When people ask me about the town I grew up in, I always start with a story of one of my earliest memories in elementary school.
I walked into Mrs. Horsey's first grade class, saw a girl with dark brown hair and brown eyes, and asked if her she was Muslim. Her response? "What's that...," with a blank stare.
Her dark features made her the first girl I had ever seen in my small town of LaPlata that looked relatively like me, so I immediately assumed she was Muslim. Turned out she was Italian. But, hey, I'm Libyan, so I guess it's close enough...
The point is, that is a great description of the southern Maryland I grew up in and after that encounter, I never mentioned I was Muslim in school. I would do everything to avoid people asking about my religion. When we'd receive forms asking if any other language was spoken at home, and my mom would write Arabic. I would make sure to put my form at the bottom of the stack, so no one would see. When people would ask why my mom wore "that thing on her head," I'd respond, "I don't know," and wish my mom would forget to wear it one day. During the holidays, my mom would decorate one of our school bulletin boards in "Eid" decor, explaining the Muslim holiday and I couldn't be more embarrassed. There were so many times I found myself ashamed of who I was, and the more they piled up, the more I struggled with my identity and tried even harder to fit in.
But don't get me wrong. Sure, I struggled with my identity, but I was able to build this persona that allowed me to always be a part of the "cool" clique. I was never really queen bee though, because I was never allowed to go to dances and parties... cool points were definitely docked. But, at school, I was on my game. One time at lunch, in front of everyone, the quarterback of the JV football team said to me, "Hey Noor, don't you like worship Buddha?" and started laughing... everyone joining in with him.
"No. I don't. I worship God and practice the followings and teachings of Muhammad (peace be upon him,)" I replied, with a shaky voice.
"Hahaha, nahhh Noor. You definitely worship Buddha," he insisted.
"No, I don't! You don't even know what you're talking about!" I replied. I had never talked about my religion before... so I didn't really know how to start.
"Bahaha.... yeah... Budha worshipper... going around chanting lalalalalala. You and your family are some weird a** sh**."
And that was the end of that. Or at least what I remember. I probably blocked the rest of the conversation out of my memory.
So, in the past few days, my former high school, LaPlata High School, had an incident involving a world history assignment about Islam. Long story short: Dad and former US Marine, Kevin Wood, caught his daughter doing her history homework... and it was, what he believes to be, "Islamic propaganda." This is an 11th grade course and several religions are covered during the semester:
Basically, the Woods were absolutely pissed and refused to let their daughter do the assignment. Wood said in an interview with the Southern Maryland Newspapers Online, "I told [an administrator] straight up 'you could take that Muslim-loving piece of paper and shove it up your white a**." Officials said Wood threatened to "disrupt the school environment" because of this assignment, and now he's been banned from school grounds.
The first time I read about this, I'll admit, I shed some tears. It brought back a lot of memories, and it hurt to realize that nothing has changed... though, I am glad the school defended the assignment and took action.
But, here's the thing. The assignment was in no way promoting any religion over the other. It was informing and teaching students. Islam and Muslims are constantly making headlines... and unfortunately, mainstream media too often portrays Muslims in a negative light, so isn't it the responsibility of our educators and parents to stay informed and keep our kids informed of what Islam actually is?
What's wrong with learning about women's rights in Islam? Maybe then, you and your daughters will realize that Islam granted women rights before any other religion and culture and is all about empowering women. What's wrong with learning about the pillars of Islam, which include giving charity and allocating five times in your day to prayer and serenity with God? What is wrong from learning about how Islam is more similar to Christianity and Judaism than it is different?
People fear what they don't know. And ignorance has always been disease in our country. To forbid your children from expanding their sense of knowledge is such a crime of humanity. We should be encouraging our children to learn about all peoples, faiths, cultures. Maybe if we made that a priority, we wouldn't have so many first and second generation Americans struggling and losing their identities. Maybe, our children would celebrate our differences rather than use them as a tactic of bullying and taunting.
Mr. Wood, I feel so sorry for you and the fear you live in of a people you don't even know. What makes me sadder is you served our country in the strongest branch of the Armed Forces, yet your actions strike me as cowardly. You know, my parents serve our community too. My mother was a school guidance counselor in Charles County and my dad is a physician in Southern Maryland. I'm sure if you got to know them, you'd realize how wrong you are about your own people. And yeah, I say your own people, because whether you like it or not, we're just as American as you are. Though, your parenting makes it harder for people who aren't white enough or American enough for you to feel accepted in our community.
There's 1.6 billion Muslims on the planet. Chances are, your daughter will encounter Muslims as friends and/or co-workers sooner than later. And I hope your actions and beliefs don't influence how she decides to view Muslims or treat them. I hope she realizes that we're pretty awesome friends and we are so much more similar to Christians than different. I hope she has the opportunity to teach you what Muslims are really like, since you took away her opportunity to learn.