Earlier this year, I was on the train on my way to my university. I had stayed up the night before writing a paper and was dozing in and out with the rocking rhythm of the train. I yawned and experienced a hijabi’s worst nightmare: my hijab pin popped open. Thankfully, there weren’t people around on my side of the cart and resourceful me had another hijab pin in my bag. While I was fixing myself back up, my eyes happened to wander to a nearby sign advertising quick and easy Spanish classes. What caught my eye was a handwritten note on the bottom which said, “Or everybody could just learn English, or leave our country alone.” Two things popped into my head after reading that. The first was that this expert in English needed to take some English grammar classes themselves. The second thought was just how easy it would be for someone to pull off my hijab at that very moment. The part that made me deeply sad was the realization as to how big a possibility there was of that happening in today’s climate.
I first started covering my hair in 2001. August 2001 to be exact. That’s right, a month before the day that changed the world for most Muslims and other minorities in general. I was in the eighth grade and my friends were still trying to get used to not seeing my hair. A lot of them said they kind of figured it would happen eventually, and the others kept asking the usual questions. Does this mean you’re getting married? Does this mean you don’t have anymore hair? Does this mean I can never see your hair ever again, ever? I laughed, joked, and explained. I had no idea that in a matter of weeks, I would be designated the role for explanations for the rest of the year, and in fact, the rest of my life.
I can honestly say that aside from a few misguided curses, slurs, and hijab pulls here and there, I didn’t have it as bad as a lot of other Muslims out there in the aftermath of 9/11. For the most part, I used it as a teaching tool for my classmates. My teachers couldn’t be happier to have a practicing Muslim in the classroom, and for about a week after, my Georgia history class turned into “Let’s Explore Islam” period. Like I said, aftermath, not so bad. Alhamdulillah.
It’s been in recent days where the sociopolitical climate has become so polarized, that I actually have to think about my safety in certain situations. It doesn’t help when the media just feeds the public, who in turn feed the media. It’s a vicious cycle and it’s leaving me to ask the question, what’s happened to our humanity?
While this post is partially inspired by the recent attacks on the Sikh temple, I’m asking a much broader question. A few weeks ago, I was reading about a shooting at a Batman movie showing. A few weeks before that, Burma. A few weeks before that, another attack. A few weeks before that, another shooting. There has been no rhyme or rhythm to any of this, other than something is terribly wrong. Even the reaction to the attacks have taken a harsh tone, where we argue and criticize about the title a person is given and whether he is a terrorist, a psychopath, or just plain disturbed.
I’m not going to lie, I was one of those people who had mixed feelings when I heard that Osama bin Laden had been killed. I in no way was sad that he was gone, but I was taken aback when people started celebrating his death. I’ve always thought that a life lost is a life lost, plain and simple. Death is a part of life, something that’s inevitable and part of His plan. So when I saw people celebrating death, the forceful taking of a life, I had to question again, what’s happened to our humanity?
Today’s climate is such that any comment made will be interpreted to all extremes. You can’t even post a statement on Facebook without a debate sparking and virtual chaos ensuing. The middle path seems to have all but disappeared. The saddest part about all of this is the politicians who partake in this are doing it mainly for votes and funding. The media that’s fueling it all is doing it for, again, funding. The general public that feed into it? It’s a free space with no filter and probably the only place these people get a chance to put any input into anything at all. And hey, if we can get famous quick for our controversial comments, then why not? So basically, the reason we have such extreme thoughts and vibes out there, waiting to filter into impressionable minds is because of strips of paper that have been deemed valuable.
What has happened to us as a society that we’ve become desensitized to the violence, the torment, and the tragedies of others. This isn’t a religion issue, a race issue, or a culture issue. This is a human issue. Last night at our masjid in between isha and tarawih, a brother came on to inform us of local community issues. He told us about Muslim refugees from war-torn countries living only 30 minutes away from us. He told us that the conditions that they’re living in resemble conditions that you’re used to “back home,” back where our families originally came from. While I listened to him describe these conditions, I started getting emotional and felt tears start to form. The person next to me was on her cell phone checking her text messages. The aunties in front of me were talking about their Eid plans. So the question came to my mind again, what’s happening to our humanity?
It’s Monday afternoon as I sit here writing this now, and I’ve just read news about a masjid that was destroyed due to a fire. Not only is this literally a day after the attack on the Sikh temple, this is the second fire this masjid had to deal with in five weeks. Death happens. Death always happens and death will continue to happen. I’ve accepted that. What I can’t accept is the physical and verbal violence this society has turned to in every corner of the world. Whether it’s the blatant violation of human rights in the Middle East, internal political turmoil in South Asia, acts of aggression here in the US, or attacks online via routes of social media, it all makes me sick.
I realize as I sit here, my words don’t really change or affect the world in any significant way, and I end up just joining the online traffic that is social media, reaching out to a handful of people. But to that handful of people, I urge you to take action. Don’t just read my words, nod in agreement, and then go about your day as usual. Do something, anything. Whether it’s donating money, goods, supplies, or even time, give something. Raise awareness. Collect signatures. Take a cause and commit. If all of this is too much, then just pray. Turn to God, throw your hands up, and ask Him to give this society some much needed clarity and direction. My heart and prayers go out to all of those people suffering in the world, and all of those lives that have been forcefully lost.