Muslims are afraid. We wear our hijabs, continue to visit mosques and put on faces of resistance everyday, but there’s no denying the undertone of distrust and hyper-vigilance that has been punctuated by the violence distinct to Trump’s time in office. We are neither safe in our neighborhoods nor in our places of worship, and are sandwiched between critics who demonize us for “playing the victim card” and wanting to claim our place in American society as a thriving community.
We grapple to legitimize our struggle as “the other” while also claiming an equal slice of the American Dream.
The truth is, we can be—and are—victims of white supremacist violence and racism while still carving out a space for Muslims in the American democracy. In fact, Muslims face the task of reclaiming their religion and place in the public sphere precisely because of the hate they have received.
Trump’s time in the Oval Office has brought forward unprecedented levels of hate and violence that are becoming more difficult to ignore. According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes rose 91 percent in the first half of 2017 compared to the same time period from the year before. During those months, we witnessed the murder of Nabra Hassanen, the verbal abuse and physical assault of a number of Muslim women wearing the headscarf and threats directed at Muslims and their places of worship.
The time for critics to call out Muslims for “faking victimhood” is long gone. So is the time for complicit victimhood—we have lived in a country that has manipulated our narrative, silenced our protest and threatened our livelihood for far too long.
Linda Sarsour, Muslim American political activist and one of the five women to spearhead the Women’s March, faced heavy criticism from conservatives after her use of the word “jihad” in a speech at the annual convention held by the islamic Society of North America (ISNA) last month. The term, which has been widely co-opted and was sensationalized after being used to justify terrorism, was used to tell a story about a man who asked Muhammed, the Muslim prophet, “What is the best form of jihad, or struggle?” Sarsour related, “Our beloved prophet … said to him, ‘A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad.’”
The speech made headlines on right-winged media outlets that falsely interpreted the term as “Islamic holy war” and were quick to call out Sarsour for “waging jihad” instead of “assimilating.” Some criticized Sarsour on social media, saying she should have known better than to utilize the term without an expected backlash and that the term, along with other “charged” words such as “Allahu akbar,” should no longer be used in the U.S. out of fear for safety.
The dramatic and misplaced reaction to Sarsour’s speech is only one example of how drastically and enthusiastically right-winged media and its consumers—including the president of the United States—have manipulated Islam and its terminology at the expense of the Muslim identity.
More recently, a thread emerged on Twitter about how Muslims change their behavior while traveling through airports. Some Muslim women wrap their hijab as turbans instead of in the traditional way, Muslim men feel compelled to shave their traditional beards and Arabic-speaking Muslims roll back on their use of the language. In an effort to seem more “American,” English takes the place of mother tongues. Muslims feel compelled to mute their identities in order to make themselves and others feel safer.
But silence in the face of a threat to the First Amendment is a harbinger of a crumbling democracy and self-censorship in a country that has a history of erasing the livelihood of minorities can be deadly and should not be tolerated.
Instead, Muslims today face the task of openly reclaiming their religion and their right to America. This country is as much ours as it is any white, Christian individual’s and our persistence to establish that and defend our First Amendment rights despite the threat to our safety is a testament to our belief in the potential of the nation. It is what makes us American.