I am a Christian… an Episcopalian in point of fact, which is one of the more progressive versions of Christianity in the United States. I was born in Mobile, Alabama but have lived in another country and multiple states because of first my mother’s jobs and then my own. I’ve lived in Venezuela, Texas, Florida, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana and come back to the greater Mobile area to reside on the Eastern Shore in Alabama. My daughter was born when I was 20 in Orlando, Florida and she was raised in several of the states above. She probably officially considers her hometown a toss up between Orlando and Mobile because all of her mom’s family is in Mobile and all of her Dad’s is in Orlando. Well, all of her Dad’s that live in the United States. Her father is actually originally from Morocco. I met him when I worked at Disney World… Epcot Center to be precise, at the Moroccan pavilion. This was long before the notion of the Middle East as a terrorist threat became ingrained in the American psyche… in fact everyone really just thought “Aladdin” and “Casablanca” when they thought of places like Morocco. Very exotic and romantic. As an 18 year old I was quite swept away.
As my daughter grew up as a typical American kid, she tried on many religions… as I thought it best to let her explore her beliefs. Her father being Muslim and me being Episcopal… I didn’t want to force her to choose one or the other. She actually was baptized at about 9 years old because she decided that she wanted to be Episcopal. But as she got older she grew dissatisfied and explored other options. She was Hindu for a month or so and eventually she went to visit her father for the summer and started to learn more about Islam. She felt a strong connection to it and began to study it and want to practice it. Over the next several years she continued to grow and deepen in her faith and commitment until she was a full member of that religion. It was hard to accept, 9/11 had happened by then and I felt terror at the idea of what she potentially faced from my fellow Americans. It would be so much easier if she just didn’t let anyone know… but of course I supported her decisions despite my fears. There may have been some counseling involved.
Now every day my 5 foot 3 inch tall, 25 year old daughter who is in nursing school lives with people looking at her with fear and hostility. Even when she has her two small kids, my grandsons, in tow. Grandsons who I just taught to catch a football and yell “Roll Tide!” Grandsons aged 3 and 6 who will be American Muslim men one day. I mean my huggy little boys, who play with the dinosaur toys, and elephant toys, and a parade of stuffed animals, will be hated by people all over this country and there is nothing I can do about it. My daughter is automatically hated by people right now and there is nothing I can do. I can’t protect her. The only comfort is that she lives in a bigger city up north at least, where she can blend in. She refuses to live in Alabama where she is too afraid she’d be attacked. But that means I don’t get to see them very much.
Do you know what that is like? To be a regular American afraid my kid might be attacked, harassed, spit on or insulted at any time by other people in my country simply because of her religion? How is our country, which was founded in part to escape exactly this type of persecution, now a place where this is the norm?
When I go to church I look around and know most of the people there would not have an issue with me having a daughter who is Muslim, but then again… some might. Just today I had to issue a warning on my Facebook alerting people that hate speech about Muslims would result in unfriending and requesting that people who hate Muslims unfriend me. The attack in Paris seems to have sent some people off the deep end. In Alabama, the Governor has decided that fleeing the Daesh (also known as ISIS /ISIL who are literally NOT EVEN Islamic despite their appropriating the name… kind of like Westboro Baptist “Church” is “Christian,”) makes you a terrorist, even though you are running for your life and a refugee. Xenophobic, Islamophobic, and a persecutor of the poor…Gov. Bentley is like The Simpsons Mr. Burns incarnate. Someone told my daughter she was lucky she was in the US now. Even though she was BORN here and fricking grew up in Alabama, Florida and Massachusetts and played Pokemon and watched cartoons and ate McDonald’s like every other kid in the US.
So I pray that when people see her they actually see HER, my kid, my daughter, who dressed up as Pikachu when she was 8. Who played soccer when she was 5. Who attended St. Paul’s Episcopal School for Kindergarten. Not someone to be afraid of, not a terrorist, Just a young woman from the South trying to become a nurse and take care of her family who happens to practice a religion that her father taught her because it spoke to her heart. And if you happen to see a Muslim when you are out… just remember, she is someone’s kid like mine and be kind.