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A Maryland Muslim High School Senior's Reflection: How Rising Anti-Muslim Bigotry in U.S. Has Affected My Life

By: Hannah Sharim, Age 17

A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of someone or something. Most people are afraid of spiders, small spaces, heights, or the dark. But phobia takes a new form when it comes to American Muslims.

It’s 6:45 AM. I wake up at the sound of my alarm, which I snoozed for the fourth time today. I brush my teeth, pin my hijab in place, and rush downstairs to go to school. Almost out the door, my parents wished me goodbye with what has become the norm: “be careful of your surroundings.” I stopped getting the “have a good day sweetie” a while ago. Now I just have to be careful, because I could be attacked. Because I could be the target of hate-speech. Because anti-Muslim bigotry is my reality.

BREAKING NEWS: Republican presidential candidate and party front-runner Donald Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown on all Muslims from entering the United States. This was the breaking point. I always felt that prejudice existed towards Muslims in America. As a young woman who wears the hijab, how could I avoid it? I feel the insolent stares I get in the streets. I feel the snarky remarks made under strangers’ breaths. I feel the isolation. But I would have never projected such intolerance to reach this extent. I never expected this feeling to overcome me. So I decided to investigate where it came from.

I am part of the Ulysses program at Northwest High School in Maryland where students in a smaller-learning community pursue independent research projects over the course of their four years. We are required to complete a final research project our senior year, and with my understanding of the current perception of Muslims, I studied the media’s propagation of Islamophobia in American society.

There were three components to my research: interviews, surveys, and case studies. I found that the media’s terminology in reference to Islam and the Muslim populace holds tremendous effects in how they are perceived. When atrocities occur in the name of Islam, the media is quick to call it an act of terrorism, which reflects poorly on Muslims. But when atrocities occur from white supremacists and far right thinkers, excuses are made for them and less vivid language is used to describe their crimes. After presenting my findings to a class full of students and staff, the room stood in pure bewilderment. Everyone who approached me afterwards had the same thing to say: I didn’t know. They were shocked that words like “terrorist” and “jihadi” had a broader impact on Islam than just personifying proclaimed Muslims who commit acts of terror. But why is it so difficult for a distinction to be made between the acts of extremists and the rest of the peaceful Muslim population? The answer lies in the xenophobic rhetoric exhibited by Donald Trump.

There is no worse feeling than feeling unwelcome in your own home. But despite the false perceptions and unfounded stereotypes I face every day, I refuse to be out casted. America is my home; in fact it’s all I’ve ever known. I was born here. I was raised here. I celebrate the Fourth of July. I sing the national anthem with insurmountable pride. I hang the American flag outside of my front door. And, I plan on staying here for generations to come. I love this country, my country, because I love what it stands for.

I was blessed with the opportunity to live in a land that was founded on the basis of freedom in all forms. A land that embraces freedom for every race, religion, and gender. Donald Trump’s proposition is not only unconstitutional, but also un-American. His bigotry goes against every fiber of the American fabric. It extends beyond Muslims; it challenges the fundamental principles that make America great.

The issue here is not a singular Donald Trump, but rather the American citizens rejoicing at his deranged dogma. This poison infiltrating the minds of American citizens is administered by Trump-like characters and solidified by an underlying layer of ignorance. To eradicate it, we must refuse to hold an entire faith liable for politically motivated acts. To eradicate it, we must allow American Muslims to feel welcome in our home, America. As an American, I will not stand to see the rancorous poison called fear extend any further, and neither should you.

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