“Terrorist!” … “Osama’s your dad!” … My ears would ring bright red from embarrassment each time I’d hear these insults, yet, I couldn’t fathom the reason for this treatment. Does everybody go through this? What did I do to them? Why is it always me? Such thoughts are too much for a child to bear. Questions flooded my brain as I strove desperately to find an answer. A cure. A reason. Anything that could explain the harsh, brutal, humiliating treatment I was receiving day to day. Something that could explain the looks of disgust my family would receive when we walked down the street. I came up with a simple, but ugly truth, one that still exists in today’s world. It’s because of who I was. A Muslim. The stereotypical image of Islam clouds the minds of many however, people need to wake up and realize that Islam is a religion of peace and that Islam needs to be accepted by society as a whole.
Over the past couple decades, the general portrayal of Islam has been largely influenced by negative connotations made by the media. Every time the term “Muslim” or “Arab” appears on a news headline, there’s bound to be some sort of evil, shameful, or even despicable connotation that goes right with it. Events such as 9/11 and the Boston Massacre have tarnished the reputation of Islam; so much so, that someone who has never been as little as 10 feet away from a Muslim could categorize over 20% of the world’s population as terrorists. This is today’s reality. Sometimes, I don’t blame them. People have been spoon-fed information leading them to adopt a negative mindset towards Islam and its followers. Some people haven’t even met a Muslim, but can immediately classify them “violent” or “extremists” just because they saw some online article about a beheading ora newspaper article about the most recent suicide bombing. People need to inform themselves about Islam before speaking so critically and carelessly. I was met with a harsh reality from a young age. It took time for me to understand why our society is what it is today. It was a Friday during the 1st week of second grade, and a kid I recognized from my social studies class came up to me as I was waiting in line at the cafeteria.
“I was told to be careful around you” he kid said. At that point in time, it wasn’t anger or even embarrassment that took over, but sheer confusion. “What? What do you mean? By who?” I responded to my classmate, puzzled. “My mom said you guys are dangerous and you blow up stuff” he said. “You guys?…What are you talking about?” I questioned him, “You know.. People of your religion”, he said, finally. I couldn’t believe what I just heard. I felt like somebody ran me over with a truck. When I got home that day from school, I went up to my mother and asked her why that boy made that statement to me. She looked at me with concerned face, yet, she was able to come up with a reassuring smile. “Farris, this is the world that we live in, and it’s up to you to change that”, she told me as tears started to cloud my vision, desperately trying to come up with a tangible reason to explain the treatment I faced. Little did I know, she has been dealing with the same “treatment” ever since she came to this country. “I want you to set yourself as an example for us Muslims” my dad said as he stepped in the room. After a long conversation about “how it all happened,” I brought myself to make a major decision in my life. I vowed to do everything in my capacity to change people’s viewpoints of Muslims, starting with myself.
Change isn’t something easy, nor does it happen immediately. It takes time. We currently live in a society that identifies Islam with animosity. How long should this go on for? How long until people grow up and learn to accept each other? America is my home, my future, and I pray that there comes a day where discrimination and hostility towards Muslims will be no more. My goal is not just to simply share my story and the hardships that may come with being Muslim, but to educate others of the beauty of Islam and its prominence on peace, respect, and forgiveness. However, I cannot do it alone. We as a nation, must unite and embrace each other for who we are as people, not what society labels us as. It starts with us.