Bigotry Outside Dearborn

On Monday morning of September 14, many high school students were settling into their homerooms, complaining of their early rise, and reminiscing of their weekend adventures. This is true for almost every high school student. Except for Ahmed Mohamed. This 14-year-old started his Monday morning in handcuffs, being led out of MacArthur High School by five cops. The crime? A clock. Mohamed came to school with a homemade clock and high hopes of impressing his teachers with his creation. The end result was far from his expectations.

According to the CBS News, Mohamed was taken into custody for charges of bringing a ‘hoax bomb’ to his high school in Texas. The definition of ‘hoax’ is “malicious deception.” This does not match up with what Irving Police spokesman, Officer James McLellan, reported to CNN. Officer McLellan confirmed that Mohamed gave no information of his invention other than that it was a clock. Although teachers and staff members reported the clock and that it seemed hazardous, a SWAT team was not called, nor was the building evacuated. This proves that the school and police felt no threat to their safety and that the arrest was unnecessary.

Mohamed and his family believe that his clock was assumed to be a bomb due to his religion and race. Ahmed Mohamed’s father claimed that his son is never one to get into trouble. Mr. Mohamed gave a statement to CNN addressing the religious factor in this event. "My son's name is Mohamed -- people just think Muslims are terrorists but we are peaceful, we are not that way." Alia Salem of the Council on American-Islamic Relations agrees with this in her statement to CNN "I think this wouldn't even be a question if his name wasn't Ahmed Mohamed.”

Despite the Irving Police Department dropping the charges against Mohamed, uproar erupted when people heard word of the civil injustice Mohamed suffered. The hash tag #IStandWithAhmed trended nationally as tweets poured in from across the nation. Leaders such as U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, and Democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton, tweeted their support for Mohamed. He even received an invitation to the White House from President Barack Obama.

Discrimination against Muslims has only continued to rise despite the 14 years that have passed since the attack on the World Trade Center. Polls taken by ABC in October of 2001 showed that 47% of people had a favorable view of Muslims. By 2013, that number had dropped to an alarming 37%. A Pew Poll, also taken in 2013, showed that 60% of people don’t personally know a Muslim. This shows premature judgment of an entire religious group due to misrepresentation. The media has continuously represented Muslims in a negative tone since 9/11. Terrorist groups, like ISIS, have only further scared the public from giving Muslims as much acceptance as any other religious group.

While living in Dearborn, interaction with the Muslim community is common. Driving past the Mosque, seeing a restaurant identify itself as halal, or having a day off of school due to an Islamic holiday are all things to expect when you live in Dearborn. No one stares when a woman in a hijab walks by. Acceptance is much higher in the City of Dearborn due to the high population of Muslims.

I spoke with Hanan Khalil, resident of Dearborn and mother of four, on her experiences of being discriminated against as a Muslim. She explained experiences she has had outside of Dearborn. “They stare,” she said, “You can tell they don’t know how to react to the sight of a woman wearing a scarf.” Khalil went on to elaborate, “You can see the change in their face when I speak. They’re surprised that I’m friendly or that I’m talking to them. You can tell they were expecting something very different.”

She explained to me that the entirety of their religion is peace. “Islam is derived from the word peace, and that is exactly how we want to live our lives. Peacefully.” Khalil went on to clear up a common misconception of Islam. “People assume that I am forced to wear a scarf by my religion or husband and that I am being oppressed. I take pride in wearing a scarf and all that it symbolizes. It was my choice to wear it. No one is ever forced to.”

“People often make derogatory comments towards Muslims and then say ‘Go back to your home!’ but what they don’t realize is that this is our home.” Khalil chose to raise her children in this country. “We are unwelcome in the only place we’ve ever known.” If a person is not welcome in their own home, where are they welcome?

Imagine being discriminated against in your own country due to the mere fact of your religion. People make assumptions without knowing you. To identify as a Muslim should not undermine a person’s right to identify as American, too. Yet there are still people who are being denied their civil rights in the “land of the free.” In a country so diverse that claims to uphold freedom of religion in the Constitution, how does America still hold such a prejudice against Muslims?

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