In the fall of 2001, as I turned for Salaam at the end of Jumah salat, Islamic Friday prayer, I craned my neck over my shoulder, first to the right and then to the left. From the corner of my eye I saw a White woman in the back of the mosque, filming us as we performed our prayer.
Murmurs scattered throughout the mosque as many of the women huddled in circles asked one another who the stranger with the camera was. As people raced to grab their shoes and head back to their cars, they were bombarded by reporters asking them questions.
My mom grabbed my wrist, pulling me toward the door, where we were abruptly stopped by the woman filming. She asked my mom if we were Muslims and how we felt about the 9/11 attacks.
That evening my father came home and demanded my brother and I no longer attend our weekend Islamic school and instead we had an imam come teach us at home. Like many other Muslims in the U.S., my dad began to teach us to hide our faith and to remove any outward signs that we are Muslim. I was seven years old.
I am part of a generation of Muslim Americans who have grown up in the shadow of 9/11. We have spent our formative years in a hostile media environment that has vilified our religion and demonized us. This has invited anger and retaliation in the hearts of some Muslims, causing them to commit atrocious crimes.
Abdul Razak Ali Artan, a Somalia-born U.S. resident and Ohio State University student, drove his Honda Civic onto campus and struck pedestrians as they walked on the curb. He then proceeded to stab and attack people with a butcher knife.
Before the attack, he took to Facebook and posted about his fears of being Muslim in America and claimed he reached a “boiling point” and was “sick and tired” of the treatments of Muslims all over the world. He referenced attacks in Burma that involved the rape and torture of many Muslims.
Three months before the attack, he was quoted in the OSU school newspaper stating he felt overwhelmed and fearful and described himself as a pious Muslim. He described his fear of praying in the open on his campus and complained about the depiction of Muslims in the media.
“I’m a Muslim, it’s not what the media portrays me to be. If people look at me, a Muslim praying, I don’t know what they’re going to think, what’s going to happen. But, I don’t blame them. It’s the media that put that picture in their heads sto they’re just going to have it and…it’s going to make them feel uncomfortable,” Artan said.
While I don’t condone the actions of those Muslims who fight hostility with violence, I understand where their frustration stems from. These lone wolf attacks originate from a climate of intolerance which leads many young Muslims to isolation and self-radicalization.
According to a Pew Research Center analysis of hate crimes in America, the FBI found that anti-Muslim assaults are now almost as high as they were post 9/11. In 2001, there were 93 reported hate crimes against Muslims, and in 2015 there were 91, only two less.
The FBI also reported a 67 percent increase in anti-Muslim assaults in 2015 than the previous year. 71 percent of those reported crimes were against Muslims.
It has been long established that media outlets associated Muslims with jihadists. According to a Guardian article in 2005, the overuse of terms such as “Muslim extremists, Islamic terror, Islamic war and Muslim time bomb” by the media have stereotyped Muslims and fostered an anti-Muslim narrative.
Islamophobia has become so rooted in American society that despite being citizens in this country, we still feel like outsiders. We are every bit American as anyone else. We should not be fearful to pray in public; it is our right as Americans to freely practice our religion without harassment.
Western media and a small, reactionary minority of radicals have poisoned the rhetoric surrounding Islam. Islam is not a violent religion, it is a religion of peace. Islam has taught me to love. The Quran teaches humility and compassion, not hatred and brutality. The misrepresentation of the Muslim community by media outlets and political groups is the root of the problem, not the religion itself.