Beyond the Veil
Life and death, family and freedom. That is what’s on the line for Maine West families after President Trump signed an executive on Jan. 27 order stopping any Syrian refugee from resettling here and banning people from seven Muslim-dominant countries from entering the United States.
Homam Saffaf, a freshman who arrived here in August as a refugee from Syria, described the possible ramifications of the order on refugees. “I have a sister and a mother back in Syria. They are not here with me because it is a lot harder for them to gain a visa because of all the checks that they have to go through due to being over the age of 15, ” Saffaf said. “It is already extremely hard to get a visa as it is and this new order just makes everything harder for people, like my mother and sister, that are trying to flee true danger to be able to come to safety.”
4.8 million Syrians have fled the six-year old civil war that has reduced much of Syria to ruin, according to the United Nations. President Bashar al-Assad started using the military to attack anti-government protesters in 2011, dropping barrel bombs on neighborhoods and sending troops from house to house to capture or kill rebels. ISIS has also ravaged parts of the country and is battling with Assad, too.
Between ISIS, the government troops and rebel groups, danger is everywhere. Saffaf describes witnessing an incident that changed his perception on his life. When he was walking in his city of Hama, Syria, he stood stone cold when he saw a truck come near him. “My friend and I were just walking around and then all of a sudden I saw a man open his truck’s window, pull out a gun and shoot a man in the head,” Saffaf said.
Photos regularly surface of the carnage in Syria. Images of the bodies from the bombings of a hospital and apartments in Aleppo, Syria, and photos of refugees who have drowned in the Mediterranean while trying to flee show the world how destructive Assad’s regime has been. “Those pictures were heartbreaking. They showed the pain that these kids are experiencing; they showcased to the world how, even after the conflict was over, these kids would never be the same,” said English teacher Zanfina Rrahmani.
Sometimes, as Saffaf explains, one does not realize the grave danger they are exposed to, until a life-changing situation happens. “Before, I had only heard of murders and death statistics on television and newspapers; to see this right in front of my face made me realize how vulnerable everybody, including me, in Syria was,” Saffaf said.
Saffaf’s experience in his native home of Syria, however, is not unique. According to the Syrian Center for Policy Research, “at least 470,000 Syrians have died as a result of the war, almost twice the 250,000 counted a year and a half ago by the United Nations.”
Early on in the election process, President Donald Trump chose to target Muslims. At a 2015 rally in Charleston, South Carolina, Trump announced, “Donald J. Trump is calling for a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”
When the statements were broadcast, “I was disappointed in him for making those hurtful, stereotypical comments, but I was even more disappointed to hear that people were actually applauding him and agreeing with his discriminatory ideas,” said Rrahmani, who is Muslim.
In the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, a handful of Muslim terrorists changed America forever and, in time, caused many Americans to fear those who practiced Islam. “After the attacks some of my friends were faced with the decision of whether or not to wear a hijab, because it allowed people to more easily distinguish them. It was a tough decision they were all facing,” Rrahmani said.
Singling people out because of religion is nothing new in our world, and thanks to certain news outlets and politicians, people have been led to construct often-distorted opinions regarding Islam. “Americans tend to fear what they don’t know. Sometimes they see immigrants speaking a different language such as Spanish, or in this case Arabic, and think it is scary, simply because it is different,” Muslim Student Association sponsor Matthew McClure said. “Then, Americans see videos of people that practice radical Islam on television, and they get even more scared which leads them to make generalizations.”
As Khan explains, jumping to hasty conclusions can lead to neglecting the people behind the perpetuated stereotypes. “The same way the general public does not assume Protestant Christians to be a part of the KKK, people and the media should not assume I practice radical Islam and am associated with terror groups, due to being Muslim,” Khan said.
Contrary to some beliefs, Islam has nothing to do with the violence that is depicted on television or that plays out in terrorist acts. “This is not at all what Islam is. Our religion teaches love and compassion, while at the same time challenging us to be better people,” sophomore Alishia Hussain said.
Sophomore Samiha Ashraf explains the challenges that Muslims like her might face due to their religion and the stereotypes that are associated with it. “There are times when people might look at me weird for wearing a hijab, but overall Maine West is a very supporting school, and that’s the way it should be. I should not be treated any differently because of my religion,” Ashraf said.
Rrahmani explained that, like followers of any other religion, Muslims cannot be distinguished by physical traits. “I don’t fit the stereotypes of what a Muslim should look like because I am fair-skinned and don’t wear a hijab. Islam is simply a religion and looks cannot help people distinguish us,” she said.
The three most widely-practiced monotheistic religions in the world have a lot more in common than people think, with all three originating with Abraham as the “father” of their faith. “What people do not realize is that Christianity, Judaism and Islam tell a lot of the same stories; they also believe in a lot of common values,” McClure said.
Hussain explains how, when united with those of other faiths, Muslims can be the puzzle piece that help us live in a better world. “We are not different in any way. We, like everybody, hope that with our contributions the world will be a better place,” Hussain said.
Coming to a country founded on principles of freedom from oppression, “a visa can be the difference between life and death; people, along with politicians, should be open-minded about allowing these innocent people into their countries because for a lot of them coming to America is a second chance at life,” Khan said.