It was August and raining. I stepped outside of the Center for Near and Middle Eastern Studies at the Universitat Marburg and prepared to walk about 15 minutes to get lunch with some friends. It was then that I realized I forgot my rain jacket.
Stuck, I considered my options. I could ask someone for their rain jacket, but then they wouldn’t have one. I could just walk without one, but then my hair would be wet for at least another hour—and I care about the state of my hair more than I’d like to admit.
I realized that I could tie my scarf around my hair for at least some protection from the rain. I reached for my scarf and immediately stopped myself, almost as if I was paralyzed. It dawned on me that most of the girls standing around me were wearing hijabs as part of their Muslim faith, and here I was trying to tie up my scarf to not get my hair wet.
I turned to my friend Moza, who is from the United Arab Emirates. “Would you be offended if I tied my scarf around my hair?” I asked timidly. “I mean, I don’t want to disrespect your religion.” I fumbled on. I felt strange—why was I stumbling over such a simple question? Why was I so nervous?
“Of course not!” Moza said, smiling. She reached for my scarf, “Here, let me do it for you.” She tied up my scarf and we started down the road.
When I think of Islam, I think of this moment.
I think of Moza’s warm smile and her willingness to share a part of her religion and culture with me. I think of the fond memories I have from this summer with my Muslim friends from the Middle East. I think about how much I learned from them. I think of these friendships that I will cherish for my entire life.
But sadly, when I think of Islam, I also am forced to think about the heartbreaking amount of Islamophobia present within Western society, the existence of which has been made painstakingly obvious over the past few days.
I do not disregard the threat that ISIS poses to the safety of Americans and Europeans. The terrorist attacks in Paris and Beirut (and the continuing attacks in less well-broadcasted areas) prove this reality. The safety of the people across the globe is something that our world leaders are trying desperately to ensure. No one should have to live in fear—that is a given.
Yet it seems to me that when some Americans make the argument that letting refugees into this country poses a threat to the safety of citizens, they are completely disregarding the fact that not letting refugees even apply to live in this country is completely taking away their right to safety. It’s as if they are saying, “We Americans have a right to live without fear … but you refugees, not so much.”
The argument that ISIS terrorists could be embedded within Syrian refugees seeking asylum in the United States is an absurd idea based in extreme xenophobia and outright ignorance.
Though it has been reiterated time and time again by the Obama administration that of the thousands of Syrian refugees that have been admitted into the United States since 2011, not one of them has been guilty of terrorism. If ISIS wanted a terrorist in the United States, they would not spend the time, money, or energy supporting a terrorist posing as a refugee.
Yet, more and more governors have come out against allowing Syrian refugees into their respective states. Refugees are trying to escape ISIS. Refugees have nothing to do with ISIS. Refugees are the West’s scapegoats. Yet it seems as if no amount of statistics, data, and hard evidence pointing to the innocence of a terribly high percentage of refugees will change the minds of xenophobic Westerners.
When I think of Islam, I do not think of terrorists. I think of people who are trying desperately hard to be understood as human beings and separate themselves from extremists who represent nothing about all Muslims. When I think of the future of this country, I am optimistic.
Featured Image by Francisco Ruela / Heights Graphics