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I Am Muslim, I Am Manchester

Nurun Nahar

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Thousands and thousands of posts, hashtags, and photos demonizing the religion of Islam are spread across the internet on a daily basis. For American Muslims, this atmosphere of hatred and bigotry seen online has become common.

When I first started to use social media as a middle schooler and would come across posts like “Kill ALL the Muslims,” my heart would sink and my mouth would go dry. As a preteen, I was appalled and disheartened at the complete lack of understanding of such a beautiful religion that had made me who I am. As the Anti-Islam rhetoric has continuously increased, I have been exposed to more and more hate toward Islam, both on social media and in the real world, and have become accustomed to it.

I am an American-born Muslim who has been living in the United States my whole life. Manchester is my home. The United States is my home. I am as American as my neighbors, my fellow classmates, or any other American-born student. Yet, by default, I will never be treated the same as any other American-born student based on the color of my skin, and the fact that I come from a family that practices Islam.

In the past 14 years, radical Islamist groups have continued to obstruct the messages of Islam and have used violence and brutality to distort the teachings of Islam. Extremism has overshadowed the true teachings of Islam: peace, love, and submission to God.”

I was only 3 years old at the time of the 9/11 terror attacks and, like many other young Muslims in this country, have grown up constantly haunted by these events. September 11th created an atmosphere of fear toward Muslims and a misunderstanding of the religion. In the past 14 years, radical Islamist groups have continued to obstruct the messages of Islam and have used violence and brutality to distort the teachings of Islam. Extremism has overshadowed the true teachings of Islam: peace, love, and submission to God.

As a young American Muslim, prejudice and nasty comments have always been a part of our daily lives. I cannot express how many times I’ve been subjected to terrorist jokes, even by those I’ve considered friends. The rise of Anti-Islamic sentiment has heightened not only verbal prejudice, but violent acts of prejudice too. In the past year alone, and in light of recent events, the hate expressed at American Muslims has become something that one can no longer shrug off, or become accustomed to. The attacks on Paris and shooting of San Bernardino have clearly had a huge impact on their respective locations and residents, but these events have also had a significant impact on the Muslim-American community. Hate crimes and acts of prejudice towards Muslims have spiked after these attacks. Vandalism on U.S mosques, attacks and beatings of innocent Muslim civilians, and death threats sent through social media have become a part of daily life for some Muslims.

In a U.S Uncut article, it is stated that 2015 has been the deadliest year on record for Muslims, with 63 recorded attacks on mosques and the total number of hate crimes rising from 154 in 2014. In the last month alone, 13 hate crimes have been reported, and that completely disregards acts that go unnoticed and unreported. Even in our state, there have been reports of various acts of violence against the Muslim community. Weeks ago, a Muslim student at UConn found a note under the name outside of his dorm door saying “Killed Paris.” The UConn community, both Muslim and Non-Muslim, rose up against such actions of discrimination through protest and rallies. In Meriden, Connecticut, a suspect was identified in the shooting of the local mosque.

“The other day, someone told me and a group of friends to not go outside because of the rise of hate crimes against Muslims since the Paris attack; they said to be careful and be cautious of anyone following us or being a threat,” said a Manchester High Muslim student who asked to remain anonymous.

A normal American high school student should not have to fear leaving her house in a country that she calls home. I should not fear for my mom every time we go out in public and strangers give her nasty looks for wearing the hijab, the Islamic headscarf. Muslim politicians should not fear doing their jobs because they receive death threats on the job. Muslim employees should not fear being spit on or cursed at by customers. Members of local Islamic centers should not fear arriving to a mosque with shattered windows and broken furniture. Members of the American Muslim community should not fear praying in public.

But, the sad reality is that Muslims do fear practicing their religion. Islamophobia, a fear and prejudice towards Islam, is real and, for many of us, it is scary.

But amidst the circulation of a negative attitude towards Muslims, especially after top GOP candidate, Donald Trump’s recent proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the country, the support against Islamophobia has risen. Though Trump has passionate support from some of his Republican followers on this proposition, many celebrities, politicians, and everyday American citizens have made it their responsibility to condemn Trump’s plan.

But, the sad reality is that Muslims do fear practicing their religion. Islamophobia, a fear and prejudice towards Islam, is real and, for many of us, it is scary.”

At a briefing last month, the White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the “kind of offensive, hateful, divisive rhetoric” coming from candidates for presidency is “damaging and dangerous.” A large outpour of support has been seen as non-Muslim Americans are becoming more and more aware of the frequency in which Muslims are targeted.

Among the constant negativity seen online, and in the news, it is nice for the Muslim community to have a safe haven in the halls of MHS. In the last year alone, MHS has implemented a Halal food option for Muslim students and, just recently, provided a prayer room for students during Power Hour and after school. Mushirah Majid is the advocate who pushed for a Halal cafeteria option.

“[Principal Krieger and the Food and Services Director for Manchester Public Schools] were both kind and encouraging, and they already knew about the large Muslim population in our district,which made the process much easier,” Majid said.

This accepting atmosphere creates a sense of community for students which they may not find elsewhere.

“Students and teachers sometimes seem puzzled but are often just curious about some things, and when they ask questions I feel like a barrier that once existed about their idea of Islam begins to break down or they just become more accepting than they already were,” said the Muslim student who wished to remain anonymous. “The environment for Muslims at MHS is very welcoming and respectful. I find that that is what makes MHS special, its diversity and acceptance of different cultures, faiths, and beliefs.”

It’s communities like Manchester that help Muslims combat hatred and gain a sense of belonging. Living in this town has helped me identify myself as a Muslim. Despite the actions of radical terrorist groups, despite the hate from those who don’t know about the religion, despite the proposals of banning Muslims, and despite the negative light in which Islam has been painted, I love my religion.

I am a proud American Muslim and nothing can ever change that.

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