In the moments following the Boston Marathon bombings, American Muslims across the nation prayed for the same thing: "Please don't let the bomber be a Muslim." Every single time there is a violent incident on U.S. soil, no matter how big or small, the sentiment is the same. No, I'm not trying to play the "victim card," and I realize that our community's anxiety could never reflect the devastation experienced in Boston, but it is a very real issue we face. As such, I thought readers might appreciate some honest insight into what I, and many other American Muslims, felt in the days following the attack.
Monday, April 15
News of the attacks reached me about an hour after the first bomb detonated at 2:50 p.m. in Boston. I remember being shocked and confused as to why in the world someone would plant a bomb at a marathon. I turned on my computer and viewed the horrific images and video plastered all over the web. So many innocent people had been injured and/or killed. I said a prayer for the victims and added, "Please don't let the bomber be a Muslim."
Tuesday, April 16
Little progress is made on the investigation. President Obama calls the attack an "act of terror" and two people who were killed are identified. One of them was 8-year-old Martin Richard, who was watching the race with his family. I'm heartbroken at the loss of such a precious life.
Wednesday, April 17
Various media reports emerge claiming that a suspect has been arrested. These are later retracted when officials verify the contrary. A female student is identified as another victim. I'm still holding my breath, praying, hoping.
Thursday, April 18
I run into one of my professors on campus, who tells me the perpetrators aren't Muslim. We breathe a sigh of relief together. Later, I view the photographs surveillance cameras have captured of the suspects. They don't look like the "stereotypical" Muslim terrorist. Thank God. I turned off the television early that evening, praying for the best.
Friday, April 19
I wake up to find my roommate (also Muslim) camped in front of the television. Apparently, I missed a lot. The suspects had engaged in a shootout on the MIT campus, stolen a car and withdrawn $800 cash from two ATMs. There was a subsequent shootout with police where the older brother was shot and later run over by his younger brother. Boston was shut down and Watertown residents were told to remain in their homes.
We leave the television on all day and watch the manhunt unfold. Reporters begin revealing details about the suspects. They are Chechnyan. My heart drops to my stomach. Here was the news I had been dreading all week. I wonder how long it will take for people to realize that Chechnya is a majority Muslim country. Sure enough, a little while later, reporters start referring to them as "Muslim." All hell is about to break loose.
I watch in complete and utter disbelief as a guest contributor on CNN points out Islamic historical figures the suspects are "named after" and proposes how that could have possibly influenced them. "Are you kidding me?" I want to ask him. "Is that what you'd say to every American boy named Timothy? That he's named after a bomber and that influenced every bad decision he made during his life?" Give me a break.
More details about the suspects emerge. The younger brother appears to be a normal 19-year-old. His friends are shocked and continuously vouch for him. He was a community volunteer and a member of the wrestling team. Even his tweets are unremarkable. Why the heck would he turn into a terrorist? The older brother seemed different, however. He had suddenly become very religious and felt isolated from other Americans. Neither were practicing Muslims and reportedly partied, smoked, drank and had girlfriends. My guess: the older brother had been approached by foreign terrorists to do their dirty work and he'd roped his younger brother in with him. The fact that the two apparently had no exit plan seemed to support this.
I hear reports of women in hijab being harassed. A Muslim man is beat up in the Bronx. The backlash has begun. I fear for my own safety and think twice before venturing outside my living room. Anger quickly replaces the apprehension that previously consumed me. How dare these men do this to us? To the American Muslims who live among the people they targeted? Don't they consider the repercussions we have to endure every single time they hijack our religion for their political gain? Don't they ever stop and consider the suspicion, hatred and discrimination we face long after the bomb smoke has cleared? That the cloudy haze remains forever over our heads, and that the blood is never completely washed away?
I don't blame Americans for their confusion. On one hand, American Muslims preach peace, work with interfaith coalitions, and are actively engaged in their communities. But then this picture is suddenly shattered as soon as a terrorist strikes. It doesn't matter that less than 6 percent of all terrorist attacks on U.S. soil are actually committed by Muslims. They are still seen as the No. 1 suspect, and we are guilty by association. Never mind the fact that our white brethren never undergo such scrutiny when a fellow "white" or "Christian" attacker, such as the Aurora shooter or the anti-abortionist murderer, Scott Roeder, strike. People are quick to claim these are "isolated incidents" and don't represent the Christian faith. Why should Muslims be treated any different? Whether we admit it or not, there is a double standard.
The only thing I can think of in the aftermath of this horrific ordeal is that despite what the media portrays, these men don't represent my faith. They can pull Quranic verses out of context all they want, scream violent fatwas till their voices are hoarse, and claim they're carrying out jihad for the sake of Islam, but it doesn't make it true. This is not the Islam our Prophet (PBUH) preached. This is not the Islam that the vast majority of Muslims around the world practice. This is a minority extremist group with a political grievance against American foreign policy. Whether or not their grievance is warranted is irrelevant. Killing innocent civilians is strictly prohibited in the Quran and by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), making these terrorists completely un-Islamic.
That is what goes through this American Muslim's head every time a terrorist attacks my country. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Boston victims and their families.
Follow Wardah Khalid on Twitter: www.twitter.com/YAmericanMuslim