I'm A Young American Muslim, And People Are Still Afraid Of Me
Even though there are more than a billion of us, I understand why it can be difficult for many people around the world to relate to a Muslim.
Unless you have a close friend who is practicing, or at least grew up in a Muslim home, the media coupled with current world events can create a distorted view of Islam. With the violence in the Middle East spreading to the Western world, there is more scrutiny toward the Islamic faith than ever before.
Ignorant politicians have capitalized on that fear, using it for political gain. I imagine it's hard for people to sympathize with pictures of dead Syrian bodies, when people are made to believe it's the fault of all Muslims for being part of such a violent religion.
Honestly, I don't blame them. If I were on the outside looking in, I would be afraid of Islam too, given everything in the news.
However, I can't help but think Islamophobia stems from lack of knowledge, understanding and experience.
You can't relate to a Muslim or understand their perspective if you've never met one. People naturally fear what they don't understand, but the trouble starts when that fear transforms into unwarranted hatred.
The paranoia has gotten so bad recently that police forced women to remove Burqas on beaches in France. Nazma Khanam, a 60-year-old woman, was stabbed to death on her way home in New York. The unnecessary violence is a direct result of ignorance; it's the result of absorbing only sensationalized vignettes of current events from the media.
A lot of times, it seems the burden of changing the public's perception of Islam (i.e. a strict, joyless, women-hating, violent, West-loathing cult) falls into the hands of Muslims, especially modern Millennial Muslims like myself.
I used to assume that people everywhere knew what Muslims were really like. Perhaps I was spoiled growing up in Houston. Since H-town is so diverse, it's almost impossible to be vehemently intolerant of other cultures and religions.
Even after 9/11, I still haven't experienced any overwhelming hate or racism. However, I consider myself lucky because I know that's not the case for many people like me around the world.
In my mind, the only thing I can do to help combat Islamophobia is to make myself and others like me more relatable.
In other words, I expect that by being honest and revealing who I am as a 20-something guy from Pakistan, who grew up in America, I can help folks realize that identifying as a Muslim doesn't make me dangerous.
Even though I'm Muslim, I'm still human. I hope, I dream and I feel heartbreak just like all of you.
First, me let start off by saying I am not, by any means, an “ideal” Muslim. I do not pray five times a day. I've had drinks, I've dated, I've smoked and I've pretty much done everything else a normal 20-something has done.
My parents know everything about me. I don't hide anything from them or pretend to be something I'm not. They were never too strict, and even though they try their best to steer me in the right direction, they've let me figure out the journey on my own, for the most part.
The stigma of Islam is that it imposes a suffocating set of rules on its followers. However, I had a good deal of freedom to make as many mistakes as any other kid I knew. In fact, a lot of my friends had a much stricter household than I did, and they weren't even Muslim.
Growing up in an Islamic household didn't mean I wasn't like any other red-blooded American.
In 2007, when Lil Wayne ruled the word, I was 17 years old and in my senior year of high school when I got my first car. It felt like the world opened up for me, just like I'm sure it did for many of you.
I had odd jobs, like many teenagers. I worked at Best Buy and McDonald's. I thought my high school sweetheart and I were going to stay together forever, and I had no idea what the hell I was going to do after college.
The first time I listened to the Beatles, I felt myself floating out of time and space, and every morning, before I head to my desk job, I consider running away to some far-off island and selling ice cream.
My friends and I have intense discussions about "Game of Thrones" theories. I somehow always intensely crave Chick-fil-A on Sundays, and then, I make the trek drive just to be disappointed.
And finally, I think music festivals are the closest thing to heaven on earth.
Am I little more relatable now? Do I sound like someone who wants to destroy freedom?
Chill. Freedom gave us Netflix.
Believe me when I say, I'm Muslim, but I'm not dangerous. I don't harbor any hatred and animosity, and I don't spend my time plotting against the "sinners" of the Western world.
Instead, I daydream about meeting the love of my life on a train to Vienna. I like putting a few fries in my hamburger bun. And when a pretty girl walks by, I almost break my neck trying to catch a glimpse of her walking away.
Like any other dazed and confused Millennial, who's fumbling in the dark, looking for food and trying to figure shit out, I'm just like you.
So the next time you come across a Muslim, whatever the circumstances, I hope you don't see a monster.
Instead, I hope you can see little bit of yourself.