Anyone who knows me knows that 2001 was a defining year in my life. In one horrible series of events, the course of my life was charted. I hated how my religion was hijacked when 19 people hijacked those airplanes. I hated how hate was so widespread. I hated how the world was divided between us and them. I hated how we flamed the fire further with more atrocious acts by those proclaiming to believe in the same God. I hated how all these hatred stem from ignorance. So, I decided to make it my lifelong profession to bridge this knowledge gap.
More importantly, during days when I would cry reading the news, I always told myself, God must have had a better plan. There must be a reason for these horrible events. The Most Merciful and the Most Gracious would not have left us downtrodden for so long. It is my belief that nothing happens out of vain. Even when I was a young girl, I saw how dialogue was opened. Conversation was started. Real understanding began to be fostered. Personally, I saw it in Pittsburgh. I was blown away by not only the acceptance of the community, but also by their eagerness to learn about Islam. On my first day of class, I knew change was coming.
Last week, I heard the news of the hijab Barbie manufactured by Mattel. We are talking about legitimate Barbie, real Barbie, and not a knockoff brand of a female doll. Mattel designed a Barbie wearing hijab in honor of Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first hijab wearing American Olympic medalist. And I cried. I am someone who appreciates pioneers and brand loyalty is very high to me. To know I no longer need to buy a cheap hijab wearing doll for my daughters is a huge relief. And I believe we were only able to get here through a slow process of understanding, tolerance, and the acceptance that Muslims in the West are no longer second-class citizens. Muslims are not just the doctors who live next door to you or the ones with a Shawarma shop down the road. Muslims have just as much aspiration to be acknowledged and celebrated as part of society. We are normal.
As I said, this is not something that came about overnight. I have witnessed over the years a growing number of portrayal of Muslims in Western media. Yes, it is not just Muslims; there has been an increase in diversity on television to include more minority groups. But as a Muslim, it is glaring to me when a show decided to put a hijab wearing character into the narrative matter-of-factly. I cry tears of joy every time. I can think of the ‘P&G Thank You, Mom’ commercial for the 2018 Winter Olympics and the banned Pepsi commercial starring Kendall Jenner. These are just some examples I can think of right now. But it is apparent that Muslims—usually presented by a hijab wearing female—are no longer alien and misunderstood. There is a new level of understanding on the belief and practices of 1.7 billion Muslims. For me, that is the most beautiful thing.
Of course, the world is not all rosy and peachy. Islamophobia is still there. Unfair discrimination based on religion is still there. Nationalists who think Muslims who are born in the West should go ‘home’ are still there. Yet, it is crucial for us to believe that for every person who hates us out there, someone is willing to take us in shelter. I have faith in humans. Who else am I going to turn to?