“Real Muslims don’t support violence.”
As a young Muslim woman living in Canada, it's a phrase all too familiar to me. I feel pressured by everyone around me to regularly apologize for the horrific acts committed by extremists all around the world. I fear my religion will always be used to explain my behavior. I have to constantly smile and be happy because I don’t want to come off as rude or angry; I must remember to go out of my way to show the world that Muslims are not bad people, that we are not terrorists.
This level of constant scrutiny multiplies for women who wear the hijab (the headscarf some Muslim women wear), because their Muslim identity is made obvious by their outer appearance. Even those who don’t wear the hijab, however, immediately feel an implicit pressure to prove that they aren't what the media makes Muslims out to be as soon as they inform anyone of their religion.
But having to be in a permanent good mood is the least of my worries. The expectation that I must apologize for acts that aren’t my own has personally affected me in other ways, too.
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been extremely outspoken. I’ve always loved getting into heated discussions, debating controversial topics, and questioning everything around me. Growing up, I spent many years in the Middle East, where my opinionated personality was actually seen as a wonderful aspect of my character. I was free to talk about whatever I pleased and give opinions about an unlimited number of situations without fearing I'd be judged for doing so.
When I moved back to Canada at a slightly older age, though, I began to recognize the negative connotations that surround these personality traits. Especially considering that my religion was under constant scrutiny in North America, I realized that rather than coming off as outspoken, I probably came off as aggressive. My opinions weren’t going to be seen as powerful, they were going to be seen as violent. It seemed that expressing my opinions made me seem like just another “hateful Muslim” trying to force my beliefs onto others. And as a young girl dying to be accepted, that was the last thing I wanted.
I spent several years, therefore, attempting to be nonconfrontational — trying to avoid difficult, awkward conversations or taking a powerful stance on any issue about which I felt passionately. I spent a lot of time preoccupying myself with trivial things that didn’t matter in an attempt to seem like any other “normal” person my age, and I mostly refused to get into any political discussions for fear that I would end up on the wrong side of the argument. When I did discuss politics, I only apologized for the actions of extremists around the world who in no way represented me. I never questioned doing so, since the Muslims around me did the same for no reason other than that we felt obligated to.
Here’s the problem with that, though: My apology to you is not going to stop extremists from being violent. It does, however, reinforce the notion that extremists' violence is the collective fault of all Muslims, because who apologizes for something they didn’t do? Nobody.
A violent person will be violent, and a hateful person will be hateful, no matter their religious affiliation. Anybody can take words from a religious text out of context. Take the KKK, for example: They act in the name of Christianity and use quotes from the Bible to support their bigotry. Yet I think we can all agree that Christians overall are not held accountable for the KKK’s actions, that KKK members are seen as fanatics. So why do we hypocritically expect over a billion Muslims to condemn and take responsibility for “radical Islam”?
Don’t get me wrong, I do understand why people react to extremist violence this way. Fear is a powerful, overwhelming emotion. Unfortunately, the mainstream media is very aware of that and has a powerful way with words. People are scared and seem to think their fear is more manageable when they have someone to blame. Sadly, that is exactly what is happening: The media is placing all individuals who identify with a marginalized community into one restrictive box that homogenizes them into a violent stereotype, then using them as scapegoats and fearmongering tools.
But you know what? That fear clearly hasn’t gotten any of us anywhere. I can’t blame anyone for being scared, but I can blame people for how they choose to respond to those feelings. We’re all human beings. I am a human being. I am tired of having to constantly prove my humanity. Yes, I am a Muslim. No, I don’t support terrorism. Yes, the idea of another person being hurt makes me sick to my stomach, and no, that isn’t something I should have to explicitly tell you. It is not my job to apologize on behalf of violent imbeciles who in no way represent me: Every single individual is responsible for their own actions.
The moral of the story is, I’m exhausted. I am tired of always worrying about what I say so I don’t come off as too “violent,” and I’m tired of having to go the extra mile to prove to strangers that I am just as human as they are. I don’t want to limit my passion and strength just to be accepted. Having strong thoughts and opinions about a particular subject doesn’t make me just another “aggressive Muslim" — it makes me a strong, powerful individual whose thoughts, ideas, and dreams can change the world.
Just like you, I am someone’s daughter, someone’s sibling, someone’s best friend. My voice is useful for more than just condemning the same people over and over again, simply to gain your approval. My voice is important, and it is powerful. My voice is loud and tired of being silenced. My voice is here to stay.
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