by Rimsha Syed
“You Muslim scum, why don’t you go back to your country and tell them to stop bombing America!”
“I bet your father is a terrorist!”
I heard these words as I made my way back home from a long night of studying at the campus library. Two strangers were walking a few feet behind, laughing and continuously shouting at me. Panic-stricken, I immediately began to walk faster. I reached into my backpack and clenched a bottle of pepper spray while I tried desperately to find my phone in case I had to dial 911. I did not know whether I should cry, scream, or confront them, so I decided to sprint towards the gate of my apartment complex instead. Fortunately, I made it there safely, and when I glanced back, the two strangers were gone. That is when I burst into tears and replayed every stabbing comment they threw in my direction.
I am a child of Pakistani immigrants. My parents arrived in America in 1993 to live out the “American Dream.” My dad works hard every day to provide for his family, and my mom is the strongest, most selfless woman I know. But somehow it feels like the “American Dream” was not made for people like us. My mother wears the hijab and my father’s distinct South Asian features make it easy to identify our family as Muslim. From my perspective, there are good days, and there are bad days. There are days that permit us to go about our day in a perfectly ordinary way, but there are also days full of endless stares and Islamophobic remarks that leave a permanent verbal scar.
When I hear about mosques being vandalized, a woman’s scarf pulled off of her head, or Muslims murdered in hate crimes, I cannot help but feel isolated, targeted, and hopeless.
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a phobia is an “exaggerated, usually inexplicable and illogical fear of a particular object, class of objects or situation”. A certain hostility towards Muslims in America is constantly perpetuated by negative stereotypes in the media, which ultimately leads some people to portray hatred, violence and an unwillingness to accept Muslims in their community. When I hear about mosques being vandalized, a woman’s scarf pulled off of her head, or Muslims murdered in hate crimes, I cannot help but feel isolated, targeted, and hopeless.
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Being Muslim in America means having everyone else tell you what your religion teaches. Being Muslim in America means constantly having your identity interrogated, investigated, and questioned. It is exhausting to have to apologize on behalf of monsters that hijacked Islam. It is tiring to explain to everyone that this is not “my Islam.” It is exhausting to have to fight Islamophobia when it should not be our job in the first place. American Muslims encompass a variety of sects, races and viewpoints on international policies and everything else. However, being Muslim in America means none of that actually matters. Muslims are perceived as a monolithic group of people that threaten the American way of life. It is sickening to look at images of lost lives in countries like Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and France, all in the name of my faith. Being Muslim in America means that even our grief is insincere. Why are an entire group of people held accountable for events they had nothing to do with?
It is exhausting to have to fight Islamophobia when it should not be our job in the first place.
In American-Muslim households across the country, young children are asking their parents why the world hates Muslims. My nine-year old sister asked me if she should stop telling her classmates that she is Muslim. My heart broke as I imagined my little sister being too scared to openly practice her religion because of what others would say. I am scared of attacks conducted by people labeled “radical Islamists.” I am scared my Muslim friends will be attacked for wearing the hijab. I am scared for the Muslims who choose to pray in public places. I am scared that law enforcement will view my loved ones with increased scrutiny in places like airports, and in police stations. America has traditionally been referred to as a “melting pot,” welcoming people from all countries, races, and religions, most with the same goals: a better life and better opportunities. However, Muslim Americans are never allowed to fully assimilate into the American way of life, we are still not looked at as true Americans because of our religion.
Amidst the corrupt mindset, the people belonging to my generation are capable of making the distinction between extremists and the vast, vast majority of good people belonging to a single faith. The extent of instilled fear in young Muslim Americans is signified by the fact that my own brother advised me to not write about a topic that could be faced with potential judgment; however, it is my responsibility to vocalize and acknowledge the injustice to empower everyone experiencing the negative impact of Islamophobia.
Rimsha Syed is a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin majoring in human biology and journalism.
The views expressed in this article are those of the writer, The Contemporary takes no position on matters of policy or opinion.