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Muslim In America

Muslim in America – Voices

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“The visibility of Muslims as the ‘dangerous other’ has really negatively impacted life for Muslims.”
Detroit, MI
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For most of my life, I’ve lived in Detroit where there is a large population of Muslims, as well as Arabs. I also went to a very racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse high school and middle school.

In that way, I was very fortunate because I never felt like a minority or an outsider, but rather a part of a large mosaic where I felt represented and connected. My religious identity never necessarily felt like a pressing issue or a big deal; it was just an aspect of who I was and I never felt like I had to explain myself.

Before I lived in the metro-Detroit area, I also lived in Saint Clair, Michigan which was a predominantly white, conservative, and Christian area of the state. My family would travel about an hour every weekend so I could go to our mosque for Saturday school. We ended up moving from Saint Clair partially because my parents wanted to be closer to an Arab and Muslim community.

When I went to college, I went to a liberal arts school in rural Ohio where almost all of the students were liberal. Still, I have been told on a few occasions that I was the ‘first’ or ‘only’ Muslim person that this person had ever met or known, and for some reason, the need for someone to vocalize that to me always made me feel slightly uncomfortable.

I would be treated like a spokesperson even if I hadn’t volunteered to speak about being Muslim. I remember one time, I was in a class and we were talking about ritual and the professor said something about Wudu, the cleansing ritual you have to do before you pray.

After he said it, he turned to me and said, ‘Right?’ as if to make sure his assertion was correct. It wasn’t meant to be a negative thing, but it was just another reminder that I was the only Muslim in the class, and one of the few Muslims in the school, which is isolating in a way that I can’t really put into words.

The visibility of Muslims as the ‘dangerous other’ has really negatively impacted life for Muslims. Personally speaking, I know that whenever there’s a religious gathering at our Mosque, like on big holidays like Eid, the mosque has to have police protection because they’ve received threats.

People feel unsafe and afraid to go worship. It’s pretty ironic because Muslims are seen as a threat to America’s religious freedom and a threat to America’s safety, but we can’t even celebrate some of our most important holidays without threat.

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Muslim In America

Muslim in America – Voices

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“While I was focusing on growing in my faith, my mother just kept worrying about me marrying a terrorist.”
Charlotte, NC
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I am a Mexican Muslim. I converted to Islam three years ago. At first, my family wasn’t ok with my decision because I hadn’t spoken to them about it.

Instead, I just changed my whole outward appearance and decided I wanted to be Muslim. I come from a Catholic family with strong values, and to them, they believe that Islam is controlling.

They felt that I wouldn’t have rights as a Muslim woman and that I was going to become miserable. As you can see, this transition was not an easy one, to say the least.

While I was focusing on growing in my faith, my mother just kept worrying about me marrying a terrorist. My aunt even went as far as reading me Bible verses to bring me back on the ‘right path.’

Sometimes, my family still teases me about not eating pork anymore. Growing up Catholic, I use to eat pork freely but now that I don’t, I get made fun of. While it doesn’t bother me anymore, it used to hurt me to have my loved ones put down my beliefs.

Often times, the general public associates Islam with oppressiveness or violence. They misinterpret the Quran and end up fearing us because they do not understand us.

The media does not help us build a positive image either. Usually, women are portrayed in the media as slaves who are oppressed by ‘barbaric’ Muslim men.

Women like me are seen as easy targets because we chose to represent who we are through our dress. This should not be so, but it is and a lot of this hatred and confusion exists because of 9/11.

See, even though it has been 17 years since 9/11, Islamophobia still sits heavy in the hearts of many Americans. However, if people reach out to their fellow Muslim neighbors, there could be a better understanding of Muslims nationally.

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Muslim In America

Muslim in America – Voices

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“This can be a struggle within one’s soul that causes them to give into impulses and stray off of their path.”
New York, NY
A lot of people tend to associate Jihad with terrorism. But, in reality, Jihad means a struggle.

This can be a struggle within one’s soul that causes them to give into impulses and stray off of their path. This is something that I believe everyone goes through in life.

Although it is rather difficult to do, I personally try to teach people about my faith. Currently, I am the treasurer of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) at Pace University.

I really wanted to make MSA a big thing at Pace. But, so many people just aren’t that interested in the idea. Whenever I ask my non-Muslim friends to even come to a meeting, I usually get a ‘Are you joking?’ or ‘You’re really a part of that?’

While the lack of support is rather discouraging, it just goes to show me that people still view us in a negative light. And that the negative light they see us through can be traced back to how the media portrays us.

I think the fear of Islam stems from 9/11 and how Islam is portrayed in the media. The media never focuses on the peaceful and religious aspects of Islam. Instead, they focus on the daunting acts of terrorists from the Middle East.

My family hasn’t suffered to the extent that some other families had, but I still have heard some rough remarks. For instance, in high school, one of my closest friends said that I looked like a terrorist. Although it was just a joke, I was very offended by it.

More recently, I personally underwent an embarrassing TSA pat down at the airport last year. A security woman touched every aspect of my body. I felt humiliated.

Although there is a long road to walk before Islamophobia disappears, I do think that, recently, people have become more accepting towards us. Individuals are realizing the world could be a better place if we learnt to love each other for who we are. Therefore, I am very hopeful that more people will be accepting towards Muslims in the near future.

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Muslim In America

Muslim in America – Voices

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“I have never really felt any sort of discrimination. But, it was not until recently that I learned that my parents had not had that same luxury.”
Los Angeles, CA
Being Muslim in this country has never really been a ‘problem’ for me. Obviously, I know that I am a minority. Being Muslim is not often something that I actively think about.

I live in a very diverse area where being something other than ‘white’ is not exactly uncommon. In general, I tend to hang out with a crowd of other Muslims. So, I never really feel out of place.

I have never really felt any sort of discrimination. But, it was not until recently that I learned that my parents had not had that same luxury.

Although our religious practices in our family have become laxer as my siblings and I have aged, my mother recently confessed she made us practice religion so heavily as children because she wanted us to make friends with other Muslims.

My parents, specifically, chose to live in a more diverse area so we did not stick out from the crowd. She did not want to draw attention to us, so we could avoid as much prejudice and discrimination as possible.

I think people today are much more tolerant and accepting of Muslims than they used to be. Based on what Muslims used to face, I’m sure my parents’ fear and paranoia is justified. However, I feel that people are starting to let go of their preconceived notions.

People are beginning to learn that stereotypes are not based in truth. Once people realize that terrorism is not linked to the Muslim religion, maybe they will be less afraid.

Extremists and terrorists are not a true reflection of Islam. Once people begin to realize this, we may be one step closer to working toward peace and harmony between all people.

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