How to Stay Alive While Being Muslim American

As I flipped through TIME magazine’s April 2 issue, I became fixated on a compelling essay by American cultural critic Touré. It made perfect sense to me, so I tore it out, pinned it to my bedroom wall, and read it over several times. With each reading, I projected my own narrative as a Muslim American onto his advice for staying alive in the face of incessant racism and fatal bigotry. Here is how Touré’s wise words became a personal reflection:

(1) I guess it is possible that any one of us could get killed today for being Muslim. 32-year-old mother of five, Shaima Alawadi, was not pardoned. Do not assume that you will be.

(2) If the mission is to survive, then do not do anything else to make yourself “suspicious.” Playing it cool means hiding your feelings and remaining calm. So if you are enjoying a meal at your favorite diner and notice an old man staring at you at the adjacent table, do not use a knife to slice your meat. Make do with just your fork.

(3) The situation is flawed at its core. That does not mean that you are. It’s a reflection of images and sound bytes in media and Hollywood that keep them irrationally scared and cruel. So, learn from them and try to remember your own prejudices as you go about life in this colorful country of ours.

(4) Some people will take one look at your clothes and never see anything else. They think that your personality cannot shine through that cotton headscarf or long dress. Remember that you are beautiful inside and out. Making them see that will take all the more effort on your part. If you are having a bad day, hold it in and just smile.

(5) Do not be afraid of the police. If you feel threatened in any way, your best chance is to seek help. This is not a sign of weakness. Do not be shy to call out others for their hostility.

(6) I know this is a lot of pressure for someone to handle. Just like everyone else, you have bills to pay, family members to take care of, and errands to run. But those around you will judge your every move as a symbol of what our religion is. I’m sorry to hold you up so high.

(7) Never forget how fear and prejudice can translate into the death of a fellow American. Be on your toes and remember that even though they may not love you, I do.