Bismillah - In the name of Allah.
In Islam, greeting one another is an important mannerism. We greet one another with Asalamwalaykum or Salam for short. As some of you may know, it means, "May peace be with you." (This can also be used as a farewell.) Greeting one another is also a good mannerism here in Wisconsin. You will probably nod your head, say hello, or smile with each person you make eye contact with as you're strolling in your neighborhood.
But, not all greetings are great. What is not a great greeting is being told, "Welcome to America," when I have lived here my whole life. How am I supposed to react to that? “Thanks! You too!” It’s not like most of the US population is from the US.
Maybe you’re wondering what exactly happened, so let me tell you. I was heading out to lunch when an individual began to converse with me. They complimented me on behalf of my outfit and my hijab, which I appreciated.
I was then asked, “What’s your nationality?” Which is kind of better than “Where are you from?” But it’s not, because it’s the same question. Tomato, tomato (toe-mah-toe), right? This question is implemented, “You don’t belong here.”
I did end up telling them, "My parents are from Afghanistan.” Because they are and I get that’s what they were asking.
The person looked at me with a huge grin and they responded with, "Welcome to America!" Which further implicated, "You don't really belong here, do you? We hope you enjoy your visit here within the United States." And I mean visit because you’re not expected to stay in the United States for long.
I didn’t understand at the time, nor do I understand now, how that was an appropriate thing to say. This individual saw me walk out of my office with my laptop. I don’t know, personally, this is an indicator that I have worked and lived in the United States for a while. I guess props to them for not being judgmental. But, it’s not like I had just come out of a plane from a different country or had a suitcase with me. If that was the case, I would be slightly more understanding.
By now, I already know this conversation has gone south. It can’t get worse from here. We reached the worst, I was welcomed to America. I smiled and informed them, "I've lived here my whole life." This is where the conversation was supposed to end. The person says, Oh, and I nod my head, say a quick bye, then walk off. This is what I wanted, and lunch.
The person then told me, "Oh, so you still continue your culture by wearing the scarf? That's nice." And I knew then, I was completely wrong. It did get worse. This person went for the kill shot, and they hit the target spot on.
I could only smile and say, "Yes." I then quickly exchanged farewells because I did not want to continue this conversation any longer than I had to. Again, I just wanted lunch.
No, I did not want to explain to them how the hijab is a religious factor. Yes, I recognize that there are cultures that wear a headscarf. If I sat there and explained it to them, I would have a ted talk in a situation I didn’t want to.
The statement of me still continuing to wear the scarf for my culture was bothersome to me because it is a microaggression towards my religion. When saying that I ‘still continue’ to wear the hijab is almost underlining how the hijab is not and should not be normalized. The statement underlines that the hijab is extreme. The statement underlines that Islam is extreme. This interaction underlines that people from other countries should assimilate to Western norms if they plan to live in the United States.
Recently, some people have been wearing balaclavas. They never get looked down upon for wearing a scarf over their heads. They don’t look extreme for wearing a headscarf at all. They look great and it’s exactly what happened with dreads, henna, yoga, and every example of cultural and religious appropriation you can think of.
Then, there are the Muslim women who wear hijab. I get to have security feel my bun to make sure I didn’t implant a bomb, as if the metal detectors won’t be able to sense them. A young girl in Virginia got assaulted and had her hijab taken off in high school. Muslim girls who wear hijab in France are fighting for their right to do so. It is a privilege to wear the scarf and to be applauded in Western society.
If you couldn’t tell by now, Islamophobia and racism are things that do bother me a lot more than people may know. It’s not fun. In every circle outside of those whom I’m close to, I do feel alone and I feel like I don’t belong. Hearing this stuff makes me feel extremely isolated.
I understand that it is a privilege to learn about racism and Islamophobia. However, that does not invalidate my experience, nor should I be responsible to teach them as a victim of racism. I don't think there is a proper way to cope with racism, because we shouldn't have to cope with racism.
It hurt that day.
I did happen to buy a pint of ice cream that night.
And yes, it still hurts today.
Moreover, I want to return to the topic of discrimination and prejudice against Islam, commonly recognized as Islamophobia. Personally, I do not like the term, Islamophobia. The suffix, phobia, is often defined as an ‘irrational fear,’ which almost belittles the entire concept of Islamophobia. We can boil down discrimination to an irrational fear, however, it’s more like irrational hate than it is fear.
Do I have a better word for an Islamophobist? No. Because an anti-Islamer/anti-Islamist doesn’t sound too great. I would feel just as uncomfortable saying “You’re an anti-Islamer,” as I would receiving a microaggression. I do think using the Arabic word for oppressor would be better, “الظالم” which is also used in the Quran several times. However, I’m not sure if الظالم is the best word since I am not fluent in Arabic. The point is, there needs to be a better word for Islamophobia.
And Islamophobia makes no logical sense to me. If you’re someone who associates terrorism with Muslims, I hate to break it to you, but on a global scale, the United States is viewed as a terrorist country. Associating Islam with extremists is like associating the KKK with Christianity or associating every white person with the KKK. You did not see me glaring and avoiding White children in high school because I thought they were going to shoot me.
And Jihad. How has no one ever bothered to look up, "What is Jihad?" For those of you who don’t know, Jihad means struggle or effort. The greater jihad is with yourself. You’re going through Jihad when you’re facing inner conflict such as struggling to have patience, fighting your ego, etc. (So basically, everyone has a jihad.) The smallest jihad is war. When declaring war, there are all sorts of guidelines that have to be followed. Fun fact, Jihad in terms of war has to be in self-defense.
It’s disheartening to hear misconceptions on Islam with women's rights. Islam gave women rights before any Western country did. If you still think that Islam teaches women to not have an education, you might be surprised, the first person to create a university was Fatimah Al-Fihri, who was a Muslim woman. Education is super important in Islam (to think that Islam doesn’t encourage education is ironic to me). As Muslims, we’re encouraged to critically think and retrieve education.
Another stereotype that irks me is how Muslims are unloving and strict towards their families. I got this one completely racist comment when I worked in a grocery store. (We already know the story is bad because it takes place in a grocery store.) I was a cashier and the customer I was helping decided to make conversation. I never minded making conversation with customers, it always made my shift pass by. The customer asked the classic, “Where are you from?” I gave him the same answer as I said before.
He then proudly told me, “My sister served in Afghanistan.” I didn’t thank his sister for her service in Afghanistan. I was just like, “It must have been an experience,” or something. I really don’t know how to respond to that nor do I remember what I said.
It’s kind of similar to when you’re talking to a friend about a new book you’re reading, and they cut you off to say, “I don’t like books.” Like, cool story, bro. I don’t understand what type of reaction someone wants when they make a statement like that.
He then talked about how his sister worked as a medic in Afghanistan and saved a civilian because his leg was blown off. The civilian then told his sister, “I can’t go back home with one leg, I’ll be a burden to my family.”
In my head, when I heard this story, I understood. He was probably the only person who could help his family, and now he’s going to need the most help from them. He just feels guilty because he can’t provide for his family like how he used to. His family won’t feel like he’s a burden at all. If anything, the family is more worried about the man than they are about themselves.
When I say his family is going to be more worried for him than they will be for themselves, I mean it. Afghans are hospitable. Ridiculously and unnecessarily hospitable. We will offer everything we own to someone who made simply bought us cookies. We will fight over the bill in public as if our lives depended on it. It’s just our culture to be hospitable, I take pride in it.
When the customer finished the story, he said, “It’s crazy how his family will think he’ll be a burden considering what he went through.” I was so shocked when I heard this. I stopped scanning his groceries and looked at him. Thinking about it, I might’ve stared a little bit too hard just to make sure if he was serious.
I was like, “Sir, I guarantee you that’s not how his family felt.”
I don’t know how this man had the courage to say this, but he defensively said, “My sister was there and she saw the whole thing. That’s how it is over there.” I don’t remember how that conversation ended, but I remember the anger. I’m pretty sure I also had ice cream that night, too.
Of course, there are Muslim countries that are more focused on the toxic aspects of their culture, the patriarchy, and other harmful ideas (just like there are Western countries that do the same). These toxic concepts of women not getting an education, “holy jihad”, and more come from control, people’s personal political agenda, and the entire psychology of politics. Not Islam.
So, when I get told, “Welcome to America,” it makes me question, how is the US welcoming to me? Maybe that’s the whole point, it’s not supposed to feel welcoming at all to be in the US.
And when you hear me say, Asalamwalaykum, I genuinely hope there is peace with you. Especially in a country that can be inconsiderately unwelcoming.
Saffron Tea for one
6-8 ounces of spring water/purified/distilled
1 tsp of green tea leaves
a pinch of cardamom
a few strands of saffron
Boil your water and set it aside for a few minutes. Add your tea leaves, cardamom, and saffron. Let it sit for up to 5 minutes. Strain your tea in a cup and toss out the tea leaves, cardamom, and saffron. Enjoy with some honey or sugar if you want it sweet.
Recently, I met someone who told me to never boil tea leaves. You burn your tea leaves if you do so and it takes away a lot of the nutritional benefits. So, always give it a minute before steeping your tea.