When of my friends did, but as a Muslim

When I was 13, I decided to come out. Not in the sexual orientation sense, as many of my friends did, but as a Muslim woman, characterized by a boldly colored headscarf. I largely owe the courage that allowed me to make this life-altering decision to my community. As a Muslim woman living in the West, life comes with a special set of difficulties. Often times, it isn’t people’s questions that bother me, so much as the accusations. To be frank, I love questions, I embrace them, explaining with inexhaustible patience, “No, I’m not forced to wear my hijab, and no, I certainly don’t shower with it!” I know that as long as people ask me about my appearance, rather than labeling me, the humanity of relationships continues to exist.While I am too young to remember 9/11, I live and experience the backlash that resulted from it. As a child, I watched my parents and other adults in my community struggle to show that they were just as outraged by this tragedy as the rest of America. Never did I see a single person react in violence at the horrendous accusations and threats, just endless love and patience. My culture is built on the pillars of acceptance, hope, and peace. Perhaps one of the most valuable lessons my community has taught me has come through their placid reactions to the hate around them. My steadfast environment is what instilled in me an understanding of the words, “silence has power.” I remember several years ago, when the atmosphere in my mosque was tense, a result of another stereotypical “muslim-terrorist” news headline, a man stormed into the masjid. Children clung to their mothers, hiding behind skirts and we all sat wide-eyed, waiting for this unexpected, angry stranger to act. He was unarmed, but his angry yells resonated throughout the walls of the mosque that day, slurs so horrible that mothers covered their kids’ ears. And yet, what happened next lingers in my mind to this day. A young boy ran up to the stranger, food in hand, offering it to him shyly. Abruptly, the man stopped yelling. He stared at the boy in leaden silence, accepted the plate, and left. For months, I pondered the phenomenon that occurred in front of my eyes, shaken at how such a small gesture of love could bring about so much peace. It was that day that taught me the power of …., a quality I uphold to this day.Within my community, we greet one another with the words, “As’salamu Alaykom,” which literally translates to, “peace be upon you.” While this may seem insignificant, it means the world to me. We act as a unified group, supporting one another through the hardships that come with being underrepresented minorities in the West. Nonetheless, I have spent the majority of my life trying to defy the stereotypes imposed upon me. Self-doubt meets a powerful determination to persevere and the qualities of my community are what have taught me patience, confidence, respect and to maintain my head high no matter the slurs thrown at me. As a result of my surroundings, I have grown into a girl that isn’t afraid to push limits. Spoken Word nights and Slam Poetry fill my weekends and I am unafraid to loudly assert my beliefs in a world that tries to silence me. My outfits are bold and colorful, purposely intended to make me stand out. I walk with humble self-assurance, confident of my identity. My community has instilled in me a “third eye” of sorts, one that sees beyond the immediate and tangible. Because of them, I have a quiet confidence to succeed, and a boisterous voice to remember.