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Surviving the new terrorism: Islamophobia
[su_label type=”info”]Commentary[/su_label]
Illustration: Gustavo Reyes
Illustration: Gustavo Reyes

Do you know what it is like to be constantly judged for your religious beliefs? I do. Have you ever been rejected by family members because they think you are a member of ISIS and you are a threat to their family? I have. Have you ever been accused of taking part of 911? Muslims like me have.

I am a proud Mexican/Middle Eastern-American woman who believes strongly in Allah.

You might be wondering, what the hell is a Mexican woman doing practicing Islam when she should be Catholic? I was raised in Mexicali and baptized Catholic. However, I always believed in Allah.

I wasn’t allowed to practice Islam when I was a minor due to my mother’s religious beliefs (Apostolic), but once I turned 18, I moved to Southern California for college and I realized I was free. I could practice what I always believed in: Islam.

I am a grown woman and free to believe as I wish. I did not kill anything nor get hit by anyone. But these are some of the assumptions made by a few individuals who questioned my faith. To this day, I see some family members roll their eyes at me, criticize me, or perhaps avoid me and exclude me from family parties because of their Islamophobia. Their ignorance is only fueled by media coverage of events such as the San Bernardino or Orlando mass shootings.

I’ve had to stop reaching out to some of my family, and simply interact with those who respect me and my life. Now that I am older (and haven’t turned out to be a terrorist) I can tell that their eyes mean to say “sorry,” though they never offered me a formal apology.

Over the years, my faith has grown. And even though I don’t have to cover my head or face all the time, I follow the principles of Islam and celebrate Ramadan every year. I’ve learned to survive Islamophobia, and to smile at those who judge me on a daily basis.

Islamophobia is certainly on the rise. I’ve felt it among friends and family alike. I believe it has drastically increased with the presidential campaign and election of Donald J. Trump. Part of me was devastated when he was announced as our next president, yet a part of me became brave knowing, as a Muslim woman, of the real challenge that lies ahead.

It gets tiring defending one’s beliefs, yet if I didn’t believe in Allah, I might not be strong enough to deal with this ignorance. The ignorance that leads to having to switch seats on a flight because other passengers felt uncomfortable with me reading the Koran. That has happened to me before and I am sure it will happen again.

Islamophobia is frightening. There has been a rise in hate crimes against my Muslim community, yet somehow we are the “terrorists.” I have witnessed so much ignorance here at home that both my partner and I have talked about raising our family in a Muslim friendly country. We don’t want our children to grow up in fear.

I pray this ignorance will stop, and that we’ll unite together as a country. I pray that people will practice what they preach when it comes to peace, and leave ignorance behind. I pray Islamophobia will vanish and that everyone will respect each other.

Whatever the future holds, I will continue to believe in Allah.

Story by: Gardenia Zuniga-Haro