My Muslim Story of Love and Hate March 17, 2019 by Noor Amanullah
Perhaps unsurprisingly to most, a Muslim identity is almost always served with a side of Islamophobia and conversations concerning terrorism. From a young age, I have been no stranger to hate. I have, however, also been engulfed in love, and have been blessed to live where I do, in an era when although hate seems rampant, love multiplies every day. My memory begins at age six. I am in first grade. My parents enroll my in the local Islamic Sunday School. Here I see familiar faces and meet new ones. These are the people I spend my early childhood surrounded by. They carpool with me, eat dinner with my family, and host us for Fourth of July picnics. I play with these children late into Friday nights, and I greet their parents at Eid prayers twice a year. Like myself and my family, the people I meet in Sunday School love their faith. They do not hesitate to show it. The same year I begin my Islamic school experience, my friend Muhammad and I are berated on the playground during recess. This is the year I familiarize myself with Islamic community institutions. It is also the year I am exposed to Islamophobia and the sentiment even young children can show to their peers. Six years later I am in middle school. A mosque is being built in my town. My friends and I hang out at the outdoor bazaar, attend the youth group, and find each other after Friday prayers before our families meet at our favorite Halal restaurant for lunch. During my middle school years, as my Muslim community busies itself with fundraisers and events in anticipation of the completion of the new mosque, my peers at school busy themselves as well. My interest in politics and fascination with journalism has begun, and unsurprisingly, it is rooted in the numerous, terrifying stories about my Muslim brothers and sisters across the globe and at home. I am intrigued and horrified by the bombs my country drops on suffering Muslim nations, terrified by the Islamic-sounding assertions made by terrorist groups, and hurt by the lack of comprehension I see surrounding these issues, in my own community and in the news. Children at school equate my father to terrorist “leaders,” and do not falter in wielding the same beautiful Arabic words I learned in Sunday School to declare my faith to instead defame it. These are the years I discover the enormity of my own anger. Before long I am 14 years old, attending high school 2,800 miles from the Sunday School I attended as a young child. I have found best friends in the members of the Muslim Student Association. With this group I attend an annual conference for Muslim youth, volunteer in my community, discuss religious topics, play pop culture jeopardy, and study for Physics tests. I learn that no matter where I go, a Muslim community is waiting for me with open arms. One summer the MSA plans a spiritual hike. We attend the Fajr prayers at the local mosque at dawn before heading to the “Top of the World.” After a workout, impromptu photo-shoots, and addressing a minor injury, we share donuts, the breakfast of champions, and decide to spend our day at the beach. On our way to grab coffee, we are approached by a person on the street. Wearing my favorite MSA t-shirt and standing beside my hijabi friends, I stand as we are questioned and accused, about politics, of terror. This is the day I realize I cannot challenge hate alone. My Muslim story is not unique. It is marked by the same love from my community and hate from the world as that of nearly every one of my Muslim brothers and sisters, especially in the “Western” world. Although moments of covert Islamophobia (and years of witnessing overt Islamophobia) riddle my story, so much of the love in my life is derived from Islamic institutions and the people I meet there, the experiences I have in them, and the lessons I learn through them. Were it not for Sunday School, a nearby mosque, and the Muslim Student Association, my knowledge about Islam in relation to myself and the world would be drastically different, and I might not have the strength to love myself in my Muslim skin the same when I hear xenophobic remarks or read of tragedies affecting Muslims or fueled by the hatred of “Muslim” terrorists. It is why the Christchurch mosque attacks do not surprise so many in the Muslim community, but pain us so much. Because in a space we turn to for love: from God, from our brothers and sisters, and from ourselves, on the holiest day of the week when people gather to stand shoulder to shoulder and devote five minutes of their time to something greater than themselves, our Muslim brothers and sisters were not safe. Hate has no religion. Terror has no religion. Love has no religion. Before we forget about Christchurch, Pittsburg, or Charleston, we must remember that without first uniting our own communities against hate, we cannot change widely held sentiments which lend to such tragedies. It is the rhetoric and behavior we have allowed to occur at home which causes widespread, publicized hatred to live, and encourages violence to ensue. In the famous words of Martin Niemöller: “First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a socialist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out-- Because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.” Don’t allow the clock to run out on you. What you say or don’t say today might be reason for something horrifying which happens–or doesn’t– years into the future. Our world has been on the brink of achieving and destroying coexistence far too many times. Today we must decide to work toward finally achieving it.