I am writing to you as a 25-year-old adult with some words of wisdom. I myself am a Muslim American. I was raised in America by my Muslim parents, with my mother being a white-Texan Muslim-convert woman, and my father a Pakistani-native man.
As Muslims, we are a group of misunderstood people with a bad reputation from the media, mainly the Western media. Muslims are all over the world and we continue to grow, despite the negativity that is being spread about us.
I am sure you have heard the story of the 14-year-old boy, Ahmed Mohamed, who got into trouble for building a clock and brought it to school. He was falsely accused of making a bomb, when in truth, he was an innocent amateur genius, who wanted to impress his teachers. Has anything like this in the slightest ever happen to you…? I hope it has not. I pray, in fact, that nothing like this happens to you, ever. However, many want us to be locked away. I am not just talking about Muslim adults. I am talking about the children and teenagers. There are people out there who do not want us going to school with their kids, fearing that you will use the education that you have learned to build bombs and convert their children.
When I was 15, I (along with a handful of East Asian-descent boys and girls and Latino boys) was falsely accused for burning down the auto-mechanic trade school at my high school. The security office was full of brown students. The security officers even assumed the Indian boys were Muslim. As I sat in that dark office with my fellow innocent peers, I said to the two shaking and crying hijabi girls: “There is no way you two would be capable of doing something this crazy.” I also said “Wow, they can’t lock all of us brown people in here.” They would have needed the football field to hold us all for questioning, considering I went to a crazy diverse school. Turned out the real culprit was a white teenager with a history of pyromania.
My younger Muslim brothers and sisters, I have faced discrimination at an early age of my youth and I want to believe that things have become better for you since I was your age. When 9/11 happened, I was only a couple weeks into 6th grade, middle school, the time where first crushes happen and cliques begin to form but to be abandoned by high school. Middle school is already scary and I started it with 9/11. At that time, I was 12-years-old when my father told me that I had to wear the hijab. I did not understand his logic at the time. I felt like my father was throwing me in the deep end with the sharks. He was. But for good reason! He believed that a good kid like me, wearing the hijab, would be proof enough for the kids and teachers at school to see that a nice girl is nothing like those people they were seeing on the news. He was normalizing the sight of a Muslim being in America. My father had the right idea. The more we are seen the less fear and confusion people will have of us. Sounds like this would work, right? The plan worked for a short distance, at the time, because much of the nation did not want to learn about us. I saw this clearly when a group of boys found me after school, blamed me and my parents for 9/11, ripped off my hijab and continued to hurt me. Throughout middle school and into high school, I was made fun of for wearing the hijab, my religion, and my skin color.
After enduring years of bullying, I have grown into a strange mix of insecurity, pride, anger, and wisdom. So I am here to tell the younger Muslim generation the things I wish someone my current age told me when I was your age. I did some of the dirty work for you after all these years without even knowing it. So, here we go.
You might be reduced down to a single nationality, because you are brown. Even though you may be from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Spain, Morocco, or Iran (etc.), you might get called Arab. In defense, simply say, “I am not Arab, I am (insert nationality). But there is nothing wrong with being Arab. Didn’t you know they discovered the study of astronomy?” As much as a nerd you may sound, it's better to be known as a nerd rather than a terrorist. Remember kids, nerds make the big bucks.
If you are being called a terrorist, shut that down. But stay cool. Do not lose your cool, kids. I didn’t stay cool once, and I got into trouble. Instead, reply with “I am the least likely to be a terrorist. I am in school, have friends who love me, and I am happy. Terrorists are bad people who are not educated, loved, nor happy. We have nothing to do with each other.” This is actually the time to drop knowledge on how terrorism is not just affiliating itself with Islam, but how there is terrorism in other countries that are related to drug-crime, gay witch hunts, and sex trafficking, all of which you have nothing to do with. Drop that knowledge.
Don’t ever keep the bullying a secret. Tell a teacher, a counselor, your parents, older sibling, or relative, that someone said or did that hurt you. In Ahmed’s case, a teacher was the bully. If the bully is an adult, find another adult you trust. Chances are, the adult you trust will know what to do.
If a friend says they cannot be friends with you anymore because their parents said so, either continue to be friends with them to prove that there is nothing wrong, or leave them be. Say you hope that they can make their own decisions in the near future, and then make some new friend that accepts you and wants to learn about you.
If you are being falsely accused for an unfortunate event that occurred at your school, be aware of who else is being accused. Most of the time, it truly is about race. If you are being lumped in with other students that happen to be Muslim as well, or are just brown, try to be brave and speak up about it. Do not let yourself become a victim to the blanket of racial discrimination.
If you aren’t already, it is safe and smart to learn to become politically defensive. As Muslims, we have to be. Whatever country you are in, learn your rights! We have to be able to protect ourselves with and from the legal system that can either be with or against us. In high school, I learned how to argue and debate properly because I knew my future would need protecting. For the middle school Muslim kids, learn your country’s history. Be well versed in what your country has fought for and currently stands for. Your voice is a part of it. High school teens, build strong bonds with your friends who will come to your aid if you ever need it. Participate in Debate Club, so when you do come across someone who is attacking your home country or parents home country, and/or religion, you know how to remain dignified while taking them down with your intelligent and honest tactics. There is nothing more satisfying than remaining standing with knowing you taught your opponent and audience something new that they did not know about Islam, civil rights, and whatever nation you are in.
To my Muslim American kids, research what the organization CAIR has provided, if you are ever in trouble or just need to know what rights you have as an American.
Stay cool and smart, younger Muslims. This world is going to get better because kids like you are going the extra mile to prove that we are not what is being shown on the t.v.
It all comes down to education. It really does. Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala Yousafazi said on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, “If you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly, you must fight others but through peace and through dialogue and through education.”
Do not fight back those bullies with fists, fight back with dialogue and knowledge that you learned yourself.
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