MTV Voices contributor Zainub Amir, 19, wrote this week about her experience growing up Muslim in America. “I felt helpless. I felt powerless. I felt humiliated.” she says, recalling the night two men walked into her parents’ grocery store and told them to “go back home where you came from.”
She didn’t know what to say then, but she does now.
“I’m here to fight ignorance through the power of knowledge.”
Zainub was in kindergarten when the Twin Towers fell on 9/11. She was too young to understand what was happening, but she spent the rest of grade school being treated like an outcast—marginalized “because of the way I look and the religion I practice.”
“It’s not funny that I would walk onto the bus only to be called a ‘terrorist.’ It’s not funny to see my parents discriminated against at their business every day.”
For Zainub, the fundamental problem is a lack of knowledge—or, as Iowa State philosophy professor James Broucek noted in a separate article, a lack of relationship. There is plenty of evidence to counter negative caricatures of Muslims in America, “but it’s just not as powerful as actually knowing someone.”
That’s why reaching across “enemy” lines is so important. The best thing we can do to combat fear is to nurture relationships between Muslims and non-Muslims.
“I’m not asking for pity or sympathy,” Zainub writes in her piece for MTV Voices. “I’m not asking for a simple hashtag on social media. I’m asking for more than that.”
“More than that” could mean walking across the street and introducing yourself to your hijab-clad neighbor.
“More than that” might involve calling the nearest Islamic center and asking to visit. In fact, some aren’t waiting to be asked. A number of mosques, like this one in Calgary, are throwing their doors open to visitors who want to exchange fear for understanding… and maybe even friendship.
“More than that” might mean attending (or hosting!) an interfaith forum where Christians, Muslims, Jews, and members of other faiths can dialogue together. A Jewish Community Center in New Jersey recently hosted local Muslim leaders at one such forum to promote “understanding, tolerance, and trust.”
“More than that” might involve supporting our work among Muslims and others whose lives have been disrupted by war. (And we certainly hope it does involve that!) But don’t miss the opportunity to wage peace in your own backyard, too.
The first step might be as simple yet challenging as offering a greeting to someone who is different from you. That’s how the world gets remade—one relationship at a time.