I was born in what people call the “post 9/11 era.” As a Muslim, this meant that my faith, from the beginning of my life, was condemned to always be one of hiding; being Muslim was a secret to be kept. By first grade, when people asked what religion I practiced, I half-whispered that I was Muslim, and the result was always the same. Kids wondering aloud what a Muslim’s version of Christmas is, while adults became flustered trying to figure out how to proceed. However, this common reaction, which proved to be useless in figuring out my identity, soon transformed. Over the next few years, the awkwardness that permeated my conversations about being Muslim became tinged with vicious judgement and even hatred.
My faith became a source of fear for me. Really, it was a fear of people’s fear of me, what their reactions would be if they knew I was Muslim. When I was 10, I started routinely being blamed for things I never did. By 12, I knew all the things I couldn’t do at an airport: outwardly prey before take off, say anything was “the bomb,” or really do anything other than keep my head down and try to go unnoticed, because any perceivable action could be considered suspicious. The fact the I was a 12-year-old girl didn’t matter, in an airport especially, even the most innocuous actions had the potential to be read by many as sinister. At times, I felt I fell into a cycle of hoping the latest terrorist attack wasn’t perpetrated by a Muslim, and profusely apologizing when it was.
As I reached high school, my fear of how others would react to my religious identity morphed into indignation. I grew tired of people I barely knew telling me I was the reason for a random tragedy, characterizing me as “oppressed” for being a Muslim woman, and labeling me as un-American or an adversary of freedom. As I became older, more certain of who I was as a person, I found myself increasingly annoyed that the world I lived in consistently denied me the freedom to actually be that person. I was suffocating under heaps of unfounded assumptions. Every time I heard the phrase “radical Islamic terror” or “moslem” (a pronunciation, I have noticed, only used by those who know nothing about Islam) my irritation swelled. I became determined to shape my own narrative, whether it was through social media or classroom discussions.
Soon, I found a group of women trying to do the same thing.
When I started writing for Muslim Girl, I was beyond thrilled. Everyone was, and continues to be, so committed to providing Muslims — particularly Muslim women — with a voice. I met mothers writing articles in the brief time their children were napping, college students raising awareness on their campuses, women who ran fashion startups that catered to Muslims, and other high school students who, like me, were learning how to mobilize. Within my first month as a writer, it became clear that we were part of a movement.
Despite the hatred and the vitriol permeating discussions of Islam, Muslim women have persevered. We have commanded attention and respect, while proving that we are our own people and a vital part of society in every way. Activists like Linda Sarsour push to make our country and world one of love. Athletes, Ibtihaj Muhammad and Dalilah Muhammad to name a few, serve as examples of sportsmanship and grace for everyone. And educators, whether it be Malala Yousafzai or Fatima al-Fihri, the founder of the world’s first university, provide a better future for children everywhere.
Muslim Women's Day, to me, is the celebration of Muslim women who have thrived for thousands of years. It provides us with a moment of pride, long overdue. It shows the world that we are not hiding, nor are we oppressed. Most importantly, it's a beacon for young Muslim girls across the US and around the world, letting them know that no matter what hate they face, they should be proud of their religion, of their legacy, of their individuality in the face of crushing stereotypes, and of the women like them who continue to change society each day.
Zarina Iman is a MuslimGirl.com writer and high school junior based in NYC. She's interested in activism, film, history, and biotechnology.