this story originally appeared in the philippine daily inquirer on July 16, 2015.

Assalamu alaykum (Peace be upon you)!

If there is one fact in this world that any of us should not be ashamed to admit, it is this: We naturally and inevitably have our own differences. We may not have the same sense of “comfort.” We may not have similar choices. We just gradually understand that we have our own uniqueness.

I am one of those persons who would choose to see the beauty behind our intricately different faiths and ways of life. I am proud to believe that our differences are the reasons we survive on this planet. However, I am also one of those who have seen how the human race can condemn those who are different.

I was born to a Muslim family in Zamboanga City. And as I grew up, I became more aware about discrimination. Thankfully, I have never experienced harsh treatment in every place that I’ve been to. But I have read articles and social media statuses about my fellow Muslims who unfortunately get a bitter taste of discrimination from people who overgeneralize and who easily jump to conclusions—such as seeing all Muslims as terrorists.

One of the most hurting Facebook statuses that I’ve read was one likening the believers of Allah (God) to murderers, coining the term “mga kampon ni Allah” (evil followers of Allah). Another was the trending post of a Muslim woman who was discriminated against while in an airplane. The flight attendant refused to grant her request for an unopened soda can because it might supposedly be used as a weapon. Worse, another passenger shouted at that Muslim woman when she was trying to speak to the people near her.

I myself cannot easily blame others if they are afraid of Muslims, because truthfully, some humans who claim to be Muslims kill people. But this does not mean that this is what Islam teaches. I am not proud of how some of my fellow Muslims misrepresent the essence of Islam by spreading violence or hatred. After all, Islam primarily means peace.

I do not want to sound mean, but let us not forget that evil deeds are also done by some people who happen to believe in any other religion.

One problem in our society is that we tend to judge a person based on only one background. Unfortunately, many of us generalize in the wrong way. Many of us forget that not all of us are the same.

In a place where Muslims are considered a minority, one easy way of identifying them is when they—specifically the women—wear a head scarf or the hijab. I started wearing my hijab almost two weeks after my college graduation. I was both sad and happy at that time. Sad, because I realized that I started wearing it late; when I looked back on my life, I saw myself thinking twice about being firm and able to fully understand my faith (which caused this delay). Happy, because I finally learned to align my intentions with my actions and that I have the opportunity of standing for my fellow Muslims in my own way. Covering myself does not mean I am regretful about my body. This, for me and for many Muslims, means self-respect and self-protection. I honestly feel more comfortable with it.

I moved from Zamboanga to Manila, and now, I am just at the very beginning of my dream career in journalism. Again I am thankful because even if I made it more obvious to society that I am a Muslim, I did not experience any of those painful moments of discrimination.

Whenever I walk from my boarding house to my workplace and whenever I am inside a mall or a bank, I notice that some people stare at me. Well, that’s okay with me because, aside from their right to use their sense of sight, I think they just want to observe how I move, speak, or act. Or maybe they appreciate the beauty that God gave me (okay, I’m not really saying that I have a “Julia Barretto face and physique”). Or, on a pessimist’s view, they think that being a Muslim makes a woman ugly (which does not hurt me because I personally find the teachings of Islam very beautiful, and these people don’t know a thing about the true meaning of my religion). Or they think that I am secretly carrying a weapon (no way!). Or let’s just say it plainly: They think I am different from them.

I smile at some of them when our eyes meet. After all, a smile is considered an act of charity in Islam. They either smile back or give me a nod, then I can feel that my heart is leaping. I use the traditional “po” and “opo” when I talk to a mall cashier or a security guard.

I have been aiming to perform well in my work. And I answer, to the best of my ability, the questions of my colleagues about me and my religion. I really like it when people ask; at least they choose to find out the meaning behind our practices and not let the wrong perceptions win in their heads.

Maybe I just found the secret in getting along with different kinds of people: self-projection. I should always show that I’m not one of the bad guys, that I’m not one of those terrorists. The first step is believing in myself. I should know that while I cannot convince everyone about the beauty in my heart, the most important thing is that I myself know it. And when I know that my good qualities, together with the different strengths of the people around me, can take me far, I erase all the barriers that are formed from hatred.

My thinking and my motivations will ultimately show. A simple smile can kill bad vibes. A simple response to anyone’s plea is a seed of constant friendship. How I appreciate things and persons will also bring me bliss. How I will dedicate myself to my faith, to my loved ones, and to my career can make me take the lead in making people know the true me. And maybe a better picture of Muslims, in the minds of those who do not have enough knowledge about the religion, will become a secondary effect.

Merely posting statuses or saying things about the good qualities of a Muslim can take me only so far. I, as well as everyone else, should know how to prove my worth.

While I fight against discrimination, I know that I am not alone. There are millions of souls out there who weep because society sees them as different. And the reason may not necessarily be their belief, but their physical appearance, their personal preferences, their social status, or the disease they can only wish they don’t have.

What makes us the same is that we have something that we want to fight for. Our efforts of listening to each other will not come to naught. We use our different stories and capabilities in order to empathize with one another. If we can manage to live in harmony despite our differences, why choose hatred? Why not know first before jumping to inappropriate labels? Why not choose respect? Why not choose the better way?

  1. Can I just say what a comfort to find somebody who truly understands what theyre talking about on the net. You certainly understand how to bring a problem to light and make it important. A lot more people really need to look at this and understand this side of the story. I cant believe youre not more popular because you definitely possess the gift.

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