By: Hannah Sharim, Age 17
A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of someone or something. Most people are afraid of spiders, small spaces, heights, or the dark. But phobia takes a new form when it comes to American Muslims.
It’s 6:45 AM. I wake up at the sound of my alarm, which I snoozed for the fourth time today. I brush my teeth, pin my hijab in place, and rush downstairs to go to school. Almost out the door, my parents wished me goodbye with what has become the norm: “be careful of your surroundings.” I stopped getting the “have a good day sweetie” a while ago. Now I just have to be careful, because I could be attacked. Because I could be the target of hate-speech. Because anti-Muslim bigotry is my reality.
BREAKING NEWS: Republican presidential candidate and party front-runner Donald Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown on all Muslims from entering the United States. This was the breaking point. I always felt that prejudice existed towards Muslims in America. As a young woman who wears the hijab, how could I avoid it? I feel the insolent stares I get in the streets. I feel the snarky remarks made under strangers’ breaths. I feel the isolation. But I would have never projected such intolerance to reach this extent. I never expected this feeling to overcome me. So I decided to investigate where it came from.
It's election season. That means over the last several months, you've been inundated with ads from candidates who've collectively spent hundreds of millions of dollars vying for your vote.
If that makes you feel special, it should. Clearly, your vote matters.
Yet the results of CAIR's recent survey of Muslim voters indicate that less than 70% of registered Muslim voters will head to the polls this year. While that number is an improvement over Muslims' participation in past elections, we can do much better.
Many American Muslims who don't vote may say it's for one or more of the following reasons.
No one can blame you for feeling this way. But remember: the most effective way to change policies and affect problems like Islamophobia is by speaking out against them. Your vote is your voice.
By voting for the candidate whose views are most in line with yours, you are establishing yourself as someone who has invested in their career as a politician. It gives you credibility to make your concerns a priority for legislators. This makes you a stakeholder and ensures that you have a seat at the table.
Elected officials are public servants. They have an obligation to meet with their constituents and to listen to concerns, but they will prioritize the thoughts and opinions of people who go to the polls and cast their ballots.
If their position on one issue conflicts with yours, let them know how you feel. Build support for your position by mobilizing your friends and community. Organize grassroots campaigns. Launch petitions via sites like www.change.org. Whatever you do, don't remain silent and do nothing.
The best voter is an educated and informed voter. Rather than becoming discouraged, learn about the candidates' positions on issues that matter to you.
Many organizations publish candidate scorecards that grade each candidate on their positions on important issues. Familiarize yourself with candidates' positions on issues that are important to you and learn what issues or causes they've supported in the past. Find out where candidates will be speaking and attend so you can listen to them speak firsthand or even ask them questions.
Research and watch past speeches and media appearances. Have they authored books or written articles? Reading these can help provide deeper insight on their views. Most importantly, the best way to learn is by asking questions. Speak with the leadership of your local mosque or another organization to organize a candidate forum.
Each state has a state board of elections whose website contains important information on the application process such as requirements to register to vote and important deadlines. The deadline to register to vote on November 4 is nearing or has already passed in most states.
If you are too late to register this election season, register now so you'll be prepared for the next election. And you can still make a difference by volunteering to be an election judge, volunteering for candidate campaigns, encouraging your friends and family who are registered voters to cast their ballots, and by helping to provide transportation to polling stations for the elderly and disabled.
If you have trouble physically getting to the polls, there are other solutions. CAIR encourages people to carpool to and from the polling stations. Carpooling helps more people to vote in greater numbers, is more environmentally friendly, and provides transportation for people who otherwise may not be able to make it out.
Contact your local mosque to find out if arrangements are being or can be made to transport congregants to the polls. Call your state board of elections and find out what kind of transportation services they are providing and in what areas. Ask a family member, neighbor, friend or colleague if they would mind giving you a ride. Many cities provide free transportation to and from polling stations for the elderly and physically disabled.
Correction: It does! There's power in numbers. Never doubt the impact of a single vote, especially in critical battleground states where the Muslim vote has the potential to play a key role. Not only is voting your constitutional right, it is also your voice. It's a way to express your views.
If you don't vote, you allow others who do to affect decisions on important issues like the economy, healthcare and education -- and you may like the outcome even less. The next generation is depending on you to make important decisions that affect their future. One way to do your part to secure your children's future is to vote in their best interests.
County and statewide elections stand to have a greater impact on an individual level. The role you play and the decision you make in whether to vote will be instrumental in deciding the direction of our collective future. Don't sit this ride out -- buckle up and head to the polls on November 4 to make your voice count.
Two years after the senseless shooting at a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin that claimed six innocent lives, the challenges facing the Sikh American community have only been compounded.
Members of this religious minority continue to be subjected to hate and bias attacks from racists due to their physical appearance and traditional attire.
Last Thursday, a Sikh man walking with his mother was approached by three teenagers who yelled racial and ethnic slurs at his mom before calling him "Osama bin laden" and physically assaulting him.
Only a few days before that, a 29-year-old father of two, Sandeep Singh, was also victimized in a brutal hate crime. As he walked home with friends, a man in a truck began shouting racial slurs and abuse at Singh, who wears a turban. When Singh confronted him, the man reportedly mowed him down with his truck. Singh is now hospitalized, struggling to recover from the extensive injuries he sustained.
Physically, both of these victims are expected to recuperate; however, the mental and emotional trauma they have endured will take much longer to heal.
This most recent wave of attacks has heightened tensions in an already marginalized community that has suffered tremendous backlash in post-9/11 America.
These incidents fueled by bigotry and hatred must stop.
It is unconscionable, unjustifiable, and un-American to verbally or physically assault anyone based on their race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or sexual orientation.
Hate is divisive and robs us of compassion and understanding. Intolerance blinds us to the vast diversity that strengthens and beautifies our nation.
The Sikh community is compassionate, and proud. Many Sikhs in America have shared heartbreaking stories of their struggle to reconcile their religious beliefs with their American identity.
It is unacceptable that they -- or members of any ethnic or religious group -- feel fearful of practicing their religion.
As a civil rights activist committed to advancing justice for all people, I strongly believe that if we are not a part of the solution, then we are part of the problem.
Martin Luther King, Jr. rightfully said: "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." We cannot afford to idly sit back and ignore the threat bigotry and racism pose in our society; we must unequivocally condemn it.
Groups in both public and private sectors must work together to combat these issues that overshadow the discourse in marginalized communities across the nation.
Faith in our justice system must be restored. Law enforcement officials must take appropriate steps to discourage repeat attacks; they must conduct thorough, fair investigations and they must be held accountable in making sure justice is served.
And, perhaps most importantly, victims like Sandeep Singh and their families must be made to feel safe again in an environment that appears increasingly hostile towards all they represent.
Only when we unite as Americans to send a strong, clear message that racism and bigotry are unacceptable, can we effectively work to cure the intolerance that infects our society.
If any question remained about whether racism and bigotry are alive and well in America, the Rush Limbaughs and Paula Deens of our time have laid it to rest.
Last Monday -- hot on the heels of the furious uproar that swept the nation after the jury reached its verdict in the Trayvon Martin case -- Rush Limbaugh, in true form, pounced on an opportunity to exploit racial tensions in America by dropping the derogatory N-word on the airwaves.
In a recent civil lawsuit, Food Network's ex-darling and America's embattled celebrity chef Paula Deen admitted under oath to uttering racial slurs.
Open admissions of bigotry like these don't simply rub salt on festering wounds; they ignite a centuries-old pain that lies buried deep in the hearts of members of the black community.
To make matters worse, legislation like "stand your ground" and stop-and-frisk policies disproportionately undermine minorities and subject them to unfair, humiliating treatment. The stark racial divide within our society is made all the more apparent by laws like these that are not applied equally to everyone regardless of their skin color. This serves only to widen the gaping chasm that exists between Americans of different races and ethnicities.
Justice cannot be selectively applied to only a specific subset of the population. It must be equally upheld for all Americans.
We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to the broader implications of the Trayvon Martin shooting. This tragedy provides an opportunity for all of us to recognize and confront inner prejudices that cannot be ignored, or we are doomed to leave a legacy tainted with pain, shame, and guilt for generations to come.
Dr. King dreamed that one day his four children would be judged not based on the color of their skin, but the content of their character. Today, decades later our country has a black president in the White House, but we are far still from realizing Dr. King's dream. And unless we can challenge ourselves to navigate outside of our comfort zones and engage in frank, candid conversations about this polarizing, emotionally charged subject, we will continue to drift further away.