When my friend on Twitter, SabzPersian, informed me that she had started a new blog with the title Shifting Focus and Fighting Ignorance, I had a feeling it would be good and relevant. She did not disappoint. This is an important piece, and I hope it touches you as it did me. Thank you SabzPersian. I look forward to following your blog closely.
I remember it vividly. I was 13 years old and on that particular day in September, I was getting ready for my first class of the day- eighth grade English. Having just discovered makeup, I was attempting to put on the glitter blue eyeshadow I bought from the drugstore on my eyelids while listening to my favorite pop songs on the radio. Then suddenly, the N’SYNC song was cut short and the radio DJ’s came back on air to say, “This just in… Oh my god…” They proceeded to talk in horror of the planes that had just flown into the twin towers in New York. I remember thinking it was another one of those lame practical jokes that radio stations would play at times because how could something like this ever happen? As I began to scan the various radio stations that had been set on my outdated boombox, the realization finally hit when all the other radio stations were discussing the same thing… this really was happening. On our way to school, my mother and I continued to listen to the news detailing the horrific terrorist attacks that were happening on the other side of the country. Then, one minor detail about the hijacker’s identities were revealed: they were Muslim.
As an Iranian American, I have traveled frequently to Iran my entire life: almost every summer. My parents had taken on an active effort to immerse me in my culture by requiring me to attend Farsi school to learn how to read and write, and by forcing me to participate in the community events by reciting Iranian poetry and dancing in front of our family friends. Of course, none of my friends in school (especially at that age) cared that my parents were from Iran. In fact, many of them couldn’t recognize where Iran was on the map. The only thing that ever concerned my innocent, junior high school friends was that I would not be able to join them at the pool during the summers because I would be visiting my grandparents in a country that they couldn’t remember the name of.
Of course, all of that changed on September 11, 2001. In my English class that day, my teacher asked me to come to the front of the class and explain Islam to my fellow classmates. I was born into a Muslim family, however, my family and I do not practice Islam nor do we believe in the ideals. This is something that I feel is apparent since I do not wear hejab, I do not pray to Mecca three times a day, nor do I fast during Ramadan. I remember walking up to the front of the class completely unsure of what to say. As I stood in front of my classmates and friends, my English teacher said, “Since you are also Muslim like the hijackers, you can explain the religion to us: What would possess these Muslims to do such a thing?” Right then, everything changed.