America the prejudiced: Musings of a millennial Muslim

SHAFAQNA – My family came here from Pakistan two months prior to my birth, and since that day my life has involved daily adaptations and adjustments to the cultural differences here in America. I am a 19-year-old Muslim woman, born and raised in the United States. Throughout all of the devastating events of the past few years, it has been a frustrating, yet eye-opening experience as a young Muslim.

Islam has always been a personal part of my life. It has been something I think about while I am at home with my family or at the mosque with my fellow Muslims. I grew up with the religion and it had always been a lifestyle for me. Slowly, I began seeing “Islam” in the headlines of hundreds of articles, featured in several discussions on news channels and as the foundation of many debates between political candidates. My religion had become a prevalent topic worldwide.

Numerous unfortunate attacks, carried out by terrorists who claim to be Muslim, have taken thousands of innocent lives. They scream the name of Islam, and are the ones responsible for shattering the religion’s image all over the headlines.

Attack after attack — 9/11, San Bernardino, the Orlando nightclub — Muslims around the world were just as appalled as those of any other religion. I grieved, my classmates grieved, the world grieved. Yet, it was as if the divide between the Muslim community and everyone else was growing a bit every time.

I found myself reading stories about how Muslims across America were being treated: Reports of non-Muslims taunting Muslims at school, destroying sacred mosques, ripping hijabs off of women, as well as spreading hateful words and debating what to do about Muslims as a political decision. In the past two years, the Human Rights Watch reported that hate crimes perpetrated against Muslims in the United States have dramatically inclined, with a 78 percent increase from 2014 to 2015, and a 44 percent increase on top of that in 2016.

According to the Council on Foreign Relations, U.S. Muslims have the second highest level of education among other major religious groups and Muslim leaders encourage other Muslims to engage more with American society. The Public Broadcasting Service reports that Muslim women are more likely to work in professional fields than women from most U.S. religious groups and over 60 percent of U.S. Muslims believe they can practice Islam while living in an American society. Yet, there is more distrust and prejudice against Muslims than any other religious group.

Here I am spitting out a few facts and numbers among numerous others trying to convey the ordinary lives American Muslims hold, but some people across the country will continue to come up with their own interpretations of the religion based on what they see on the news.

Family friends of mine and other local families started expressing fear and concern about all this. The president elected in our 2016 race stood by anti-Muslim acts such as the Muslim ban. Not only had the leader of our nation been frequently expressing concerns toward Islam, but many of his supporters were also agreeing with his anti-Muslim remarks.

I am frustrated with seeing all of these horrific terrorist attacks. I am frustrated with the hate crimes against Muslims. I am frustrated with my religion becoming the central topic on the news. And most of all, I am frustrated with people discussing whether Muslims have good intentions or not without even speaking to one.

This experience has been equally eye-opening. I have found that many young individuals have started talking even more about religion and the differences between us. The Muslim community itself seems to be coming closer together through all of this, and even our non-Muslim friends are talking to us and are aware of what is going on. There are millions of people who aren’t against the religion and understand what the Muslim community has been dealing with.

Why not talk to other Muslims about these claims and remarks, instead of solely seeing a few tweets or headlines and coming up with assumptions? This can apply to all religions in general. I want people to know that it is OK to ask questions, discuss and learn about something. As citizens of such a diverse country, it is important for us to not gather information from just one side.

A seemingly standard topic can in fact have much depth to it, which you may only realize by speaking up.

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