By Fariha Chowdhury
Discussed: Racial or Religious Discrimination
A Muslim girl recalls her experience facing religious discrimination. which prompts her to organize a safe space for likeminded individuals to perform their identities.
I was on my way back home from Queens. Rushing into the 7 train with my mother, we were relieved to find empty seats. As I sat down, however, I could not help but notice an older man staring at us. Choosing to ignore it, I leaned back against the seat and closed my eyes. The train had just arrived at its second stop when the man suddenly jumped up and yelled at us, “Go back to your country! I’m sick of you terrorists destroying everything!” Shocked and on the verge of tears, I grabbed my mother’s arm as she pulled me out of the train. As we waited for the next train to arrive, the scene kept playing back in my head. What singled us out from the other people on the train is that we wear hijab.
My parents immigrated to the United States from Bangladesh before I was born. They grew up in small villages, where Islam was integral to their culture and community. As a result, when they raised me and my siblings in New York City, my parents instilled in us the same religious values they once grew up with. Since kindergarten, I have attended classes at our local mosque every weekend. From learning to read and write Arabic to understand the Quran, to starting my first fast for Ramadan, the mosque became my second home. It became a part of my identity.
Within the mosque, wearing a hijab is the norm. Representing my religious identity, I wear it with pride. But that day on the 7 train, it became a liability. When I talked to my mother about it, she said it didn’t really get to her. You can’t change what other people think.
Seeing that my mother didn’t take this to heart inspired me to not take everything other people say seriously. I was now viscerally aware of the pain religious discrimination could cause and I wanted to create a support system. Going into high school, I founded the Muslim Sister Youth (MSY) club. Replicating the inclusive environment of my mosque, I created the MSY club to connect with others with similar backgrounds. Having hosted more than 20 meetings to date, we have discussed current events, our personal experiences, and the beliefs that we hold close. Through MSY, I hope to combat religious discrimination and empower Muslim women to wear their hijabs with pride.
I am now in my second year of high school. I have strengthened my connection with the hijab and my religion through joining Islamic sessions and events. Compared with how I used to feel, I am much more settled and comfortable in my own skin and the representation of my hijab. The hijab is my personal statement, as it is a part of who I am. It represents my pride and strength as an individual Muslim woman in a western country.
I was inspired to write this piece because I experienced an act of religious discrimination. This changed my outlook on my identity and how I present myself. I used a personal memory to create a mind movie for the reader to visualize my experience. I worked with my mentor to edit and improve the flow of the piece.
Fariha Chowdhury is from Bangladesh and is a sophomore in high school. She wants to expand her writing skills and experiment with new ways of writing. Fariha likes to try different cuisines, travel and spend time with her family. She is starting a club called Asian Alliance at her high school and wants to use the club to showcase different forms of writing to share perspectives about the history and diversity of Asia and use graphic design to make posters. Fariha is also interested in making podcasts.