On being a Muslim in the USA
It’s time for the fajr prayer, I’ve just finished Suhur. Suhur is our breakfast during Ramadan, the fajr prayer marks the start of the fast, an act of starvation on the surface, but of perseverance, self control and humility in actuality. I put on my headscarf, and lay the prayer mat facing west. It’s 4am, the room is well lit, and the bare windows watch me prostrate in worship. I try to focus on the prayer, but my mind is drowning in the news of today, the news of yesterday, the news that is always there. Standing in this apartment in New York city, hair draped in a scarf I’ve owned since I was 21, head bowed on a prayer mat gifted to me by a very dear friend, I suddenly feel very exposed.
I imagine my neighbors catching a glimpse of my figure, my current ‘Muslim’ attire. I imagine one of them panicking every time I bring my hands together to speak to Allah. I imagine them going through their drawers to find their gun, just in case my fajr prayer turns me into one of those who use my religion to create the very fear consuming my neighbor. I imagine the neighbor deciding to not take the risk. I imagine a gunshot, timed to hit my head as soon my body comes out of prostration. I imagine this every morning, at 4 am, in my well lit living room, in my blood red head scarf.
These thoughts ran through my mind on the day I got to know about a girl named Nabra Hassanen. She used to live in Fairfax county Virginia. She was beaten to death by a baseball bat. The news says it is not confirmed whether this is a hate crime. I want to believe it isn’t. In her pictures I see she wears a scarf. In news reports I read she was seen going to a mosque. I imagine the baseball bat, it’s impact, and I imagine a gunshot, in my living room.
I moved to the U.S almost a year ago. Before this, I had always lived in Muslim majority countries. I have known fear of street crime, fear of bomb blasts, but I have never known this fear, fear of being spotted for who I am. I sigh in relief at times, walking in the streets of New York city, when I catch my reflection and don’t see a scarf. I could be seen as an Indian, a Christian, or in some cases even a Mexican, and I feel safe draping these masks over myself. I feel safe being anyone but a Muslim, and I feel scared for the Muslims I do see on the street. I eye everyone around them, hoping no one is watching them from the shadows.
I know of a girl who was watched from the shadows, she was wearing her dupatta. It was a few months ago, when she went out of her apartment to dump her garbage bags, and saw a man near the bins. She took no notice of it, until she saw the trash in those very garbage bags, laid out in front of her door the next day. Maybe it wasn’t hate crime, maybe this man in the shadows does this to everyone who comes to throw trash.
Or maybe it is hate crime. And maybe we stop hiding it. And maybe we look into our hearts and find that horror and shame which should have been born as the aftermath of the assault of Nabra, the girl returning from her prayers, beaten to death by a baseball bat. Maybe we scream, and protest, and fight and cry until we have no more room to fear the men in the shadows, and until those very men have no more shadows left to hide in.
Until I stop hearing gunshots every time I see the windows watch me pray. Until hate no longer lives in the hearts of the people around us. Until we understand that this is a long hard battle, which will not be won by weapons, or blood, but by understanding, and education and awareness, and of course, justice. We need, and we want justice for Nabra, but we want so much more to make sure no person, and no child, yes, Nabra was a seventeen year old child, ever has to live through these horrors; the horrors that I am lucky enough to experience only in my mind’s musings of 4 am.
Written By Mishele Ijaz