It feels like yesterday.
It was September 11th, 2001, and I was living in the United States – Louisiana to be specific. As someone who wasn’t raised particularly religious, at the age of 12, I thought the most unique thing about me at that point was that I was a Canadian living in the Deep South. After 9/11, Canadian was the last thing anyone saw me as.
Nothing about me was visibly or clearly Muslim – I didn’t wear a hijab (scarf), I didn’t know how or even that we were supposed to pray, and quite honestly, most people just assumed I was Mexican. As of September 12th, 2001, all that anyone could see was ‘Muslim’.
Did we face backlash? Absolutely.
Were we alienated, ridiculed, ostracised? Yes, without a doubt.
Were we questioned by the authorities with no cause? Far too often than I like to remember.
Did we experience the nastiest and most hateful side of some people? Sadly, yes, yes, and yes.
Despite that all, I am so grateful to have experienced it all. If it wasn’t for the backlash of 9/11, I don’t know if I would have ever taken the time to learn about my faith.
The hate fueled me. It pushed me to learn about Islam – what was this faith I knew so little about?
I asked my parents to find me an Arabic teacher, so I could learn to read the Qur’an. 3 weeks later, I was reading.
I researched and researched and researched some more. Within a couple of months, I had learned the tenets of my faith and a spark was lit within me that alhamdullilah has never been put out.
I learned to pray, and began to pray 5 times a day. Most of all, I started to show my deen – my religion – at school, in spite of all of the hate.
At 12 years of age, this was not easy by any stretch of the imagination. But, staying silent and hiding my faith, was simply not an option because THAT was precisely what the xenophobes, racists, and ignorant wanted.
I know it can be incredibly difficult to stand up during these times and show your faith with pride. I know what it feels like to be alone, constantly wondering “Are they staring at me? Do they hate me?” I know how hesitant or fearful you may be to greet your fellow Muslim as you pass them in the street. I know how tempting it will feel to take off your hijab or abaya, or have your parents encourage you to take it off – ‘just for a little while’.
My life changed after 9/11, just as many other lives did too.
Alhamdullilah, though, my life became filled with purpose, passion, and commitment. Exploring, learning, and living my faith illuminated my life in a way that nothing else ever could.
This, my sisters, is the time to be resilient, to be strong, to be proud, and to show our faith without apology or fear.
It will not be easy – but for the reward of your Creator, I promise you – No I guarantee you – it WILL be worth it.