Commentary: A Muslim immigrant is standing his ground
To the middle-aged white man who screamed, "Go back to your country," from his car at the corner of 40th and Market, I've got news for you: This is my country and I'm not going anywhere.
To the middle-aged white man who screamed, "Go back to your country," from his car at the corner of 40th and Market, I've got news for you:
This is my country and I'm not going anywhere.
As he so accurately ascertained from my skin tone alone, my family did not come with the first wave of European pilgrims. But, just like them, we also made the journey in search of the American dream.
We are Muslim Americans who emigrated from Bangladesh. We have called Norristown our home for the last 15 years. It's where I grew up watching my parents struggle with language barriers, but proudly work various back-breaking jobs. Today, I have the privilege of studying at the University of Pennsylvania Law School. But, none of this was visible to the man in the car.
I don't know who that man was, but I do know that his sentiments toward me as a minority and as a Muslim are part of a larger trend. Unfortunately, that was not a one-off incident, as evidenced by the rise in hate crimes against Muslims and minorities around the country. The FBI just released 2015 data, revealing a 67 percent increase in hate crimes targeting Muslims, the second highest in recorded history.
I realize that the hate driving these crimes does not come from just anywhere - last week we all grieved when a Somali Muslim man attacked a college campus in Ohio. People are angry, scared, and frustrated - they want to feel safe. I get it. These horrifying acts scare me just as they scare every other American.
But just as the people committing hate crimes against Muslims and minorities are extremists, so, too, was this man in Ohio. I have as much insight into his insanity (none) as any average American has into the perpetrators of hate crimes against Muslims.
So, yes, I sympathize with the heightened insecurities, but I will not condone hatred against Muslims.
What I can do is extend a hand to get to know people from different backgrounds and in other communities. As a Muslim immigrant, I know that the privileges of citizenship come with responsibilities to serve and support others. That's why I plan to stay in Philadelphia and make myself visible as a Muslim American immigrant leader.
For the last several years, I have been working to revitalize my community, develop opportunities for disadvantaged adults, and support initiatives that provide better access to higher education for our youth. I don't plan to stop now.
I am not alone in this endeavor.
Muslims and immigrants across the country are working day and night to serve all American people - even those who vilify us. From universities to hospitals to police stations, we are embedded within the fabric of the American society, and we plan to stay and work for the country we believe in.
To all who are afraid of the uncertainties ahead, I urge you to follow my lead. I'm ready to love and not hate, because if anything, it's time to understand what the concept of America really means:
Despite our differences, we are one.
I would not be where I am without the love and support of Americans who believed in me. The least I can do in return is serve this country.
What can you do? Join me!
Visit a local mosque - the Muslim community in the Philadelphia region is large, diverse, and welcoming.
Have a real conversation with a Muslim.
Be informed: Islam is the fastest-growing religion in America, and Muslims occupy various spectrums of the socioeconomic continuum.
Stand shoulder to shoulder against bigotry.
Do not normalize the absurdity.
If you are still skeptical or don't know where to start, I leave you with an open invitation if you're passing through Philadelphia:
Come talk to me, get to know me. The seat across from me at the coffee shop will always be open. That's my promise.
What are you waiting for?
Akbar Hossain is a Muslim immigrant from Bangladesh, a P.D. Soros Fellow at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and a recent appointee to the Norristown Planning Commission