Wafa Alwageeh’s Story
As retold by Anna Spoelman
I was in a supermarket once and a strange man walked up to me. He started to tell me that I’m in America now, and that I should let go of my culture’s traditional clothing, my family’s language, and my religious celebrations. This man continued to tell me that since I was in America now, it would be better for me if I took up the American way of dressing, spoke no language other than English, and celebrated only the popular American holidays. Because the man was so adamant that I take his advice, I assuaged him by saying that I would think about it. This is what I think about it.
One of the greatest benefits of being an American citizen is that the law protects our right to hold onto our cultures, languages, and religions. We don’t have to be afraid of discrimination because the law will still protect us. America has been described as a vast melting pot of different peoples. Everyone is different. And I enjoy being different.
The reason why people discriminate is because they think all people of a certain culture or religion are the same. They hear of Muslim women who have been oppressed by their husbands, and they conclude that all Muslim men oppress their wives. Terrorists may claim that they commit such acts of atrocity because of Islam, and many people believe that every follower of Islam must then condone the crimes the terrorists commit. But this is very far from the truth.
I say base your judgements on the acts of those around you. Instead of assuming things about my culture, ask me questions to understand the truth. In the Muslim religion, there are many different people who believe different things, depending on how they interpret what they’ve been taught and how their culture expects them to behave. For example, many Muslim women believe that it is not modest to leave one’s home without putting on one’s headscarf. But there are also many Muslim women who never wear the headscarf. These differences exist in religion because we all have the freedom to choose what we will follow and what we will discard. This is true in every religion.
I believe that there is no religion in the world that would tell its followers to hurt or to kill innocent people. I believe that there is no religion in the world that in and of itself is good or evil. I believe that it is not the person’s religion that drives them to make choices to harm or to help; I believe that is the responsibility of the person himself. We are each responsible for our own actions and it is wrong for any of us to use our religion as an excuse to harm others.
My religion has played a major role in shaping who I am fundamentally. My religion is something that I not only value and respect but is also something I deeply love. When I describe who I am, I always say that I am a Muslim Arab American. This is because I am a Muslim first, Arab second, and an American citizen third.
I often hear surprised reactions when I introduce myself this way. I know that many people are afraid to say that they are Muslims because they are afraid of being discriminated against. They are afraid that others will judge them not for their own actions, but for the actions of extremists. I am not afraid to say that I am a Muslim because as people get to know me, they will see me not as a misconceived stereotype, but as myself.
I believe that I can change the way that many people think about Muslims, even if I may not be able to change everyone’s beliefs. Although I’m only a young college student right now, I will make it a mission in my life to impact those around me. So that they will see that one member does not represent the whole group.
And when we get people to realize that, we get closer to the end of discrimination.
This story originally appeared in Facing College: Immigrant & International Students’ Stories, a publication of The Facing Project that was organized by Mott Community College in Flint, Michigan.