This is part 1 in a little peek into being Muslim in the United States. The interviewee is my friend, Ali, 28, who studied electrical engineering at St. Thomas University in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is married and has two children, aged 3 and a newborn.
I thought this would be interesting given the current climate around immigrants, and also being people of color. Our discussion went for almost 3 hours, and there’s plenty more where this came from, which will be added throughout the coming week. Not sure what kind of section to put it all in yet, but I’m sure it will come to me!
Overall, how does it feel being a Muslim in the U.S. right now? Is it different from when you first came, or is it about the same?
Well, I haven’t been to a lot of states since I got here in 2009, but mostly the people from Minnesota have been really nice and peaceful. I would say 1-2% have acted unkind when my wife is walking with me, and they see she’s wearing hijab. Like, they don’t want to serve me or help me.
Do you have a specific example?
Yeah! The Apple store! I’m still a little mad about it. I asked a man working customer service for help. He said, “I’m helping another customer right now, but when I’m done, I’ll help you.” So, he was done, and I was next in line. Then he saw my wife approach me, and he looked over with strange eyes. I immediately assume it was because of the hijab.
He kept talking to the customer before me, even when that customer was trying to leave. The customer would say, “Ok, thanks for your help,” but the guy kept talking to him with other conversation. I waited almost 20 minutes. He kept doing the same thing, over and over. Finally, when he was finished with that customer, he comes to me and says, “I forgot, there’s another customer in line.” I’m like, “…where?” You know? Where is he? I’ve been here 20 minutes. But I didn’t want to start an argument, so I just said “thank you” and left.
That’s happened to me in Bath & Body Works. You know someone is avoiding you, and it’s hard to explain to people who are white, basically, because they say, “Oh maybe they were just busy or didn’t see you.” But you know when you’re being ignored. Like you walk in, and they’ll do the whole, “Hi, let me know if I can help you!” They’ll say that, but nothing else. It’ll just be me with a couple other people in the store and the person will go around to the others and ask if they’re finding everything or if they have any questions. Then give them one of those carrying bags. And I’m there the whole time, and no one has said anything to me.
It’s not like I even want someone following me around the store, but you know they’re not doing it. That’s happened twice in this store. The first time I was like, “Ok, it could have been anything.” The second time I was like, “There’s definitely a problem here.” So, I’m actually nervous to go back there, which is unfortunate, you know. I said to my boyfriend, “They’re just lucky I’m not from corporate and a secret shopper because…”
They’d lose their job.
Exactly. It’s just really sad.
Well to be honest, for the Muslim part, my brother in law has been here since the 90s. He told me that before 9/11 you wouldn’t imagine how nice people were to Muslims. Super nice. But after 9/11, he said he’d be followed in his car by people who thought he was Muslim. That suspicious subsided, but with Trump, it’s started to come back. But, you know, sometimes bad things happen, but they can lead to better things. Maybe people will start looking at Muslims more. Like, “Is what Trump is saying actually right? Let me check.”
That’s kind of what I’m hoping. Like with my volunteering, I think most of the students are Muslim, and I hope people are hearing what Trump is saying and go out into their community and get involved with others. You’ll find out everyone is the same.
Also, to be honest, I’ve had a lot of friends at St. Thomas who, if I say I’m Muslim or from Saudi Arabia, they don’t really start acting differently then, but because they don’t have much information or knowledge about me and my background, they start pushing away. They don’t want to interact a lot.
I met a guy whose mother was from Brazil, his father was from Argentina, and he was born here. He was an awesome guy. He would interact with me and my cousins. He was raised here in the U.S., but because he wasn’t, like, totally from here… people who aren’t originally from the U.S. will interact more easily with you. It’s good and bad at the same time because you’d like to get to know people from here, but through people who are not from here you get more knowledge about things that aren’t in the U.S.
I noticed that too. I did grow up here, but my mom’s family is German descent, very midwestern, but my dad was from Africa. I didn’t grow up with him, so I haven’t experienced that side, but I still stand out. Because of that, I’ve found, there are certain parts of me and what I think is important in life that come up with me or between friends that people who are native Minnesotans put up a barrier against. I don’t know why. But with friends who have different backgrounds, either from a different country or adopted, they’re way more relatable. They’re more curious and just more open to differences.
Actually, Muslims see kind of an issue here in the U.S. Like, I know all my cousins. You can’t imagine how far it goes. We have Friday prayer day like Christians and Sunday. At 12PM, all the families get together and we go to my grandfather’s house. There’s a huge number of people in a space sort of like a living room but really huge. Sometimes you don’t even have a spot to sit inside, so you have people sitting everywhere, all over the place, all the family. So, I feel kind of sorry to be honest, when here you see a father or a mother, and they say they only see their kids on Christmas or Thanksgiving. It’s sad because I’m a father now, and I would love to see my kids every day, even when they got old. And in my situation, I would love to spend a lot of time with my parents, because you know as your parents get old, they need you. It’s your time to help. So we try to stick with the family help most of the time.
So, for your question, so far I haven’t faced anything super tough with things going on. I mean, I wouldn’t judge all the people because of one person’s act. I have lots of friends, you and others, who are very nice people. Compared to the few number–I wouldn’t say it’s even been close to 10 people–who weren’t kind because they guessed I’m a Muslim.