Columns

Kerry’s column: Embracing my roots

Photo courtesy of THEREDLIST.COM

by KERRY MULIA

Fear. Disheartened. Ashamed. All these emotions ran through me whenever someone brought up the topic of Islam.

On September 11, 2001, the world’s view of the Islamic community drastically changed after a tragic attack inflicted on the United States. What was once known as a peaceful religion was now labeled “terrorists.”

Since then, the Muslim community was mindlessly held responsible for any act of terror or crime in the United States. People failed to see that Islam is one of the most peaceful world religions, but a few extremists and their actions overshadow the group and spoil the name.

As I am a devout Muslim, growing up and hearing people associate the term “Muslim” with “terrorist” left me in fear and ashamed of my religion at a young age, but it was also disheartening.

I was afraid of being different and isolated from others.

I failed to recognize that my religion shaped who I was becoming.

All I could think about was the uncomfortable feeling of having to explain why I couldn’t eat the food whenever my class had a party and there was only pepperoni pizza. I didn’t want to explain because I didn’t know how.  The only way the 8-year-old me could describe why was by saying it was in my religion and my parents told me so.

I didn’t know how to defend myself when people made insensitive jokes; I could only stand in silence, thinking of how to reply while watching that person walk away. It came to a point where I started to detach myself from my religion.

I didn’t want to disclose who I really was because I was afraid of being alone or even bullied.

Being different struck anxiety into my heart, especially at a young age when all wanted to do was to fit in and make friends.

It wasn’t until the summer of eighth grade when I started to attend Sunday school in a local mosque that I began to embrace my religion.

At first, I hated the thought of waking up early on a Sunday morning just to learn more about it. I was also the oldest in the class of students who were in elementary school, while I was almost going into high school. It felt awkward sitting in class at the small tables and having my legs scrunched up, trying to adjust to feel comfortable. I was embarrassed and I couldn’t help but think that I should have learned much more before.

My mother told me that I started late in grasping the understanding of Islam. I might have known the basics, like the five pillars of Islam and not eating any pork-related meats or foods, but I never recognized or appreciated the meaning behind them.

Attending Sunday school and joining the youth group opened my eyes to a different perspective. I didn’t have anything to fear or be ashamed of.  There were others around me who experienced the same thing, and I wasn’t alone.

Sunday after Sunday, I began to become more aware of my religion and its beliefs.  When racial slurs or jokes were made against me, I was finally able to respond with confidence. (Although sometimes I couldn’t say anything because I knew they wouldn’t listen.)  I finally accepted who I was, and I didn’t cower away from questions being asked about me.

I conquered the stereotypes thrown at me and recognized for myself that although one person or group commits a gruesome crime, it does not represent the whole group or me.

The fear of being isolated or not fitting in vanished. I have made friends who appreciate who I am and stand up for me, even though I once couldn’t speak up for myself.  There was nothing to fear in the end, and I’ve gained more confidence in expressing myself.

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