Growing up as a Muslim female in America, life was not always as sweet as
apple pie for me.
In Head Start and kindergarten, making friends was easy. No one really
cared what you looked like or what religion you were as long as you were
quick enough to twirl the merry-go-round or play tag on the playground.
As I got older, though, I realized I was different. I constantly heard my
classmates talking about church and Jesus, things I never heard around my
My family went to the mosque and read the Quran. We fasted during Ramadan
and prayed five times a day. I didn't date, and I didn't attend sleepovers
or parties. The prevalent language in my house wasn't English, but Arabic,
and Friday was our equivalent to the Christian Sunday. We didn't celebrate
Easter or Christmas or any other holiday except the Islamic holiday, Eid,
which is twice a year. We also focused on the five pillars of Islam:
prayer, charity, fasting, pilgrimage and Shahadah, or confession of faith.
I told this to one of my fifth-grade friends one day, and the first thing
she did was invite me to attend church with her the next Sunday so I could
see "how wrong my religion was." Here I was, only 11 years old, and I
encountered my first taste of how Islam is misunderstood and disdained in
the views of many Americans.
Five years later, I saw more and more of those views surface. On Sept. 11,
2001, I was in the school library, and I watched as the second hijacked
plane hit the towers. I remember the librarian giving me a hug, with tears
in her eyes.
I suddenly had many people asking me questions about Islam. Occasionally, I
got a few hateful comments or one of my friends would say their parents did
not want us to be friends anymore, but for the most part, people were just
confused and wanted answers.
Many of those questions were about Islam in general: What was the main
difference between Islam and Christianity? Why didn't I wear a hijab, or
head scarf? I always explained it to them carefully, and they left knowing
more about a religion they were once oblivious about.