“Fellow Muslim Portland friends, please be on high alert as threats have been made against our community in the Portland metro area. Stay vigilant and call the police if you see any unusual behavior.”
This was a friend’s Facebook status a week after the Paris attack. My mind rushed to a hundred different scenarios. What happened? What is she talking about? Who was threatened? Why wasn’t I informed about these threats? Actually wait, do I really want to know about these threats?
Then, I remembered that my four-year-old son was in school. A religious school where the name of the school (which makes clear that it is an Islamic school) is proudly written outside the building. My mind raced faster. Did something happen? Is he okay? A colleague at the public school where I teach calmed me down and explained that as high school teachers, we don’t want parents showing up if there is an unfounded threat. My son’s teachers deserve the same courtesy. I went about my day with student distractions. I picked up my son from school and hugged him a little tighter. I asked some community members about the threats and got no answers, so I decided that they probably weren’t too serious. Nevertheless, I fear my children might be harmed because of hate.
Then the San Bernardino shooting happened. Reports began circulating that the San Bernardino shooters were Muslims, and my insides hurt. I will never forget September 11, 2001 when I saw planes flying into the World Trade Center. My heart broke into a million pieces watching it happen and thinking of the thousands of lives lost. But as I watched, I quietly thought: please don’t let it be Muslims. It was Muslims. As a Muslim, every violent shooting, attack, bomb, or major incident incites fear. I fear my family will be judged because of stereotypes brought on by an evil yet loud minority that claim our beliefs are exactly the same.
I thought about pulling my son out of school. I struggled internally about asking the school to pull down their sign so that they wouldn’t be a target. I played scenarios over and over again in my head. I talked to a few members of the board and expressed my concern; they agreed to take down the sign. I felt a loss for them, but I was too worried playing momma bear to my sweet, kind boy.
This week I received an email from my son’s school.
“As part of the continuing efforts [our school] is taking to assure the students’ safety, we have contacted the [County] Sheriff’s Office and they will include the school in their daytime patrols, especially at the time when children are out in the playground.”
No one wants this for their carefree children. Not extra patrols or the lockdown drills that are commonplace at any school today.
Last weekend, with the violence around the world weighing heavily on me, we went to the local Christmas tree lighting. Christmas may not be a part of the faith I practice, but it is a tradition I value. As an American and a member of this community, I enjoy the holiday cheer, music and lights! As we arrived I found myself noticing every security guard and police officer, anxious that my family may be targeted. I realized I was severely over-thinking everything, and I calmed down and focused on having some fun. We made a gingerbread house, listened to the choir sing beautiful songs, drank hot cocoa and played in mud. Nobody was looking at us differently. Then, the moment came–the tree lit up. I watched the eyes of my son and one-year-old daughter sparkle at the magic of the lights. I loved the experience–even in the rain. I enjoyed the moment together even though I fear my children will resent what makes them different instead of celebrating it.
My fears as a Muslim mom–which might look a lot like your fears as a Christian/Jewish/Atheist/African-American/Asian/Gay or [fill in the blank] mom–play over and over again in my head, but I realize I cannot let fear take over. I also acknowledge that most moms I know don’t see color or religion. They see lovely, enthusiastic children. Despite reading the news, they are still hanging out with us, and their children are tolerant and accepting. While I know we are not responsible for the actions of a small group of people, I still constantly wonder about retaliation against us. But, like most moms striving to raise productive, thoughtful citizens, I am hopeful that my son and daughter–and yours–will grow up in a place with a little less hate and a little more love. And that love? They will learn it first from us.