For the first time ever, I am scared to go home.
I was raised in the suburbs of Orange County, and I love my little city as one can only love one’s own home. I love the long road leading to my high school, the one where I learned to drive. I love the boba place right off the freeway where my friends and I spent countless nights making memories and growing up. I love the tree-lined streets, the peaceful buzz of the growing city. I love the feeling of safety and familiarity.
Why, then, am I scared to go home?
I am no one special. I am a college student. I am fascinated by people and I love learning. In my free time I ride horses and run on the beach and I write long stories. I am someone’s best friend and someone’s roommate. I am someone’s little sister and someone’s daughter. I am someone’s colleague, someone’s team captain, someone’s student.
I don’t have a criminal record. I don’t have any enemies. I don’t hate anyone. My only crime are the words that my mother lovingly taught me so long ago, before I ever realized what they even meant; before I knew how significant they would become:
La illaha illallah, Muhammad rasul Allah.
I bear witness that there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.
For me, religion has never been black and white. I never believed that Islam is clear cut and simple. Every person has the right and ability to interpret their belief system in their own way because religion is intimate and emotional.
Islam to me centers around faith. Faith in God, and in community. Faith in the idea that good will prevail over evil and that love and peace and acceptance will overcome hatred and fear every time. My Islam is the strength to overcome pain, to grow from suffering. My Islam is random acts of kindness. It is my values, my love for my family and my loyalty to my community. It is my pride in my heritage and in myself. My Islam has inspired my passion for non-profit work and my desire to help others; it is my reminder to count my blessings and to stay humble and modest in my success and noble in my failure.
My Islam may not be right for you, but I am not asking you to embrace it. I am asking you, as a politician and a powerful man, to accept it and to protect my right to practice it. I am asking you to remember that no matter whether or not I choose to wear a hijab or to pray five times a day and to fast in the month of Ramadan, this country is built on allowing me to make those decisions without interference from the government or other citizens. That is why my parents believed in the American Dream, why they worked so hard to build a life here for me and my siblings. I am telling you that, as a citizen of this country, if you were ever to become President, it would be your fundamental duty to protect that right for me and for my friends and my family and every other individual who calls this country home, Muslim or non Muslim.
I am not scared of terrorists. Terrorists are a threat to our physical security, yes, but that threat pales in comparison to the threat that you pose. Donald, when you tell your national audience of thousands of individuals, many of whom have little education or exposure to people unlike themselves, that people like me are full of hatred and that we should be banned from this country it absolutely terrifies me.
I am lucky. I live in California on a college campus; I am surrounded by generally well-informed and open-minded people who understand that acts of terrorism have literally no connection to me. I fear most for my twin brother in rural Pennsylvania whose brown skin and dark beard ensure that he is always “randomly selected” and regarded with caution. I fear for my big sister, whose ignorant friends have “jokingly” called her a terrorist. I fear for my innocent little brother who will one day realize that people treat him differently because he is Pakistani-American, not just American. I fear for my best friend who chooses to cover her hair despite being faced with harassment and judgmental glares.
Don’t you see, Donald, that the threat you pose to all of us, to America as a nation, is so much greater than any physical threat ever could be? Don’t you see that these words condemning me and so many of my friends and family and fellow citizens, when received by people who don’t know any better, who have never tried to understand the values of Islam, or met a Muslim person, are the basis for hatred and stereotypes and misconceptions?
Your calls for a ban of innocent refugees, for the closure of mosques, and, most recently, for the ban of all Muslims from entering the United States were amusing at first, in all honesty. I know that there is no way that any of those policies could ever be implemented. But then I realized that these words do, in fact, have an impact. They shape people’s perceptions of Islam and of Muslims and of me.
They are the reason I am scared to fly to Pakistan to see my parents this winter break and then to come back home; scared that I will be stopped or questioned or judged or worse. By changing the way people view me, you are taking away my sense of security and belonging. You are taking away my home.
This is not some abstract political issue, Donald. This is real and personal. It is close to my heart and makes me, as a proud American and a valuable contributor to my society, feel personally victimized. It makes me sad and hurt and anxious. In the midst of finals week when I, just like every other college student in the country, should be looking forward to seeing the people I love most in the world after six months, it makes me scared.
Before I was anything, or anyone, I was Muslim. As a young girl I memorized the words of the Quran and I recited them every morning because my mother told me they would keep me safe. I prayed for happiness and health, for my family and for my friends and for my home.
After I grew up and learned about other people and religions and myself, I again chose to be Muslim. Your words may frighten and frustrate and confuse me, but your hate will not deter me. My Islam, my unwavering faith in the strength of good over evil, of community over factions, and of love and peace and unity again and again and again over hatred and fear remains true and strong.
I have no ill wishes for you, Donald. I hope only that you understand what I was taught in Sunday School so long ago — that we are greater together as a united community than we can ever be as individuals. Driving people apart and instilling fear and hatred is not the way to fight terrorism. Pushing Americans like me away and robbing us of our sense of belonging will help nobody and harm everybody.