I’ve never fully understood some things probably because I still have much to see and learn. But at times, I feel the world’s weight upon me and see myself as a wizened minor, toddling around with my proverbial cane. To be old at such a young age is not unheard of, but who would think that it would happen in the supposedly great America, where everyone is equal and treated that way?
America has offered me nothing but hard shoves, hateful glares and painful slurs. There could have been a better time, but what I have seen has become the memory I will tell others. Many say that this is not right, since you cannot judge a country by a few people. I have no quibble with that idea except to say this: Practice what you preach.
I have come across many who persecute me. They seem to find the scarf I wear on my head a target of some sort. I try to see it from their viewpoint, but to no avail. My scarf merely represents the modesty I hold for myself, as per my religion. Many say that this is a form of oppression, but I heartily disagree. Is it oppression to cover yourself in front of strangers? I find it worse to see those who parade around in clothes with price tags longer than what they are wearing!
Some people look at me and say, “She has been brainwashed! She knows nothing of freedom!” Well, they may be correct if you define freedom as dating total strangers, drinking alcohol until unconscious, flaunting your body as though you are a prize to be won, and other things that I, as a Muslim, abhor.
There is yet another thorn in this rose. When most think of Muslims, they immediately think of Saudi Arabia and women in full body veils dutifully walking behind their husbands, or men with many wives, a kaffiyeh tied around their heads. I blame myself for this misconception. I, as well as my fellow Muslims, have failed to get the message to the world. If you were to connect Islam to a country based on sheer numbers, then we must look at Indonesia. Even though few know it, Indonesia has the world’s largest Muslim population.
Another jab: in history class a few years ago, we had a visitor who had just returned from Iraq. He was telling us what he had done as a soldier and what life was like there. He paused at one point, and turned to me.
“Do you speak Arabic?” he asked.
I felt as though I had been slapped. Here is a man who had been in Iraq and learned nothing. What were they telling those soldiers? That all Muslims speak Arabic? True, it is the language of Iraq, and true the Qu’ran is written in Arabic and many are encouraged to learn it to better understand what we are reading, but it is not required. The Qu’ran is published in many languages.
“No,” I replied. “What makes you think that?” Make sure to note that I was indeed wearing my scarf.
“Well,” he answered, “most people from the Middle East speak Arabic.” He was starting to turn red, and I was starting to pity him.
“And what makes you think I am from the Middle East?”
He had no reply, except his face that continued flushing dark with embarrassment. This is an example of what I experience almost daily. I take it in stride now, pointing out almost casually that the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam) all originated from a land that spoke a common language. And that language was Arabic. So why is it that only Muslims are being pinned with this? Furthermore, I’d like to clear up another matter that has plagued my religion: the treatment of women.
Prophet Muhammad, may peace and God’s blessing be upon him, stated many a time that “Heaven lies at Mother’s feet.” He (peace be upon him) was once asked what was the most important thing in life and he replied: “Your religion, your mother, your mother, your mother, your mother, and your father.” So how can there be a mistreatment of women in a religion that expounds upon them? There is even a surah (chapter) in the Qu’ran pertaining to women called An Nisa, or The Woman. There is not one for men. Why?
And so we continue to look at another major issue. Just one word. Strange, isn’t it, how one word makes such a difference? Allah. The so-called “other god” of Muslims. What many don’t realize is that Allah simply means God in Arabic. No different from God in English. The one and only supreme ruler that Jews and Christians also follow. Christians in Arabic-speaking countries also refer to God as Allah. This does not mean that Muslims, or even Jews, for that matter, follow a separate god. The literal meaning of Allah is The God.
And then there are those who say that Islam was spread by the sword. I find this hard to believe, since the very word “Islam” means “peace.” Muslims are those who submit to God. Many are quick to point out jihad. Well, what is jihad, truly? It’s an inner struggle toward peace and piety.
I also pull out another item: the Crusades. What was that? A merciless blood bath. I often place the horrors of what happened at Jerusalem with the word crusade. A holy town, of all places, where blood flowed freely and filled the streets. And what started the first Crusade? The word of a pope who saw the spread of Islam a threat. And let’s not forget what Richard the “Lionheart” did at Castle Acre, needlessly massacring 2,000+ Saracen prisoners.
So I battle throughout the day against misconceptions, half-truths and whole lies, attempting to push forward some correctness in the darkness of the world. Trying to get a lot out of a little, coping with harsh outcomes, and dealing with the wound I may receive, whether visible or not.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.