Religious extremists do not define my beliefs

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Je suis Charlie. Je suis Ahmed. Je suis Muslim.

Growing up as a Muslim-American, I quickly learned to accept that I had people who stereotyped me without knowing me for who I was –  in fact, I had people hating me – just because I was a child living in post-9/11 America. What did I do? Nothing. I was being hated for being a Muslim.

As a child, I always had a passion for watching the news; every story comes with more excitement than the one before it. However, it never lasted long. Every now and then, I would hear stories of terror like the incident on Charlie Hebdo, praying the suspect’s name wasn’t an “Abdullah” or “Ahmed.” But why? Why is it that I have been pressured to feel responsible for the actions of a couple of extremists? Since when did a couple of radicals define my personal actions as a Muslim?

From Boko Haram to ISIS, extremists are exactly what is implied by their name. I have no relation with them, and I have never agreed with their “ beliefs and teachings.” In fact, everything they do is against the very basis of my religion. In our holy book it states “…whosoever killeth a human being… it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whosoever saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind…”

It’s there in the fine print. Islam is a religion of peace. It’s the people who choose to follow it or stray from it.

Consider this analogy. If John committed a crime, it’s John’s fault and we have to consider the fact that he may be mentally ill.  The stereotype that whites like terrorist Timothy McVeigh are mentally ill and detached from the religion of Christianity, for some reason, is considered reasonable. However, if Abdullah did the same crime, it’s Islam’s fault and 1.6 billion people should take responsibility for Abdullah’s mistake.

But not me. I won’t apologize for 9/11, Boko Haram, ISIS or the attacks on Charlie Hebdo, because it’s not me or my religion that should be held accountable.

As a result of the French shooting this past month, 16 mosques were attacked by firebombs and gunshots, all within 48 hours of the shooting on Charlie Hebdo. In more tragic news, anti-Muslim rallies sprung out of control in France when a French Moroccan man, Mohamed El Makoul, was stabbed 17 times in his own home.  Ask yourself, “What did Mohamed do wrong?” Nothing. What he did do was practice his religion freely, a form of free speech. Mohamed didn’t attack Charlie Hebdo for criticizing his prophet and religion. Nor did he attack any other religion or offend anyone. Mohamed was an ordinary man who died a tragic death, for being a Muslim.

I’m not rejecting the fact that Charlie Hebdo was a horrific attack on freedom of speech. No one should suffer for speaking their opinion. Keeping that in mind, I would like to bring to light the the irony of this situation.

Since 2011, France has instituted a ban on women wearing the religious head veil that covers the entire face known as the Niqab, and women may be fined up to 150 euros just for practicing their religion. In 2004, France outlawed the wearing of any religious symbol at primary and secondary schools.  If a woman is free to show her body, shouldn’t she be free to cover it?

Things like this make me feel blessed to be able to live in a country where I may freely exercise my freedom of speech and freedom of religion. But Muslims have been stereotypically looked to as terrorists, when in reality we have been oppressed by the media, wanting us to act the way that they feel Muslims should be, including parts of Muslim life that make us look bad, while deliberately omitting the parts that accurately represent us.

In the media storm following the acts, there was something else that was overlooked.

The  four shooters in the Hebdo attacks, who claimed to be Muslim, were not Muslims by faith. The police officer Ahmed Merabet, who put his life to save others, was a Muslim. A Muslim that represented the real Islam, the Islam that I belong to.

The true test of faith is comparing these two Muslims – one who resorted to violence in response to perceived blasphemy, while the other chose to protect those who offended him. That’s a real Muslim. Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons offended many, but keep in mind that the majority of France’s five million Muslims acted peacefully. This is the Islam that I’m proud to be apart of, this is the Islam that I will defend.

  For I shall not be defined by anyone’s actions but mine. Not today, not tomorrow, not ever.

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