On August 13, 2016, Imam Maulama Akonjee was gunned down alongside his assistant, Thara Uddin, after evening prayers at a nearby mosque in New York. This created an outburst in the city of Queens as the Bangladeshi community mourned for weeks and sought for justice to be served for such a heinous act of hatred. That man was my great uncle. Thankfully, due to the media coverage that his faithful friends and family were able to bring, the culprit has been caught and sentenced two years later. This was the first instance that I have seen where the major media outlets covered a news story that was not about an act of Islamic radicalism or about a suspected Muslim perpetrator. Why do we live in a world where only the negative image of the Muslim community is portrayed in the media? Why is there an under representation of Muslim news and successes that are known to the general public? Why has there always been discrimination against Muslims even before 9/11? Muslims are always fighting for a voice so we can have our own narrative that is not constructed by the ideologies of others. This is something that people like Amani Al-Khatatbeh, author of the famous guide for Muslim women all around the world Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age, are trying to change. We need to diminish the single story.
The simple truth that no one has ever realized is that even before 9/11, Muslims have been looked at differently. It is a shame as we have not been able to live here peacefully in America due to the stereotypes of Muslims.
For example, in the immediate wake of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, early news accounts included reports of people of “Middle Eastern heritage” fleeing the scene; many journalists, “experts,” and even former Representative Dave McCurdy linked the bombing to “fundamentalist Islamic terrorist groups.” The response was fast and furious: over two hundred incidents of bias against the Muslim community followed in the next few days, including attacks on private homes and mosques. Muslims were not involved in the bombing, but many were active in the rescue efforts (“Struggling Against Stereotypes”).
It is unbelievable that people automatically assume a person of brown skin to be the perpetrator of a bombing that did not involve Muslims. The multiple reports from people that stated they had seen people of “Middle Eastern heritage” shows the assumptions and mindsets that are unfortunately spread across the country. Even to the point where political figures have made conjectures based off of early news accounts instead of waiting for the facts. It is hard to hope for change when people in power are also blinded by their prejudiced beliefs and narrow-minded upbringing. Private homes and mosques were attacked for no reason but to spread chaos and terror. People decided to listen to early reports and retaliate, when they did not see that many Muslims were active in rescue efforts. Even though we were being targeted, the Muslim community stepped up to help out people in need. Because that is what we believe in. If it was this awful before 9/11, people can only imagine what the Muslim-American community has had to go through from that moment forward.
Ever since 9/11, Muslim Americans have had to live in fear of accusations, police brutality, and even death. We have been afraid during the “random” airport security searches, the stares from police officers when walking in our own neighborhoods, and the looks from people who eventually start to step away from us. Huffington Post blogger, Shawna Ayoub Ainslie, shared in one of her posts how 9/11 has changed her life. “I was afraid to go outside. If I stayed inside, I couldn’t mess up, Except maybe with my words which I policed carefully. I couldn’t speed, I couldn’t frighten anyone, I couldn’t break any law no matter how tenuous and therefore couldn’t be thrown in Gitmo” (Ainslie). This statement depicted the feelings of Muslims and the heartache they went through when they realized that maybe going outside was not a good idea. Maybe it was not worth the persecution or the jail time that we could have been met with if we decided to step out of the house. Personally, I was afraid for my dad to travel to work. I was afraid for us to go on family vacations or to go to the supermarket. A time that I will never forget happened on my favorite family vacation.
On a visit to New York in 2012, my family and I were taking a stroll in Times Square, enjoying the sun on our skin and the noise of the traffic in the city that never sleeps. We were minding our own business when I saw my grandma in front of me accidentally bump into a white lady on the sidewalk. With the little English my grandma has, she quickly apologized and caught her balance. I do not know what was going through this person’s mind that she thought she had the right to call my grandma a racial slur. I was stunned. I stood in my tracks, realizing that I was the only one out of my family who had seen this atrocious thing happen to my grandma. My grandma quickly walked away from the trouble that could have erupted if my father had heard what this foul stranger had said to my grandma. I did not know how to react and to this day, I wish I had said something. I wish I had said something and educated this woman who was filled with so much hate. But I was scared and was not sure what I had just witnessed in my 12 years of age. So I walked on with my grandma and held her hand to let her know that I was with her. I was not going to let something like that happen to her ever again.
One of the scariest moments of a Muslim’s life is when a public act of violence happens in America. The media portrayal of Islam is what gives Muslims a bad reputation. Whenever a shooting or bombing happens and the suspect has a “brown name,” it is immediately reported that there are ties to terrorism. All Muslims are subjected yet again to the humiliation and disrespect because of extremists. Muslims are looked at as outsiders who do not belong in this country. This is especially worse with the atmosphere that has engulfed the American society today. Al-Khatahtbeh in her book, Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age, makes sure to refer back to the Trump era that is taking over and making an already horrible situation worse.
Trump discovered that milking anti-Muslim sentiment, with complete disregard to the dangers it poses to our very lives, keeps him in the spotlight and gets him more airtime. Since his ascension to the national stage, I have been receiving press requests around the clock to explain, again and again, “the current climate for Muslim woman.” By the time the Muslim-ban comments came, I had run out of different palatable ways to say, “Our lives are under threat right now”-ironically, not from ISIS extremism or the brown men that our society is raising pitch forks against, but from our own Western society itself (Al-Khatahtbeh, pg. 116).
Al-Khatahtbeh does a great job describing Trump taking on and promoting his ideology of banning Muslims from this country. He does not bother to think about the danger of what he says, especially when people are feeding off of his commentary. There has always been a racism issue in America but the attack on Muslims has increased ever since he has taken office. The “free” country we took refuge in is now the place where we are scared to roam around. The worst part is that the Supreme Court is fueling his hasty and racial decisions. “There are none so blind as they who choose not to see. That saying captures the grave error the Supreme Court made in Tuesday’s travel ban decision. In a 5-4 ruling written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the justices largely upheld President Donald Trump’s “proclamation” banning nearly all entry into the United States by citizens of five Muslim-majority nations” (Somin). It is surprising knowing that our most prestigious court, who sings about providing justice for all, decided to rule in favor of Trump’s Muslim ban. Their argument is that America cannot afford Muslims from other countries to come and spread violence but it looks like to me that America needs to save themselves from their own citizens. “Over the past 40 years, the number of people killed in terrorist attacks on U.S. soil by entrants from any of the five nations (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen) is zero. On average, they probably pose less risk than even native-born Americans” (Somin). For the Supreme Court and President of the United States to argue that this travel ban is for “national security” when there has been no proof of that offered but instead, evidence that shows citizens of those five major-Muslim countries have not executed a terrorist attack on U.S. soil is bizarre. They have begun to do what they please under the name of the law and it is hard to fight back against the big dogs of the country. But people like the Bangladeshi community in Queens, New York, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, and Shawna Ayoub Ainslie are working to change that and to make a difference in the country where it is hard to steer away from age-old ideologies.
America is said to be the greatest country in the world. We have the most advanced technology and the largest military base. But where does all that get us if we are not treating our own citizens right? Americans have to realize that Muslim-Americans are indeed part of this country. We deserve the same rights and the same respect as everyone else in this nation. What people here do not seem to realize is that just because there is an act of terrorism from Islamic extremists, does not mean that all Muslims are extremists. It does not mean that we are all dangerous. What it does mean is that there are horrible people on this earth. And that is not something we can change unfortunately. But to blame a whole group of people, about four million Muslims who live in the U.S., for the actions of others is not logical nor is it acceptable. This country will only be deemed great in my eyes once Americans can look past their prejudice and educate themselves on how to respect others no matter their race, ethnicity, or their religion.
Ainslie, Shawna Ayoub. “20 Ways 9/11 Changed My Life as an (American) Muslim.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 7 Dec. 2017, www.huffingtonpost.com/shawna-ayoub-ainslie/20-ways-911-changed-my-life_b_8111518.html.
Al-Khatahtbeh, Amani. Muslim Girl: a Coming of Age. Simon & Schuster Paperbacks, 2017.
Prokupecz, Shimon, and Pilar Melendez. “Suspect Charged in Killings of NY Imam, Assistant.” CNN, Cable News Network, 16 Aug. 2016, www.cnn.com/2016/08/15/us/new-york-imam-shooting/index.html.
Somin, Ilya. “Donald Trump’s ‘Travel Ban’ Is Still a ‘Muslim Ban’ No Matter What the Supreme Court Ruled.” USA Today, Gannett Satellite Information Network, 26 June 2018, www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2018/06/26/supreme-court-ruling-travel-ban-ignores-religious-discrimination-column/734697002/.
“Struggling Against Stereotypes.” The Pluralism Project, 2018, http://pluralism.org/religions/islam/issues-for-muslims-in-america/struggling-against-stereotypes/.
My writing process for my paper proved to be a little difficult. It was hard for me to hone in on one particular idea since I could have branched off to many different issues when it came to the mistreatment of the Muslim community. Picking one topic and finding the sources for this assignment were my biggest troubles. While writing this paper, I learned more about myself and what I believe in. It made me realize that I too want to make a change and defend the Muslim community. My purpose for picking this topic is that I want people to know and recognize how the Muslim American community is treated in America. I want people to understand that it is not an exaggeration, people are affected by resentment from others everyday. I think it is important that people who are not affected by this to realize that it does happen in a big way and to a point where people have had to change their lifestyles so to not attract negative attention. My specific audience would be people who want to learn about what the Muslim community has to go through in terms of discrimination. My paper is full of personal experiences and stories so that the audience can grasp the emotions and try to understand the situation more.
While researching, I also discovered more about the Trump travel ban. It boggles my mind that people are actually supporting his decisions and approved a policy that is similar to his all-Muslim ban he talked about during his campaign. I learned a lot from writing this paper and not just in a political sense, but also personally from other people’s experiences. Reading about Shawna Ayoub Ainslie and how 9/11 had affected her life brought me back to when we were reading Muslim Girland realizing how many people were forever damaged from this historic tragedy. I feel like using a topic so personal to me was a great choice for my final paper in this class. It has allowed me to reflect back on myself and the assignments that I have done. I think a big part of what led me to this project would be the reading and discussion of Muslim Girlin class. That really opened my eyes to my own community and enabled me to think in ways I never had before. Writing this paper has left me with the following questions: Who else is a huge part in the Muslim community as far as making change goes?; Will this issue of underrepresentation ever be solved?; Are people willing to become educated on racial issues in America?
Seeing how far I have grown in my writing skills from the beginning of the semester till the end of the semester is a huge feat. I feel comfortable writing long papers again, working with deadlines to finish papers, and utilizing my free time to work on these papers. I think the depth of my research has increased since I have had to find more difficult sources, especially for this paper. I think this would be a nice piece to put on my e-portfolio as it represents a part of me and what I believe in. It touches on political plays and emotional distress. I am proud to have this be my final paper but I feel that it is incomplete in some way as there are so many correlating topics and news that I could have gone into so if I were to extend this paper, I would definitely talk more about the media underrepresentation of Muslims.
Image found via Alaraby.