By Aisha Choudhri
There is a lot going on in America right now, and I do not have the luxury to ignore it. I cannot simply change a channel, avoid a political conversation, or turn a blind eye to what has been happening around me for the last several months. I am a Muslim American who was born and raised in this country. I grew up in Southern Delaware, and belonged to one of two Muslim families in my town. My family successfully established themselves in this country, and we effectively played our roles to advance society and our communities with our education and abilities.
Even though I was only one of two Muslim kids who attended my high school (my sister was the other), I always felt like an important part of my school and group of friends. Sure, I voluntarily excluded myself from activities that went against my faith and beliefs, but that never made me feel like less of a member in my circle of friends. I never once felt out of place, or like someone who didn’t belong in this country. I never felt like someone whose contributions to this country were overshadowed by her faith, or her place of worship and choice of dress. That is, until now.
Based on what we witnessed during this presidential election, and the Islamophobic rhetoric that Donald Trump and his cabinet have normalized, anti-Muslim sentiment has reached an all time high in this country. The floodgates have been opened for people to express their hatred and bigotry toward Muslims openly. It has allowed me, and the entire Muslim community in America, to be demonized by a political regime and their followers of white supremacists, misogynists, and bigots. Muslims are constantly and consistently shown as somehow un-American because of our faith. It has made us feel extremely unsafe in a country that is supposed to protect our right to practice our religion freely.
Since the presidential campaign began, Muslims have been the target of numerous hate crimes, and the large majority of these have not even been covered in the media. The majority of Americans are probably unaware that a Trump supporting Christian man walked into a mosque and killed 6 Muslims while they were praying in Canada just two weeks ago. When we aren’t preoccupied defending our religion and condemning attacks that have nothing to do with our beliefs, we sit and grieve alone within our community. We grieve for the mosques that are burned down in the name of hate, or the child who gets bullied at school for his beliefs, or the woman who gets attacked because she chooses to wear a hijab. Yet, we must always defend ourselves. Defend our right to be here, live here, and worship here. To feel like an outsider in a country you were born and raised in is not something that can easily be expressed. It’s a profound sadness combined with fury and frustration that often cannot be articulated. It’s a poignant awareness we carry with us in our day to day lives.
Muslims are not the first group to endure this type of bigotry, and they certainly won’t be the last. Racism and bigotry are deep rooted evils in our country; evils we choose to ignore because they don’t fit our narrative of the great United States. As Americans, we flatter ourselves as citizens of a “land of liberty” where religious freedom is sacrosanct. Yet, the United States has a long history of religious bigotry towards different groups which have manifested in discriminatory laws, social practices, and criminal behavior aimed at different populations at various times in history. We are not unaware of the trials that those before us and those among us have endured; however, you do not truly realize the pain of this discrimination until you spend your entire adult life defending who you are and what you believe in.
It is hard to know how to position yourself in a country that can elect a man with such staggering ineptitude; who promotes and supports hate and instills fear against you and your religion. It makes you doubt whatever faith you had in the leadership of this country. The country where your children will grow up. You wonder what kind of hardships they will endure. Will all of this hatred, animosity, and bigotry just be a part of their daily lives? Will they find a way to keep their heads up, when on a day to day basis someone is trying to demonize them because of their religion, way of dressing, or way or worshipping?
But our fear will not paralyze us. With the hatred that has been directed towards us, there is also so much kindness and compassion that is being spread. There is growing social awareness, and nationwide protests are taking place to ensure that the people of this country are given their inalienable rights. We have been reminded again of what we stand for as a country, and by working together against those who try to take away our rights and values, we come out stronger and better.
During these challenging times, there are those who have stood shoulder to shoulder with the Muslim community, and that support means everything to us. It’s a beautiful thing to see that there are still many people who will fight alongside you and defend your right to practice your religion and live your life without discrimination and hate. Americans cannot let the ignorance of those in power define what our country should look like. Our resilience is renewed by our common pursuit of values along with equality for all. These principles are what make us a democracy to be proud of.
I have not lost hope in humanity thanks to the support, love and resistance of my fellow Americans, who stand with me and the Muslims of this country to fight bigotry, racism, and hatred.