About the #ChapelHillShooting and the #CopenhagenShooting?

While my son and husband were at football this morning, I was happily cleaning the house and suddenly my phone blew up with notifications. ‘One person shot dead at free speech gathering in Copenhagen,’ ‘Suspected terror attack in Copenhagen’, ‘One dead at debate where Mohammed cartoonist is present’.  Naturally I was horrified.  But not necessarily for the reasons you think.

My son is Danish.  He’s also an American and Brit.  His father is (very) Scandinavian, having grown up in rural Denmark and I’m a British-Asian, who grew up in South Asia.  And, believe it or not, we’re a proud Muslim family.  Granted we’re not practicing Muslims, but we’re cultural Muslims.  I’m proud of my son’s mixed heritage and I believe it’s something to be celebrated.

But as I think back on this last week, I am filled with such sadness.  First, the three Muslim students who were mercilessly killed in North Carolina.  What an absolute tragedy for their families and their communities.  They had so much to offer the world and all that was taken from them in a truly horrific manner.  And now these shootings in Copenhagen.  What do I tell my son about the violence that’s happening in the places that he’s from?

Yusor and Deah at their wedding on December 27th, 2014.

Well, this: the media, world leaders, and people in our community only care about half of you and that is the white, Scandinavian half.  The Muslim/Arab-looking half of you will be shunned and shamed (for Islamist attacks that have nothing to do with us) until people like me, you, your father, and others speak up and speak out.  It took mere minutes for news outlets and social media to be all over the Copenhagen shooting and I would argue, rightly so.  A life taken too soon in a violent manner is newsworthy.  But days after Deah Barakat (23), Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha (21), and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha (19) were shot, we still know very little about what happened.  How are we, as a world, ok with that? And how can you turn around and say that there isn’t a double standard in the way Muslim lives and deaths are reported versus non-Muslim (white) ones when you look at how the Chapel Hill shooting story unfolded vs the Copenhagen shootings? When I show my son the news coverage on both events how else will he interpret this?

Deah Barakat ( age 23), Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha (age 21), and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha (age 19)

The honest truth is that I am terrified for my children.  I am angry beyond belief that the world has given such little time and attention to the murders of these students.  But more than anything I am scared for my children because they are Muslim and they look Muslim and the murders of their own people are being ignored, erased, or otherwise made invisible by the world and almost everyone is ok with that.  That is an absolutely terrifying thought to me because if my kids ever need it, will they be helped by their peers or ignored like Deah, Yusor, and Razan because they’re Muslim or Arab looking?  Or because they parked in the wrong place?  As a Muslim, a parent, and a human I am unnerved by how easily everyone has accepted the ‘parking space dispute’ theory as a motive for murder because on February 10th, 2015 Deah, Yusor, and Razan were the victims, but ten years ago that could have been my sister and I, and in 20 years that could my children and my nieces and nephews.  Yet the theory news outlets are espousing for the attack in Copenhagen is ‘terror’ and everyone has accepted that blindly.  Well according to the FBI, a terror attack is the unlawful use of force with the aim of intimidating a government or civilian population and let me tell you, the relative radio silence surrounding the murders of the three students has me and millions of other Muslims terrified so is one attack really more terror-related than the other?

It has already been said but it bears repeating, for many Muslims our issue is not that the murders were over a parking dispute.  If that is genuinely what these murders were about then that’s what they were about.  But in asking us to accept that, think about what you would do if you were told a Muslim barged into someone’s home and shot 3 young adults over a parking spot.  Would you simply accept that and move on or would you demand more answers from the people investigating and your news sources?  If you answer that question truthfully, it may shed some light on why so many Muslims are both outraged and terrified by the lack of media coverage on these murders.  With all the anti-Islamic sentiment in the world and the stigma attached to identifying as Muslim (especially if you wear a hijab), it is hard for many of us to simply accept this parking spot theory without more information.  If a Muslim had been the attacker, news coverage on these murders would still be rampant but less than five days on from the attack, one has to dig deep to find information on it.

I am raising a son who will naturally be curious about both the Chapel Hill shooting and the Copenhagen shootings because he is both Muslim and Danish.  But he will be caught between these worlds because I am raising him to proud of his Muslim identity, as well as his Danish, British, and American roots.  The world, though, cannot seem to wrap its head around a Muslim victim.  We must be the perpetrators of violence and terrorism and not at the receiving end of it.  The media and the world can both understand and accept a Muslim villain, but they are unwilling to accept a Muslim victim, unless that victim is stranded on a mountain or in a desert in some far-off land waiting for Western assistance.  That is the extent of our identity to Western media and this Chapel Hill attack and the lack of journalistic coverage on it has shown what a narrow and racist view of Muslims the world has.  I am saddened that my children and nieces and nephews will grow up in a world where they are either viewed as villains or not noticed at all.  For all my attempts to raise socially active, well educated, and enterprising children, the world will simply not see them because they do not fit into the popular understanding (supported, extended, and encouraged by mainstream media) of what a Muslim should be.  That is what the #ChapelHillShooting has taught me and what it will teach my son.

A life taken too soon is always something to be mourned and investigated fully.  A Muslim life (and death), it seems though, is either invisible, ignorable, or both.  But my children will not be ignored.  They will be Muslim.  And they will be Danish and British and American.  And they will have empathy for both the Chapel Hill and the Copenhagen victims because every act of violence and terror in the world is deplorable.  I will not let them compromise who they are because the world refuses to embrace and accept every part of their cultural heritage.  I will say it now and I will keep saying it until somebody actually listens: as a family we are Danish, American, and British, AND we are Muslim and the lives and deaths of our people matter.  Extremism will not break our tolerance.

Mourners at the funeral for the Chapel Hill victims.

#ChapelHillShootings #OurThreeWinners #CopenhagenShooting

About Being an American Muslim in 2014 and Beyond?

I am a cultural Muslim.  That is, I grew up with Muslim parents, in a Muslim country, observing Muslim holidays and practices.  I have never eaten pork in my life (and despite the delicious and tempting smell of bacon, I don’t think I will), I have had the great fortune of completing a pilgrimage to Mecca with my family, and yet, as an adult, I don’t practice the religion myself.  I don’t pray, I (somewhat regrettably) don’t fast, I’ve never read the Koran in its entirety, and I don’t give nearly enough of my money to charity.  Although my husband converted to Islam (to appease my family), he practices no religion and believes in no god or higher power.  And yet our son has a Muslim name, doesn’t eat pork, celebrates Eid, and greets his family with the traditional Salaam and Khuda Hafiz.

The best way I can explain this is to restate: I am a cultural Muslim.  Islam is so entrenched in my being that much like an American would find it hard to divorce Thanksgiving from their American identity, I find it impossible to separate Islam from who I am.  It’s of little consequence that I don’t believe in god or the rituals of any religion.  Islam is part of my identity and I’m proud to say that it always will be.

I imagine (and hope) that this is how my children will feel when they’re older.  But I also know that my children will be American first and cultural Muslims second (or maybe third or fourth).  They’ll go to American schools, live in American cities, have many American (read non-Muslim) friends, and be American.  What do I tell them about being an American Muslim when their nation is at the forefront of the ignorance surrounding Islam? How do I ensure they remain proud of every facet of their cultural heritage despite what is said about it?

I’ve decided to approach this first by instilling confidence in my children.  I want them to know they are smart, beautiful, and perfect exactly the way they are.  Even the Muslim part of them.  Even the Arab-looking part of them.  They. Are. Perfect.  Will they believe this when they’re teenagers or young adults? I don’t know but nothing will stop me from telling them this.

Second, I want them to be tolerant of everyone as long as they don’t preach hatred or spread hurt and destruction.  So my kids can be whatever they want and embrace whatever practices they want so long as they don’t try and cause others harm.  This means if they meet people that are religious but they themselves choose not to be, they will be utterly respectful of those people’s choices and their right to choose whatever religion or belief system they want.  My mum, for example, prays 5 times a day, observes Ramadan, and is a practicing Muslim.  She never, however, forces me to follow these same practices.  Would she prefer that I practiced Islam in the same way as her? Of course, but to her the two most important things are her own personal and private relationship with god and that I am kind to those around me.  Giving me the freedom to be the kind of Muslim that was right for me was one of the best gifts my mother ever gave me.

Third, I expect them to take it upon themselves to be well educated when it comes to religion.  We know that IS in no way reflects the views of most Muslims or the principles of the religion so I want my kids to be aware of the same misrepresentations of other religions before they form those opinions.

Fourth I will tell them that they never have to apologize for or justify who they are.  They are Muslims (in whatever capacity) and just because some extremists have hijacked Islam for their own selfish and perverse needs doesn’t mean this is in any way a reflection of Islam, Muslims, or my children.  In my 29 years I have never tried to explain away my Muslim heritage and I never will.  Just like I don’t ask my Jewish friends to justify or explain Zionist ideals or my Christian friends to explain how blowing up an abortion clinic could be right, I expect to be able to practice (or not) my Muslim ideals without fear or judgment or reproach.  We are a prime of example of how millions of Muslims around the world feel; we should embrace that.

It’s my hope that by talking about Islam and Muslim identity with my kids, it will help break down the stigma of identifying as a Muslim (and believe me, there is stigma attached to this identification).  I hope my kids will then take this one step further and think ‘well if people judge me so harshly for identifying as a Muslim, who am I judging prematurely and is that judgment really justified?’

I have a lot to tell my kids about being an American Muslim.  Pride, acceptance, tolerance, knowledge – that is what being an American, a Muslim, and an American Muslim is about.