On the morning of September 11, 2001, confusion swept through my high school, Robert E. Lee. The school, sitting just ten miles from the Pentagon, buzzed with rumors of the Chinese bombing Washington, D.C., airplanes in disarray, and students’ parents missing in action. When I sat down in my history class, my teacher informed us that the Twin Towers had collapsed. On the chalkboard, he drew two rectangles depicting the famous towers. As his hand swept through chalk and erased the towers away, his eyes lined with tears as he stuttered, “They’re just gone.”
The city was on lock down due to its proximity to the Pentagon. Then we were sent home. As I walked home from school, I looked up into the sky, keeping an eye out for any more low-flying planes that might be headed for my hometown next. I thought that at any moment, the sky would fall.
To this day, I remember sitting fixated on the television screen for hours upon hours as tears ran down my face. I can still feel the knot in my throat that arose when I wondered if my father’s job in D.C. would eventually cost him his life.
[bctt tweet=”I thought that at any moment, the sky would fall.”]
The night before April 15, 2013, the date of the annual Boston Marathon, I sat decorating t-shirts and poster board with my roommates as I helped them prepare for the race. When the bombs erupted near the finish line the next day, I was only a few miles away.
Once again, the city I lived in was locked down. Harvard University was immediately closed, ending my classes for the day and leaving me scrambling to find a way home as the T was also shut down. As I frantically tried to reach my roommates, who I knew were at the finish line at the time of the bombing, my best friend, J.B., asked if I would ride with him into the city to take a fellow classmate and friend to the train station, so she could safely make it out of the city before he could take me home. I reluctantly agreed.
Helicopters buzzed overhead as cops shut us out road after road. And when we finally turned back towards Somerville, we both broke down in tears – wondering how we both could’ve been caught in between another terrorist attack (he had been in Norway during the Oslo attack and in D.C. during 9/11). We also prayed.
Four days later, I sat in pitch darkness, my windows and doors locked shut as I heard the shots of the firefight between the Tsarnaev brothers and the Boston police outside.
A few days later, I walked by a house just a few houses down from mine. Covered in flowers, stuffed animals, words and of love and encouragement, I realized that it was the house of Sean A. Collier, the MIT police officer who was shot and killed by the brothers on April 18th.
[bctt tweet=”Four days later, I sat in pitch darkness, my windows and doors locked shut as I heard the shots of the firefight.”]
In September and October of 2014, I happily spent days in the heat and humidity of Pakistan, scouring through the markets of Islamabad and Rawal Pindi as I searched for the perfect wedding dresses, decorations, and invitations. The shopping was careless and happy. It was often a family event, and my little cousins always begged and fought over who would get to go on each trip.
That was until a suicide bomber reduced one of our favorite marketplaces to rubble and took the lives of many innocent shoppers. I wondered how many brides-to-be had been shopping that day. And how many weren’t able to live to see their wedding day.
Today, just a few days after the beginning of 2016, I’m wondering how, even after the fear and terror that I’ve lived through, I am still labelled a terrorist simply because I am a Muslim.
[bctt tweet=” I wondered how many brides-to-be had been shopping that day.”]
In 2001, my city, Washington, D.C., was under siege and a target. In 2013, my new home, Boston, was under siege and a target. In 2014, my motherland, Pakistan, was under siege and a target.
In 2015, my husband, a member of the United States Air Force, was a target for months as ISIS members threatened attacks on individual military members in public places. He, just like the victims of the Chattanooga shooting, was a recruiter for the military.
And yet, we are labelled terrorists because we are Muslim. This is ironic because while we are targets of these fundamentalists, we are also targets of Islamophobes – because every single time a fundamentalist commits an act of terror, we react in fear. Not only to the fear of potentially being blown up or gunned down by an ISIS member of Al-Qaeda, but of potentially being a victim of someone deciding to take revenge on an innocent Muslim. As we wonder if there will be another terrorist attack in the cities that we love, we also wonder whether if another Sikh mistaken for a Muslim will be shot, if another Mosque will be defaced or burned down, or if another hijabi sister will be physically or verbally assaulted for her headscarf.
[bctt tweet=”And yet, we are labelled terrorists because we are Muslim.”]
We watch hopeful presidential candidates threaten to take our rights away. We see the dead bodies of our Syrian brothers and sisters – victims of both, ISIS and the Western countries that refuse to take them in or help, because they are Muslim. And as we help rebuild our cities, our homes, and our communities after each terrorist attack, we also attempt to heal as three college students of our own are executed in cold blood, a taxi cab driver is shot for being Muslim, and hecklers cheer as they watch our mosques burning to the ground.
In the end, it seems that we are either terrorists to the Islamophobes or infidels to the terrorists.
And I can assure you that I, and many other Muslims, are neither.