Gender & Identity, Life

Countering Islamophobia starts with holding the door

Telling Muslim women they’re at home in America – and Daesh that we’re not buying their propaganda – can’t get easier than this.

I was walking out of Panera one day, bagel in hand, hijab on head. It was chilly, and I was ready to head out the door with my to-go order intact. A man was entering at the same time I was exiting, and I waited for the silent exchange: Would he hold open the door for me? 

Having the door held open for you is a basic act of courtesy that many of us have come to experience as routine. Yet when I walked through this glass door at my local Panera held open by a sturdy hand, I could not help but feel a gratitude far greater than most American women feel.

I am a Pakistani-American Muslim, and around my brown-skinned face I don a hijab on a daily basis. I have (perhaps naively) come to think that any person who opens the door for me is not only kind, but also unprejudiced, uncorrupted by the likes of Donald Trump. Though it is a daily experience, I still feel a jump of pleasant surprise every time any door is opened for me. It’s a surprise that should have no place in a cosmopolitan, modern society like that in which we claim to live in today.

The radical conservatism advocated by many Republican candidates has sharpened the undercurrent of racism and Islamophobia already present in society. I’ve made it a personal mission to help all Americans overcome it. Open doors should be the norm, and Muslim women in America should not be afraid.

As a Muslim and an American (and a Southerner at that), I refuse to let my people give in to an ideology which attempts to rupture my identity, severing two parts of my being. Growing up in Georgia, I have been lucky—or at least I have not been the victim of blatant prejudice. Here, though Trump’s creed reigns, people have courtesy, never subjecting me to anything more than a subtle microaggression. But I cannot settle at that. My Muslimness and my Americanness are both are equally etched into my life, each uncompromised by the other’s existence.

By countering Islamophobia in America, we are indirectly also issuing a challenge to extremism. We are telling Daesh that Islam is not theirs to claim, and denying them the right to use it unjustly as a tool of radicalization. Islamophobia and extremism can be foiled simultaneously.

Understanding the religion’s message is equally important to dissolving America’s culture of Islamophobia. All Americans—Muslim and non-Muslim alike—can symbolically start this fight by reading these eleven points that distinguish true Islam from radicalism. Its message is potent in its simplicity. From rejection of terrorism to the separation of mosque and state, the points outline the reality of what Islam teaches. By endorsing these points, Americans are giving a blow in the face not only to Islamophobia, but also to extremism itself, by debasing the terrorists’ claim that their actions are driven by Islam.  

It doesn’t get any easier than this. You can counter Islamophobia by engaging with the Muslims in your community: ask them questions, visit their mosques, invite them to your own community centers. Or simply open doors for them.

Wherever the entrance has not been automated by technology, there’s an opportunity to participate in not only the opening of doors, but the building of bridges between people. Because for many of the Muslim women you encounter, even this simple act of kindness is evidence that America is still a home for us.