It was in their eyes. The way they looked at me. It conveyed to me that I was not one of them; I was the other.
I remember trying to comprehend as a child, what was so dirty and dangerous about me that my games teacher had asked the rest of the class to stay away from me. Because I was a Muslim, and Muslims are dirty and dangerous? My innocence knew not hate, but only love and craving for acceptance at an age when I didn’t even know what it meant. So the younger me hid her Muslim identity when her only just recently-made friend asked, “I hope you’re not a Muslim? My mother warned me not to befriend them.” Growing up as a Muslim student has not been easy. It’s a struggle to fit in with the rest of the class: it’s like you’re a debater trying to prove every second of your life that you are just one of them, after all.
From being told how beautiful you look without that ‘thing’ on your head, to being forced to remove it, is what comprises your school life. From being told by your peers how much their parents and they hated Muslims (because they are all terrorists) to being labelled as one!
Have you ever been in a position where you have been craving for acceptance from someone? Well, I have been there, all my life. I craved for acceptance from this whole society. Maybe I still do.
You see, you have two options before you: to either let go of your identity and become who they want you to be, or to be yourself whilst craving for acceptance. I am the latter one – the one who is hated by all, the one who they consider as the ‘other’. Yes, every day in school has been a struggle and it continues to be so in university. There have been days when I have questioned myself – if there was something wrong with me, since I had no friends. But this question, I realised, was only a defence mechanism, wrapped up in the hope of maybe being good enough someday to have friends around. But how long could I hold on to this illusion, when the reality stared me in the face? Islamophobia was never going to let me be one of them.
It’s there, right there! But nobody sees it, only I do. Its invisibility has become the weapon it uses to kill me every day. When Islamophobia is clearly visible, you are in a position to speak up against it, at least. But what happens when it acquires an invisibility of its own? You can’t even grab the collars of your offenders. You are made to gulp down its bitterness. And that is exactly what I have been doing – so much so that I have forgotten how bad the bitterness of it tastes. When you have been feeling that pain all your life, you forget what that pain even feels like, because it has been part of your existence from the day it was known to the world that you are a Muslim.
The pain, I believe, is now numb.
It’s exhausting having to always explain yourself. Having to always explain to people that “wait, you’re wrong, and I am not this, and this is my story…” can actually be exhausting, especially if you’ve been doing this while taking pride in your identity.
“Mothering A Muslim” is a book that reveals the discrimination and bullying that Muslim children have to face in schools.
Ahmed Mohamed, who was 14 years old back in 2015, was arrested after the homemade clock that he had made for his school was mistaken for a bomb. These are just some of the stories that happen to make headlines, but there are many untold narratives about Muslims in classrooms.
To all those Muslims in their classrooms who are the ‘other’, I have this message for you:
I know it hurts. I have been there too. I still am. But you know what hurts more? To give up on your identity. Yes, I have been there too. I remember, years back in school, how I would not wear my hijab at times to conform to their idea of beauty, to be one of them. Believe me, I was well accepted, but deep inside my heart, I knew that I was not living my truth. I knew I was betraying myself, letting them crush my dignity, my identity under their Islamophobic feet. You have to decide if you’re going to live by their standards, or if you’re going to embrace yourself confidently and unapologetically. Years later, I realised nothing was ever wrong with me. There still isn’t. It’s them who are at fault, not me.
You will, I promise, find beauty in living your truth. It will give your existence a meaning greater than yourself. Nothing is more valuable than being unapologetically yourself, remember that.
The Muslim in the classroom