Who am I? This is a question that most people seek to answer at certain points in their lives, especially when they are young. It’s hard to define for some, certainly for me and certainly now.
My name is Haaris. I was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey, on the morning of March 9, 1980, to Zahoor and Iffat Ahmed. I was the first of three boys to be born and raised in the West. My parents moved here from Pakistan for economic prosperity and the freedoms that the U.S.A. has to offer. Yes, my family is Muslim.
Flash forward to the present day, 30 years later. I live in Santa Barbara, work for a local radio station, and have a white, non-Muslim girlfriend who I am deeply in love with, plus my parents like her. (They met last Thanksgiving when she came with me to New Jersey.) Do I practice Islam? Yes. I show up for the important events, the way many Christians go to church on Christmas and Easter. I am writing this on the last day of Ramadan, during which Muslims like myself fast for 30 days.
I love the Constitution; I do. I believe in freedom of religion. With regard to the mosque being built near “Ground Zero” — I grew up living 30 minutes away from New York City, until 2004, when I moved to California. To call it a 9/11 mosque is just plain wrong. It’s a community center as well as a mosque, meaning anyone in the community can go. Obviously, you have to respect the rules of conduct when entering this particular building, just like you would a middle school, church, library, etc.
You can fully disagree with the building of a mosque, but your belief comes with a stamp, and that stamp is bigotry. It’s pretty black-and-white. If you insist that a certain group who have already gotten all the permits from a city to erect a building should not build it, based on the fact that you don’t agree with their belief structure — that’s bigoted. To deny a religious community, one of the world’s largest in this case, the right to create a house of worship because of preconceived notions is an act of pure ignorance.
That’s like me saying that churches should not be built in communities with children because of the countless reports of pedophilia; that would make me a bigot, plus an idiot. In fact, my parents sent me to Catholic school from second through eighth grades to acquire a good education in a safe environment.
As for burning the Qur’an, as that Florida pastor was encouraging people to do to protest the building of the mosque, I can think of nothing more offensive to do on one of the holiest days for Muslims. The 10th of September is Eid, which in a nutshell marks the end of Ramadan and the fast. This would be the equivalent of me burning a cross on Christmas Eve or Easter.
I have attended many a Rage Against the Machine concert, and after the show, the band burns the American flag in protest, which I support because it is a right of freedom. So even though I totally disagree in my heart, mind, and soul with the Qur’an book-burning, the pastor has the right. That said, actions have reactions; it’s a law of physics. Rage Against the Machine-heads have been labeled and even arrested for burning flags. To think that this book-burning will not snowball into something even worse would be foolish, especially if you’re trying to communicate some kind of point to radicals and fanatics. On any side of the equation. Thankfully, this act of blatant, blind hate has been called off.
Where does all of this put me? Who am I? At times I am treated like a second-class citizen in my own country. (If you don’t believe me, try boarding an airplane with my face.) I have done nothing wrong. I do not support violence, period. But that does not make it my duty to sit idly by while racist, bigoted behaviors, of the sort that have surrounded the ninth anniversary of 9/11, are directed toward my Muslim family, and me. I often wonder how white America feels when they see footage of their older generations in the streets of Alabama protesting the integration of schools, something that perhaps has a particularly strong effect on me because I am not white. Bigotry against religions and ethnicities may be color-blind, but it is as dangerous and deep as racial oppression.
I ask people reading this rant who believe that the mosque should not be built, or who support the burning of the Qur’an: Do you know any Muslims? Have you ever hung out with any? If you do know a Muslim, would you label [him or her] as a terrorist, or as one of the “good ones”?
So who am I? I am a 30-year-old from New Jersey who is Muslim, and of Pakistani heritage; has a hot girlfriend and one of the coolest jobs in one of the best places to live in all of the United States; and lives in a time when racism and bigotry are still extremely prevalent.