Ms. Drugge, my 8th grade math teacher, was explaining that the model we were dissecting was called a parabola. In an instant, our vice principal ran into the room and exclaimed that our country was under attack. Little did I know that this Sept. 11 morning would define the rest of my life.
In the wake of the attacks, my feelings of anxiety and concern soon turned into intense nationalism and pride. Aspirations for Harvard and Stanford took a back seat as I looked up the entrance requirements for West Point. I wanted to be a part of the solution. An American flag was placed alongside my Jerry Rice, Cris Carter and Michael Jordan posters. I could not sit on the sidelines as my country was attacked. I soon realized, however, that my nation was not the only institution that was attacked that grim morning.
As the days turned into months, the attacks of 9/11 settled in. The news would describe the terrorists as Muslim men from Muslim countries with Muslim beards and Muslim intentions. I became more cognizant of my environment and how my peers perceived my faith. When my mom would pick me up from baseball practice, I noticed uneasy eyes directed at her headscarf. During Ramadan, when I fasted through lunch, friends began commenting on how I was "terrorizing my body." Our country was uniting together against a common enemy, and I became the enemy because of the faith in my heart.
The next years would be the most challenging of my life. As a 13-year-old, I wanted nothing more than to fit in with my surroundings. Being a devout Muslim certainly wouldn't help. I instructed my mom to pick me up 15 minutes after practice was over so my teammates wouldn't know that she wore a head scarf. During Ramadan, when I fasted, I went to the library instead of the lunchroom, hoping to go unnoticed by my classmates. I was ashamed of my Islamic identity and felt that others couldn't see me as an American because of it.
These experiences forced me to reflect on my faith. Being born into this faith would not be enough; I would have to believe in it. If I didn't, Islam would be tucked into a corner of my life, away from the sight of others. The more I read, challenged and questioned, the more I was propelled to become the best citizen I could be. To care for those in need, to positively contribute to my community, and to sponsor equality and justice, Islam made me into a better American.
Years after 9/11, I learned in math class that the bottom-most point on a parabola is known as an inflection point -- the point where the slope of the line goes from negative to positive. Sept. 11 was my inflection point, without which I would not be the Muslim I am today.
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