I've lived in America my entire life. I identify as an American. I watch fireworks on the Fourth of July; I have said the Pledge of Allegiance my entire public school career, and I strongly believe in the First Amendment, which includes freedom of religion.
Neither my parents nor I have ever experienced much racism, but as I got older, I began to see that ignorance is all around, in different forms. People make terrorist jokes without glancing around the room to see who might be listening. I didn't give it much thought before, but now? It angers me.
I find myself defending my religion and my beliefs more than ever. When I started wearing the hijab a few months ago, I put my faith on display for everyone to see. I'm lucky to go to a university where there are many Muslims, but it still doesn't change the fact that we get treated differently at airports, or that our religion is constantly put on blast by the media.
Last week, while sitting in the student center, I was approached by two older women who tried to strike up a conversation with me. I didn't think anything of it until I was later told that those women had approached me intending to "convert" me, and they had zeroed in on me because I was wearing a hijab. (I may as well have stamped "I'M A MUSLIM" on my forehead, right?)
I was shocked. This hadn't happened to me before.
I thought, is this what I have to deal with now... strangers trying to convert me to another religion because mine apparently isn't good enough?
The recent events in Chapel Hill have caused me to take a closer look at my faith and how other people view my faith. I have to admit I was disappointed with the results. Whenever there's a social injustice, I can expect my Twitter timeline to blow up. Everyone I know voices his or her opinions, loud and clear. However, when the shooting at Chapel Hill occurred, my Twitter timeline was silent. Very few people had anything to say about the three innocent Muslims that had been shot.
I began to question my place as a Muslim here in America. I started to think, would my religion put me in danger? Also, I realized, the fact that I wear hijab doesn't help much either; actually, it makes matters worse. For a fleeting moment, I considered the decision to take it off, for good. As it turns out, I wasn't the only one thinking this -- several young Muslim women voiced a similar concern. We are scared to walk outside with the very thing that helps define who we are.
It's not fair. Everybody deserves the right to express him or herself, without the fear that someone will treat you differently because of it. It's not fair that I have to convince people that no, my religion does not, in fact, support Al-Qaeda, or their more formidable successor, ISIS.
However, living as a Muslim teen in America means taking all these unfair things and dealing with them. It means that whenever I walk outside with that scarf around my head, I am representing every Muslim in the world, and that everything I do reflects on an entire race of people. It also means not exploding with hate and anger every time Bill Maher speaks, which believe me, is easier said than done.
None of this is simple, but I am willing to do anything for my faith and my beliefs, because without them, I have no idea who I am.
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