Misconceptions and stereotypes are dangerous to a society’s well-being. Ignorance and a lack of knowledge has led to hatred and division when we should be striving for love and unity. As a Muslim American, I am lucky that I have not faced blatant discrimination and intolerance, but I fear that I am the exception. Time and time again, Muslims have been subject to prejudice. Time and time again, the Muslim community has met ignorant words and acts with patience and strength, a difficult task when some people believe it is their life’s purpose to ostracize us. This problem is called Islamophobia, and we need to strive for a solution.
The mistreatment of Muslims is evident in many nations, and especially in the United States. President Trump has repeatedly made politically incorrect comments about the Muslim community, along with stereotyping African Americans, Latinos, and other minorities. He has attempted twice to impose a travel ban on foreign Muslims coming to the United States, which, both times, was declared unconstitutional by the courts. There have been instances of vandalization of mosques, job discrimination based on religion, as well as violence and harassment. Last September, a mosque in Florida was set on fire on Eid-al-Adha, a Muslim holiday celebrating the annual Hajj pilgrimage to Makkah. The reason for the arson is unclear; it may have to do with the holiday itself, or the fact that the Pulse Nightclub shooter, Omar Mateen, may have attended the mosque. Regardless of the rationale, it was an act of hate and intolerance. This is only one instance among countless others.
The bigotry directed at followers of Islam is not just a problem in the U.S. France banned the hijab (the headscarf Muslim women wear) from schools and official buildings in 2004, and the burqa (full-body covering) in 2007. The government of Germany has contemplated following France’s example. Discrimination like this is happening all over the world.
Islamophobia doesn’t just affect the Muslim community; many people have been affected because they are mistaken for Muslims. Sikhs (followers of Sikhism) and Hindus (followers of Hinduism) have been victims of hate crimes for this reason. This also happens to Arab Jews and Christians.
Hate crimes against Muslims (and those mistaken for Muslims) increased after the September 11 attacks, the Paris attacks, and the San Bernardino shooting. This trend of hatred and intolerance has a huge impact on my life because I am a Muslim American. My parents fear they will one day lose a child to a hate crime. My family and I worry about it constantly.
Every September 11, my parents fear someone will “avenge the victims” by hurting Muslim Americans. On a day that we should be focused on commemorating the victims and paying respect to their families, we instead have to watch our backs and worry about our family and friends. The fear is there on days other than September 11. Just the other day, my mother told me she doesn’t want me to apply to colleges in the South because she believes Southerners are not as tolerant of Muslims as citizens in the North.
I’ve heard stories of Muslim children asking their parents if “they will get kicked out of the U.S.” after hearing worrisome political rhetoric. I also have non-Muslim friends who regularly hear derogatory comments because they “look Muslim.” The spread of Islamophobia has seeped into the cracks of our society, affecting millions and making our country more fearful, hateful, and violent.
America symbolizes freedom and tolerance; to protect Muslims and other groups from this hate is to protect American values. As a nation, if we don’t stand up for our fellow Americans, we will let bigotry win.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.