Young Muslim American fighting Islamophobia, one ignorant question at a time

Published: January 25, 2016
SHARES
Email
PHOTO: MADDIE MCGARVEY

PHOTO: MADDIE MCGARVEY

A young American Muslim can’t go a day without being asked what it’s like to wear a hijab in her hometown of Kansas. But Maira Salim, 21, who leaves her house everyday knowing to expect at least a few odd questions, is not giving up her right to express herself.

The questions aren’t smart, to say the least:

“Do they make you sleep in it?”

“Is it allowed to touch the ground?”

“Can you hear me in that?”

And while what she really wants to say is “Really? or “Are you serious?”, Maira patiently replies to all those who are curious about her religion and why she wears a hijab.

Two teenagers charged in hate crime attack against Muslim man in the Bronx 

“I never wanted to be the weird religious girl,” Salim said, who has been in the United States for the last 19 years – since moving with her family from Pakistan.

Salim, who was only two years old when she moved to the US, claims that she has ‘grown up’ with people staring at her and her hijab. Furthermore, while her imam and mother warn her not to become too intimidated by the American culture, the young girl’s father, Salim Sattar, who worries for his daughter’s safety, tells her to “Go big, this is America”.

“My dad is one way, and my mom is another,” Salim said. “I wore a ‘Free Palestine’ hoodie when we came back from Canada. My mom was like, ‘Don’t wear that, Maira.’ My dad said, ‘Let her wear it.’ ”

Believing that it is the basic knowledge about Islam which most Americans lack, Salim faced her life’s first and most horrifying incident when a woman at a traffic light rolled down her window and screamed, “Go back to your own country.”

Zara fires French employees for barring woman wearing headscarf

President of the Muslim Students Association at Wichita State University, Salim began wearing a badge which reads, ‘I’m Muslim, Ask Me a Question’, yet claimed that was not enough. Regardless of how many times she told people she hated Islamic State and their ideology, they weren’t satisfied.

Aware of Salim’s ability to apply good henna, Muslims as well as non-Muslims invite her to bridal parties from where she earns a few extra dollars. At parties where there is alcohol, Salim politely refuses when being offered some.

“So, in your country, do people pay you to do this?” a woman at one of the events asked Salim.

“No, well, I came here when I was 2,” she replied in her flat Kansas speech. “And I just do this for fun.”

“Do you plan to stay forever?” was the next question, for which Salim had no reply.

Man pushes Muslim woman into oncoming underground train in London

“So, you guys have tattoos?” another guest asked.

“Actually, in our religion, we can’t have tattoos,” she answered patiently.

Recalling the anniversary of September 11 as one of the most difficult days for a Muslim, Salim said she went to all possible events to tell people about a Muslim’s side of the story.

“This is not what I stand for,” she said of what happened 14 September 11’s ago, wishing that after all these years people understood. Salim said she learned a long time ago that to survive, she could not let herself be defined by the fears of others. “You have to show people that there is good in the world.”

Hijab-wearing Muslim student voted best-dressed at US school

However, the life of fear did not end for Salim or her friends. In November, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen in Paris that killed at least 128 people at a concert hall, restaurants and the national sports stadium.

Soon after which, a Muslim couple shot down at least 14 people at California’s disabled centre. For both attacks, Salim prayed to God and said, “Please don’t let it be Muslims.”

This article originally appeared on Washington Post.

Photos: Maddie McGarvey

Reader Comments (12)

  • GKA
    Jan 25, 2016 - 5:41PM

    OK – then try answering this. Do you believe in two nation theory ? are muslims a seperate nation ? then how are you american ?Recommend

  • cautious
    Jan 25, 2016 - 6:44PM

    No such thing as an ignorant question – it’s how human beings learn.Recommend

  • Striver
    Jan 25, 2016 - 7:50PM

    @cautious:
    It depends on how the question is put and the intention behind that question as to whether its is ignorant or not. Recommend

  • ShahrezQureshi
    Jan 25, 2016 - 11:25PM

    @GKA:

    I don’t see why she can’t be an American while remaining a Muslim.

    When someone suggests that he or she is American, it doesn’t mean that he or she has adopted the American culture, it could simply mean that they are living in a geographical entity called America. One can be Pakistani, and not a Muslim; one can be an Indian but a Muslim; one can also be both an American and a Muslim.

    Two Nation theory, specifically, meant that Hindus and Muslims are two different nations, with a very distinct culture. In more generalized application of the theory, it could simply mean that Muslim culture is different than any other culture. No where does it suggest that a Muslim can’t live in America or can’t call him or herself an American. As long as she is maintaining her identity as a Muslim, she is a Muslim living in America, not an American who has adopted the American culture and is only a Muslim because she says so. Recommend

  • NHA
    Jan 26, 2016 - 6:03AM

    @GKA: The context is different. It is diversity, which is not necessarily the malignant phenomenon. Absolute uniformity will lead to the death of creativity and evollution.

    Muslims wearing a different dress do not threaten the American nation. It is the latter’s fear that is causing anxiety . Recommend

  • Saad Q
    Jan 26, 2016 - 6:09AM

    Muslims need to come out of the dark ages first before they talk about human rights.Recommend

  • Vikram
    Jan 26, 2016 - 6:49AM

    In November, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a series of coordinated attacks by suicide bombers and gunmen in Paris that killed at least 128 people at a concert hall, restaurants and the national sports stadium………Soon after which, a Muslim couple shot down at least 14 people at California’s disabled centre. For both attacks, Salim prayed to God and said, “Please don’t let it be Muslims.”

    she is not fighting Islamophobia, she is fighting reaction of people to terrorist attacks that is why she prays to Allah and says “please don’t let it to be Muslims”Recommend

  • ShamelessPakistanis
    Jan 26, 2016 - 8:25AM

    @GKA:
    Did you just try to equate a nationality with religion?

    FYI — When the Great Leader said that Muslims & Hindus are two different Nations he didn’t meant Muslims & Indians are two different NATIONS. Recommend

  • Striver
    Jan 27, 2016 - 2:11AM

    @GKA:

    The two nation theory is out of context here. It is applicable only to Indian. The current atrocities against Muslims have proved the theory is applicable even in today’s India. Recommend

  • Striver
    Jan 27, 2016 - 2:14AM

    @Saad Q:
    How ignorant a question.Recommend

  • RB
    Mar 10, 2016 - 1:58AM

    @Striver:
    Forgetting the fact that how nicely we treat our minorities? We don’t stand on higher moral ground and are in no position to point fingers.Recommend

  • Striver
    Mar 10, 2016 - 11:31PM

    @RB
    Exactly RB, no nation is in a position to point fingers at others, they are all mistreating their minorities but pretend to stand on moral high ground when judging Muslims. Recommend

Leave Your Reply Below

Your comments may appear in The Express Tribune paper. For this reason we encourage you to provide your city. The Express Tribune does not bear any responsibility for user comments.

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Comments FAQ.

More in World