Recently we celebrated the birthday of an American hero– Martin Luther King Jr. This holiday represents the growth America has experienced as a society. We’ve given up slavery, deeming it foul. We have accepted African-Americans as what they are– just as American as anyone else. But what about the less blatant forms of prejudice we engage in? What about the willful ignorance we have toward races, cultures, and religions that exist right in our neighborhoods? We don’t have anything against them, or so we say. But do we honestly look at them without biased preconceptions? Are the views we hold fair and factual, knowledgeable and real? Or are they commonly accepted rumors that are grossly inaccurate?
Take, for example, Nazya Anwary, a student here at Yuba College. Anwary is a Muslim whose family is from Afghanistan. She feels alienated because of her culture and the way people perceive her religion. Closed-minded people in our society and on our campus insinuate they believe all Muslims are terrorists. This is absolutely not true, but we don’t bother to find out what is true.
In actuality, there is a small number of extremists who label themselves Muslim but in fact believe very differently. Those are the terrorists. Unfortunately, they are what comes to mind when we think of Muslims. “There are extremists in every religion, but in our religion, that’s what we’re known for,” says Anwary. People who have been friendly to her will stop talking to her when they find out she is Muslim. “I feel like there is a stamp on my forehead that says terrorist.” People are afraid of the fact that she’s Muslim, even though they don’t really grasp what it means. “Every time you say the word Muslim, it’s like a tornado passes by.” Nobody takes it lightly, yet does anybody take it seriously? “Everyone just believes what they hear,” she says. Because of this, “There are a lot of things that are represented the wrong way.”
Anwary is treated like an outsider, even though she has lived here her whole life. “I’ve never seen Afghanistan. I was born in Virginia,” she says. Her parents came to America legally, and they consider it home. Unfortunately, she feels that, “Even if we live in America for a hundred years, it still doesn’t feel like home because we get treated differently.” Everywhere she goes, she notices people avoiding her. In stores, cashiers don’t make polite conversation. “They won’t look you in the eye,” she says. People of Middle Eastern descent are not well received. “We hesitate to say that we’re from the Middle East because people will treat us differently.”
Anwary is looked down on for doing certain things that are a normal part of her culture. During Ramadan (celebrated in August), she would wear her scarf in town and she immediately recognized the change in how people acted around her. Nobody said, “Good Morning,” or, “How are you?” People didn’t want to look her in the eyes.
“We’re not classified as humans, we’re classified as ‘those people.'” She says, “Just because of the extra cloth on our heads, we’re treated differently.” People assume that Middle Easterners are uneducated or not like us. Her dad’s name is Mohammad, which is a respected name in Islam because it is the name of the last and most important Prophet of God. American society sees the name as a synonym for terrorism, though. Anwary says, “Every time we go to the airport, our bags get checked just because of the name Mohammad.”
It hurts her that the things that make her who she is are shunned in a society that is supposed to be free and diverse. “We can’t express our culture and we can’t express our religion.” The United States is supposed to embrace differences, but Anwary wonders, “Why isn’t Islam accepted as one of the differences?” People make Muslims feel like outcasts in a place that supposedly casts nobody out. “I feel like they don’t do it on purpose, but they don’t realize how much it hurts,” she says.
So she is speaking out. She is not going to sit quietly while we push her religion and her culture aside because we don’t want to find the reality behind all the myths. “We’re not going to accept defeat.”
This is just one of the groups of people here in America that we quietly alienate. So many more either haven’t spoken up or aren’t being heard. As Americans, we are taught to judge people based on the content of their character. As college students, we are taught to test what we hear, to question what we are told, and to examine what we know. As individuals, can we agree to take these wise admonishments, and to use them to better the society we mold?