Before college, I never felt Muslim. I feel a lot of things, all of the time—but very rarely do I feel Muslim. On good days, I have the privilege of taking Islam for granted. I forget I wear hijab and I assume that people are staring at me because I’m just so damn beautiful. On good days, I get to bask in the comfort of Islam being my way of life. I get the security of a faith that preaches “beautiful patience,” that teaches me to not ascribe intent to the actions of others and that consoles me with the emphasis on God being the most merciful. On good days, I just assume that people see my hijab as a symbol of my love of God and my desire for humility. On good days, I don’t worry what people think of my faith, because I assume my actions speak on behalf of my religion.
But in the past few years, there have been a few times where I’ve felt Muslim. When the Boston marathon bombings occurred—I felt Muslim. I felt what it meant to walk into a store and have 10 years of inaccurate media fueled hate projected on to my body by someone who knew nothing of me. When the adhan was going to be announced from the Chapel, I felt Muslim. When people’s comments about my faith were wrought with a brand of animosity I still wish I didn’t know existed so close to home, when people threatened to hurt Muslim students on this campus, I felt Muslim.
In post-9/11 mainstream America, to be Muslim is to be the bearer of evil. To be Muslim is to be a backward, women-hating, sword throwing savage. When I feel Muslim, I feel those labels forced upon my body. I feel those ideas being painted all over me. I feel myself unwillingly shrink to become small and irrelevant under the force of years and years of negative antagonistic media-created ideas of what Islam is, and what it means to be Muslim.
After the loss of Yusor, Razan and Deah I am overwhelmed with emotion, and I won’t try to force my words to make sense of this tragic and senseless loss. This has easily been the hardest thing I’ve lived through and I wont try to relay the kinds of pain and sadness and earth shattering sorrow for their closest friends and family that I and so many others are feeling. I feel a lot of things as a result of their loss, but more than anything I want to feel hate at the man who committed this horrendous act. I want to project these feelings onto him. I want him to feel the pain we all feel as a result of him taking their bodies from us. I want him to bear the hate that he projected onto the bodies of those three incredible individuals. But I can’t hate him. I can’t hate him for the tainted images of Muslims he has internalized. I can’t hate him because films like "American Sniper" exist and because there are hundreds of Facebook pages demonizing Muslims. I can’t hate him because in his mind he wasn’t killing the Yusor, Razan and Deah that were known and loved by so many. In his mind, he was killing the very face of evil and ugly that the media portrays to be Muslims. He was killing because he hated what he thought Yusor and Razan’s hijabs symbolized.
I can hate that the media has created an idea of what it means to be Muslim. I can hate feeling Muslim. With the speculation that has emerged about the intent of the horrendous crime, I feel Muslim. You can’t fight something you don’t name. The media’s hesitation toward calling this a hate crime says to me that people think that the right to practice Islam without fear is not a cause worth fighting for. Without naming this as the hate crime it was, the message is that hate toward Islam is not a cause worth deconstructing and extinguishing.
As I stood side by side in the crowd of over 5,000 people asking God to grant mercy to Our Three Winners, I pleaded God to not let the lives of these three absolutely remarkable individuals go in vain. I pleaded God that Muslims and non-Muslims alike take this tragic incident as a reminder of the importance of combating anti-Muslim and anti-minority propaganda. I pleaded God that these are the last souls taken by ignorance and hate. I prayed to God that one day, feeling Muslim didn’t mean fearing for your life.
Nourhan Elsayed is a Trinity junior.