How I Handled My Fear Of Muslims

Evil doesn’t come from a particular place or a kind of faith.
02/03/2017 06:32 pm ET Updated Feb 07, 2017
Some nice people holding signs at the Women’s March on Chicago, I do not know them.
Some nice people holding signs at the Women’s March on Chicago, I do not know them.

It’s not easy for everyone. Some people simply haven’t experienced cultures outside their own. America is a bubble, a place where we’ve been told to stay comfortable and be complacent.

Within that bubble are even smaller spheres of influence, where opinions echo and roar unchecked.

Where I come from is no exception. A place where segregation was still casually enforced as late as 2002 (on record) and the KKK still actively recruits using radio and billboard ads.

Even in high school I couldn’t have told you the difference between a Sikh and a member of Al-Qaeda.

I wasn’t really sure where the Middle East was or who Saddam Hussain was, but I understood that they were a threat to America.

I was not raised in a politically correct America.

My grandpa fought in Vietnam and remained in the Army Reserves for nearly two decades more. In the early 90s, when I was only 5, he was deployed in operation Desert Shield (the beginning of The Gulf War).

This is my grandpa in Vietnam (he adopted my mom when he married grandma forever ago).
This is my grandpa in Vietnam (he adopted my mom when he married grandma forever ago).

I wasn’t really sure where the Middle East was or who Saddam Hussain was, but I understood that they were a threat to America. I had an active imagination, and would lay awake at night terrified of nuclear bombs being dropped.

The nightly news filled in where my imagination trailed off. This was the first war with live reporters on the front lines in U.S. history. Images of heavily bearded men holding rifles in strange costumes polluted the screens.

Grampa helping me learn to walk, my first steps from my mother’s arms were to his side.
Grampa helping me learn to walk, my first steps from my mother’s arms were to his side.

Often their dirty, unkempt faces were only visible through a small space between turban and scarf. Their eyes boiling with rage and promise. This was the stuff of childhood nightmares.

In high school, my Honors Biology teacher warned me to “keep pure.” He told me that people like me would be rare in the coming decades. He told the class that we would all soon be “grey with interbreeding.”

Racism was so commonplace, I was ready to be spoon fed the idea that a religion combined with a region of the world could somehow breed evil.

Racism was so commonplace, I was ready to be spoon fed the idea that a religion combined with a region of the world could somehow breed evil. Then the tragedy of 9/11 happened and suddenly America was righteously defending us from that evil.

I did not understand that we were fighting for oil and wealth for decades before the conflict. I didn’t understand that we’d armed both sides and were often accountable for the unrest that existed.

I wasn’t aware of the fact that Muslims and Christians have startlingly similar doctrines. Or that no matter what faith you prescribe to, living in abject poverty or continual conflict makes some people commit desperate, horrifying acts.

But I guess I didn’t really think too deeply about any of that until I started dating someone from a Muslim family.

The first time meeting my partner's family, I found myself surrounded by loving people, eager to share traditions and culture.

The first time meeting them I was afraid they might be strict or judge me because of my tattoos and piercings. Instead, I found them warm and welcoming. I thought their religious observances would be somber and my presence at them taboo. Instead, I found myself surrounded by loving people, eager to share traditions and culture.

This year I celebrated Eid al-Fitr* and Eid al-Adha, two official holidays of Islam. Both celebrations mirrored the ideal family gatherings romanticized in American culture. The only discernible difference was the preferred style of clothing and food.

Magic levitating selfie: poooOOOOf!
Magic levitating selfie: poooOOOOf!

Not that my partner’s family isn’t devout ― there is much that goes on in their personal spiritual lives that is unseen. His mother prays five times a day and studies the Quran often and openly. Scriptures in Arabic hang framed in the spacious den and dining room.

My partner and I have been together for over a year, and his family continues to be an incredibly positive force in both our lives. While his parents would prefer him to follow in their footsteps, they are aware of his choices outside that path and support him no less.

In many ways, it seems that practicing Islam is a way for Muslim-Americans to preserve their culture and heritage. Compared to the door-knocking and bible-thumping of the evangelical Southern Christianity, Islam seems like quiet reverie.

It also turns out that about 23–25 percent of the population of the planet we’re on is practicing Islam. As of 2010 there were an estimated 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. The highest estimated number of radicals is 106,000. That’s far less than one percent, a tiny minority group at best.

Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Gate 5, day 2 of #NoBanNoWall protests.
Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport, Gate 5, day 2 of #NoBanNoWall protests.

Meanwhile, Christian extremist organizations operating stateside and worldwide get little to no attention. Instead, Christians will be given priority when seeking refugee status while Trump attempts to exclude Muslims and bans travel on 7 Muslim majority nations.

Evil doesn’t come from a particular place or kind of faith. Evil is born when we deny humanity to our fellow humans. Evil is grown when we succumb to fear and let ignorance lead.

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