I was picking up my best friend Stephen Crotty on our way to dinner to celebrate his birthday. As soon as he got in the car, he asked me if I heard about the terrorist attacks in Paris. My heart immediately sank, I asked, “was it Muslims?” He gave me sad look, “they think,” he responded. I looked forward in silence, and turned on the music in an attempt to change the subject. The rest of the silent drive was accompanied with a flood of questions that came in to my mind: was it ISIS? How many died? Why did this happen in Paris? What am I going to say at school on Monday?
All my life I have lived in the Dallas metroplex, and this year it hasn’t been the best place for Muslim-Americans. A Muslim boy was arrested for bringing a clock to school in Irving, where I lived for the first 14 years of my life.
I always could escape attitudes like this at Greenhill. I have been a student at Greenhill for over a decade, and I consider it to be my second home. The people, the pathways, and the buildings are just a part of who I am, and I have become a part of this campus. It is a place where I feel accepted and appreciated no matter what religion I believe in or what views I have.
Greenhill over the years has done many things to promote understanding and cooperation. There are affinity groups, including a Muslim Affinity Group, for minority students to get their voices heard. Also, Greenhill has many discussions in classes to increase communication between people from all different backgrounds. I know I am greatly privileged to have an opportunity like this to go to a school that focuses so deeply on acceptance.
It is no surprise then that Greenhill students and alums have made efforts to support victims of terrorism, most recently in Paris. Snapchat, Facebook, Instagram, and others are full of “Prayers for Paris”. Greenhill is place where students enjoy taking action, myself included. Still, questions rise about terrorist attacks: How could this happen? Why do these keep happening? Students need someone to turn to for answers, often I feel like the Muslim students on campus are supposedly with the answers.
Events, like the recent terror attacks in Paris, should strike concern and obvious sorrow in the hearts of Greenhill students. But students should come to school with open minds, and a sense of understanding.
From the moment I was born, I have been exposed to my faith. I’ve grown up a Muslim, and many of my closest friends are Muslim as well. It is not only the religion of my parents it is mine too. Everyday I choose to practice and take part in what I believe is a religion of peace, community, and understanding. It is not often that those words are associated with Muslim world anymore. The fact is the media is littered with negative information about the Islamic world. That Islam is not the Islam I know and grew up with.
Growing up it is sad that I have become used to being a spokesperson for my religion at all times. I have to be that good Muslim so people know that we aren’t all extremists. I have spiels prepared at all times. But looking at the horrors done by Islamic extremists makes me burn inside. Every time I see something like the events in Paris, I can’t help but wonder if this will be the turning point. Have the actions by Muslim terrorists made spiels meaningless? When will people start seeing me as one of those Muslims?
To me, Islam is about many things, but mostly peace. “Humanity is but a single Brotherhood: so make peace with your brethren” [The Quran 49:10]. This is the kind of Islam that I know. It allows me to live with others equally and respectfully. My religion allows me to attend a school like Greenhill and cooperate and communicate with people who don’t necessarily believe in the same things I do. My parents have done their best to teach my sister and I the ways of being the best Muslims we can be, but they still focused on assimilation. My family has been in the United States for 25 years, and has adapted well to American ways.
I have been surrounded by Islamaphobia for as long as I can remember. It is rare that my family can get through airport security without getting “randomly selected” or simply facing blatant racism. After certain events, like the one in Paris, I often have to discuss protocols with my parents before leaving the house. Just stay quiet and let things pass, they say. I can’t win a fight for the Muslim community after a terrorist attack.
Greenhill is different; I can express my opinions, have my own reputation, and know I am being heard. Still, I often find I censor myself, even at Greenhill. I am scared of saying that Islam is a religion of peace after watching constant terrorist attacks with non-Muslim peers. I have to just wait for time to go on, and people and the media to go back to normal.
I always look forward to going to school except after a large terrorist attack. I come to school as a spokesperson for Islam, and it is my job to remind Greenhill students that the Muslim world is more than ISIS and Al-Qaeda. On Monday I will most likely be thrust into discussion about Islamic Fundamentalism and Extremism, and I’ll listen to people use the general terms Muslim or Islam to describe atrocities like the one in Paris this weekend. I think Greenhill has done its job having a safe-space for Muslim students, but it is important to reiterate that Muslim students at Greenhill are just that, students that happen to be Muslim. Greenhill has made a place for me and other Muslims to feel appreciated and welcomed. All my years here, Greenhill has stood by me, and I appreciate that immensely.
On behalf of the Muslim community at Greenhill, keep us in your hearts. Events like this take a great toll on us. Greenhill is place that welcomes diversity and understanding, we need to keep this in our minds always. Looking forward as a Muslim student at Greenhill, remember I do not have all the answers, I can’t be a representative of a group of over a billion, I will not be defined by the acts of terrorists and extremists, and most importantly: terrorism has no religion.
This sign was posted in Dr. Amy Bresie’s classroom the day after Ahmed Mohamed was arrested.