A Letter to my Muslim Community (published 2.14.16)

Photo by Sehar Sufi

Photo by Sehar Sufi

The first anniversary of the shooting deaths of Mustafa Mattan, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha just passed. I wrote the following piece about a week after it happened last year, however, I did not make it public. The sentiment behind this piece was an intense feeling of grief after having my heart broken open for the community of believers I call my brothers and sisters. Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein, Mustafa Mattan, Deah Barakat, Yusor Abu-Salha and Razan Abu-Salha were all murdered for being Muslim within a span of 3 months. In December 2014, 15-year-old Somali-American Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein was hit by a car and ran over outside his mosque in Kansas City, MO by a known islamophobe. About two months later, 29-year-old Somali-Canadian Mustafa Mattan was shot and killed through his front door in McMurray, Canada (unfortunately, the news of Mustafa and Abdisamad’s murders were not widely disseminated and mourned). Only a day after Mustafa’s murder, Arab-American newlyweds Deah and Yusor along with Yusor’s sister Razan were shot and killed in their homes in Chapel Hill, NC. Muslim communities across the country were shaken. In the days following the Chapel Hill shooting, multiple Muslim families and Islamic schools/mosques were attacked. The media’s coverage of the Chapel Hill shooting, in particular, brushed aside the murders as a “parking dispute”, relegating it to the margins of the 24-hour news cycle. It was in this vulnerable time as a Muslim that I turned to write a message to turn my grief in to love somehow for my Muslim brothers and sisters. I just had to speak.

The time for silence is over.

If you love something,

Speak loud & speak often.

— Mark Gonzalez, “In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty”

It’s a valid thing — the fear and anxiety. This feeling in the pit of our stomachs. The grief over lives taken from us so violently. Lives that are an integral part of our collective body and soul. Mustafa Mattan, Yusor Abu-Salha, Deah Barakat, Razan Abu-Salha and Abdisamad Sheikh-Hussein. Though the names of our martyrs are held tight in our hearts and memories, we still want our pain to be acknowledged. We want to know that the rest of humanity has enough moral courage to bear witness. But the climate we inhabit is not conducive to bearing witness. Those with large reach, power and platforms are in the business of sanitization, erasure and propaganda. Islamophobia takes root in this very erasure. It is not surprising then, that inherent to this erasure — is violence. As a result, the U.S. is a nation that cannot look at itself, at the harm it inflicts and the faces of its victims. And so here we are, with this fact laying at the pit of our soul.

How are we to survive in a climate that refuses to acknowledge our truth, let alone our grief? When terrorist acts are not named as such if the names of the dead are in Arabic? There is little serious meditation in mainstream media on the tangible threat of Islamophobia. A threat so realthat it has accumulated a body count and regularly inflicts trauma on entire communities. A serious national inquiry would reveal this nation’s power structure in which racism and xenophobia incubates under the protection of whiteness until it finally enacts its violence. This country has nation-wide conversations on the perceived threat of Muslim “radicalization” but not on the actual, tangible suffering of the Muslims that reside here. There was no national uproar or mourning over our dead. Instead, we valorize the legacies of fallen racist cartoonists whose caricatures of Muslims contributes to the very dehumanization that gets us here in the first place. Profit-driven, white-owned media cannot truly see us. It is no wonder why distrust of Muslims settles over this country like smog, distorting the functioning of people’s critical faculties. And so our condition is stripped in to bits and pieces of isolated incidents. We should no longer be content with being apart of someone else’s puzzle. We refuse to be arranged within a narrative that caters to structural injustice and racism.

It’s okay to be frustrated. We just want to be visible in all our complexity as human beings. For injustices done to us to not be seen as afterthoughts, petty drama or self-inflicted. But let us also rid ourselves of any notion that we must give up something that is uniquely ours just to be considered worthy of living. Because this is how, we too, play in to our own erasure. We will dare to be unapologetic — starting from the deepest depths of our souls.

“A culture that is not in control of their own narrative will forever live at the mercy of another’s pen.” — Mark Gonzalez, “In Times of Terror, Wage Beauty”

Wemust never forget. It is imperative that we remain alive — not just in body. To do so we must remember. Because our fallen have not died in vain. Their deaths did not happen in a vacuum. Remember the ethereal & unbreakable content that make up our souls. The content that pushes us toward justice. It is this rich content, in full bloom, that shames and pushes back against hate. Reclaim. Reclaim our narratives so that we may truly know ourselves and what we are capable of. It is the time to be overtly demanding and unabashedly us. We refuse to be pawns in a reductive discourse that only seeks to indict us. Grieve. Grieve over scorched earth, death and oppression. It gives us deliverance from the passive depositories that this power structure depends on us to be. Our cries are natural symptoms of a sick world and if we muffle them — how will others hear us? How will we hear ourselves? Be a witness. Demand and push for better with the force of your voice and the vibrancy of your identity. Love. A love that provides more than just one purpose. A love that conquers hardened spirits, nurtures life and demands accountability. Speak. The wounds are innumerable, but if we don’t speak of the pain, how will we begin to resolve it? Tell your story. Not only do we have the strength, we have the reparative power to grow beyond ourselves. We hold worlds inside of us — worlds that have been held captive to fear for too long.

Our collective grieving, remembering and loving will provide healing. We will not be spectators to our lives. And we will not spare the world our God-given breath. We will make it so they cannot help but see, hear and feel us.

“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, I can hear her breathing.”

- Arundhati Roy

- Sehar Sufi