“Can you grab that bottle of Sriracha on the top shelf?” my mother asked, as we made our way down the “ethnic” aisle at our local grocery store. It was around 5:30pm, my father was almost home from work, and my mother and I were out getting last minute ingredients for dinner. As we waited in the checkout line, waiting to pay for our goods, I hear a voice behind me, “You here to steal something?”
I turn around to find a tall man, broad shoulders, a baseball cap pulled low over his forehead, looking straight at my mother. I stand there bewildered, wondering if this was an acquaintance of hers trying to be funny or make some sort of weird joke.
“Are you here to blow something up? Why are you wearing that?” he barks again, referring to my mother’s hijab and abaya. At this point, everyone within earshot tenses up and I find myself flooding with both embarrassment and panic. What was this guy trying to get at? We were just at the grocery store trying to get home on time, and this man, who we had never seen before, was going out of his way to harass my mother.
Unfortunately, this wasn’t an isolated incident. My mother, petite as she may be, has no problem holding her own and isn’t new to being singled out and hassled for her choice of Islamic clothing. She clearly and eloquently explained her religious garb to the man, told him to not yell at her, and swiftly sent him on his way.
Growing up, I’ve had plenty of these experiences. Whether it was strange looks at my mother or jokes about my Arabic name, life as a Muslim in post 9/11 America isn’t the cutest feeling. The constant villainization of Muslims in mainstream media makes it difficult to do even simple things such as buy groceries or get through airport security without crude jokes or dangerous assumptions, and with the murder of three innocent Muslim kids in Chapel Hill this past year, it’s clear that stereotyping can lead to even fatal consequences.
Fortunately we live in the age of technology and open information—we don’t always have to be victims of ignorance and perpetuate harmful stereotypes. Misconceptions can be overcome with a simple but powerful thing, knowledge: here are ten common misconceptions about Islam and Muslims to help you break the cycle.
1. Muslim women have no rights
This is definitely a hot-topic and complicated issue but one of my favorite misconceptions to tackle.