This is the first of a series of videos we will be linking on this page produced by American Muslims to counter the distortions they are forced to live with in an age of Islamophobia (click on pic for video)
I am a Muslim. I do not pray. I do not fast during Ramadan. I drink alcohol and eat pork. I do not believe in God. But I identify as a Muslim. Islam is a large part of the world I grew up in; it is inseparable from home.
The world in which I grew up in Lebanon included practicing and nonpracticing Muslims. It also included many Christians. But my family is Muslim; so is our culture. Extended family celebrations often revolved around the Eids, for which we would buy new clothes and meet for elaborate lunches, the children excitedly hoping for money, the Eidiyya, from the grown-ups. During Ramadan, we met our cousins, many of whom fasted the whole month, for iftar, breaking the fast with them as soon as the muezzin finished his prayer.
When I think back on my grandmothers, I often remember them praying in a calm, naturally lit room in the back of the house. I would catch a glimpse of them through an open door, white translucent veils running down their shoulders, kneeling down on the prayer mat, murmuring words that intrigued me and that I longed to learn.
I never learned the prayers, but I listened to many stories from Islamic history told by my father, often refracted through the great Muslim historian Ibn Khaldun, whom my father liked to read and quote: deeds of the prophet, his relationship to his companions, the passing of political authority to the caliphs, the struggles that ensued. But I also learned the stories of the caliphs, and especially of the Shiite Imams Hassan and Hussein, at funerals, in which professional readers would recount them in a tearful voice, slowly rising up in pitch, until it turned into cries, sending the mourners into uncontrollable sobs.
He leaned against the subway doors in a faded denim jacket, camo cargo pants, combat boots and, to top it off, a black ski mask. I wondered if he had a gun. I wondered if he was a white supremacist. I wondered if he had seen my friend and me, with our brown skin and black hair. Our Islamic faith and immigrant parents — could he somehow see that, too?
Was it me, or were his eyes darting up and down the crowded subway car? I yanked on my friend’s sleeve and raised my mouth to his ear.
“We have to get out of here,” I said.
I told him to hop off the train with me at the next stop and get back on, three cars up the platform.
Many of us have grown used to the suspicion. Amid a wave of frightful attacks carried out by extremist Muslims across America and Europe, everyday Muslims fear we’ll suffer reprisals for a violent ideology that we, too, find abhorrent.
It feels as though we’re being tested daily — like anyone who sees us on the street or in the store is deciding our ideology for us. Some have made the painful decision to forgo aspects of their faith in an attempt to ward off assaults. Others are afraid to leave their homes.
I have lived a life praying it wouldn’t come to this. I never wanted to believe that I am threatened because of who I am. But recent events have made me think that I really don’t belong in the land of my birth.
No one has articulated this paradox for me quite as well as the late scholar W.E.B. Du Bois, who called it the “peculiar sensation” of “double-consciousness.” It is “this sense of always looking at one’s self through the eyes of others,” Du Bois wrote in The Souls of Black Folk, his seminal work on race in America. It’s a way “of measuring one’s soul by the tape of a world that looks on in amused contempt and pity.”
“I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, one nation under God, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Every day from elementary school to high school, these words echo over the speaker systems of every school in America. These are words that define America and its principles, and words that every American can recite from memory. These words that we have been taught to believe in talk about freedom and justice for everyone, regardless of race, religion or gender.
Every American would like to believe that not only are these values we preach, but they are also values we incorporate into our actions. However, since Sept. 11, 2001 and perhaps even more since election proceedings began, the majority of Americans have ignored the belief which our country was founded on: All men and women are created equal. They have taken to social media and news media to give America the villain it has hated for 15 years: Muslims. Muslims have become a scapegoat for the country to turn to every time something goes wrong. Muslims live in fear that today is the day someone is going to come and ask them to wear badges of crescent moons and stars and walk them out the door and out of their lives. My name is Komal Surani, and I am an American Muslim woman.
A group of people is often easily defined as one unanimous being, made of people who are alike in every way, who all think the same, act the same and believe exactly the same things. All feminists are man haters. Every Southerner is a racist. And of course, all Muslims are terrorists. All 1.5 billion of them, that is. The media reports on it every minute of every day, always painting Muslims as a group of terrorists simply waiting for the opportunity to blow America apart. Muslims have easily slid into the role of scapegoat. The media and even most of America can’t fathom the idea that Muslims do not think alike, nor are they all alike. Muslims are individuals from varied communities and homes. They are elderly and middle-aged and fresh out of college and high school graduates and kids in classrooms and babies born in a world where they are hated from the moment they open their mouths and begin to wail. They are all of these people, but America prefers to wear rose-colored glasses. It is easier for every Muslim to be a criminal than to fight the Islamophobia that has taken over our country.
Following the news of the recent terror attacks in New York, New Jersey and Minnesota, Donald Trump swiftly denounced President Obama’s plan to accept more Syrian refugees into the United States. The Republican nominee’s opportunistic accusation echoed the theme he’d been sounding through the campaign and has repeated each time a terror attack shakes Americans’ sense of security. Trump’s linking of terror to Muslim immigration is simple, blunt and—with a certain crowd—politically effective. It also manages to ignore a critically important fact about the attacks: Neither perpetrator had anything to do with Syria. They weren’t even from Middle Eastern communities.
The two recent attacks were by a Somali-American and an Afghan-American. The fact remains that a Syrian-American has yet to commit a domestic Islamist terror attack anytime in the country’s history, according to an exhaustive cross-checking of the Global Terrorism Database. To Donald Trump, there may be no political difference; his larger theme is fear of Islamic radicals. But in ignoring the facts about just who commits the attacks, he’s also missing one of the most important insights about the problem, and the one that may give us the most powerful tool to think about homegrown terrorists: Even among Muslim communities, radicalization is very unevenly distributed.
DECEMBER 19, 2015 – FREDERICKSBURG, VA – Sanaa Soliman, sits in the living room of her home in Fredericksburg, Va. Soliman’s children bought her pepper spray to protect herself in public after they heard about something called the hijad challenge where someone will try to rip off muslim womens’ head scarves.
For the first time in her life, Yazmin Ali is afraid to leave her house. Unlike most neighbors in her family’s cookie-cutter subdivision outside Fredericksburg, VA—where homes have Christmas wreathes on the front doors and cars have American flag vanity plates—she’s Muslim, and she wears a hijab.
It doesn’t matter that Ali, 34, was born and raised in Florida, that her mother is an evangelical Christian Cuban-American, that she a masters degree from Auburn, or that she only learned Arabic through a State Department scholarship in Jordan—when it was raining at her kids’ bus stop recently and she offered to let other parents shelter in her car while they wait, she says, they said no.
Dirty looks are nothing new—she’s been tripped before at the mall—but events in the last month have taken a sobering turn. Four days after the ISIS attacks in Paris, her mosque, the Islamic Center of Fredericksburg, held a long-planned meeting to share plans for its new building with the community. A protestor started shouting, “Every Muslim is a terrorist!” Soon after, ICF hosted a coat drive for Syrian refugees with a neighboring church, and a man with a confederate flag showed up with a sign, “No refugees in VA.” After the San Bernardino shooting, Ali started disguising her hijab under a winter hat and scarf. “I had a really long, good cry,” she says. “Because I have kids, I’m fearful of something happening to me.”
Like her classmates, the 18-year-old had been waiting for the June 8 ceremony all year, facing it with a mixture of excitement about new beginnings and sadness for what she was leaving behind.
“Graduation day was amazing. I spent my time with my family, friends, and loved ones,” she recalls. “My family made me a surprise party a couple of days after the graduation ceremony. It was the best thing. I have never felt so special before.”
While she waited for the ceremony, Shakir pulled out her cellphone for a little Web-surfing, along with many of her classmates. But it would have been easy for a visitor to pick out which student was Shakir: the resident of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, was the only graduate whose cap and gown ensemble included the traditional Muslim head covering known as a hijab.
That’s essentially the picture presented by Muslims in and around the Corvallis area: They have pretty much the same lives as every other mid-valley resident, but they occasionally look or act a little differently while living it.
Most mid-valley Muslims are familiar with the questions their religious and cultural observances can prompt. Corvallis is among the cities to have learned by painful experience that people’s lack of knowledge about Islam can spark fear and anger, hatred and violence.
But Muslims who spoke with the Democrat-Herald and Gazette-Times said for the most part, they feel welcome and respected in Corvallis, even when someone is curious about the trappings of their religious or cultural traditions.
“I love Corvallis. It’s a very warm and welcoming community,” said Ibrahim Moussaoui, 20, a mid-valley native and Muslim whose parents came to Oregon from Algeria. “Overall, the community is very supportive and understanding of many cultures, Islamic included.”