There are many reasons to be grateful, yet most of us lament in the privileges we lack. Have you ever wondered what you've gained from being different, from facing adversity and from society's discrimination? I decided to put that wonder to the test and reexamined major parts of my life. Putting a positive spin on all my experiences – good and bad – revealed what I've learned from them. This broader perspective has helped me reorganize my thoughts, prioritize what's vital and encourages me to endeavor for a better future.
1. I am privileged because I grew up in a middle class, somewhat diverse neighborhood near Atlanta, Georgia.
There are other communities that have a really high-rate of Muslim hate crimes, such as Brooklyn, New York where Muslim mothers fear walking with their children in broad daylight on the streets due to the unpredictable eruption of violence in the city. The average number of hate crimes against Muslims every month used to be 12.6, but since the terrorist attack in Paris, the rate of assaults against Muslims in the U.S. has tripled to 38 every month.
2. I am privileged because whenever I would come home crying from school, my mom would hold me tight and tell me all the reasons the bullies were wrong.
I've also been able to prosper thanks to my Muslim friends who have helped me get back on my feet throughout the years and still continue to stand by my side.
3. I am privileged because I have a supportive family who nurtures me in a stable environment that has allowed me to develop my faith, obtain an education and grow in various facets of life that I used to take for granted.
4. I am privileged because I was the only girl who wore hijab in my entire middle school and later went on to be the first girl who wore abaya in my entire high school. Now, I wear niqab while attending college.
By braving the storm of judgement and bullying I endured to follow my beliefs, I was able to pave the pathway for other Muslim girls at my school to dress in Islamic attire. Some Muslims don’t cover because they fear drawing negative attention from society, but I'm proud to say that by the time I was a senior, there were at least three other girls besides me who felt brave enough to wear their abayas to school.
5. I am privileged because people really listen to what I have to say and focus on my message instead of just my face, body or gender.
They get to know my character and learn that what defines me as a person is based entirely on my behavior, not my looks.
6. I am privileged because I am still harassed today, but I can use it to my advantage.
I may still be bullied by society, in my community and everywhere else I go, but at least I haven't been shot in the stomach yet or beaten half-to-death in some alleyway. Nonetheless, the insults have worn me down and are very emotionally exhausting at times.
Grown men hiss, "Terrorist immigrant" behind my back at the checkout counter in Walmart. Moody teens take the direct approach, snickering out loud, "Why is she wearing a garbage bag on her head?" at the park. Mothers toss me dirty looks in between aisles at Whole Foods. They drag their children close, as if I'm a supernatural horror that must not be acknowledged.
And you know what? Maybe they're right, cause watching a 5'1" foot tall girl clad in a purple abaya and print scarf jumping to reach the Honey Nut Cheerios does seem an odd sight to explain. Either way, I assume everyone has the best of intentions and toss the kids a friendly wave as I pass by. Even if they grow up fearing Muslims, at least they'll have the childhood memory of my wave as a colorful counter-argument.
7. I am privileged because I often interact with young Muslim children and answer their questions.
Muslim children are confused as to why kids at school make fun of them for their religion. The children are afraid of the negative stigma outsiders label them with. They fear more than just a tussle at the playground. These kids know what's really going on – they see the way adults glare at them in grocery stores, the way mom and dad come home broken down and bone tired, the way fear flashes in their parents' eyes when there's an after school program or overnight field trip permission slip to sign.
Already Muslim kids understand that there are several employers who will not hire them because they have a 'Muslim name', that there are countless opportunities that will whiz right by them because they 'look too Muslim' and that they will struggle to resist the expectation of leading overshadowed, subdued and suppressed adult lives so they don't scare or overwhelm society with their 'Muslim-ness'.
But there are some things they don't know – some things they're too young to ask. "Why is it that _____ is also a Muslim but she pretends she's not at school?" or "Why does my dad always go with me to events even though I'm big enough to go on my own?" These are the simpler questions, and they have answers I've already found out for myself. But just because I had a rude awakening to the bitter truth doesn't mean these kids have to, so I answer gently, "Patience is the key to understanding."
8. I am privileged because I know every hardship is a test from Allah (SWT) to help me become a better person.
9. I am privileged because my family has been put through many difficult situations where they had to choose between their religion and their worldly life.
Bosses laying out the question: do you want to keep your job or do you want to keep your Zuhr prayer? Applicants stating the obvious: either you drop the Muslim name or risk unemployment. So-called friends setting the terms: be like us or become the loner hijabi.
10. I am privileged because I live in America, a first-world nation where I have the freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly.
And while these rights may not be upheld at times, there is always the fight for justice to prevail. Also, there's the guarantee of running water, electricity and grocery stores. My basic needs are met, so I don't have to struggle for survival like so many refugee Muslims around the world.
11. I am privileged because my religion is not a culture.
Culture is something you’re born with, like being Native American or Korean. Religion is something you choose, like being a Jew or a Christian – whether you make that choice on your own or inherit the choice your elders made for themselves. My family is Muslim, so I was inclined towards the religion to begin with, but in the end, I chose to be Muslim. Out of my own free will, every single day, I choose to stay Muslim. No matter how rough the circumstances may be, I truly believe Islam is the right path that will lead me to where I want to go in this life and the hereafter.
12. I am privileged because Islam clarifies my purpose in life and helps me realize what is truly important.
13. I am privileged because I live near a Muslim community, so I can give and gain support from those who have firsthand experience with the struggles I face.
14. I am privileged because there are times when my car is pulled over by a kind, open-minded police officer who doesn’t judge me by the media’s standards but instead, treats me like a human being.15. I am privileged because I've had to pray in parking lots, on the sides of roads, on dirt-packed ground – if lucky – or on rocks, if not so lucky.
That is a small sacrifice compared to the conditions other Muslims pray in around the world. Nonetheless, it reminds me that every difficulty I face now will be rewarded later.
16. I am privileged because during Ramadan, I was able to break my fast with sweet dates, quench my thirst with cold water and nourish my heart with verses of the Quran.
On the other side of the world, countless number of Muslims suffered in terrible situations like the West Bank Palestinians whose water was cut off before Ramadan even began.
17. I am privileged because I have experienced a side of cruel human nature that's bolstered by ignorance to drive sharpened spikes at my identity in order to tear me down and drive me out.
Yet there are crueler forms of abuse far worse than words. We witness this abuse on a daily basis from the comfort of our couches and beds, staring at the television screen with glassy eyes.
18. I am privileged because my bad experiences have taught me to take care of myself.
One time I went to my local Kroger at night to pick up tortillas. There, a man decided to inform me that my religious face veil was illegal according to Georgia law (which it isn't). When I thanked him for letting me know and informed him that America is a melting-pot of diversity that everyone has the right to express, he started yelling that my niqab was illegal. Even when I walked into another aisle, he followed, screaming that same statement over and over again. Everyone around me stared. But no one did anything.
It was only then that I truly understood why my parents had tried to shelter me for as long as they could.
19. I am privileged because even when the odds are against me, they are for me.
There's no doubt about it: I stand out. As it turns out, scientifically, the more controversial someone or something is, the more popular they are. So while I'm rejected a number of times because I am a covered Muslim woman, and that makes some people apprehensive about their company's public image, at the same time, I am a catch to organizations which are either interested in my identity, supportive of who I am or willing to use my representation as their employee to boost the company's overall popularity. Nowadays, many institutions like to be perceived as diverse so they have a lot more to offer culturally. Having a fully-covered Muslim woman as your front-runner employee is a sure-fire way of snagging the public's attention. This can work in my favor and the company's.
20. I am privileged because I can enter into online competitions, contests and communities where people are much less likely to stereotype me, feel anxious around me or refuse to have me altogether.
Online, people are less likely to focus on how someone looks and are more likely to pay attention to what the person's contributed. Having access to the internet is something we can't take for granted on a universal level, considering how many third-world countries still lack basic technology.
21. I am privileged because I know not to trust everything the government and media says or does.
Once you’ve been slandered on screen by the media and spied on by your own government, you know better than to blindly trust whatever the news preaches without double checking the facts yourself.
22. I am privileged because I know better than to trust free empathy.
People change at the drop of hat, and just because they make empathetic noises when listening to the struggles I've gone through doesn’t mean they care enough to fight for my rights to be upheld or support me in difficult circumstances. Identify the people who are truly there for you, and you'll be better off in the long run.
23. I am privileged because there are people of all races, ethnicity, beliefs and nationalities who fight not only against the oppression of Muslims around the world, but also struggle to establish equality and justice for others as well.
24. I am privileged because being Muslim means it's my duty to pray and advocate for peace.
I ask Allah (SWT) for guidance, do my best in helping others any way I can and then leave any leftover uncertainty, doubt and fear of the future in the hands of God.
25. I am privileged because I am well aware I could die at any time.
I've never met anyone who's 100 percent prepared to die whenever and wherever, but I do know many individuals who understand that their society is unpredictable. I, too, understand that the increasingly violent portrayal of Muslims around the world puts my life at risk. Whenever I step out of the house to go shopping or hang out with friends, I don't know if someone may decide to shoot me that day because, to them, I appear 'un-American'. There's not much I can do, besides what I'm already doing: trying to lead a positive, worthwhile life while working to change discriminatory perception.
26. I am privileged because I am content with my religious life.
I don’t turn to alcohol for a buzz or drugs when I want an adrenaline rush. I learn to adopt healthy behaviors to take care of my body. Emotional thrill seeking can be accomplished through safe alternatives, such as roller coaster rides.
27. I am privileged because I am still alive, and I can still make a difference.
28. I am privileged because despite all the difficulties I’ve had to endure, I have experienced so many beautiful things life has to offer – from the exotic food to the exquisite people to all the celestial bodies whirling in orbit.
I've learned to be grateful for all that I have, all that I am and all the future may hold for everyone.