Truly Muslim, Fully American

Article excerpt

"I condemn terrorism." Lately, because I'm a Muslim, these are the only three words people seem to want to hear come out of my mouth. Beyond the words themselves, the way I proclaim them is measured for sincerity. Perhaps even more than the days immediately after 9/11, I as a Muslim feel now that many of my fellow Americans believe that Islam and its adherents are evil, pure and simple.

I can't help wondering if the fact that I'm identifiably Muslim through my hijab, or scarf, is so potent that the only response I evoke is anger.

Thinking through recent incidents, I try to assess the validity of my feelings - am I overreacting, or paranoid?

Last month, while driving home from the airport, I managed to get lost in construction detours. I rolled down my window and asked a woman in the car next to me for directions: "Will this road take me into Cambridge?" I couldn't believe my eyes when she ignored my question and rolled up her window.

It was broad daylight. I had not - before then - considered my appearance frightening or abnormal. Apparently shedid.

Another incident: I recently participated in a phone-a-thon for a religious studies program at Harvard. A friend tapped my shoulder and said her caller wanted to speak with a Muslim. I took the phone. It turned out the man was a preacher from Texas and wanted to know when Muslims "were going to join the rest of the enlightened world and rid themselves of fanaticism." I tried to explain that the matter was far more complicated than simply blaming the beliefs of a billion people and that it was misguided to blame Islam for the actions of its fringe extremists. The preacher interrupted me and said I sounded like "every other wishy-washy" Muslim ambiguous about condemning terrorism. Needless to say, he didn't donate to the program.

Why is my stance on terrorism my only defining feature? Casual conversations at the grocery store, the gym, the dry cleaner all seem laser-guided, by the way I look, to Islam and terrorism - and never to those everyday conversations that might revolve around other aspects of my life like how I like my Harvard classes, my training for the Boston Marathon, or my recent obsession with my stock portfolio.

I desperately try to shrug these incidents off as I focus on school and training for the marathon. But these incidents don't seem to be isolated - and, indeed, have intensified just since the July 7 suicide bombings in London and last week's attempted bombings there. Columnists in many of our nation's most influential newspapers focused on the Arab and Muslim response to the attacks. They castigated Arab and Muslim Americans for not publicly condemning terrorism - as if, in addition to the condemnations Muslim groups have indeed issued in days since 7/7, we're expected to march in the streets of New York, Washington, and Boston and chant, "We hate Bin Laden, too. …