What It’s Like to Be Muslim in America Today


Imagine a life where everyone looked at you as a threat.  Imagine a life where people you identify with suffer under constant attack due to the actions of people who look or sound like you.  

The horrible day of 9/11 would shape the rest of my life, before I could walk even one step. From that day on, growing up as a Muslim in the United States would become harder.  From that day on, Muslims like me, ruthlessly attacked by both the radicals that slander Islam and extreme alt-right conservatives, have tried to figure out where we belong. From that day on, my last name would determine whether I got extra screening at the airport or not.  My religion would determine how I would be treated at school, targeted by bullies because I practice Islam. I am not just a Muslim or just an American.

I am a Muslim American. I love my religion and country equally.

However, the fact that I am a loyal American does not give me a sense of ease that the government is on my side.  My president, my president, Donald Trump, has incited violence toward Muslims through his extreme language and beliefs, recently having his new travel ban allowed by the Supreme Court in a 5-4 vote.  As a part of not one, but two minorities (my parents are immigrants from India), I believe that my freedom of speech is limited, as I always have to watch my tongue, even though I was born in the United States, even though I am a citizen.  Are my First Amendment rights as an American citizen being restricted due to my minority status?

For immigrants like my parents, it is a fairly simple idea: minorities must hold their tongues on certain issues because they can get into trouble for speaking out or conducting cultural or religious actions in public.  For example, my parents were not specifically happy that I was one of the organizers for the school walkout on March 14th this year. My parents told me to keep a low profile, that since this was a conservative area and I was a Muslim teenager, I would be seen as a troublemaker in the eyes of law enforcement and school administration.  I remember thinking to myself: ‘I am a natural-born citizen of the United States! Why would I be treated any different than a person who is part of the racial majority in this community?’ Then, I realized that this was a particularly notorious stigma, sowed into the minds of minority groups for generations, at play.

It is not only Muslims who feel this stigma.  Everyone from African Americans, Native American, or Asian backgrounds feels this stigma.  Everyone from LGBTQ backgrounds feels this stigma. Even Hindus, Buddhists, and Sikhs may feel this stigma.  There can be hateful rhetoric against these groups, causing the empowerment of this stigma. This is a concerning threat to our democracy, this stigma against minorities raising their voices to challenge the popular belief of the majority.  I and others, both in the majority and the minority, must stand up against this notion, and hopefully in doing so, will establish ourselves as the generation that will indeed generate change for the better.