An Open Letter To America From An American Muslim

America needs to have a conversation with its Muslim citizens, not about them.

Protester holding a sign that says “We The People Are Greater Than Fear” on Inauguration Day. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Protester holding a sign that says “We The People Are Greater Than Fear” on Inauguration Day. ( AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

If you’re Muslim in America right now, you’re probably not very psyched about being in America right now.

I live in the Deep South in a neighborhood (and city) where flaunting Trump 2016 signs in front yards and on cars was a given this last election year. It didn’t bother me that these voters decided to make their choice known. It bothered me that their choice was so deplorable.

My husband is a physician and it boggled my mind to know that republicans who came to him because they trusted him with their life and left him fan mail and gifts and gave him hugs when he treated them or their loved ones back to health, would roll over to a Trump rally later chanting slogans of ‘No Islam’ and ‘Ban Muslims!’

Did they not see the irony of it?

A friend of mine, an educated old white lady, once asked me, “How do you live here? Among all these Trump supporters, knowing all things they might say about you and your faith?” She was concerned because she’d felt the sting of being Blue in a Red State. Her Church made her feel so unwelcome that she had to leave it. Her sin: she’d voted for a black boy running for the White House.

Aleena Khan from Maryland and a freshman at George Washington University, explained what I feel perfectly in her letter to President Obama that she wrote on February 3:

Muslims live in fear that they will be attacked. Americans live in fear that Muslims will attack them.”

I’m not sure if Aleena wrote it this way intentionally but she laid out the issue at its core in that statement. The divided America — Americans and Muslims. As if the two are mutually exclusive. They’re not. You can be Muslim and American at the same time.

There is no need for us versus them and yet, there it is for us to deal with. The big question for us is not whether we, the American Muslims, own the US as our homeland or not but rather does the US own us as her people?

According to Zareena Grewal, a professor of religious studies at Yale University, “Islam is not thought of as an American religion.”

I suppose so.

The proof lies in the fact that first Muslims brought to the US were slaves and were forced to convert to Christianity at the hands of their masters.

A PBS special investigative report Islam in America claims that:

‘…African slaves of whom 10 to 15 percent were said to be Muslims. Maintaining their religion was difficult and many were forcibly converted to Christianity. Any effort to practice Islam, and keep the traditional clothing and names alive had to be done in secret. There was an enclave of African-Americans on the Georgia coast that managed to maintain their faith until the early part of the 20th century.’

A second wave of Muslims immigrants from the Middle East, mostly Syria and Lebanon, arrived between 1878 and 1924. Economic reasons was what drove this migration and these workers, mostly manual laborers, found home and a new life in places like Ohio, Michigan, Iowa and the Dakotas. Islam in America records that:

‘One of the first big employers of Muslims and blacks was the Ford Company — these were often the only people willing to work in the hot, difficult conditions of the factories.’

And yet, in 2016, Muslims in America are still the other.

This otherness was further fanned as we watched the GOP Presidential nominee Donald J. Trump & Friends thinking it fit to fling insults at the Gold Star Khan family. Their message was clear: No matter what you did, you would never be American enough. Even sacrificing your life and your loved ones isn’t enough. You can be a Gold Star parent and still be accused of having ties with the enemy.

Because Muslims must still and always do more!

No.

We do not.

We’ve done more. And more than enough. And we will continue to do what anyone and everyone does for a country they love and call home. And that ought to be enough.

And maybe it’s time for you to listen more to us.

Talk to us, not at us. Not because that conversation will lead you to some secret information or masterplans on how to deal with terrorists but simply listen, talk and get to know us because it’s really a shame that you, the average non-Muslim American, knows zilch about a fairly accomplished minority of your own freakin country! *Smile*

According to a study conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, 6 out of 10 non-Muslim Americans have seldom or never had a conversation with a Muslim, American or otherwise. Most Americans also say they know little (57%) or nothing at all (26%) about Islam, and they aren’t just ignorant of Muslim Americans but they also do not care.

All I need to know about Islam I learned on 9/11 and now my eyes/nose/ears/brain is experiencing a total shut down on the topic and only my tongue is in overdrive so ye may fling FACTS at me but do not expect them to stick. Also, I do not know any Muslims, never have and never will, but that is irrelevant. Don’t trust Muslims. No more mosques. Stop Sharia! Make year-round jewelry great again!

It gets better.

Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism released results of a study this week that monitored hate-related crimes against Muslims. Professor Brian Levin authored this non-partisan report by gathering law enforcement data from 20 states. The study says the number of hate-related crimes against Muslims went up by 78 percent in 2015.

“The number of anti-Muslim hate crimes has hit a post-2001, post-9/11 record,” Levin said. “We saw a spike after these terror attacks in 9/11, as well as San Bernardino. But when President Bush spoke of tolerance, hate crimes declined sharply. When Donald Trump spoke on banning Muslims and suspicion of Sharia law, hate crimes went up even more.” (Source: ABC News)

We, the American Muslims, have been shot, stabbed and killed in their homes, on the street, outside of their mosques, in stores, and in their schools. We have been bullied, beaten, punched, scorched and set on fire. We have been kicked off airplanes. We have been egged, threatened with violence, mocked for our dress and ancestry. Our hijabi women have had their hijabs stripped off their heads, fired for wearing one on the job, put up on social media by bigots calling all daring assholes to find a hijabi woman to harass and strip her. Our homeowners have been threatened to move or suffer the consequences of a burned down house. Our mosques have been vandalized, shot at, torched, strewn with pig heads, feces and torn pages from the Quran, armed protestors chanting hateful slogans have stood outside telling us to go back to where we came from (like…to Chicago?), and our Quran has been torn, burnt and desecrated with ceremony. Business owners have posted signs advertising Muslim-free zones.

It doesn’t get better for Muslims in politics. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), a Muslim congressman, has received death threats several times. Delegate Sam Rasoul (D-Va.) has had to make a case for his community multiple times, citing write-ups and fatwas against terrorism just to get the single point across that being Muslim doesn’t make us terrorists by default. I can’t recall the last time a non-Muslim had to do this or even was expected to do it for their community.

Dylann Roof can shoot up a church because racist, Adam Lanza can butcher children because crazy + guns, Robert Dear Jr. can terrorize pro-choice facilities because pro-life because religion. Approximately, based on very conservative estimates, 280,024 Americans can die of gun violence on US soil since 9/11 (2001–2015) but somehow that’s not as terrorizing or cause for frenzied concern as the deaths of 24 Americans killed by jihadists during the same timeframe. (Source: NowThis)

To a Muslim American, all these lives lost are a huge loss for all of us. And yet, between a non-Muslim American and a Muslim American, only one is expected to apologize for terrorism and do more to prove loyalty.

Stop it!

And think if you already haven’t.

Dear America, we aren’t your enemy. We aren’t your allies either. Because we are not outsiders. We are you. We are the equal citizens of this great nation and we belong here. Our status as a minority doesn’t change any of this. And when you talk about profiling an American minority, any minority for that matter, and talk about casting it out as the other, about registering and targeting and harassing and bullying it like its members don’t belong, you’re guilty of persecution. And if you incite violence against a minority and look the other way when that happens, you’re guilty of systematic genocide. And THAT is un-American.

Don’t be un-American, America.

Instead of having a conversation about Muslims without Muslims like you’re gossiping about them behind their backs, have one that actually includes them so you can hear them say their perspective out loud.

But where are those moderate Muslims?

Right here. And I’m sorry I don’t even know how moderate is supposed to define me… like… instead of 5 daily prayers, I say 2 if I’m moderate? I mean I already don’t wear a hijab but if I still pray 5 times a day and fast all of Ramadan, am I moderate or radical? I drool after Bradley Cooper like there’s no tomorrow but I don’t care for American Sniper so what does that make me? *In fact, what does that make Bradley??* I cried my eyes out when Sandy Hook happened, praying to Allah for peace for the victims and for safety for the survivors — am I moderate or radical or moderately radical?

So no, moderate doesn’t make sense to me but whatever, fact is we aren’t silent. We are vocal in write-ups, blogs, vlogs, movies, any medium that we think can reach across the aisle. *Playboy, anyone?*

I was recently at an event in Memphis, TN showcasing Unity Productions Foundation, a non-profit organization that has taken the initiative to spread awareness about Islam by and through actual followers of the belief. UPF tells stories of our unsung Muslim heroes with a historic perspective through short films. Of course, the organization’s mission is to ‘counter bigotry and create peace through media’ that means it isn’t protective just of Muslim minorities. And I want my community to be very clear on this. And I want all Americans to be very clear on this too.

Persecution is never about any one group and it doesn’t end when that group ends. After it’s done with the current target, it simply moves on to the next one. A persecuting mindset must and needs to constantly victimize someone to thrive.

Don’t feed that mindset with your silence and inaction!

Here’s a quote from someone I know who happens to be an accomplished American physician and an active member of the community while Muslim. *Gasp — possibly moderate?* Dr. Asif Ahmed was also one of the hosts at the UPF event:

“Inshallah, our time will pass, and we will be accepted as the norm in this country. After that, however, some other group might be targeted, victimized, and ostracized; when that happens, we can’t just sit back and be grateful saying ‘thank God it’s not us’. Instead, we need to stand up…and call out the injustice, EVEN if it is about a group whose beliefs are far different from our own. That is the right thing to do, and that is the American thing to do.”

Word.

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