Being Muslim: Post 9/11 Reflections

“Please don’t be an Arab or a Muslim. Please don’t be an Arab or a Muslim!”

That was the prayer that came to my mind once I learned that the plane that flew into the  World Trade Center in New York on the morning of September 11, 2001 was not an accident but an attack. 

It was my day off from college. I woke up early, poured my cereal and milk into a bowl, and turned on the TV. Every, single, channel showed a building that was on fire….. I was still half asleep so it didn’t register that it was one of the Twin Towers that had smoke billowing out of the top; that the building was so close to home, and that we, as a country, were under attack. 

I was living in Jamaica, Queens at the time. My parents were the administrators of a private Islamic school, also in Queens, but just a few miles from the Manhattan border. I had been to the Twin Towers many times – especially when showing guests around who were visiting from out of state. 

Just a minute later another plane crashed into the second tower. The realization of what was happening all hit me at once, and I felt sick to my stomach. 

I tried to reach my mom on her cell phone. Busy signal. Her work phone. Busy. I tried again. Busy… I felt alone and scared. Is she okay? 

When the TV anchor said the planes had attacked the towers, that’s when I remember thinking: Please don’t let it be a Muslim or an Arab behind this. I knew what this would mean. We would be persecuted as a whole for the heinous actions of a few. 

Some people have told me that having those thoughts meant I believed that Muslims were the victims of the 9/11 attacks. No, that is not what that meant. The nearly 3,000 people who died on that morning were the victims. The people who lost loved ones were the victims. Police officers. Firefighters. 

silhouette of people walking

Photo by Tobe Roberts on

But here is the reality: Americans were afraid of another attack happening on their soil, but Muslims and Arabs were afraid of being attacked, assaulted, raped, by their fellow Americans. 

My family, just like many other Muslim and Arab families, stayed home for a week. We heard about women getting their hijabs yanked off and being raped, both men and women being beaten (not just Muslims but people who looked like us — Hindus, Sikhs, and Christian Arabs), mosques being set on fire. According to FBI figures, the number of anti-Muslim hate crime incidents jumped in 2001, from 28 to 481 incidents. The number dropped in the following years, but has never returned to levels reported before the 9/11 attacks.

I remember emailing the dean of my university (College of New Rochelle) and telling him I was worried about what would happen to me on campus (I was wearing hijab at the time); could I be attacked, physically or verbally? The dean assured me that anyone who did so would immediately be expelled. I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders. I felt supported.

I finally went back to school a week after 9/11. The city had pretty much been shut down for days. When I arrived at the campus some fellow students came up to me (I had no idea who they were) and said, “If anyone messes you, we got your back. Don’t you worry.”

These young women who didn’t even know me just swore to protect me. I almost cried. 

In the months following 9/11, I was asked more questions about my religion, my hijab, my traditions, my culture. Random people in the streets of New York City would approach me and tell me how they knew I wasn’t a terrorist and that Muslims as a whole shouldn’t be blamed for the attacks. It was a little strange to hear, but definitely a nice gesture. 

On the flip side I was told to go home to my country (that would be Vienna, Austria for those who don’t know me). I was called un-American. And I did get asked a few times if I supported Al-Qaeda or what happened on 9/11 – as if I, being a Muslim Arab, was supposed to have a deeper insight into the tragic event. I remember furrowing my brow and almost laughing at how absurd those questions were. It’s sad that I would even be asked that. It’s also sad that Muslim leaders across America were expected to denounce the attacks and apologize for them on behalf of all of us, while I don’t see a white leader apologize for his race when a school shooting takes place. We, as Muslims, obviously reject the hateful ideology and violence of terrorist organizations. So why do we feel the need to voice an opposition to an attack by a fanatic and a murderer who does not represent us and our values? It’s because we as members of an entire religion or ethnicity get blamed when an extremist commits an act of terror.

I refuse to apologize for something I didn’t do and would never even fathom doing. I’m an American. I am proud to live in this country and wouldn’t go any where else. This is and always will be my home.


It’s OK To Not Want Kids

“You’re turning 35. Shouldn’t you start thinking of having babies?”

The answer to that is a very stern “no”.  I guess my uterus is slowly becoming obsolete. Let me tell you, when I get my period every month, I throw an extra “thank you” to God.

I wanted kids growing up. But it wasn’t because I actually wanted them; it was because that’s what was expected of me — as a woman, a Muslim woman, an Arab woman. 


When I was a teenager, people would ask where I saw myself in 10 years, and it was the same answer: “married, with a house and kids.” 

Boy was I wrong (can I insert that crying laughing emoji here?). 

I’m divorced, almost 35, and the idea of having children is a very unpleasant thought majority of the time. The only moment I wish I had a kid is when I think of that unconditional love. But those moments are fleeting, and then I snap back to the reality that I don’t want a child.

I’m almost ashamed to admit that it’s for selfish reasons (more on this shame feeling coming up). I don’t want to be pregnant. I don’t want to gain weight. Or have stretch marks. Mood swings. Emotional eating. The possibility of hours of labor and pushing. Shitting or peeing myself as I push. What if I tear? And I’ll be bleeding for weeks after having the baby? No thank you.

I also don’t want to spend the money and time on a kid. I can’t even make time for flowers or plants that are given to me; how on earth will I take care of a child? 

I want to travel, eat at different restaurants, stay out morning to night, without being held back by my child. Wow. It sounds like I’m a complete ass hole even writing all this. I even feel like a bit of jerk right now putting my opinions onto paper. 

But here are my questions: Why do I even feel ashamed for having these thoughts? Why does society make me feel guilty for not wanting children? Why do I NEED to reproduce? Why can’t I be a single, motherless woman who wants to live her life without the pressure of having kids or getting married? 

Don’t get me wrong. I applaud mothers (and fathers, of course) who want children, who have them, and who raise them, especially in today’s very technological world. But that is not the life for me. And I want to be able to tell people that confidently without feeling judged, like I’m this terrible person. 

I’ve even gotten the occasional “but think of the women who want children but can’t have them” comment. Ummm..excuse me? What does that have to do with me? Trust me, if I could give them my (possibly-working) uterus so they can have a kid, I would. But unfortunately that’s not an option, so how does that comment even relate to my situation?

I think more and more women are getting comfortable admitting that they don’t want to be mothers (dog and cat moms don’t count!). Example, these memes. 

On a more serious note, there are statistics to prove this. Of the 2,000 people ages 20 to 45 surveyed in a 2018 poll from Morning Consult for The New York Times, 36 percent who did not want children or weren’t sure about having kids wanted more leisure time (I must fall into that 36 percent!).

The question remains, however, will society ever fully accept that?


De-Hijabi Chronicle: Taking Off My Scarf

I’ve written this piece and deleted it at least five times. I want to make sure I get it right since this was one of the biggest decisions in my life.

About three years ago, I decided to take my hijab off. Something that had been on my head, literally, for about 21 years.

It’s hard to explain why I took it off. I guess the best way to describe it is I wasn’t feeling like myself any more. The scarf wasn’t a part of who I am. My heart really wasn’t in it. Have you ever put something on that you knew just didn’t match who you were? And you were almost uncomfortable with it? That’s basically the feeling I had.

I thought about taking off my hijab for about 5 years before I finally did it. I think I was so worried about losing friends (only to realize later they weren’t my real friends if they cut me off for MY life decision). I was also afraid of disappointing people and being judged. I grew up with a father who always said, “What will other people think?” It was rarely a case of “that’s wrong,” and always the concern of how other people would perceive me, and in turn, us as a family.

Me being stuck in that mindset meant I worried how the community would react. How would my mom react? My family? My friends? All this came into play about my decision to take my scarf off.

Another reason it took me so long: I was worried to lose a part of my identity. I was always the girl who stood out in classes, at events, at restaurants when I hung out with my non-scarf wearing friends. People could easily identify me. I was the strong, independent, outspoken Muslim woman.

(I always matched my scarves with what I was wearing.)

I’m also a journalist, and I pushed other Muslim women to follow their dreams, and not let the scarf limit them in reaching their goals. Would this change everything? Would this change my message? I want people to know that I never felt like my scarf held me back. In fact, it made me try harder. And work harder towards what I wanted to achieve in life. I remember one time I talked to an agent about getting a job as an anchor on TV. He said, “With your scarf, you probably won’t go very far.” Instead of getting discouraged I laughed and told him that I didn’t give a shit about his opinion. That if I wanted to become a TV reporter with a scarf on, I will. He was left speechless.

(I found fancy scarves to go with my fancy outfits at events)

I also never felt oppressed wearing hijab. Ever. It never crossed my mind. When I took the scarf off, a lot of people congratulated me on “being free.” I know that they were just trying to be nice and didn’t really know what else to say. But I was always free. Now, I just feel more like myself.

About a year before my 30th birthday, I went up north and didn’t wear my hijab the entire weekend – just to get a feel for it. To make sure that this was what I really wanted. And it was. Now to just get the strength to take it off and face possible backlash.

It was a few months after my 30th birthday that I finally decided to pull the trigger. I told my sisters first. They told me that I would always be loved by them, with or without my scarf. My mom was next. I expected a lecture, but instead she told me she was disappointed but that it was my life and my decision. She was right. I realized that I didn’t care if others had something to say about this. This IS my life and my decision. I took my hijab off the following weekend. And haven’t looked back since.

pic 10
(This was the first picture I posted without hijab on Instagram and Facebook)

I think the best reaction came from my co workers. I just walked into work one day, scarf-less. No one recognized me and everyone was convinced that I was a new employee. I actually regret not recording the whole day. People even came by to see me because they had heard that I had let my hair out (I was a fake blonde at the time). Some people even touched my hair to make sure it was real and that they weren’t dreaming.

(I went from super blonde to super dark in one day.. the blonde days are over folks)

I got a few messages from some people on Facebook. They told me I was wrong and that I was going to hell for my decision. I kindly thanked them for their concern and moved on (*unfriend*). A few others texted me and told me not to lose my religion and to make sure I still kept up with prayer, etc. Why does taking my scarf off immediately make me less of a Muslim?

I do have to mention that I found it somewhat amusing the things people in the Dearborn community said to my closest friends behind my back the moment the hijab came off. “She must be getting drunk now too.” “So does this mean she’s out partying all the time? Going to clubs? Having lots of sex with guys?” “Is she going to dress slutty?”

Let me answer all those questions for you with a big, fat NO. I mean of course my outfits changed a little. Come on. I always wore long sleeves when I went out and pants to my ankles. Now I wear sleeveless and capris. But that’s not slutty. At least not in my mind (I’m sure some would beg to differ).

I kept my Instagram and Facebook photos up of me wearing the hijab. A few people told me to take it down “because it looks bad.” But it’s part of who I was and my past. I’m not ashamed that I used to wear the scarf. Why should I hide that I did?


I’m still a proud Muslim. Yes, I’m a little more liberal than most. But any time I get a chance to tell people that I am a Muslim, I do so. And honestly, I’ve met girls who wear the scarf and are actually getting drunk or are out partying. Or dress slutty. I think that helped with my decision as well. Just because there’s a piece of cloth on your head doesn’t make you a better person, or more religious.

But to those who do wear it despite everything that’s going on in this crazy world, kudos to you. You are strong and beautiful. I have to add here that I also never took my hijab off because of fear of how I was treated with it on. Although I do realize I get fewer dirty stares from people now.

There are a few other things I’ve learned from taking the hijab off:

  1. Bad hair days are REAL.
  2. Lipgloss (sometimes lipstick) is the enemy when your hair is down.
  3. I now understand why my friends all hated having the windows down in the car.
  4. Doing my hair for an event really is quite the task.
  5. Dry shampoo is my best friend.
  6. So are buns.
    pic 5
    (Photo Credit: Steph Rhoades)
  7. If I get a zit on my forehead it’s front and center now. I used to be able to hide it with my scarf.
  8. Humidity is also the enemy.
  9. So is rain.
  10. And snow.
  11. My ears get really cold in the winter. Not used to that.
  12. So does my neck.
  13. This mean neck scarves and hats are my friends in the winter.
    pic 4 - Copy
  14. Matching earrings to outfits is fun — but I had to buy a lot more earrings.
  15. I actually get to go through TSA pre sometimes when the airport is busy.
  16. No more “random screenings” or custom checks at the airport.

To all the Muslim women (and women in general), don’t let what other people think control how you present yourself to the world. And always be yourself. Always.