On a weekly basis, I meet at least one person who is shocked that my English is so fluent. I once had someone stop me mid-sentence to tell me that they did not expect me to speak English so well, and without an accent. People tend to find it hard to believe that I am American. When I tell people that I am from Chicago, they follow-up with “But where were you born?” Or, “you must have been a really young child when you moved to America.”
My career involves meeting new people daily. So, I find that everyday people ask me to explain myself. I tell them that I was born and raised in the states. But that I’m also Palestinian. That my English is fluent because I’ve lived in the U.S. my whole life. That my parents immigrated to the U.S. years ago and that they have been living in the states for more than half their lives. People regularly assume that I am a foreign-trained practitioner. Especially when I do good work. People attribute my skills to my foreign training. But I’m still a student and I’ve only ever been trained in the U.S.
Correcting people, explaining where I am from and where my parents are from and reasons for being American, yet Muslim every day is very, very exhausting. But despite the curiosity many have about the combination of my American English accent and hijab, I’ve never really had a problem with anyone hating me for being who I am–a Muslim. I know that there are many people out there that hate Muslims. I hear, embarrassingly too often, of many incidences in which Muslims are discriminated against, such as the recent story with Tahera Ahmad on United Airlines.
Today, for the first time, I experienced a similar incident that left me feeling hurt and offended. A group of my colleagues and I were all talking about religion, and one of them mentioned something about Islam. An older man, in a position of authority, had his back to us, but he overheard our conversation and said that Muslims “chop people’s heads off.”
I was in complete and utter shock. I could not believe my ears. My colleagues all turned to me to see my reaction, and I could tell that they were all as shocked as I was. It was surprising, not only because he is in a position of leadership and he is very educated and I would expect that he would know better than to believe everything he hears on the news, but I was even more surprised at his disrespectfulness. I was one of three other Muslims in the room at the time, and I was in the circle of the conversation when he made that comment. He knew I was Muslim and he knew I was standing right there, yet he said what he said with no shame. I replied to him negating his comment. I don’t know if he didn’t hear me, or if he pretended to not hear me, but he did not respond.
I contemplated on whether or not I should take this to higher authority figures, who I know will probably fire him. But after much thought, I came to the conclusion that despite his blatant disrespect and obvious hatred of Muslims, I did not want to sink to his level. I did not want to ruin his life for this. So instead of going higher up, I waited until the scene cleared, because I did not want to embarrass him in front of the crowd like he had done with me. I approached him respectfully, kindly, and with a smile on my face. I told him that I did not appreciate the comment he made and that Muslims do not chop people’s heads, as I have never chopped anyone’s head off. He told me that he knew I never chopped a person’s head, otherwise I would not be where I am today, and that the comment was not meant to be personal. I told him that I understood it was not personal, but it was offensive and hurtful. His face turned bright red and he had no words. It was not until I went home that I realized that he did not even apologize.
It saddens me that we live in a society working to destroy the beauty of my religion and replacing it with lies. It is scary to think that some day I will bring children into a world who hates them. That they will be faced with bigots and injustices and hatred.
Despite it all, I find comfort in knowing that God has my back. I pray that He gives me the strength to stand up to those with skewed ideas of Islam and the patience to deal with all that comes with that kind of responsibility.