My life has been shaped, shifted, and transformed by the life of an adventurous, kind, and faithful Muslim teenager named Muhammad Arief. At a gathering of Americans and Muslim students from abroad, he told the group about an experience he’d had here in the United States.
“GET OUT. YOU DON’T BELONG HERE! YOU ARE A TERRORIST, AND WE DON’T WANT YOU HERE.” Arief screamed these words as they bounced and echoed within the solid walls of the conference room.
His words hit me in my heart, and I felt sadness and confusion. “I was unhappy because of the way that I was treated during my year here in the United States,” Arief said, “but I persevered, and I moved myself to take action to change those words.” With time, and thanks to his efforts, his love, and his passion, Muhammad found himself more and more accepted in America. He was able to change the view of Muslims in his American community. He thrived, without wavering in his own faith and identity.
In telling the story, Arief laughed at the memory. But I stirred with anger. I understand racism — I feel it nearly every day for my physical characteristics. Stereotypes take command of people and cause such hatred and misunderstanding. If generalizations and stereotypes did not exist, we would respect everyone right off the bat, not assume danger or difference.
Muhammad’s story showed me how love and compassion are the secret ingredients to understanding. That day, I decided to dedicate my future education and career to working towards cultural understanding and interconnectedness of peoples. Arief’s experience of Islamophobia and his perseverance in response are the reason why I decided to lead an Islamophobia-themed alternative breaks trip at Georgetown, where I am a student. And they are the foundation for my studies, and for who I grow to be.