Op-ed submission: The lesser-known American Muslim perspective
I was raised in a post-9/11 world, and while growing up, I rarely come across a news story that described Islam positively. This perplexed me to no end, because the “Islam” I was seeing on TV—bombs, war and fear—was inconsistent with the Islam that Sunday School taught me— peace, charity and loving your neighbors.
With age, I came to understand that what I was hearing or reading about was not Islam. It was murder in the name of craziness and stupidity, nothing more than a pathetic attempt to prove “strength” or “power.” Yet I still couldn’t grasp why public figures and crowds of protesters who didn’t know me said that they hated me or that I was a danger to the country that I love.
It’s easy for any adult to recognize that these people are not Muslim, but what’s harder is being 14 years old and, every time news breaks of a mass shooting or a bombing in the U.S. and abroad, thinking, “please don’t let it be a Muslim.” I’ve lost count of how many times this thought has crossed my brain and stayed there even as I mourn the lives lost at the hands of a Godless murderer.
When Muhammad Ali passed away, the positive coverage surrounding a Muslim man was a pleasant change of pace. His friends and family talked about his generosity, his kindness and his connection with God. They praised his expression of religion in such a peaceful and informative manner. For a moment, it seemed like people were finally detaching terrorism from Islam, and I was hopeful and excited for the future.
Not two weeks after Ali’s death, a man walked into a nightclub in Orlando, Fla., and killed 49 people, wounding over 50, in the largest mass shooting in our nation’s history. I was infuriated that one man could destroy the progress the entire Muslim community had worked so hard for and claim that his actions were in the name of my God—the One who taught me to never harm anything or anyone. It’s moments like this one where being an American Muslim is the hardest; when someone tries to corrupt the same religion you practice, when innocent people die, and when it seems like you’re a pariah in your own home country.
But then I compare those moments with the moments I’ve had at Washington University; when the Muslim Students Association hosts an Eid dinner and over 180 people attend, eager to learn about Islam and celebrate with us; when we host a fast-a-thon event encouraging the Wash. U. community to experience fasting, and students and others raise over $1,500 for refugees; when Donald Trump says something ignorant about Islam, and hundreds of my friends—Muslim and Non-Muslim—take to Facebook to criticize his thinking, and stand in solidarity with Muslims around the world.
I’m not afraid of fearmongering presidential candidates, anti-Islamic congressmen, xenophobic national leaders, biased news organizations or even terrorists themselves. They have no concept of the diversity and wide scope of Islam. They don’t know that Muslims are the doctors that heal us, the professors that enlighten us, the chefs that feed us or the business owners who drive our economy. They don’t know that Muslims are required to give a portion of their wealth every year to charity, and that it is in our teachings to never go to bed with a full stomach if we know our neighbor is not doing the same.
I’m not afraid of those people, because I know what Islam is and I know that for every Donald Trump, there is a Wash. U.—a community of intellectual and kind students who are accepting, kind, curious and will change the world for the better.