Being Muslim in America

First Person

Khaled Alameldin, Staff Writer

As a child growing up in Fresno, Calif., I remember a loving community where most people accepted differences. Then 9/11 came and life started changing. Muslims were scared to wear hijabs and began to live in fear. Over the next several years we watched as our thriving Muslim community shrank and families moved to other cities they thought would be more welcoming.

At the time, my father was an assistant dean at Fresno State after earning degrees at both UPenn and Columbia in computer science. Although he has since passed away, throughout his lifetime he was a well-respected academic, but 9/11 altered his views of America.

My mother also faced hardships being a Muslim woman in America. When my mother came to this country in 1995 she wore to her Hijab with pride, but after 9/11 she was frequently taunted with rude gestures.

After that incident my mother cautioned me to never to show our religion openly for the fear of religious persecution.

My brother, Muhammad, recalls experiencing racism in school. In second grade he remembers feeling bullied and being called names — but his teacher did little to help him. The experience was so painful that he has still blocked much of it out of his mind. It’s from this experience that my brother swore to never stop fighting for Muslim rights and he is still actively involved in politics.

After my father passed away, my family moved to Stockton in hopes of a new life. But as soon as we moved, I too fell victim to racism; in my elementary school I dealt with a racist teacher and students who used to call me several Islamophobic names such as terrorist, bomber and Osama Bin Laden.

It wasn’t until 2008 when I felt the true sting of racism. Each year on the anniversary of 9/11, many Muslim parents tell their children to stay home but I decided to take a risk and go to school that day. Oh boy, do I regret that decision. Every time the word 9/11 was said classmates would turn to me and ask if my father, whose death I was still mourning, was a terrorist.

That day will live in my memory forever because from that point I decided I wasn’t going to let racism push me around anymore. I began to fight with my words and instead of staying quiet, I armed myself with facts and became a debater. Today, I am a proud member of Bear Creek’s Speech and Debate team. But my experience with racism wasn’t limited to just school.

When I was 13 years old I flew from San Francisco to Egypt to visit my dying grandfather. As I was going through airport security I was caught with a pair of scissors, which admittedly was a violation of security rules. During the interrogation by TSA officials I was asked “Is anyone in your family related to the Taliban?” “What were your plans with these scissors?” and “Have your hands been in contact with any chemicals?” Since then every time I travel outside the U.S. I experience similar interrogations.

The moment that gave me hope that racism toward Muslims would end was in 2008 when President Obama was the first African American to capture the White House. This historic achievement gave me hope that one day I too could enter the political realm.

Today as Trump begins his presidency I have the same feeling I felt after 9/11. I have started to hear rhetoric such as “Muslims should be banned” and “We’re going to bomb the Middle East.” Muslims continue to be attacked, mosques are vandalised and history has started to repeat itself.

In my lifetime racism has shaped me to continuously fight with powerful words instead of violence. My goal is to disprove stereotypes that society has created and to show that not all Muslims are “terrorists” or “bombers.”

Each year when our school celebrates diversity during international week, I am hopeful that we will be the generation to end bigotry.