With the presidential election just around the corner, I can’t help but become increasingly anxious. I’m sure most of us have similar thoughts ruminating in our minds; what does it mean to be Muslim in America today? Will the results of this election change my “Americanness?” Will my children feel safe growing up in this country?
I, sometimes, wonder what my daughter’s future holds as she grows up as an American born Muslim in the 21st century. I wonder if she’ll ever feel like she belongs; if she’ll ever have to hear the words “terrorist” directed at her from a classmate or co-worker? I wonder if she’ll feel “proud” to be a citizen of this country? Endless questions to which I have no answer. In the midst of so much uncertainty, I just pray she’s safe and happy, no matter the political climate.
Taking into consideration the sad state of this presidential election, not to mention my own worries concerning the hostility directed against Muslims today, I decided to ask a few friends their thoughts on being Muslim in America.
This is the first in a series of conversations with Muslim Women living in America.
Meet Uzma Begum, a 25 year old Muslim woman and native New Yorker.
How do you identify yourself?
I identify myself as an American-Muslim. I’m not more or less American than I am Muslim and vise versa. I believe that they are both integral parts of who I am, they are not mutually exclusive to one another, rather they inform one another. Growing up in a diverse country with a multitude of religions, i’ve witnessed how being engrossed in different cultures can influence and inform your own religious beliefs and practices.
I feel strengthened and empowered because I grew up in a country that, although far from perfect and still in need of growth and change in terms of racism and prejudice, invites more opportunities for people to be whoever they want to be, and express themselves however they choose.
This country allows us, through the constitution and it’s laws, to challenge and speak up against the injustices we witness. I believe that to be true for what Islam’s preaches as well.
“There is no compulsion in religion.” This one statement proves that we cannot and should not as Muslims force each other to practice or conform to Islam in one single uniform way. The Quran also notes that we should “Speak for justice” and tells us to respect each other’s diversity: “O mankind, we…made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye despise each other.”
“I’ve had family overseas killed by terrorism. And as an American, I hurt just as much as everyone else hurts for the victims. So to then feel like others view me as a “terrorist” is so painful.”
How has your belief in Islam shaped your world views? What has influenced your political values?
I have always been a firm believer in human rights and justice. That in turn influenced my political views. One of my first memories is of me asking my mother what it means to be a Muslim and why I was Muslim. I must have been in preschool. My mom explained to me that being a Muslim means you are a good person, not just for yourself but also for your neighbor. That you speak out against what’s wrong, promote peace, and help protect everyone’s rights. This is the meaning of an Ummah. You only have love for each other. There is no room for hate.
Overtime, my political views have continued to grow in a way that recognizes the need for positive progressive change that relies on the concept of pacifism, doing good for others, for speaking out against injustice and protecting everyone’s rights.
What I take into consideration when deciding which political party and eventually which candidate to support is identifying who promotes the ideas of pacifism and justice. I try to decipher which candidate will protect the rights of all races, religions, diversity…which candidate will help America grow socially and economically. And I want a candidate that helps promote a culture of acceptance. I don’t want an America that makes me feel afraid just because i’m a Muslim American
“…it’s exhausting to feel that I am never going to be American enough! I am tired of feeling like the words “Guilty” are stamped across my forehead every time there is a terrorist attack…”
Have you been following the presidential campaign? Do you plan to vote in this year’s election?
Yea. I have followed the campaign and I do plan to vote. I was rooting for Bernie Sanders, but now that it is between Clinton and Trump, i’m going to give Clinton my vote.
Honestly? Because she isn’t Trump. I may not agree with all of her policies but she has spoken out for feminism, for unity of all cultures and religions, and for the working and middle class. She will not destroy “Obamacare.” With that said, I recognize her participation and support for unjust wars, and human rights abuses in this country and abroad. So in short – I feel I am voting for the lesser evil – s much lesser evil.
“I want a candidate that helps promote a culture of acceptance. I don’t want an America that makes me feel afraid just because i’m a Muslim American…”
Do you think it’s fair to blame Trump alone for the growing intolerance against Muslims?
I think Trump has helped to ignite those who already felt an intolerance toward Muslims. He hasn’t created intolerance per-say in the sense that it was already there – rather he has helped those who already harbored prejudice against Muslims to organize. And as a result, racists and bigots now probably feel “legitimized”, and that of course, is scary.
Do you find it exhausting being Muslim in America today?
Yes. It’s exhausting to feel that I am never going to be American enough! It’s exhausting to think that to many Americans, i’ll always be an “outsider.” This is my home, my country! I am tired of feeling like the words “Guilty” are stamped across my forehead every time there is a terrorist attack. Those of us who are actual Muslims are also the subjects of these attacks and victims of groups like the Taliban and ISIS. I’ve had family overseas killed by terrorism. And as an American, I hurt just as much as everyone else hurts for those who are victims of these attacks. So to then feel like others view me as a “terrorist” is so painful.
However, I know who I am at the end of the day. I am not ashamed to say that I am a brown female Muslim American. I believe or at least hope that anyone who meets me and takes the time to really know me will learn what it truly means to be a Muslim.