I started wearing a hijab three years ago. When I did, curious friends bombarded me with exclamations like, “You’re so brave!”
They made it seem as if my being Muslim was not just something that I could be, but was something that required courage. I never even saw it that way — I was just being myself. That’s not something that requires courage.
The day after the election, Muslim students at New York University found “Trump” scrawled on the door of their prayer room. Whoever wrote it knew they were desecrating a prayer space. They didn’t need to write “Go Home Muslims” or “Terrorist” to make their point because Donald Trump’s name was enough to trigger thoughts of Muslim registry programs and bans.
The very fact that the name of our president-elect could trigger so much hurt and degradation is terrifying.
On Wednesday, we learned that a Muslim woman who claimed to be harassed on the subway had made up her story. But that fabrication doesn’t diminish the experiences of my peers and I who constantly face the hate that has weaved its way through fabric of this country.
The normalization of hateful rhetoric in this country fueled by the presidential campaign has created a toxic environment for minorities, and we woke up Nov. 9 struggling to understand where we’ve been living and with whom, where we’ve been going to school and with whom.
And for the first time in three years, I felt brave for wearing my hijab.
Feeling a chill as I read the news
This month, I read about a Muslim woman — an off-duty police officer — and her son were harassed by a man who saw her hijab and yelled that she should “go back to her country.” A few days later, I read about another Muslim woman who was pushed down the stairs at Grand Central Terminal.
After hearing about each incident, I felt a familiar wave of heaviness as I whispered prayers for the women — the same heaviness I feel routinely after reading about attacks against Muslims. But these were different.
These weren’t just isolated cases somewhere in the middle of the country. These came from my city. These could have been me.
More and more, I sign into Facebook to see my friends sharing their encounters with Islamophobia. It’s a chilling kind of fear when I wonder if and when I’m going to have to write one myself.
The past few weeks have had me asking myself some strange questions when I’m walking by myself or boarding a crowded subway.
“Should I put up my hood so they don’t notice I’m Muslim?”
“Does that guy look angry because he hates me or is he just having a bad day?”
“Should I have charged my phone? Five percent is definitely not enough to take a video if something were to happen right now.”
“Do I even know how to file a police report?”
How do we move forward?
Since the election, I’ve been holding my loved ones a little closer, trying to understand how my country of birth can feel so foreign.
I ask my little sister to tell me whether kids at school say anything Islamophobic so that I can write a note to her teacher because she should not have to deal with comments from her peers. However, as one of the only Muslims in her school, defending our faith has somehow become her burden to bear.
And as our president-elect hires the likes of Steve Bannon as chief White House strategist, and nominates Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser and Sen. Jeff Sessions as attorney general, I find myself wondering where the next four years are going to take me.
I wonder whether I will still feel comfortable wearing my hijab four years from now. I wonder whether I’ll start hiding the largest parts of myself just to breathe a little easier. I wonder whether this country will still be something that I recognize or whether it will change into something sinister.
It’s easy to feel hopeless and discouraged right now. It’s easy to feel hurt when we woke up on Nov. 9 to realize that a campaign built on degrading our identities had won. It’s easy to feel frustration as we try to understand where we fit in this America.
And as hate threatens our country through actions and policies, I hope that those with the privilege to rise and protect minorities will do just that. Because if merely being who we are becomes an act of bravery, then we need more people to help us be brave.
Sana Mayat is a student at New York University.