03.31.12 Truth & Wisdom

Mozlem is the New Black – I Mean African American

Mozlem is the New Black – I Mean African American

BY Sakina Al-Amin

Against all hopes and to my very chagrin, I am finally conceding and will agree that the following is in fact the case: In this post 9/11 world and in the current political climate, it is harder to be a Muslim in western society than it is to be a black person.

As an individual who visibly fits into both categories, I should know, right?  Yet I implore you not to trust my assertion alone.  Allow me to describe in detail a real life experience which I had a few months ago and take what you may from it.

I was going in for a checkup at the doctor’s office dressed in a skirt and hijab.  It was my first time at this place since my insurance changed, which meant I drove 35 minutes out of my usual neck of the woods to get there.  When I walked into the office, I looked around before approaching the front desk; the receptionist did not look up or indicate that she had acknowledged my presence.  I pumped some of the sanitizer situated in front of the glass into my hand and rubbed my palms together while I waited for her attention.  It seemed that the paperwork had become more interesting to her.   Realizing that I was barely early for my appointment as it was and thinking that I better not waste any time, I decided to be the first to speak.  “Hi!, I’m new. Am I in the right place? What forms do I need?” She dryly gave me a pen and clipboard with three sheets and said, “You can fill these out.”

After filling out the forms, I waited for my name to be called, as did half a dozen others in the reception area, none of which made eye contact with me.  A toddler with blue eyes had been running from one end of the room to the other but stopped suddenly in front of me and stared openly.  “Well, hello there!”, my kid-loving self offered to her with a smile.  I attempted to identify her mother to perhaps strike up a conversation but none of the women in the area would look in my direction.

My name was called and I felt relief at the prospect of leaving the waiting room.  The receiving nurse said that I should have returned one of my forms to the receptionist as she hastily did so for me with an accompanied sigh.  I apologized and let her know that I had not been told that, to which she made no reply as she led the way to the examining room.  I noticed that when we left the waiting room, the woman who was sitting closest to me called out to the toddler by name.

It was alone in the examining room that I took off my outer garments, comprised of a blue duster and headscarf, and awaited the (female) doctor.  The receiving nurse entered first and did a double take upon seeing me.  “Oh”, she stammered, “I thought…” her eyes found the scarf that had been on my head folded in my lap yet she still couldn’t seem to piece it together.  I confirmed it was me and said that I was still waiting for the doctor.  Recomposing herself, she made chitchat as she prepped the room and did the normal tasks assigned to her in this situation, exuding more friendliness toward me as the time went on.

When the doctor entered, we quickly established a rapport which was maintained throughout the examination.  She seemed to be impressed with the questions I asked and appreciative that I was invested in my good health.  When the examination ended, I started to redress myself while the doctor finished up the paperwork.  By the time she looked up again I was back in my duster and hijab, still in my cinnamon-colored skin and still smiling.  Within moments, the entire feel of the room changed and the doctor became markedly different toward me – no longer looking me in the face, hurried and dismissive – yet maintaining professionalism.  She handed me the script and excused herself, saying they’d take care of me at reception, in such a way that made her previous amicable manner seem imagined.  On the way home, I thought more about what had happened.

The entire waiting room and the doctor had clearly been negatively affected by my Muslim appearance, but what is puzzling is why.  The doctor at least had surmised that I was an intelligent, friendly young woman, so how could a piece of fabric change that perception within seconds?  Did she feel I had unnecessarily tested her, that I had tricked her?  But tricked how – tricked her into believing a Muslim can be a normal, likeable person?

People, even the educated ones like doctors and professors, are okay with harboring dislike for Muslims because they think all Muslims hate America. Indeed, 9/11 did more damage than previously measured if bigotry and generalization of an entire group is no longer something confined to the ignorant and unrefined.

Of course, these are the same educated people that don’t realize that the vast majority of Muslims believe their religion to be a peaceful and practical approach to life and who sadly acknowledge that for various reasons, Islam is now widely misunderstood and vilified.

Westerners know how to be careful and über PC when dealing with and referring to a group such as African Americans. But go ahead and call Muslims ‘Islamists’, ignoring the fact that the term is unheard of for cousin-in-faith Christianists or Jewishists (absurd, right?) – even though history tells us that both group adherents have done some shady stuff in the name of religion.

Islamist/Moslem/Mozlem/Muslim is the new black — which is unfortunate, because bigotry and prejudice is something we’d do better to leave behind rather than to reinvent and reload every few decades.

Sakina Al-Amin manages an Examiner news channel and writes for CBS Local.  In between fervent reading marathons with her husband, she entertains online friends and friends online while following closely and quietly the careers of three celebrities.  She is an American recently residing in Abu Dhabi. Born Muslim.

Comments

  • Dear Sakina: While I completely sympathize with your situation and how uncomfortable you may have felt, let me first tell you that it is rather common to be treated with such indifference by people behind the glass in doctor’s offices or by clerks in stores. Customer service is valued less each year in the USA. It’s extremely frustrating!!! Second, I am a child of religious oppression, having been raised in a strict Christian environment in a sect of Christianity that did not allow women religious freedom or even a voice in the assembly of worship. I am now terrified of being treated like a second-class citizen because I’m a woman. I fight very hard in my life to further my career in a world where I feel handicapped by my sex. If I had seen you in that office, I would have been very kind to you but here is what I would have been thinking. “I hope this woman is not clothed this way because a man has made her feel ashamed of her beauty. I hope she understands that she is free to do whatever she desires and that God did not force this on her. What if she is hot? Is she allowed to remove the scarf? I hope she is happily in a relationship where her husband treats her with respect. Does her husband have to cover his body like this?” etc. etc. etc….my mind would have been preoccupied with your attire. We all have a long way to go. I think every day is meant for learning and appreciating differences in others. I hope you find a way to feel comfortable in public places where you obviously stand out and people are rude to you. I hope that one day you realize that you are not responsible for the thoughts of men who look at your skin.
    Sincerely, Dana

  • Hi,

    I was going through some articles and this one caught my attention as there are some strong points raised in this article as well as the comment. While I

    usually dont respond to any online articles because most people are too negative to read/learn from them but this one requires a male perspective and I am

    happy to provide it here.

    Sakina: I am sorry you felt like being treated differently by the medical staff due to your hijab and hence, religion…Being a female added fuel to that

    situation…Had it been a male with islamic outfit, medical staff’s response wouldnt have been that obvious and strong…I see numerous instances of such

    situations where women are treated differently than men…sometimes in a good way, sometimes bad..

    I would blame our society for this bias. By society, I mean both males and females. Men are not treated poorly for their gender because they are known to

    stand up for themselves whereas women are not. I am not saying this because I am a male but this is what reality is. I would say most men on this planet

    believe deep down that women would take their trashy treatment and they would get away with that. I wouldnt entirely blame men for thinking so because they

    dont come across many, if any, strong women who can show them otherwise. If more women stand up for themselves, show strength to be treated correctly and

    with respect, more men will learn to act the right way.

    Women in our society has a role to play. Our society needs role models of strong women who want to have careers, opinion of their own, education and equal

    status in life. A man shouldnt define what a woman is going to wear or what she is going to do. If a woman can do well on her own where she doesnt need a man

    for her needs then that sends a strong message to a man that he cant treat her bad or else she will leave. I personally believe that only two strong

    individuals form a solid and lasting relationship.

    Sakina: dont be afraid to stand out and be unique in public places. Being unique is a great gift from dear Almighty… If people stare at you for wearing

    hijab then let them..wear hijab if this is what you want to do…Think high of yourself and show strength by acting confident in those situations. I will tell you that most people will appreciate that and will reconsider what they were doing to you. You can be a role model right there. Next time, they will see a woman standing out in any situation in any way, they will remember you and will think twice before staring or acting strangely. This is how revolutions are brought in a society and I am positive that

    eventually we will get there.

    S-

  • Reading Dana’s comment saddened me. Because, you see, those questions that you would be asking yourself are part of the problem. My husband is Mulsim. I am not. I have been asked so many times if he was abusive, if he would force me to convert, if he would force me to cover. The thing is, he would never think of forcing me to do anything. Because he loves me. And it is so very sad to me that people are thinking these thoughts about my sweet, kind, generous husband. Sakina, thank you for this essay. Beautifully written.

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