We make a deliberate choice every day when we decide to wear a certain color, pattern, design or outfit. I found myself looking down the window ten stories below at Chicago’s Magnificent Mile, full of tourists, accountants, homeless, luxury shoppers, students, Uber drivers, construction workers and police officers who paraded up and down ignoring traffic signals and vehicles. In my luggage, I had packed a T-Shirt from a clothing company my sister’s fiance created as a hobby. Fine Seam designs urban clothing inspired by Afghanistan.
Ironically, as I closed the curtains of my hotel window and removed my “unity shirt” it was only a feeling of divisiveness that seeped through my body. My shirt displays the words North, South, East, and West in Dari (an Afghan language) letters. The itinerary for the day included stopping at the Bean, going up the John Hancock Tower, and exploring Navy Pier in time for the 100th year anniversary fireworks. Yet, I feared the unnecessary stares and plausibility of being stopped because of the calligraphy on my chest and changed my outfit.
Traveling helps me become a better writer, it helps me become a better teacher, and it allows me to have an educated and empathetic mindset in my life. But how can you feel comfortable exploring different places when you have a fear instilled in you? When you are a Muslim who travels to public landmarks around the world you need to pay attention to how you display yourself, the words you choose to utter, and the clothing you wear. I have it much easier to explore the world because of my physical appearance and the color of my passport, but this does not make it any more upsetting nor creates blinders to what is occurring today.
This may seem like a trivial situation – why even wear anything that could be perceived in the wrong way? Anti-Islamic sentiments are high and it is justifiable that people are on edge, so we shouldn’t draw attention to ourselves, right? If I am hesitant to wear a T-Shirt in a new city, what could possibly be happening to other Muslims who have physical characteristics or traits that mainstream media defines as Muslim: the Hijab, a long beard, or a throbe? I am using this platform to draw attention to the real, violent and hateful acts of Islamophobia that have been committed against my community.
The FBI has reported an increase in only one category of hate crimes this year, those against Muslim Americans “up 78 percent over the course of 2015” and the highest amount since 9/11 (New York Times). This excludes the thousands of anti-Muslim hate crimes that are never reported and the incidents the police elect not to categorize as a “hate crime”.
These are just a few that have rattled me personally over the years:
- Muslim Congressman Andre Carson (D-IN) received death threats
- A UC Berkeley student kicked off a Southwest flight
- A Florida mosque burned down by arsonists
- A 7-year-old boy assaulted on a school bus
- Three Muslim students murdered in a shooting in Chapel Hill, North Carolina
- An imam (Muslim who leads prayer) shot to death in broad daylight in New York
There are too many crimes to even compile and it would require a blog of its own! Islamophobia is everywhere. It is in our schools, at our dinner table conversations, in the workplace, and most hauntingly through the rhetoric of social media. It is not only an American problem. The hatred and ignorance fuels crimes in England, France, Canada and more. We have arrived at a state where there is a need to hide your religion when religious freedom was the basis of this country. CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) has created a project aimed to educate others on Islamophobia and is building a positive movement towards combatting this prejudice.
You may wonder if the person writing this post is “Moderate” then. Hopefully not “radical”. I am neither. I am just Muslim. I am Muslim American. I am Muslim and a woman. I am a human being. My degree and level of religiosity is not for Fox News to condemn or for myself to rank for others. It is a relationship between myself and God. I pray privately in my bedroom but there are moments when I’m in public during a prayer time and find myself sitting in my car, with a scarf on, my eyes closed, in prayer, my mind focused not entirely on God as it should be, but on whether someone can see me through the window at this parking lot and will throw a brick through the glass. This is not a new feeling. People travel with their Bible all the time and four years ago when I was packing to study abroad in London, I wanted to place a small Quran in my luggage. My mother removed it because she was afraid I would be treated unfairly by the TSA and risk getting my student visa stamped. My sister has an even more difficult time. The “place of birth” on her passport is Kabul, Afghanistan which has once led to a six-hour detainment by the Israeli military when she traveled to Jerusalem for a business trip.
During my travels, I do see rays of hope. I was roaming the streets of Dublin, Ireland last summer and it happened to be Eid Al Fitr (a Muslim holiday) that day. The Ha’Penny Bridge was full of hijabi women pushing their strollers, Irish Muslims of African and Asian descent parading downtown for the holiday and greeting their fellow Dubliners. And just a couple of months ago I was in beautiful Boston. On my walk near the public library, I came across a church with a banner hanging from one end of its rooftop stating “Love thy Muslim neighbor as thyself.”
Love is possible if our communities do come together, educate each other, and uplift one another from the paranoia and the fear of otherness.
As for Fine Seam, I continue to wear its gear in the comfort of the Bay Area, even at public landmarks.