A letter to my neighbors & colleagues who don’t share my Islamic faith…
The events of 9/11 are ones that have forever changed the world we live in, but not always in ways that you might have imagined. For most regular Americans, it has brought uncomfortably close to home images that were once thought to only happen “over there” in some other country.
It has led to people being more scared of their neighbors, their co-workers and even their seat-mate on an airplane. It has resulted in terror alerts, airport security measures and even strange recommendations of buying lots of duct tape for your windows (still haven’t figured that one out yet). But for another segment of the population it has resulted in other types of dread and fear.
I’m writing this to you today because I want to share with you my feelings and my experiences, not because I want your sympathy or for you to write to Congress, but mainly because I don’t want you to be afraid of me. Because I want to let you inside my head for a brief moment to see things, maybe, from a different perspective.
For most Muslims in the US, the breaking news of a possible terrorist incident brings about an enormous feeling of dread. The dread of the fall-out from the “attack” that we are sure to feel in very personal ways. Mosques around the US get death threats, threatening vandalism and even shot at or burned down after these things happen. Moreover, people who look “Middle-Eastern” get physically attacked, and women who cover their hair with the Islamic head-cover (hijab) get no end of dirty looks, rude insults and their own share of threats.
Ever since 9/11, I am treated like a criminal every-time I return to the US from an overseas trip. Whether I have gone to Egypt to visit my extended family, to Pakistan to provide medical relief to earthquake victims or to Costa Rica to surf truly awesome waves, I am escorted by Border Patrol to a separate area of the airport. There, I am subjected to questioning about the details of my trip while my baggage, pockets and wallet are meticulously searched. I have had my credit cards, business cards and hospital ID’s taken from me and photocopied in a separate room because “its policy”. There is no such thing as invasion of privacy for people like me – I simply have to give them everything they want and be happy that I don’t get rendered to another facility. I have never committed a crime, but I am a Muslim.
I, like many others, was born in this country. I chose to be a physician because I sincerely care about others. I chose to be an ER doctor because I don’t want to have to worry about someone’s ability to pay for medical care, and because it offers me the freedom to have a life away from the hospital. A life that I have chosen to use again in the service of humanity – whether it be by teaching religious morals, or by using my medical skills in a humanitarian crisis like Hurricane Katrina or the Pakistani Earthquake, or by doing my small part to raise educated, respectful and moral children for the future of America and the world.
I sincerely want you to know that my religion, Islam, does not encourage violence. In fact, it specifically speaks AGAINST the killing of innocent people. It encourages forgiveness and the peaceful resolution of conflicts, be they interpersonal or international. I hope that you have seen this trend in my character, even though I know I am far from perfect and have much to improve in myself. I don’t have hate in my heart, even for those that have used their power to hurt others around them. I pray for justice for the people of our world, and I pray for peace as well.
I wish you could know how sorry I am that a small group of people have distorted all that is good in my religion by using it as a call for terror and bloodshed. I am sorry that these misguided people have caused harm to my fellow countrymen and women. I feel the same way that many of you might feel when you read about the atrocities committed against the Native Americans or the African Slaves by our ancestors in this country. The fact that Americans did these terrible things doesn’t take away from the good that America stands for. It just means that sometimes people can go very far astray from the principles they seek to represent. Nonetheless, I still feel sorry that these things are being done in the name of Islam and I wish that I could stop them from happening.
I know that no matter what I may say, there will still be those who will not like me because I have chosen, with my intellect and my heart, to follow Islam. This will not stop me though from extending my hand and my heart in friendship to those around me who need care. It will not stop me from trying my best to be a good citizen of America and the world. It will not stop me from working tirelessly to prevent those whom I can reach from turning to extremism. And it will not lead me to hate in return.