I'll be honest, there are things that go on in my head that scare me every single day. My religion is so often erroneously associated with terrorism, barbarity, and oppression that I can't help but have this sinking feeling in my chest every time I go out in public, go online, or socialize with anyone other than fellow Muslims.
After the Paris attacks on November 13, 2015, my mom was called a terrorist in a deli and we were followed by a man calling us Arabs. My friends were on a train platform and were yelled at by a man because one of them wears the hijab, and the man started a physical fight with someone who tried to intervene.
The day after the Paris attacks, I decided to stay home from a very important Levermore Global Scholars trip to a heritage center. The commute was over an hour on the subway and I was terrified of what some people might've said or done to me: a Muslim girl who wears a hijab. I made my decision based on messages and texts I got from my friends warning me to stay indoors the next day, so I notified the LGS'ers through our group chat.
I was actually shocked by their responses. I couldn't believe that everyone was actually concerned for my safety. I couldn't believe that my friends were standing up for my beliefs. During the trip, I was sent a 30-second video of everyone saying things like, "Hi Noor, we love and miss you. We wish you were here!" I was left speechless.
The following Monday in class, we discussed the Paris attacks and everyone agreed to organize a campus talk on Islamophobia as our final project. I actually teared up. I couldn't believe that so many non-Muslims were standing up for my religion. I couldn't even understand why I was so shocked at that moment, but hopefully the next few paragraphs can explain why.
I'm worried that someone will look at me and judge me for wearing a hijab. I'm worried that every time someone walks by me on the street looking away or moving farther away from me, is doing so because I'm visibly Muslim. I'm worried that when people on the train stare at me, even for a second, it's because of my religion. If only I can plaster a sign on my forehead or even my hijab that clarifies who I really am, that I'm not a terrorist, that I'm not oppressed, that I'm no different than anyone else.
When I walk into class and notice that I'm the only hijabi there, I get a bit paranoid because I'm the "odd one out." I have this crazy little voice in my head that tells me that everyone has a negative feeling about me until they get to know me and see that I'm nowhere near what they expected me to be, which I always assume is something bad.
I'm terrified to go to concerts because of the way people stare at me. It's not every day you see a girl with a hijab at a rock or metal show. I walk outside with my hood up if I'm wearing a sweater because I feel comfortable knowing that not everyone can see my hijab clearly. To get to campus, I catch the 7:10 AM train to Hempstead instead of the 7:50 because the earlier train is emptier and therefore a better environment for me.
I often think that people associate me, a tiny, young, Southeast Asian girl, with danger, with bombs, with murder, and with terrorism. I mean, it's what we all see in the media, right? Even though recent statistics show that 94 percent of terrorist attacks are not religiously motivated, that 6 percent is inflated by social media to make it seem like the 99 percent.
I probably won't feel absolutely comfortable around you unless you're either Muslim or a friend of mine who's clarified that you're not against my religion. I'm sorry, but that's just how I've been raised by society to live. I love everyone and everything, but I'm paranoid that the feeling isn't reciprocated.
However, I'm nonetheless proud to wear the hijab and to be a Muslim American. It's a part of my identity that I wouldn't trade for anything in the world. Although I live in a constant subconscious state of worry, paranoia, and fear, my pride tops it all without a doubt. I try to live life the best that I can because at the end of the day, I know that I'm slowly conquering this fear of being judged. I'm still struggling, but I won't give up because I know that there is so much beauty in life that I haven't seen yet.