Two years ago, I started law school right at the beginning of Ramzan. It was tough — I was hungry, thirsty and exhausted, and on top of that, I was adjusting to life in a new city and trying to make sense of the law for the first time.
When Eid finally rolled around a month later, I was ragingly excited. I had earned the reason to feast and celebrate. The end of Ramzan always evokes a sense of accomplishment — and especially that year, I felt proud that I rose to the occasion and triumphed over seemingly overwhelming challenges.
As I begin my last year of law school, I could not feel more different; I feel completely disconnected from the triumph and excitement I experienced in the past. This Ramzan has been filled with challenges beyond hunger and thirst — challenges that aren’t going to end with the Eid celebrations.
Each day this Ramzan, I was confronted by the reality of an increasingly hostile public discourse on Islam. Terrifyingly, it had even resulted in violence fueled by the hate.
And this Eid, it’s all coming to a crossroads in a way that couldn’t have been more dramatic. Today’s holiday comes a day before ninth anniversary of September 11, at a time when headlines are dominated by the vitriolic Park 51 mosque controversy and until yesterday, the impending burning of Qur’ans by a Florida pastor.
For the past month, it has felt like I cannot escape images of hate. I work for a blog and one of my daily jobs is to scour the headlines of dozens of news sources every morning. At some point a few weeks ago, beyond what was necessary for my work, I had to stop reading the news — it was just too painful. Despite all of the activism by fellow American Muslims and allies, I have to admit that is hard to be optimistic right now.
My frustration, disappointment, anger and sadness have undoubtedly been exacerbated by the fact that the hostility that now seems so apparent was something I had never expected to manifest, at least on this national scale, dominating the most sacred of American spaces. I can’t make sense of the fact that I didn’t see it coming.
Most of all, I feel a bit naïve. I feel duped by my own optimism and limited experiences of what it’s like to be Muslim in the U.S. Given the opportunities I’ve been afforded and the thriving faith communities of which I have been a part, until this Ramzan I strongly believed for a long time that being a Muslim in the U.S. today is one of the most incredible places to be a Muslim ever.
I believed this despite knowing about the terrible things that have happened to some Muslim Americans and others since 9/11. I wore hijab for 12 years and experienced it myself. But I guess I always thought that the perpetrators were a select few. Or fringe figures that would be confronted by forthright leaders and the power of rights afforded to Americans by law. I certainly did not anticipate that the perpetrators would be the people with whom I expect to share my perceptions about right and wrong.
I believed in the exceptionalism of being an American Muslim so much that I wrote about it and talked about it. I traveled around the world with the State Department, telling Muslims from Bishkek to Lahore to Vienna about the beauty, diversity and creativity I found in American Islam. I told them, it was in large part, a result of the values Americans have fought for that serve to protect our citizens.
Today, that narrative does not seem to match up with what I hear and see around me.
I wonder if my positive perception over the past few years was an illusion. Was I was so self-satisfied with my life that I became blind to what others felt? Did I just surround myself with like-minded people to the point where my sense of reality was warped? Right now, I don’t know; I do know that I will not let myself close my eyes to what is happening around me ever again.
While I feel confused and hurt, I find threads of hope in the law. More comforting than that, however, are the people I see around me, working on building coalitions and seeking to change our world. Among many others are My Faith My Voice, the grassroots effort by American Muslims to creatively show diverse Muslim voices, and right here at Yale, the Common Ground Campaign.
This Eid, I pray that next year, I can celebrate in the way I always have, celebrating hardships that end after a month and appreciating those who chose to speak up for America’s ideals.
And I dream that I’ll remember my country of this Ramzan as an aberration.
Noorain Khan is a third-year student at the Law School.