Picture this: you’re 13 years old, waiting impatiently at the library’s large front desk, a pile of novels you raced through in less than a week stacked in your arms. The woman in line in front of you is covered from head to toe, the scarf wrapped around her an elegant shade of blue. A toddler is wrapped around her legs, his tiny hands clutching tightly at her dress. Behind the counter sits the weary librarian, a cup of unfinished coffee within her reach. As the woman in the blue headscarf politely begins to speak in a thick accent, indicating English may not be her first language, the librarian looks up — and her shoulders noticeably stiffen as her gaze travels from the woman to the child, as if they’re ticking bombs about to go off.
It’s funny how a fraction of a moment of your life is something you’ll remember forever. I recalled that incident in the library years later, at age 17. My hands were clasped around my cell phone that my parents kept joking was my lifeline, and my gaze was transfixed upon the video I was watching of none other than the Republican presidential nominee, Donald Trump, as he spewed hateful words about Islam. I thought back to that librarian; how her demeanor seemed to completely change as she took in the woman in the headscarf. Surely, it must’ve made that poor woman feel vulnerable, being examined like a rat in a science experiment.
Trump’s campaign was similar, in a sense, because it was divisive: the word Islam itself had become tainted, associated with terrorism and hate as he spurred an us vs. them ideology that many fell for. Like high-schoolers succumbing to conformism, Muslims felt the need to suppress their religious beliefs to protect themselves from backlash and persecution. Islamophobia had become as common as low-waisted jeans in 21st century America, and a racist running for President did nothing to stop it from spreading.
I found myself grabbing my laptop and opening a Word document. Creativity struck me at my highest emotional turmoils — I was hurt on behalf of every person who had ever been made to feel like an outsider simply because of their beliefs. Being a Muslim myself, I felt their pain on a personal level and wanted their voices heard. I knew that my religion — one that did not match the picture Trump tried to paint of it — deserved to be acknowledged for the peaceful faith it was. I formed an open letter that night, addressing it to Donald Trump, and posted it on my blog.
Little did I know just how impactful it would become. More than 300 shares later, The Huffington Post personally approached me, requesting to publish it on their website; and the response I received was overwhelming, to say the least. There were those who highly disapproved of a teenager sharing her political views with the world, and those that defended the right to do so. Nevertheless, I had to come to realize what an impact words could have combined with the powerful tool of social media.
One year ago today, I formed that letter hoping to bring some positive change to society; and one year later, I’ve found so many others trying to do exactly the same thing. Teenagers taking charge of their education, learning about their rights and utilizing their resources, building connections and coexisting. In the age of Trump, young people rising to the occasion and doing so much more than what’s expected of them is awe-inspiring. It is exactly the kind of courage we need to survive the next four years; to beat every odd and prove to the world that we are indeed stronger together.
June 14, 2016
An Open Letter to Donald Trump, from a 17-year-old Muslim American girl exercising her right to speak out:
Most letters start off with a “dear” followed by the name of the recipient, but I’m afraid in this case, to address you in such a way would imply a sense of respect — something I cannot say I have for you in the slightest. You see, I firmly believe that respect is earned — it comes from acknowledging and understanding the values of others; it comes from extending kindness and showing empathy regardless of race, skin color, gender, religious affiliation, etc.; and it comes from treating others the way you want to be treated (yes, something we all learned in kindergarten but something apparently not all of us remember as we get older). Over the last few months you have proven to be disgustingly arrogant and dangerously ignorant. You have shown not love for this country and its people, but love for your own ego and image. You have become a spokesperson for ignorance. With your hateful words, you have managed to assemble supporters who just like you, choose to remain grounded in their ignorance. Supporters who welcome the prejudice and violence that you so gleefully encourage. You tell me if that deems worthy of my respect.
I am an immigrant, Mr. Trump. I was not born here, but I have lived here for most of my 17 years and this is my home — just like it is yours. I also happen to be a Muslim. Even now, I can recall the excitement I felt voting in my school’s “mock election” for Barack Obama. When the results were calculated and announced on the intercom at the end of the day, and I’d learned that Obama had won by a landslide, I was thrilled. I remember watching his inauguration ceremony and seeing a mix of faces amongst the crowd — people of all races, ethnicities, cultures, religions — watching history being made as the first African-American man became President of the United States. That was a defining moment for me. That was the moment I felt immense love for this country — because we all stood united, despite our differences. Because America was a melting pot — there were no barriers between brotherhood and sisterhood. A true American — a true Patriot — could be anyone who adhered to the values of this country: equality, diversity, individuality.
You have only helped tarnish the reputation that we once had; that once used to be a beacon of hope for immigrants and refugees seeking a better life. With your vile and immoral talk about banning Muslims from entering the US to killing Muslims with bullets dipped in pigs blood to your sexist comments about women to building a wall on the US-Mexican border (something I still have to remind myself you actually want to do, and isn’t some sick joke) — you have managed to corrupt the values that this nation holds dear. Seeing minorities targeted for their racial/cultural/religious background is devastating. Imagine being a part of one of those minorities and constantly having to see the public reduce your religion, the one you have grown up with and hold so dear, to nothing. To see innocent people die from ignorance. You don’t even realize it, but your entire campaign was a power-hungry, money-hungry grab (as if you don’t already have enough of that) driven by your own self-interest. Your bigotry and hypocrisy has become abundantly clear to those of us who won’t stand for the xenophobia you’re spreading across the nation.
In 2015, when eight Syrians were found on the southern border trying to get into the US, you immediately took to Twitter to make a sickening assumption: “ISIS maybe? I told you so. We need a big & beautiful wall!” It doesn’t end there. You have constantly diminished Muslims as American people who have the same rights as anyone else — advocating that you will surveillance mosques, when you are essentially stripping us of our religious freedoms — something I should not have to remind you that our country was fundamentally built upon. Recently, when the legend Muhammad Ali passed away, you passed on your condolences with “Muhammad Ali is dead at 74! A truly great champion and a wonderful guy. He will be missed by all!” …On December 6th, 2015, you’d said, “Obama said in his speech that Muslims are our sports heroes. What sport is he talking about, and who? Is Obama profiling?” Need I remind you that this “truly great guy” you claim you will miss was a Muslim — you know, the folks you won’t let into the country? After the horrible tragedy in Orlando, you tweeted arguably your most repulsive reaction yet: “Appreciate the congrats for being right on radical Islamic terrorism, I don’t want congrats, I want toughness & vigilance. We must be smart!” I wonder what would happen if, just for a second, you could be in someone else’s shoes and hear yourself speak — what you would say. While families mourned over their loved ones — who were shot senselessly and taken from this world too soon — you basked in your glory and your pride. It sickens me that you offered your condolences only to have it mean nothing when you ‘appreciated the congrats’ — using this tragedy as a means to further your agenda against Muslims and Islam.
Being a Muslim myself, I want to speak up for those of us who have been silenced. My brothers and sisters who face unimaginable hardships — who have been driven to their breaking points, reprimanded for their faith and their appearance; yet remain steadfast in their identity. You have this distorted view on Islam, but I truly believe that if you let go of your Fox News mindset and the perspectives of unreliable bloggers only seeking to gain hits, you would see that our community is full of welcoming, down to earth, open-minded individuals who are kind and compassionate and not at all how the media tends to portray them. You obviously wouldn’t have seen it, because the mainstream media wouldn’t dare shine a positive light on Islam, but after the shooting in Orlando, more than 200 Muslims in NYC (the place you call home) gathered together in the park to break their fast and pray for the victims. In the holy month of Ramadan, this kindness only grows more, as people try to do their fair share of good deeds. We welcome non-Muslims into our homes and our mosques, inviting them to break our fast with us and share the delicious food. Does that sound like the “Muslim terrorists” you declare represent our people as a whole? Does that sound like the “Islam hates us” claim you keep trying to make? In the words of Brandon Stanton, “I can confirm — the hateful one is you.” Our religious affiliations, Mr. Trump, do not make us any less human or any less deserving of the same respect and opportunities as everyone else.
I don’t know if you realize it, but you have set fuel to the fire — making the lives of so many minorities everywhere exceedingly difficult and painful as they face racism and backlash on a daily basis. While that American-born Muslim girl with a hijab is harassed and told to “go back to her country”; those Hispanic and Latino Americans are called “criminals” and “rapists.” Meanwhile, you continue to stress false ideologies about the Islamic faith, about the Latino and Hispanic culture — with no idea about the damage you are causing with every hateful word you speak. That is not the America I grew up loving. That is not the America that embraces diversity. That is not the America that promises liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That is not the America our ancestors fought and bled for. That is not the land of the free. That is not the environment I want my future children to grow up in. You becoming president, Donald Trump, is the end of the America I once knew.
I know there’s only a 1 percent chance that you’ll actually see this letter, let alone read it. You really don’t like reading anything about yourself unless it praises you or paints you to be “America’s savior.” But I knew that going in, and I know that full well as I end it. I just want you to know: I wrote this because I can. I wrote this because I know that true Americans will not allow you to divide us and will not fall for your toxic “us vs. them” mentality. I wrote this because I have a voice, a purpose, and a passion for standing up for my beliefs and defending my brothers and sisters in humanity. I wrote this for the heroes in our midst — the people who don’t succumb to the hate, but push against it and survive. There is a hero in the Muslim mother who comes home to her children and manages to give them all the love in the world even when the world couldn’t do the same for her. There is a hero in the Hispanic man who fights like hell to make it despite everyone telling him he has no chance in this big, great land because he’s an “illegal immigrant.” There is a hero in the woman who chooses what she wants to do with her body and doesn’t submit to society’s expectations. I realize that you may think I am just a 17-year-old girl whose opinion will not change anything. Well, I beg to differ. Words are powerful, Mr. Trump. Words have the power to move mountains. You may believe that you have won, but I want you to know — light is always stronger than darkness. Knowledge is always stronger than fear. Goodness is always stronger than evil. Love is always stronger than hate.