By Amina Mohamed
On September 11, 2001, I was in my 5th grade music class, when the school principal made an announcement over the intercom about a tragic event that was taking place in New York City. I had no idea what was going on. Clearly, I thought this did not affect me. I went back to staring at the sheet of music in front me.
I was 11-years-old and had no idea that this event would forever change the way the world thought about me. I learned that a group of Muslim ‘terrorists’ crashed planes into the World Trade Center’s Twin Towers. I had no idea what a ‘terrorist’ was but I could understand they were bad people. I think my first thought was if I was going to have to go back to Somalia because I was Muslim. I had only been in America for 4 years and thought I had to leave already. I believed that I along with other Muslims would get punished for what others did! My family would have to start packing. A CNN news reporter called them dangerous and words like ’terrorists’ and ‘radical extremists’.
I worried what happened in New York City would soon happen in every state. Yes, even Michigan. I did not want to leave the house that afternoon in fear that I would come back and my brother or sister, would be dead or worse, deported. When I finally got tired of playing the video over and over again in my head, I went around the neighborhood paying a visit to all my friends. Why did I feel like all this laughter around me was going to be taken away? I remember my sister or I being photographed that week by Lansing State Journal wearing matching pink and green striped shirts, wearing “Remember Peace” badges of New York City and the twin towers (still in tact) that our school made in honor. My 5th grade teacher, Ms. Shirley Hazlett had this picture hanging on the wall next to her door before you entered her class. I wore my badge proudly to school every day.
I was right, everyone was punished. However, it felt like Muslim’s got a harsher punishment. As the years passed on, I grew farther and farther away from being called Muslim. From removing my hijab (head scarf) after entering the school to not ever wanting to wear it in public, I was trying not to be noticed. People assumed I was Indian, Mexican, Puerto Rican and sometimes Middle Eastern. I would never correct them. I just nodded my head in agreement. I remember in middle school when I finally felt comfortable wearing the hijab, I learned that certain friends didn’t treat me the same. When I had the scarf on some ‘friends’ treated me like an outcast. Others did not notice me with it on or off. The lunch lady at Pattengill Middle School once asked me to make up my mind, I either wear it or I don’t! I had no idea why it was any of her concern!
I remember walking to the corner store wearing my hijab to get my mother a phone card. The Indian man behind the counter asked me why I wore the hijab. I replied, “Because I am Muslim!” He said, “Why don’t you take it off? You are in America now.”
I asked him, “Why don’t you take off that turban, for you are in America too!” I walked out in rage slamming his glass door behind me.
I remember after Habitat for Humanity built our house, we moved in and were welcomed by a few of our neighbors. However, the family next door did not want anything to do with us. I asked the youngest of the girls why her mother did not want us to hang out. She replied, “She thinks you are from Afghanistan and you are going to bomb our house!” I shared this with my mother who of course told us to keep our distance. I was in shock for days. The misconception was that all Muslim’s are ‘Arabs’, ’terrorists’, ‘Middle-Eastern’ and just want to ‘bomb’ America. How could a girl that was only 12 say such things, I was 16 at the time. I could not begin to explain to her how stupid she sounded.
I told her really loudly “WE ARE FROM AFRICA AND WE DO NOT WANT TO BOMB YOUR FAMILY’! Inside our house I went, frustrated and my blood boiling and slammed the door behind me.
I studied abroad in May and June 2012 in Ghana which is in western region of Africa. I remember visiting El-Mina castle (slave castle). A group of us began walking back to the bus. We tried ignoring the beggars, the street shoppers and quickly walked towards our bus. Suddenly, I heard the kids yelling at me, telling me to go back to my country. They said ‘Osama Bin-laden had been caught, he is dead, go back to your country’. The kids began to stick their middle fingers up, shout out curse words. I kept walking and the girls around me walked closer. One of the girls grabbed my hands. Someone shouted, “TERRORIST”.
Oh how I wish, how I wanted to remove my hijab and scream at them, ‘I too am from Africa’. Don’t mind the hijab, just look at me. Of course, I looked nothing like what their definition of an African women was. I marched on with my head held up high!
I now realize how this tragic event changed me. It changed how I as a Muslim-American look at myself. How I and my Muslim brothers and sisters all over the world were treated and how EVERYONE’S peace of mind was stolen from them. No one asked the feelings of an 11-year-old (Muslim) girl but I just want to be heard. No one asked the feelings of many muslims. How were we affected! No one took the time to understand any one. People just wanted a direction to point their fingers at. The fingers are slowly being put down as people educate themselves more. As they have sympathy for others who have lost family, saved lives or even contributed to bringing peace.
Recently, I watched the September 11 video for a psychology experiment I participated in. I was not aware of the tears on my face or the shivers and feeling uncomfortable. I had no idea that the event that occurred 10 years ago would affect me this much. Till this day I get goosebumps every time I hear a siren going off or see an ambulance rushing to save a life. I get nervous when I see a fire truck speeding its way down a street to go put out a fire. I worry it’s for someone I know. I worry it’s for my own family and they themselves have been victims of some ‘terrorist’ attack.
Amina Mohamed is a student at Michigan State University. She is pursuing a B.S. degree in Interdisciplinary Studies in Social Science with a concentration in Health and Society.
This was printed in the July 1, 2012 – July 14, 2012 Edition