I’m Muslim. Here’s how I explain my faith to fearful Americans.

Source: The Washington Post

Ayan Omar is a language arts teacher in St. Cloud, Minnesota.

“Do you want to kill us?”

It’s a question I get a lot. I’m a Muslim Somali American living in Saint Cloud, Minn. My family of 10 emigrated to the U.S. in November 1993, and I became American by the old-school system called assimilation. It’s been a sprint with no discernible end. It’s even more challenging in places like Saint Cloud, a Catholic town that’s earned the nickname “White Cloud” because of its demographic make-up.

In recent years, though, the city’s demographics have begun to shift. Between 2009 and 2014, our small African American population doubled. Our Latino population grew by about 50 percent. St. Cloud has been adjusting to this change, but it hasn’t gone so well. I’ve watched as residents throw temper tantrums about people like me, about parents who want to make a better life for their children. In town, there are signs that read, “This is America, and we have a right to offend everyone. Don’t like it, too bad” and “Get prayers out of school.” There are organized groups that call for a limit on the number of legal refugees allowed to live here. My Somali Muslim friends have confided in me about rental discrimination, customer service discrimination, public school discrimination and employee discrimination.

Once, during a panel discussion on Islamophobia, a couple approached me.”Your people have crowded America,” the wife told me. “You live for free, eat free, and all you do is take … from people like my husband and I. You bring your culture and your religion and want to take over. No more. We’re tired. We just want America back.” Her docile husband nodded in agreement. Afraid to further her hurt, I listened and apologized. As they walked away, the husband left me with a last thought, “You’re okay. You’re an American. You speak English.” Misconceptions like this spread like wildfire, leveled against university students who made a conscious decision to move away from home or newlyweds who want somewhere beautiful in which  to settle down. 

In this lack of enthusiasm for diversity, I saw an opportunity. I saw a platform for people like me to educate. So for the last six years, I’ve been traveling around the city, giving talks about my faith. I hope to humanize Islam, Somalia, refugees and others who are different to privileged, white Americans. I, a Muslim Somali American refugee educator, need acceptance in order for me and my people to flourish.

At one recent gathering I sat on a panel vulnerably facing more than 100 inquisitive residents. I was handed a handful of anonymous question. Aware of my inferiority in age, wisdom and religion, I managed to keep a steady smile as I choose my poison: “Who is Allah? How is Allah God?” “Do you feel oppressed?” “How do you pray?” “Why do you wear the veil in America?”

The questions seemed accusatory, but intrinsically, I felt comfortable. The bold arrogance of their inquiry electrified my being, awakening my soul. Surely, Islam did not start with me, nor their Muslim Somali refugee neighbors, or did it?

A particular question pulls me in: “Who is Allah?” I ruminate. Allah is God, Allah is Yaweh. Islam’s holy text is the Quran. The Quran is written in classical Arabic. Like the Bible and Torah, it has been translated to fit the modern times. As a result, Allah, Yaweh and God are all the creator of mankind. I pray to God, Yaweh and Allah. Same difference.

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