My ignorance has lead me to neglect learning about one of the most significant, terrorising events of this Century and admittedly I lack knowledge about this horrendous incident. The 9/11 attacks. I do not really remember what happened or the immediate aftermath. What I do know is that this and the following events that are so complex and can only be described as inhumane, re- shaped the lives millions of individuals and still does to this day.
Whenever talks of 9/11 arise, although my memory of the event is extremely short, I always remember one small and personal occurrence thereafter.
My trypophobia was at such an irrationally high level at the age of five, that I could not even bear to touch buttons and so my mother would have to do up the buttons to my school shirt every morning. I am unsure if it was the day after but I do know, it was the first time I was going back into school after the 9/11 attacks. As usual, my mother was doing up the buttons to my shirt and she stopped and looked up to me. The woman who normally wore her religion with such pride, elegance and ever so courageously told me on this particular morning, to refuse to acknowledge I was a Muslim in public. She told me that if anyone at school was to ask if I am a Muslim, from then on I should say no. From then on, I should hide my religion. The fear for her children exceeded the fear of Allah that day.
When you look at me, my appearance does not give away my faith. Sure, I am of darker skin with slightly different features such as my pint- sized body due to the Bengali genes but physical differences are bearable. I do not wear a hijab or veil of any kind and to be honest, most people will not know of my religion until I tell them. And this is why I am bearable. I am not the best Muslim at all by far, I struggle with prayers, modestly and other norms and as much as I strive to be a good Muslim, I do struggle to maintain my faith continuously. Islam however is in my heart and soul and the passion I have developed from my little knowledge of this loathed religion is ever so significant and prerequisite in my life. Every time I open the Qu’ran, I discover such overwhelming tranquility and peace. Every time, I hear disapproval of my religion of any kind, I find myself falling more in love through a simple and quick examination of the books and stories of Islam.
When I was slightly younger, back in my school days which seem like centuries ago now, religion played a slightly more substantial role in my life and although I may have lost my way a little bit, I always aspire to get back to that period in my life. Anyway, at that time, one of my greatest wishes and desires was to start wearing the hijab. The hijab however is one of the most recognisable ways to display ones’ religion and being in the majority white environment I was in, the fear of acceptance regrettably pulled me away from this desire. I was too involved in the fear of losing friends and becoming rejected by my peers that I carried on trying to imitate them. Trying not to be too different. Most of my peers knew I was a Muslim but it was always dressed up with ‘oh but I’m not that religious’ or hidden in excuses of why I am not really a normal Muslim and so therefore don’t worry, I am okay.
Now looking back this was foolish because my friends, who mostly still are my friends today, would have accepted me regardless. As an adult now, I understand that my friends are not friends with me because of the way I look but because of who I am. And who I am is down to the teachings of Islam.
However, in school, I encountered too many situations which made me want to hide my faith. Often, in debates of Islam vs. the West, I would hear my own friends argue against my faith. “But why do the Muslims hate us?” “Why are they killing us?” Why are Muslims like this or why are Muslims like that, etc. This negativity around Islam was constant. Someone just recently asked me, all be it naively, if I think it is okay that my people are killing so many individuals. They asked me why I think it is okay and if I am a Muslim, I must agree with their ways, right? During another debate a couple of years ago, one of my very own friends declared loudly, “why can’t all these Muslims just die?” stopping at a remainder by another friend that Nazia is a Muslim, responded to with, “but apart from Naz obviously”.
But why not me? Why is it okay to hold such hatred for ‘my people’ and why am I so bearable when my mother, my family, my cousins, my people should not exist. Or should just die? Just because my appearance, the way I dress and my actions are more similar to yours? Just because I do not wear a hijab and so you cannot ‘see’ my religion? I still hold the same beliefs as them, the same thoughts as them, the same values as them. But, my lack of the traditional Islamic appearance has meant that you have given yourselves the chance to get to know me. We have been able to become friends because you do not hold the same judgement for me as you do for them and this is simply because of my appearance?
Though, it is hard to blame them when for some reason it seems that only acts of terror performed by some ‘Muslims’, are presented in the media and there is always such an extreme and unjustified abhorrence towards Muslims. Where is the representation of the other 94% of Terror attacks that are performed by non- Muslims in the media? What is their choice of faith to practice? Or even lack of faith? Why is it that unless you are a Muslim, if you do decide to carry out an act of terror or a shooting or whatever crime you commit, you are excused with a mental illness or unsteady upbringing or some other ridiculous and laughable excuse? And why is it that the world believes this? The crimes committed by people who belong to other groups in society just seem to be ignored or excused and if by any chance they are not, there is no mention of their administration.
I am fed up of explaining to people that Muslims are not terrorists. That these so called Muslims such as ISIS and Al-qaeda are misguided and follow misinterpretations and delusions of my beautiful religion. How can they be Muslims when they are killing Muslims? Do you not see the uncountable number of Muslims, supposedly their own people, who are dying every day because of them? Or does is not matter because they are not white?
I am fed up of explaining that if all Muslims were terrorists, you would all undoubtedly be dead right now. There are over 1.6 billion Muslims in the world and less than 1% actually agree with these absolutely ludicrous murderers.
I am fed up of one ‘bad Muslim’ somehow meaning, all Muslims are bad yet the millions of ‘good Muslims’ going out of their way and performing exceptional deeds are ignored every day. A little bit of online research can show just how much charity is provided by Muslims, in Ramadan alone. Every year, Muslims are exceeding amounts provided by every other religious group; Jews, Christians and Atheists because my religion teaches us to give. It teaches us to be humble, to love, to respect.
I am fed up of the label ‘terrorist’ only being applied to Muslims.
I am fed up of being too scared to practice my own religion in my country, where I was born and have as much right to as Steve and Stacey.
I am fed up of my mother having to apologise for her hijab. As cliche as it is, a woman who genuinely does not even kill a spider because of empathy, because of her faith.
I am fed up of having to apologise for being Muslim.
I am fed up of being forced to feel ashamed of my religion.
I am fed up of explaining that the majority of Muslims, that normal Muslims are just like me.
Just like ‘Naz’.
I am Muslim and without my faith, I would not be me. I am Muslim and proud. I am proud of my mother in her hijab. I am proud of every single Muslim woman today who still manages to brave the hijab and veil and every single Muslim man who still manages to brave the thobes and jubbahs, in such a misguided society full of only hatred towards us Muslims.
Islam has taught me only love, compassion and peace.
I am a normal Muslim and I am proud.
I am a Muslim and I am proud.