My Turn, Evelyn Uddin-khan: How much longer do we hide our identity?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, November 7, 2021

By Evelyn Uddin-khan

To be or not to be a Muslim? That is not the question!

The question is: Do we openly admit that we are Muslims? No, we are not changing our religion. We are just confused and, sometimes, reluctant to say the word “Muslim” out loud. On the other hand, how can we conceal the fact that we are Muslims when our very faces advertise our ethnicity? 

For centuries, Jews were persecuted just for being Jews. Some changed their names and practiced their religion in private. They must be relieved — to a certain extent — that they can be openly Jewish again. If anyone can understand the Muslim predicament, they can.

For Muslims in the U.S., there is a before Sept. 11, 2001, and an after Sept. 11, 2001. Before, we were just struggling people going to work every day. After, we were suspects who perhaps knew “something”.

The U.S. has been in conflict with Middle East oil-producing countries for the last 100 years. But it did not affect Muslim Immigrants in the U.S. pre-9-11.

Muslims have their own experiences and tales to tell after 9-11. Sept. 11th was the worst day in the life of any Muslim living in this country. We were ashamed and humiliated by what the world witnessed, and guilty by association.

I have three sons, (one was in Afghanistan, one in Iraq) a brother, a few nephews and cousins who served in all branches of the U.S. military. They served in war time and peace time. Two of them suffered post-traumatic stress disorder.

I think they all must love this country a whole lot to wear their uniforms and go to war and defend it. Today, there is no distinction between my flesh and blood and terrorists. They are Muslims, guilty by association.

So, what do we do now, 20 years later? Can we change our names and get lost in the crowd? Sure! But what about our looks? We do stand out; no hiding our ethnicity. We do not look like the three races. We are a people with our own big noses, various shades of brown and we happily wear western clothes.

The months after 9-11, there were many incidents in my life that clearly foretold that life for me and mine would never be the same again.

A student asked me if I was Saddam Hussein’s sister. One colleague — who should have known better — asked me if I knew anyone involved. 

One day on the train station platform, a white man spit at me and another white man grabbed and pulled me away before the spit could touch me. Another day, same railroad station, I was waiting for the train, book in hand, catching up on my reading. The book fell out of my hand on to the platform. One white man kicked the book, and another white man picked it up, dusted it and gave it to me. He also stayed near me until I got on the train.

This is how people reacted to me — a woman. Imagine the poor men!

Today, twenty years later, Muslims are still in the dog house. We are suspects or terrorists, but who made whom terrorists? Who trained them? Who supplied them with weapons of mass destruction? Who financed their operations? Where did they get planes and tanks?

There is no justifying Sept. 11th. It was a crime against every peaceful, law-abiding American citizen. However, every Muslim person living in this country has paid a price from that day to this.

We are born into a religion. We did not ask to be Jewish, or Christian or Muslim. And yet the persecution innocent people suffer because of their religion is uncalled for. We are all Abraham’s children. Our religion was given to us at birth by God almighty. Abraham’s children do not fight with the will of God.

So, what do we do? To be or not to be Muslims. Like our Jewish and Christian brothers and sisters, we are proud of our religion. The question is: How much longer do we struggle with, and hide our Muslim identity from our American neighbors? What do we do with our faces?

Evelyn Uddin-khan moved to Salisbury in 2018 after living in the New York City area for most of her life. She taught in public schools and for a community college in the New York City area.

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