  By the time I entered High school I felt more comfortable and confident with my identity. Bangladeshi’s were a growing number and the school had plenty of us.  So, I was finally able to hang out with people from familiar backgrounds.  Things were going pretty well now, although there were always few who still didn’t know much about South Asian/Muslims.  Those multicultural events at schools were definitely the place to enjoy our foods and cultural attires but nothing more than that.  Nonetheless, that didn’t really bother me because my identity or faith wasn’t being questioned.

 

Well, at least until 9/11.

 

As a teenager with family and loved ones, friends, classmates and neighbors practicing the Islamic faith it was an eye opening to live through 9/11 and the years to follow.  Within the first few days and weeks it was evident Muslims are the “talk of the day” in the media, communities, in governments, among countries, politicians etc.  We were the center of attention.  There was sudden interest in learning about Islam and Muslims and where they come from etc.

 

The rest of my HS years just passed with a lot of ridicules, sarcasm and growing fear of Muslims. Teachers started linking names of students ending in “MA” with Osama Bin Laden.  The guys went through terrible experiences, especially those with a beard (even those who kept it as a fashion ended up shaving).   I remember having a lot of fear, anxiety and confusion about where we stand in the American Society. Amidst of all the ambivalence however, I’ve gained a unique experience.  I really value a sudden urge to study Islam and re-evaluate my beliefs about the faith.    Slowly as I learned more about my faith and started practicing it little by little.  I felt spiritually uplifted and closer to God.  Then I started putting on the Hijab (head covering) and started wearing more “appropriate attire.”

 

As college student and a young adult, I became involvement in the Muslim community, started advocating for myself and loved ones.  With occasional support from non-Muslims somewhere in my heard I had hope things will get better.  With the Obama administration that hope turned into disappointment. During the 2008 election, Muslims became more of a target than in the past.  The questions and accusation about President Obama’s religion, identity and background hatred toward Muslims only increased.  The situation just worsen with Obama’s defensive attitudes and denials about his background of having a Muslim father.  As a leader of a country with people of all faiths and a large Muslim population, I think he could have defended Muslims by accepting and celebrating the fact that he had parents from both faiths.

 

What is happening at the current time with the presidential candidates and horrific rhetoric against Muslims isn’t out of the ordinary.  The only difference is now we have a presidential candidate spreading hatred and only helping to increase it.  It’s upsetting, disturbing and terrifying to think the popularity he has gained from the American people.  I feel I am having to relive through those JHS years confused, scared, isolated and the need to adopt another identity.

 

I am scared for the future of my children and the next generation.  I wish for them to live in a society where they will say proudly “I am a Muslim” without any fear of being attacked or be seen as a suspicious terrorist. I feel the rest of America is like those bullies and teachers who viewed Muslims as a joke, a community who did not belong with rest of them.  Otherwise, we would be seen as valuable human lives vs. a threat.  It has always been “US vs THEM.”  No matter how much we try to become the “US” by speaking out against terrorism, stand in solidarity with movements like “Black lives matters” or pray for the victims of Paris attack just as the rest of the country, I am afraid   there will always be someone like Trump whose words will speak louder than the fears of millions of Muslims.

 

No Soul knows what is hidden for them, of joy as a reward for what they used to do . (Al Quran)

 


Photo by Bruce Armstrong