Around 1:58 a.m. on Sunday, June 12, a gunman entered Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, and killed 49 people, while injuring 53.
Meanwhile in Houston, Tex., I was on the second to last episode of "Gran Hotel," a show I had recently been binge watching. Unable to keep up with the intense plot twist, I paused to check my phone for any updates. To say that I was alarmed by the headlines devouring my feed would be the understatement of the year. I remember being heavy with sorrow, but even more restless because the identity of the shooter had not yet been revealed.
“Please don’t be Muslim, please don’t be Muslim, please don’t be Muslim,” was a repeating chant in my head. By next morning, the gunman had been identified as Omar Mateen, an American-born security guard who had apparently pledged allegiance to ISIS during his 911 call. Among the many emotions I felt upon discovering this, there was one unlike any other: fear.
It was not the same kind of fear felt before seeing the score of a test I know I failed, or fear felt when I find a roach that has wings. It was the kind of fear that causes me to empathize with a black man being pulled over by the police, with the sole woman in a board meeting full of men, and with gay people being told they will rot in hell. It was the fear of being attacked for who I am.
As I prepared for the same hatred and madness that ensued following the San Bernardino shooting and Paris attacks, I started questioning why I was required to defend myself and my devotion to this country in the first place. I am a Muslim. I am an American. These two identities are not mutually exclusive, and being one does not diminish the value of other.
I have spent countless hours convincing other Americans to go out and practice their democratic right to vote. I have family members who are doctors, teachers, accountants; people who are all Muslim and living perfectly normal American lives. And because Omar Mateen decided to hide his atrocious act under the guise of religion, I constantly worry about my loved ones paying that price.
Just this past Tuesday, a man named Richard Farris was arrested in Seattle for planning to attack a mosque during prayer. He possessed an AK-47 and street map of the mosque with the label of “too many targets to count.” Fortunately, while his plan was foiled, there are countless others who would not hesitate to act upon their vicious desires. Particularly in times like these, when people like Trump are employing hateful rhetoric, it doesn’t take much for an individual to think that they have the right to harass someone because they appear “un-American.”
Am I sorry that 49 innocent people lost their lives at the hands of a twisted man? Definitely, I cannot even begin to fathom how the families are coping with this tragic loss and what that community is facing. Are hundreds of millions of real Muslims around the world devastated because of this? Absolutely; just in Orlando, tons of Muslims donated blood for the injured despite the fact they were fasting. It was extremely hot outside, yet women in hijab and fully covered bodies, distributed water and food to those standing in long lines. Just one fundraiser by Muslims in Northeast alone has raised over $70,000 for the victims. This, this is the religion that I believe in, and these are the American Muslims that are scorned and put to test when a monster with a gun gets his way.
I am proud of my religion, and I am proud of my country. If anyone believes that my love for these two cannot coexist, then I am sorry that you are incapable of understanding that humans have the power to hold a lot more love than hate.