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I must admit, that in light of all the Islamophobia that’s been plaguing the news and social media lately, I have found it slightly comical. Don’t get me wrong – it is very upsetting and disheartening, and it is pretty hard for me not to get caught up in the ongoing Internet debates. The “comical” part of it comes from the fact that this is suddenly such an issue. I guess I’m just a little incredulous about the whole thing.

Muslims have been living in America for a very long time. Most Americans hardly even noticed we were here! I’ve spent my entire life explaining to my schoolteachers, college professors, and even employers that I would need the day off for a religious holiday every time Eid came around. Sure, I’d get the day off most of the time…that is, unless it meant missing a quiz, test, or any other deadline.   For the non-Muslims reading this, that’s the equivalent of having to go in for an exam on Christmas day. Ultimately, the resolution of such conflicts was up to my teachers’ discretion.

But still, I never complained. I understood that our holidays were not recognized nationally. After all, the lunar calendar can be a little unpredictable, and I get that America runs on a tight schedule.   It definitely puts teachers and employers in a tough spot when I tell them, “I’ll need either Wednesday or Thursday off next week, but I won’t know for sure which until Tuesday night. I’ll get back to you on that.” Luckily, I was usually the only Muslim they had to deal with at a time, so it wasn’t a huge deal, but I can imagine the headache it could create for a boss dealing with at least a handful of Muslim employees.

Anyway, the point is simply that Muslims in America are not a majority by any means, but we’re definitely here. We’re your average Americans, getting educated, working and contributing to society…or not. It’s really up to the individual person, regardless of their religion, isn’t it? The truth is you probably go to work or school with a Muslim, whether you realize it or not. We don’t all wear our religion on our sleeves (or heads), and we don’t all go around muttering prayers in Arabic. It is important to understand that many of us were born and raised in America, so our mannerisms, our speech, and many of our secular beliefs are American. We don’t know how else to be.

Sure, there will always be more religious groups or people who practice in a way that I would consider to be more fanatical, extreme, or devout (of course, this is a personal opinion), but doesn’t every religion have people like that? Just like any other religion, your iman, or faith, is something that cannot be dictated by anyone else. Yes, your community, upbringing, and experiences can all influence the relationship you have with your religion, but ultimately, you make the call.

I don’t wear hijab in my daily life because I was not raised to do so, not because I have any less faith in my religion than a female who does wear hijab. It simply was not something I was familiar with growing up. Now, I have my own reasons for why I still do not wear it, but at the end of the day, it’s my decision not to do so. However, I’m not ruling out the possibility I ever will, because I do not know how my relationship with my religion will change and develop throughout the course of my life. The result of this, whether good or bad, is that my non-Muslim friends don’t know that I’m Muslim. My religion was always a non-issue for me in my daily life. It was something that I kept in my heart, but I didn’t feel the need to discuss with anyone (unless they asked, of course). Some would say that I’m not actively spreading the word of Islam, but others, including myself, would say that my religion is very personal to me and I understand that religious discussions don’t always make for the best small talk.

With all of that being said, it is easy for non-Muslims who are unfamiliar with my religion to get caught up in the ISIS/terrorism/Osama bin-Laden/September 11th aspects of Islam that is represented in the media. To be completely honest, there were times when I had even felt that bias against other Muslims. I can’t speak for all Muslims, by any means, but I can speak for myself. I’m a Muslim and I am an American (a Yankee-Texan, to be exact). I’m just as disturbed by the threat of religious extremists as the next guy. I don’t go around professing my religious beliefs to everyone I meet and I don’t cover my head unless I’m praying.

I am an amazing representation of much of what America represents. My parents immigrated to New York from Guyana, South America, and my brothers and I were born in Connecticut. We weren’t raised to hate the country of our birth, and we weren’t taught to have only Muslim friends (which would have meant a very lonely childhood in Bridgeport, Connecticut, anyway).

Still, I am the face of Islam, just as much so as the woman with her entire face veiled, or the man rocking the beard. Besides, thanks largely to James Harden, beards are totally in right now!

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