14 Twenty-Somethings On The Muslim American Experience

We asked our readers to share honest, personal stories about dealing with religious intolerance and reflections of growing up Muslim in America post-9/11. Thank you to everyone who participated – the responses were overwhelming and powerful.

We bring you this post in partnership withSecret Lives of Americans,’ a groundbreaking doc series that takes a look at the secrets we all keep, and the strength it takes to reveal them to our family and friends. A key episode follows Amy, a young woman who has hidden the fact that she is Muslim from her friends due to permeating anti-Muslim sentiments and violence in the US.

Watch all-new episodes of ‘Secret Lives Of Americans’ Fridays at 10 p.m. ET/PT on Pivot, Participant Media’s television network.

1. “Sometimes I think I’m one of the lucky ones. I am white-passing so everything’s good, until someone reads my name on paper, on my name-tag or asks for it. Then it suddenly becomes an issue. That’s when I become a threat to national security. They don’t have to say what their non-verbal expressions give off.” — Female, 29

2. “I realized at a young age it’s sick but I can’t do anything because in society I am seen as wrong, un-American, and dangerous. Neighbors have told my little sister that they love us, but won’t talk to us on 9/11 in solidarity.” — Female, 22

3. “When I spoke to my dad on the phone today and he asked, ‘What do you think of this Trump stuff, him running for President? And he wants to block Muslims from coming in? Ridiculous…’ It saddened me. I couldn’t imagine the disappointment and frustration he must have felt. I can’t help but feel bad for him and all the other Muslims in America who moved here to make their dreams come true, who worked their asses off to get to where they are now and become successful, who want to be so proud of this country and the work they put in to become American citizens. As well as those who don’t live here, many Muslims have so much respect and love for this country. I’d hate to see those words turn to past tense.” –Male, 21

4. “Every single religion has had individuals and groups of terrible people commit terrible acts. Just because this is the most recent terrorist group, doesn’t make all Muslims bad people. How would your religion be perceived if it were defined only by a minority of members’ actions? Yes, the ISIS attacks are current, but that does not justify making it a ‘special’ scenario in that it demands hatred and fear of Muslims. People must stop acting like it’s the one religion to commit terrorist attacks.” — Male, 21

5. “I changed the pronunciation of my name from Sah-rah to the regular Sara so my religious beliefs would be less evident to others. I also stopped wearing my hijab when I was 15 because I was scared about what would happen to me—who would hurt me, how I’d be discriminated against.” — Female, 29

6. “As a child, I remember always asking my parents questions about Islam, and my parents would tell me a quick answer or launch into a long lecture about my identity as a Muslim girl. Islam is a part of my identity, a part of who I am as a person, and it’s so beautiful—the religion, the art, the history, the everything—I always found being Muslim something I am proud to claim as part of my soul.” — Female, 27

7. “When my family and I immigrated to the U.S. in the summer of 2003, hate and discrimination towards Muslim individuals and families were real. Threats and intimidations were real. The unjustified violence towards innocent people was real. It was happening and it continues to happen in communities today. However, I have experienced a side of America that welcomed me with open arms; a facet that is a true testament to the people I have met, the friends I have made, and the communities that I have lived in across the country. In fact, the majority of people I have come across have looked at my personal journey and instead of siding with ignorance and dubbing me a ‘terrorist,’ they’ve overcome those stereotypes by focusing on my character, my ability to overcome adversity, and my willingness to work for my dreams.” — Male, 23

8. “Growing up Muslim clearly has not been a really ‘safe and easy’ ride; I was merely a kindergartener when the 9/11 attacks occurred. That’s when it all started. I struggled after that. I was picked and teased jokingly about being a terrorist because the color of my skin was not ‘standard’. Kids were ruthless in picking on my faith and asking hurtful questions about terrorism and Islam. I grew to realize that this is how I’d be treated for the rest of my life based on one event that shattered the identity my Muslims brothers and sisters hold.” — Male, 21

9. “I remember wearing henna to school for Eid and being relentlessly bullied for having a ‘skin disease’ and apparently celebrating the attacks. I often feel like the entire country has turned on me because they think there’s something morally wrong with what I choose to believe in.” — Female, 29

10. “When I first moved to America I was a 10-year-old boy with a curious heart, an open mind, and a lot of energy. I was so ready to make America my home and take advantage of the opportunities it offered that I didn’t care what people said about my culture or religion. When ignorant classmates called me Arab I didn’t take it personally, instead I made sure they knew the difference between an Arab and an Afghan. When neighbors, unable to hide the disgust on their face, called me a ‘foreigner’, I made sure they knew I was an American citizen whose involvement in community, charity, politics, and world affairs was the embodiment of how an American citizen should behave. In a way, Islam will always be a part of my life from a cultural aspect but what guides my morals and ethics is a simple understanding of remaining conscious of my surroundings, acting towards others with good intentions while remaining humble and thankful for that which has come my way.” — Male, 23

11. “Witnessing the severe anti-Muslim sentiments pour into our living room from across the country over the years, it took a lot for me to get past my own self-hatred regarding who I am and what I look like. But I am fighting—fighting the system. I am getting involved in campus rallies in support of freeing Palestine, I am getting involved in my masjid youth group to teach and engage my community, I am being a better Muslim for the sake of God and for the sake of fighting against the hatred we see today.” — Female, 25

12. “For any Muslim-American born and raised in the United States, we can all agree that some days it is difficult. It’s difficult waking up, looking in the mirror, and knowing that tax dollars go into funding drones that could kill your people back home. Living with that guilt, as well as the guilt you might have that may or may not have been pushed onto you in the post 9-11 climate, it can be too much. It can push you to some of your worst days, alone and with your doubts and thoughts: Why did I laugh at that one terrorist joke? Why didn’t I just say something against it?” — Male, 30

13. “I often think about the time my mother, brother and I were put into a separate room at the airport for a ‘random’ screening on our way to Germany. It was just us three and another Muslim-American man in a completely separate security clearance room. I thought it was weird then, and now I see it as degrading—as pure paranoia that a ten year-old girl would be hiding a bomb somewhere on her body.” — Female, 21

14. “When I moved to the U.S., it was hard to adapt at first (even though I’m more liberal than a lot of Muslims), because people stereotyped me. It was hard to walk among Americans like one of them when I would get all sorts of annoying questions about my religion like ‘so do men really have four wives?’ It baffles me how little Americans know about Islam. Unfortunately, their only source is the media and the terrorists groups representing their own version of Islam. Sometimes I wish I could take Americans to Egypt, where my family is from, so they can see the real ‘everyday’ Muslims and their kindness—their hospitality, their warmth, and the love they truly have for other people. When Prophet Muhammed first set out to spread Islam in Mecca, a lot of people advised him to do so by force, but he politely responded, ‘There is no compulsion in religion.’ This is what real Islam is all about. It’s a religion of peace, and it’s a religion of hope.” — Female, 28 Thought Catalog Logo Mark

Learn more about religious intolerance and other important topics on Secret Lives of Americans (Friday at 10 p.m ET/PT on Pivot), and see the video below on the episode that follows Amy, a young woman who has hidden the fact that she’s Muslim from her friends because of permeating anti-Muslim sentiments in the U.S. after 9/11.

Inspired by Secret Lives of Americans, Pivot is offering tools and resources to further the conversation around some of the topics explored in the series, ranging from literacy to religious tolerance. Visit the “Take Action” hub to learn more about the issues and get involved.