Islamophobia after 9/11: effects on Muslim students

This weekend marks the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. (AP Photo/Patrick Sison)

By Emily Cousins | Staff Writer

Muslim students who were alive for the tragic events of 9/11 have little memory of that day, but they were raised in a country that was taught to fear them.

Hoover, Ala., junior Saba Sultan said when she was growing up, her mother advised her to tell her peers she was Hindu.

“When I was in middle school, I was really trying to find myself and getting in touch with my faith, and I didn’t really want to lie anymore, so I was really open about it,” Sultan said. “I told people I was Muslim, and I didn’t really think it would have any implications, but they discussed 9/11 in class, and whenever that would happen, there was the sense of tension in the classroom that I hadn’t experienced before.”

Houston junior Neha Virani said when teachers talked about 9/11 in class, everyone would stare at her. She said she had trouble feeling comfortable and finding friends in a predominantly white school.

“In middle school, if I ever had a teacher that was wearing a hijab or a head covering, kids would say, ‘Oh, is that your mom or sister?’” Verani said. “I think that was a little bit racist. I mean, I am Muslim, but I’m not like that type of person that wears a hijab, so people automatically assuming kind of bothered me.”

Sultan said she often felt out of place growing up in a predominantly white Christian area.

“I felt like I was constantly having to explain myself to people, which is fine,” Sultan said. “I don’t really mind educating, but it does get kind of hard when everyone has questions about your faith and you’re constantly having to explain yourself and being like, ‘I’m not a terrorist.’”

Sultan said the fear after 9/11 affected not only Muslim people but also many South Asians who looked like they might be Muslim.

“I know a lot of my Hindu friends actually would get the same kind of looks during the 9/11 discussions in class because of their skin color,” Sultan said. “They could possibly be Muslim … but mainly for Muslim people — those that choose to wear a hijab — things probably changed for them. They probably felt uncomfortable going outside wearing that bold symbol of faith.”

Sultan said she thinks Islamophobia has become less severe, but it is still a problem that needs to be addressed.

“If it’s someone who’s Muslim that has shot at people or done anything illegal, we all always blame it on terrorism,” Sultan said. “But when it’s anyone who is white, for example, it’s never blamed on terrorism, even though it’s actually the same thing. You can terrorize your own country, but it’s just blamed on mental health. That’s something that’s never changed. That hasn’t changed at all from 9/11. That’s been an ongoing trend.”

Sultan said Baylor students should learn more about different religions and cultures.

“I think the main thing I see in the student body at Baylor is that a lot of people are afraid to ask questions,” Sultan said. “They think I’m going to be offended if they ask questions, and that’s really not the case. I think, as a whole, if everyone just put their fear to the side and just asked the questions that they have, I think we could solve a lot of these problems, and people would be more aware. You don’t even have to ask someone who is Muslim. You can really just find these sources online. We live in a day and age where ignorance is a choice.”