Facing Reality: The Combat with Islamophobia

By Zehra Ashruf

Prior to the September 11th terrorist attacks, the word “Islam” in America would have evoked images of luxurious palaces of oil rich sheikhs, brutal Middle Eastern dictators, and, perhaps, even the exotic belly dancers. Muslim-Americans lived quiet, uneventful suburban lives. They were the invisible doctors, dentists, taxi cab drivers, business owners, and factory workers who were paid little attention. The September 11th attacks, however, changed their lives permanently. It robbed Muslims of their mundane existence. The association of Arabs and Muslims with terrorism became increasingly common. Images of bearded Middle Eastern men flooded the mainstream media, portraying Islam as a violent religion. Based on a somewhat irrational culture of fear and the rise of anti-Islamic feelings, what is now called Islamophobia, has risen in America. It has been disheartening for Muslims to witness the negative impact created by the horrible acts committed by a few extremists who are violating all principles and teachings of Islam.

I am a first generation Muslim-American. Most of my family immigrated to the United States from India and Pakistan in the early 1980s. Like all immigrants, they came with the hopes of a better life. They were fortunate to not only achieve material success, a central component of the American dream, but to maintain cultural ties to their native land and practice Islam freely. My grandparents remember when being a Muslim in America was neither shameful nor frightening. In fact, they remember being treated with utmost kindness and respect in a small southern town.

My short journey as an American Muslim is different from my grandparents. Born a year after 9/11, I was exposed to the animosity many felt toward my religion at a young age. I have witnessed people yelling foul words from their car at my mother, who wears a headscarf, understood that the vandalism of my mosque was a way to intimidate us, and disturbed by frequent racial profiling at airports. The world has lost its respect for this beautiful religion to news headlines and misinformed media. I have been shamed for what is, in my opinion, one of the defining influences of my identity. I have come to understand that these troubling incidents are due to the horrifying acts of a small minority, who now masquerade as representatives of my religion. They have portrayed Islam as faith based on principles of fanaticism, terrorism and radicalism. However, it is through some of these challenges that I have learned to quickly integrate into my surroundings without compromising my beliefs and values. All I wish is to live in a world where I am to be judged by my individual actions and deeds, and not by those who commit horrible crimes under the name of Islam.