How Media Coverage Effects My Life As A Muslim American

Source: Huffington Post

By Sarene Alsharif, MPH; Nutritionist, mom and loving wife trying to make a positive impact in this world.

My life is normal. I like to believe I am an awesome sexy supermom but my kids and husband know I am just like every other mom, doing her best to give her kids what they need to be successful in life. My day consists of herding kids out of the house, the most challenging nerve wracking part of the day with kids constantly remembering they need whatever Ninjago figure they forgot or their notebook or whatever. We go grocery shopping, to the gym, soccer practice, the science museum, the park, the usual spots moms take their growing, active (highlight the active please, it is exhausting) kids. I have come to recognize different faces because we go to the same places so much or take our kids to the same activities.

During these daily endeavors and we see lots of people. Most of the time strangers look away and avoid eye contact, I thought this was normal. On days the media has negative news about Muslims, either because of a terrorist attack or something else, I brace myself. See I am a Muslim and I choose to wear hijab. Hijab is the Islamic term for covering one’s hair and wearing conservative clothes. Now, I am not a person who wears black from head to toe like a ninja, I wear regular clothes but I happen to cover my hair as well. Gym clothes are my favorite attire, especially my yoga pants. I could live in yoga pants. Well actually, I do. Don’t tell my boss but I have gone to work in my yoga pants a few times, I don’t think they noticed. I have a couple “nice” yoga pants I save for work and special occasions. Yes, I love yoga pants that much. Anyhow back to our discussion, after a politician has given a talk full of hatred or especially after a terrorist attack by someone with a Muslim name I brace myself before leaving the house. On those days the looks change to scowls, glares and comments I consciously try to forget. One day after the Paris attacks I was at Sam’s Club and this guy, a customer, started following me and my kids around the store. When I walked past one of the employees he went over to her and pointed at me and said “How is she allowed in here? You need to call security and get her out.” I don’t know how the rest of that conversation went, I got away from them as soon as I could. My children do not need to hear that kind of aggression towards their religion at such a young age.

My children do not need to hear that kind of aggression towards their religion at such a young age.

It is not always as negative but there is always this underlying feeling that I am not welcome. I am not welcome in my country where I was born and raised. Nothing big, just subtle things, for example I have been going to the same gym for 5 years and have barely had a conversation with anyone. My kids have been going to the same soccer league for 4 years. There are so many families that I see year after year but do not know them. I try to talk to people, complimenting their kids, pointing out we workout at the same gym and finding other similarities between us but that is where it ends. Very few people are interested in building a friendship. I mean very few, like 4 people maybe over the last four of five years.

Then suddenly things changed. People started smiling instead of scowling at the grocery store. I kept asking myself, why are people smiling at me today did I spill something down my shirt? Then the next day, a couple ladies at the gym came up and willingly spoke to me. They willingly spoke to me! I was looking at myself in the mirror wondering if I had lost a huge amount of weight or maybe my arm exercises were finally showing and they wanted to know how I got those biceps, but no nothing had changed. They just wanted to have a conversation, it was nice to be acknowledged. All the smiles from strangers and light conversations at the museum with the kids or at the gym really made me so much happier that people were actually nice to me and talking to me. But I still couldn’t figure out what had changed.

Then a couple nights after the amazing change my husband asked me if I had noticed a change in how people were treating me. I was blown away! How did he know? I asked him why he was asking and he replied because for the last few days Muslims, especially women were getting positive coverage in the media. That is when it hit me. That was the reason. Khizr Khan had just given his wonderful speech at the 2016 Democratic National Convention and his wife, Ghazala Khan, was being slandered by Mr. Trump. The American people respected this family for the sacrifice they had made for their country, the United States of America. News outlets and social media were showing talks about this amazing family and people were starting to see American Muslims for what they truly are, a crucial peaceful productive part of the American society. Then Ibtihaj Muhammad was making history becoming the first American to compete in the Olympics wearing hijab. She was also getting a lot of attention and positive media coverage further shedding the light on how Muslims contribute positively to society.

Over the last month, the media has shown mostly positive images of Muslims or looked at the war torn Syria in a sympathetic way focusing on the suffering of its people and their struggles in inhumane conditions. As a result, people are not as afraid of Muslims right now. This week was my kids’ first soccer game of the season, I had conversations with at 5 different parents. Five different people willingly talked to me and had meaningful conversations. Most people would be like so what? For me, a hijabi Muslim, I am lucky if I have 5 different conversations in the entire season. Mostly people just try to stay away from me because of the negative propaganda they spread ignorantly about Islam and Muslims.

Hopefully the media will continue to give a positive picture of Muslims and Muslim women can continue to enjoy the happiness derived from the smile of a stranger or a simple conversation with a random person. Unfortunately, I know this will not continue. Some lowlife with a Muslim name will commit a crime or another terrorist attack and all Muslims will be portrayed as violent scoundrels out to kill the infidels again (by the way I have read the Quran multiple times and I still do not know where that comes from.) Until then I will enjoy the life of smiles and light conversations and try to make as many friends as possible until the next lunatic comes along and transform our rainbows into gray clouds.


Sarene Alsharif is a Muslim American residing in Rockford, Illinois. She is a mom and wife, and nutritionist by profession. She is passionate about health promotion and disease prevention through teaching nutrition and wellness classes and writing for multiple blogs and magazines.

Categories: Hijab, The Muslim Times

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