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Wednesday, February 09, 2005

Being the Token Muslim Educating the ignorant

Commentary, Faran Sikandar,
YO! Youth Outlook, Sep 24, 2004

Forehead to the earthen rug, ancient phrases uttered under my breath, movement steadily detached from the world around. Somewhere behind me, voices ring soundlessly. I salaam out and take a peep to see what faces are staring. Some turned their heads and pretended like they didn’t see or worry. Others maintained watching, whether out of being purely dumbstruck and unaware of the fact that I could see them too, or out of true curiosity and concern.One of the amazed individuals with his stomach in his throat finally voiced, “You alright? You need help?”The words spilled out as harmlessly as the United States’ weapons of mass destruction over Japan. The bomb had been dropped and casualties only numbered few yet. I stood, dusted off my knees, and slipped on my shoes. Then I spoke in hope to get his mind right.“Wassup! How are you?” I started off, like so to break the ice and try to remove his tension. Still though, his interest remained reserved. He simply responded that he was alright and I followed saying, “There’s no reason to be freaked out. You see, I’m Muslim and it is in our religion to pray – five times a day. While I pray I just recite verses from the Qur’an, our holy book. It’s just the same way as somebody going to church or a synagogue and doing what they do, except I do it in my way five times a day, aside from going to a masjid.”I shared my beliefs. Blanker and plainer than his mind was the expression on his face. Still understandably confused and unnecessarily deterred, I left him and the listeners in the background with just that amount of knowledge. Later, I could drop some more knowledge on him if he wished.As a Muslim, I make an effort to pray five times a day among other things. There are set times for these prayers to be performed: there is one in the morning before sunrise, another following the zenith or peak of the sun, one in the late afternoon, another just after sunset, and one at night. However, sometimes these times for prayer come while I am out of my home, such as when I’m getting my learn on at Northgate High School in Walnut Creek.Undoubtedly, to most, seeing some “A-rab” looking dude kneeling down with his head to the ground whispering something can be deemed unusual, if not mad scary. To me however, it is simply the short amount of time that I take out to remind myself who I am and what I believe and where I come from. And so, I do what I do as a Muslim and I’m proud of it, even when some idiot kid walks up behind me in the library where I’m praying, imitating or being a joker some way. It doesn’t even matter though, when my boys roll in ten deep against this scrawny little kid and his friends who were trying to clown, because I stop them, knowing that it’s just another case of ignorance. So instead of resorting to violence, this time, I drop bombs with my words and my pen.Once someone stood in front of me while I prayed – which is considered complete disrespect (since one is praying to Allah and not to some 15 year old kid) – but I dismissed it because they didn’t know. But when someone ridiculed and whispered, and then tried to act like he wasn’t, then I have beef and I get tempted to blow and make an example of this kid. But I remember that he is still just an ignorant product of American pride – a synonym for pride is arrogance – and the media’s deception. Once I tell him that I’m Muslim and I pray, that he needs to not be so ignorant, and that he needs to know his place, I cannot help but think about him and all the others who seemed to listen but not hear. The kid is moved, at least enough not to act a fool again. That is enough for me though, because it is my job to be the token Muslim cat at school, with which I have no problem doing – somebody has to represent, correct, teach, and remind.Because when we are talking about where people are from and one girl responds that she is half Indian and half Iranian, followed by another guy saying that he thought she was Iraqi, she is not supposed to respond: “No! I’m not a terrorist!” And that especially goes when the girl calls herself “half Muslim.” On one end the girl tries to identify with me and in five words, makes for herself a mile long list of unkind and shameful descriptive words that include the adjectives “hypocrite” and “unknowingly brainwashed.” Like so many others, a so-called half Muslim girl even, has been conditioned to automatically associate Iraq with terrorism and probably, deep down, Islam with extremism. As she associates Iraq with terrorism and likely Islam with extremism, what does she associate me with? And for that matter, what does she associate herself with? I make my noise as a Muslim Pakistani American because I want this change to happen. And every Afghan, Palestinian, and Persian in my school, practicing Muslims or not, does so too because that is what we should do and everyone should respect our right to practice Islam, or be ourselves in the skin we were born into, as well as our right to make noise as long as there is anything to make noise about; all of this without having to answer questions that go beyond curiosity and into concealed malicious disapproval. And I’m just talking about it from my perspective. Every person who has ever been set apart from the norm of the masses knows the discrimination, generalization (bad or good), and fallacies that I am talking about. It all has the same root – ignorance and forgetfulness. My struggle is to uproot that which has weeded into our society simply through spreading knowledge. But for those who willingly continue in their ignorance or for those who know but are too arrogant to realize – some redneck “patriot” who talks in any wrong way about race, religion, or who “the face of evil” is – I point to the basic human rights of freedom, equality, and justice for all, upon which this country was founded. Sometimes, though, people need to be reminded – there is where my connection lies with being Muslim and American.

Copyright © 2004 YO! Youth Outlook and Pacific News Service

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