I am not a terrorist

In my mind, Sept. 11 is a vast blur, with startling moments of clarity interspersed in my memory. I was so young, a kid who was just happy to be at school with my friends when all of a sudden, they wheeled in the television. At first, I was excited since I thought it was going to be an unexpected movie day until the teachers started crying.

I don’t recall much more, just bits that I have pieced together from news clips and what is taught in schools, but as a child, what I did not expect was how drastically that one day would change not only my perspective on the world, but also the world’s perspective of me.

Upon first glance, most people cannot tell what cultural heritage lies behind my visage. When I meet new people, because of my skin color and facial features, it’s often a Russian Roulette of trying to figure out my national origins. Most folks settle their final guess on me being Hispanic.

While being Hispanic must be lovely, the truth is that my family background is Persian, as in from the country Iran. However, most people hear the word ‘Iran’ and automatically assume that I must be strictly religious and sometimes even associate the nationality with terrorism.

I wanted to clear this issue up for all people who are now ashamed or hesitant to say they are Middle Eastern or Muslim due to the aftereffects of 9/11 and the events that have followed. Please stop stereotyping.

Just because someone is Middle Eastern does not mean that they are religious. It seems as though people have taken the phrase Muslim and have twisted it around into something that is not.

Being a terrorist and being from the Middle East or practicing Islam are three completely separate identities. It’s similar to saying that you’re from Georgia; so of course, you’re going to be a Bible-thumping televangelist who supports the Ku Klux Klan. It doesn’t work like that.

Just to clarify, the Middle East is a region that stretches all the way from Turkey (near Greece) to Iran, and encompasses over 15 countries. The primary languages spoken are Arabic and Persian, but that does not mean that people live in tents and travel through the desert by camel. Everywhere from Dubai to Tehran is actually quite modernized now.

Arabs themselves do not even comprise the majority of Muslims- the Far East actually comes in first with 69 percent of its population being Muslim, then Africa at 27 percent. Arabs come in third, with 15 percent of them being Muslim.

Now, to address the religious portion of this debacle: Not all Muslims are terrorists, and not all terrorists are Muslim.

The basic uneducated stereotype of Islam holds a few tenets; people assume Islam represses women, Muslims hate all non-believers, Muslims are fanatics and my favorite funny one: The Islamic religion consists of men in turbans and long white robes, prosperous sheiks, belly dancing women who live in harems, women in burkas and terrorists.

What you probably didn’t know is that in the Qu’ran, it specifically mentions Christians and Jewish people as protected and respected since Muslims respect the same prophets, Abraham, Moses, Noah and Jesus.

The Torah and the New Testament are acknowledged as the word of God, but they are considered flawed since they were recorded by humans. For example, due to the different interpretation of the other books, Jesus is not considered God’s son since that would contradict God’s divinity.

Essentially, Muslims consider Islam to have started all the way back since Abraham introduced God and Judaism as religion, since Judaism and Christianity are considered older forms of the Islamic religion that was spread by Prophet Muhammad.

As for Islam repressing women, that is yet another falsehood that people don’t realize. The assumption is that because many Muslim women wear a veil, the Qu’ran forces them to.

Actually, the tradition of veiling was not mentioned until about 627 C.E. and that was when a verse came around that said, “Believers, do not enter the Prophet’s house…unless asked. And if you are invited… do not linger. And when you ask something from the Prophet’s wives, do so from behind a hijab. This will assure the purity of your hearts as well as theirs.” (33:53)

The reason behind this was that for many centuries, women had already been veiling themselves primarily for two reasons. The first was to protect them from heatstroke and the second reason fell into class purposes.

Upper-class women would wear a veil to shield themselves from prying eyes, something that made sense since this was at a time when Prophet Muhammad’s courtyard was open for use to travelers who wished to rest and pitch their tents at night. So, it is understandable that Prophet Muhammad’s wives would wish to retain their privacy.

When people hear the word sheikh, what usually comes to mind is a rich oil mogul with a curved scimitar, lying back on cushions and watching a woman belly dance, oftentimes something reminiscent of the 80’s hit, ‘Rock the Casbah’. However, the term ‘sheikh’ translates to “elder” and is an honorific title that designates the holder as a leader or governor of sorts.

The title is usually used to refer to the head of a family or tribe, and would have been inherited from father to son, or given to a scholar who was educated in an Islamic school. The phrase has also been utilized in certain Jewish cultures to reflect the same meaning, pointing to yet another flaw in the stereotype of all sheikhs being Muslim.

So, as you can see, many labels placed upon people who are Middle Eastern or Muslim do not take into account the logical purposes and methodology behind the practices. To say that all the people of the Muslim religion are terrorists would be akin to claiming that because Hitler was a horrid, psychotic, cruel person that all Christians or Germans are like him as well.

As with anyone, you have to take things on a person by person basis. There are terrible people of all ethnicities and religions, but to generalize is to promote fear, hatred and intolerance.

People and groups who claim to practice Islam but are instead cruel and barbaric are not true Muslims. The whole religion is centered around peace, understanding and acceptance, three main traits which are ignored and tossed to the side by people who wish to abuse the religion as an excuse or a label for inhumanity.

The people who do wrong things that the media shows you on television are a small percentage of the population and definitely do not represent the opinions and beliefs of the Middle East or Muslims as a whole.

It is people like these that falsely cause the Middle East and Muslim faith to have a negative stigma attached to them. When you look at someone with my coloring and cultural origin, please think twice before you judge me as something I am not.

Some famous people who you may not have realized are Muslim are Doctor Oz, the rapper Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg, Shaquille O’Neal, Mike Tyson, Muhammad Ali, the comedian Maz Jobrani, the actress from the popular television series 24, Shohreh Aghdashloo and the famous singer Cat Stevens, who converted to Islam and even changed his name to Yusuf Islam. These people are Muslim, but they are not terrorists.

As Cat Stevens once said, “The very first lesson that I learnt from the Qu’ran was the message of unity and peace.” I hope that through this article, I might have cleared up some false misconceptions and that these facts can help clarify misunderstandings that have surrounded Islam and the Middle East.