I caught the bus from Central Station last week, it was my first day at a new job. My mind was occupied with all the different ways my day could unfold; and then just before I stepped on, it happened.
A stranger came up to me and screamed, “Oh, go back to your own country you f***ing idiot”. Everyone turned around, and I felt my face turn fire engine-red. But no one said anything.
That day, on my lunch break I cried over the phone to my mum. I still can’t get his face out of my head. The ignorant might laugh at my experience, and people like myself may say that’s to be expected. Perhaps I’m dramatic or sensitive.
Shaymah Alkhair, as a student and the recent target of vilification, she would like a civil discussion about subjects touching in faith.
Born and bred in Australia, it was the first time I was subjected to such treatment firsthand. You should probably know that I wear a hijab, my personal choice since I was 12. You should also know that Vegemite on toast is my favourite breakfast. Talk about an identity crisis, right?
Over the weekend, I came across the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal’s decision about Sonia Kruger’s “vilifying remarks”. But they’re so much more than that. I don’t think that Sonia Kruger is a bad person, although I couldn’t help but wonder if my experience would be different had her words been more thought out. I fear our current climate as much as she does. But I know hateful rhetoric that creates fear and division and uncertainty is not the answer.
Now I could write a retaliation piece. Maybe I’d say that Muslims are seven times more likely than non-Muslims to be victims of terror, or that if she felt unsafe, statistically speaking, she has a much higher chance of being harmed by a man she knows, or that her concerns “as a mother” should include instilling unity and acceptance.
What we need is a conversation, something that humanises the Muslim experience.
Perhaps I’d tell the man from the bus stop that Makassan Muslims have a deep-rooted connection with Indigenous Australians that predate European settlement.
That’s not the point. It just adds fuel to the fire. What we need is a conversation, something that humanises the Muslim experience. Something that helps people understand the narrative from the other side. l’ll start.
I’m a Muslim, female, journalism student ready to take on the world. I’m passionate about being a voice for my generation. Most days, I have an Up&Go for breakfast and every Saturday, I enjoy a barbie with my family. I love to bake, and fail miserably trying to imitate the YouTube tutorials I watch. I make sure I smile at every stranger I make eye contact with because our prophet Muhammad, peace and salutations be upon him says, “every act of goodness is charity, even if it is just a smile”.
My sister, one year my junior, chooses not to wear a head veiling. She’s into her tresses these days. Jokes on her because I haven’t had a bad hair day in years.
I have friends and family who have removed their hijabs because they see it as a limitation in Australian society. They feel stripped of their freedom to express their faith. I pray I keep the courage to never lose my identity in the face of intolerance.
One study found that 80% of media coverage related to Muslims and Islam is negative. When people consume such news, I understand the raised questions. It’s the accusations that are tough. As young Muslims, we constantly feel the pressure to explain the totality of our religion, or prove our innocence in matters related to terrorism and oppression.
Young people in my community need a chance in life, to flourish and grow and belong.
We laugh our way out of terrorist jokes ("you look ‘bomb’" – although I appreciate the pun), remain calm when ISIS headlines and women in burqas grace our university lecture screens, and become overly apologetic and worried about how our gestures could lead to negative Muslim stereotypes.
And no, I’m not a "moderate" Muslim. I hate that adjective. The qualifier somehow suggests that there is something innately violent about Islam. My faith teaches me that my manners are my piety.
Please do not restrict our identities to proposed bans and over generalisations. We are people with ambitions. When you yield influence, use it to bring people together, not apart. Young people in my community need a chance in life, to flourish and grow and belong.
Muslims are inventors and teachers, first responders and Olympic athletes. We are mothers and sisters and daughters and friends. Let us reclaim the narrative so that we have agency with our clothing and our faith and our dreams.
As Muslims, we believe the holy Quran is a revelation from God, a book of guidance for mankind. One verse that resonates with me can be translated as, “we have created you male and female, and appointed you nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another” (Verse 49:13).
So let’s get to know each other, maybe over coffee? You can thank us Muslims for that caffeine fix. We brewed that stuff all the way to the Western world. Thank goodness no one was trying to ban us back then.
I refuse to constantly reaffirm my right to be. My identity, like the identity of every Muslim is varied. Yes, I pray five times a day and Ramadan is my favourite time of the year. But I also have an undying love for fairy bread and a propensity for Netflix bingeing. I should not have to compromise either part of myself to deserve respect.
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