WASHINGTON – Eighteen. That’s the number of bullets that were fired into a Muslim family’s home in a North Carolina suburban neighborhood. A mother woke up screaming in the middle of the night, during the gunfire, lying in a puddle of blood after one bullet traveled through the window and struck her thigh.
Although the motive and perpetrators of the shooting are still unknown, the conversation of hate crimes against Muslim-American families has taken center-stage among their community. The family under attack has made one thing very clear: they don’t feel safe with their religious identity.
The father, Abdul, was weary and worried of revealing their last name to reporters for the sake of their security. Abdul’s reluctance to share his last name is not unheard of –American – Muslims across the country are choosing to abandon their religious identity in fear of persecution and discrimination.
Consider Jannat’s story as an example. Jannat is a 22-year-old, true American-bred woman working in the nation’s capital and living her childhood dreams sounds like a dream accomplishment for parents. Jannat’s parents can’t take in that privilege yet, because of her last name: Majeed. The surname, like the headscarf, is a strong marker of Pakistani and Muslim identity.
But more than being Pakistani-American, Majeed prides herself in two things: her graduate studies at George Washington University and her advocacy for human rights. Her passion for human rights compels her to be outspoken whenever she sees injustice occur globally, but her mother thinks that always comes with a price as a Muslim.
“My mother’s reasoning in asking me to speak less on Islam through social media was that she doesn’t want me to be threatened or attacked by anyone in a hate crime,” Manjeed said.
For the Manjeeds, Jannat’s freedom of expression–when it comes to discussing incidents involving Islam–could put her in a harmful, perhaps deadly, situation. There’s merit justifying the epidemic of paranoia infesting American-Muslim families from coast to coast.
In a North Carolina condominium complex, three students in Chapel Hill were left for dead in puddles of blood–each of them shot in the head execution-style. After several confrontations, anti-theist Craig Hicks shot 23-year-old dental student Deah Barakat, his newlywed wife 21-year-old Yusor Abu-Mohammed, and her 19-year-old sister Razan al-Salha.
Although North Carolina’s law enforcement has ruled the motive over a parking dispute, the motive is still unknown until the FBI completes their investigation.
But there’s one thing for certain: Abu-Mohammed and al-Salha both wore the hijab. The hijab, a headscarf serving as a symbol of Islamic identity which was violently hijacked by anti-Islam polemicists and neo-feminists for over a decade, and for that precise reason Muslim families have been telling their daughters to unveil themselves.
A few days after the September 11th attacks, Kulsoom Ijaz–now a law student from Syracuse University–was lying down in her room “chilling” when her mother barged in and frantically told her daughter to take off her hijab.
For Muslim women, the headscarf they choose to wear becomes a public statement of their devotion to their religion–thus making them easy known targets for anti-Islamic discrimination and harassment.
Ijaz believed this was the case, and with heart heavy with sorrow and worry, demanded her daughter to take preemptive actions to prevent that from ever becoming a reality.
“When my mom told me to take off my hijab,” Ijaz said. “She was fearful that I was going to be bullied at school by classmates and teachers.”
But unlike her parents, Ijaz did not want to back down from her Muslim identity simply to accommodate the comfort of those misinformed about her religion. Although Ijaz protested her parents’ initial request to wear the hijab, she didn’t want to take if off for the wrong reasons.
“When she gave me a way out, it did not sit well with me. I told her: ‘I am not going to take it off over fear’,” Ijaz added.
Muslim women aren’t alone in diminishing their physical religious identity. For Muslim men, they find themselves living on the short end of a double standard in Western culture. While white men are often glorified for their lumberjack-esque beards, brown men find their own facial hair the culprit of the uncomfortable blank stares, “random selection security checks,” and instances of hate crimes.
A 21-year-old Indian student, Saif Rangwala, with a major in media communications at Austria’s Webster University, said his travels all over North America and Europe have left his parents and sisters scared of what could happen to him as a Muslim man, being in places that aren’t entirely “Muslim-friendly”.
“My parents and sisters have repeatedly told me to shave my beard as I travel a lot all over the States and Europe,” Rangwala said. “They feel that I would get targeted by airport security and by police even more as my dark skin and beard make me look like a possible terrorist.”
When Ahmad Alahmadi,a 23-year-old graduate student from Kuwait, first came to the United States, his father began calling him constantly from Kuwait City. Alahmadi’s 56-year-old father begged his son to stop wearing his keffiyeh and to shave off his beard.
“My dad always tells me to shave my beard and to stay away from mosques whenever I return back to the United States for my studies,” Alahmadi said.
Although the Bentley University Masters student agrees with his father–on the fact he has faced harassment solely based on his religious and ethnic identity–he doesn’t think concealing his Muslimness will alleviate the situation.
“It’s that I just want to fight this [Islamophobia] and stepping away from my identity makes the problem worse,” Alahmadi added.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the largest Muslim organization in North America, has taken notice of this alarming trend. CAIR’s Communication Manager Ibrahim Hooper noted that this phenomenon is largely due to the rising case of the Islamophobia in American society.
“No American should be forced to hide his or her religious identity in order to feel safe. The fact that some Muslims feel pressured into taking this path is another indication of the growing Islamophobia in our society,” Hooper said. “It is a phenomenon that should be of concern to our nation’s leaders and to Americans of all faiths.”
For 15-year-old Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, life as an American-Muslim was ended short when he was murdered in Kansas City, Missouri by a local Christian Somali man known to taunt the Muslim community with anti-Islam taunts.
For Houston Muslim families, their children are no longer safe in their own community centers when their Islamic center was set on fire by an anti-Islam polemicist. For Ahmed al-Jumaili, taking photos of his first sight of snowfall became a death wish, when he was killed by two unknown gunmen in a Dallas suburb.
For these Muslims, strolling along the streets of America is no longer a luxury of which they can take advantage of. The backyards where children once played in the snow have become a crime scene, and for some, life in this nation has become a prison.
So when these Muslims, these Americans, feel the need to censor their own identity, their own liberties, because they are fearful that their son or daughter won’t make it home safely at the end of the night–– what does it say about the nation we have become?