I live in Arizona with both of my parents and my three sisters. Are you afraid of me? I am a nineteen-year-old honor student who is going through college. Are you afraid of me now? I dream of growing up to be a successful engineer with a beautiful wife and two kids. How about now? I love to help people. Are you starting to feel afraid? No? Well how about this? I am Muslim living in America. Both of my parents are from Pakistan. I go to a mosque every Friday to pray alongside countless other Muslims. I have a younger cousin named Muhammad and roommate named Osama. If I sat next to you on an airplane, would you be scared? If you were to say yes, you would not be alone.
Ever since the horrific terrorist attacks that took place on September 11, 2001, many Americans fear Muslims. Why? Because the real terrorists who hijacked the planes that day claimed to be Muslims and shouted God’s Arabic name as they fulfilled the orders given to them by Bin Laden. My family and I, just like the rest of the Muslims across America, are suffering the consequences of the terrorists’ actions by being feared by thousands of people who consider their own ignorance to be patriotism. Growing up in a nation where some people would agree that I belong in a concentration camp like a Jew in Nazi Germany, I learned that Friedrich Nietzsche was correct when he said “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
I remember to this day one of the worst days I spent in middle school. It was one of the worst days because I was humiliated in front of my entire fourth period class that day. I was wearing a new shirt. My sister had just returned from a business trip in Chicago and she gifted me that shirt the night before. I liked it. It was a maroon colored t-shirt that fit just right. I was sitting in reading class when it happened. A boy sitting a few seats from me read my shirt aloud. Most of the class went silent and then the rest followed along. Another boy turned to him and exclaimed, “What did you say?” The guy who was seated pointed at my shirt. Angry, the second boy approached me and asked, “How dare you wear something like that?” I asked, feeling hostile myself, “Why?” People wear shirts with lines from vulgar songs and those did not bother him at all. He said it was because his uncle died on Nine-Eleven. Somehow, one thing led to another and everyone was calling me a “terrorist.” The teacher sent me to the nurse to change my shirt because of the problems it was causing. Although I knew what the teacher was doing was not right, I had no spirit to argue. I quickly left. Hurt, because the shirt was given to me by my sister and I was proud of it, I simply ditched the rest of fourth hour and kept the shirt on as I went into math class after. What could the shirt have said that possibly caused so much tension amongst a class of seventh graders?
As I got older and matured a little bit, I figured out that it is easier to laugh along with the terrorist jokes than it is to be insulted by them. It is a simple concept that makes a load of difference in my life. Do you remember almost a year ago when the United States finally located Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan and killed him? I do. I was proud that this event took place. The next day when I went to school people were talking about it. A couple of people told me they were sorry—about my uncle. My uncle! Even I have to admit that that was hilarious. The way I see it, you can only be insulted in two ways: either someone speaks a truth about you of whom you are ashamed or you let them hurt you because you are weak willed. Eleanor Roosevelt said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent,” so I will never give mine.
Living in America, the fact that I am a Muslim is not something I want stamped across my forehead in red ink for everyone to see. All of the Muslims in America have suffered in one way or another due to the horrific scar some terrorists left in New York and Washington D.C. However, from that pain, strength was drawn. Horace said that “Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.” When I was young, I simply felt angry at the unfair circumstances I was presented with. I felt that violence was indeed the answer to my problems. In high school, I simply began to act like it was dust I brushed off of my shoulder. I acted like I did not mind and I started to believe it. Growing up in a world where there are people who hate me before they even know me established my understanding of my role in the fight against racism. I have learned that racism is genetically similar to cancer. It must be stopped at an early stage otherwise it spreads and multiplies until it kills. Now I openly advocate for unity and understanding. Hopefully this mission will be over someday end with success.
With all said and done I must now ask a question. I am a Muslim. If I sat next to you on an airplane, would you be scared?