I first became aware of my struggle as a Muslim-American when I had a discussion (or I guess it was more an argument, since we were in third grade) about Christmas and why I did not celebrate it. It took shape again after watching the film, My Name is Khan. The self-doubt and the sense of loathing I felt from others was especially prevalent every time that I read an article about Muslims. It hurt to read the comments, where people vehemently expressed their desire to kill Muslims, or wrote that Muslims were disgusting people who should not exist. It hurt to see the dislike from my own peers. It hurt to not fit in.
For a long time, I thought that it would be fantastic idea to just hide my Muslim identity from my peers. This continued until my senior year of high school, where I needed to choose a topic for my thesis project. It took a lot of consulting with and encouragement from my teachers, but eventually I decided to conduct research on the different factors that could catapult a Muslim-American girl into having an identity crisis. Essentially, it was a project on me.
And so my journey began. After completing my project, I found myself, very spontaneously, writing a letter to the President to thank him for defending us. This whole thing was completely a spur-of-the-moment and I honestly never expected a response – I even deleted it from my computer to erase all evidence that I even wrote it.
It was pretty funny how I reacted when I got the call from someone at the White House, asking if they could include my letter in a series about Muslims on their blog. At first I thought it was a prank call, so I did not even pick up. When I found out that they were indeed serious and needed my mom’s consent to be allowed to publish my letter online (the perks of being underage), I ran into her room and shoved the phone in her face, saying something along the lines of, “I decided to write a letter to Obama about my project a while ago and now there’s a lady calling from the White House that needs to talk to you!” The whole thing catapulted from there.
I was invited to the White House Eid Reception, where I got to see President Obama in person, and meet a diverse set of people, who were all united by one thing; our religion. There is always something magical about being surrounded by people that have had the same struggles you have, who believe in the same things you do. It just makes things easy.
I was featured in an article by CNN’s incredible faith reporter, Daniel Burke. The whole experience was absolutely surreal. I mean, I watch the news and everything, but when I first got the email, I completely freaked out and ran around the house screaming. At first, it was only supposed to be an interview, where he said I would be the character that people could connect to in his article about islamophobia. When he asked me to come down to the studio, I was a wreck. I brought my older sister to the studio with me, partially because she is an english and journalism major, and partially because half the clothes in my ensemble were hers. We got a tour of CNN after filming the video. I wish I could say that I was completely calm and composed the whole time, but that would be a blatant lie. I was that person who was gushing and going, “Oh my god!” as I peered into Wolf Blitzer and Jake Tapper’s office. It was an amazing experience.
I was able to calm down when I found out I was one of three people who were invited back to the White House to read their letter as part of another series. After a fashion crisis and looking like an absolute idiot trying to get through security, I was able to meet the videographer and the representative from the Office of Digital Strategy. They not only joked around and let me take pictures next to the podium in the room, but they also gave me a tour of the Eisenhower building and of the West Wing. Incredible.
I can honestly say that I never expected anything like this to happen to me. I mean, I know it’s kind of cliché, but everything just kind of happened so quickly. It’ll be almost a year since I’ve written the letter, two since I’ve started the project. It’s kind of odd though; throughout the whole project, I went through a personal metamorphosis – how I’ve viewed myself and my religion dramatically changed, and I have become proud. I guess that’s why when I heard that the theme of this year’s conference would be In Metamorphosis, I felt personally connected to it, because these events have enabled me to go through one of the many metamorphosis I know I will experience.