Zeinab ’19 – The world would be a better place if…

There are a number of ways to build a better world. This could range from donating basic essentials and volunteering to getting rid of racism and ending wars. Most importantly, I believe we can build a better world together if everyone has a better understanding of religions and encouraged religious tolerance. I was born a Muslim in the Ivory Coast. My family moved to the United States when I was in the 7th grade. Although I frequently miss my home, I am happy in the United States. One similarity that the Ivory Coast and the United States share is freedom of religion. Although religious freedom is central to both societies, religious minorities are not always well-understood.

Back home, everyone is free to practice his or her religion and beliefs. Before I moved to the U.S I was worried that people were going to mock me or look at me differently because I wear a hijab or because I have a different religion. However, once I arrived in the U.S. I was happily surprised by the fact that many other people practice the Islamic faith, and that many girls in my school also wear their hijabs. Each morning, I pray, wear my hijab and go to school. I felt comfortable in school, and everything was fine until we moved into a different unit in my Global Studies and English classes – a lot has changed since then. The new unit was on ISIS. Once this unit began, I started to feel like my classmates were labeling me and judging my religion. I felt misunderstood.

I hated this new unit, I felt like it was the only thing anyone ever talked about. Sometimes I felt like skipping these classes because the pressure was too much, but ultimately, I toughed it out. It’s true that the U.S is a country with freedom of religion, but the way they view certain religions, like Islam, for the actions of a small minority, like ISIS, is hurtful. I’m Muslim and I have never done anything harmful to anyone, but I’ve been called hurtful names like, “ISIS.” Many Muslim girls at my school felt the same way that I did, but these girls were afraid to stand up for their religion, or didn’t want to confront conflict. However, someone had to have the courage to make a change.

Therefore, I decided to be that person. I wanted to make a change in my community. With the help of two ladies at my after school program named Katherine and Sasha I was able to create a strategy on how to approach the issue. So they suggested that I not be angry or disrespectful to anyone because it would worsen the conflict. Instead, I talked to others and made them understand how I felt and how their words and actions might offend others too. I chose to change the negative point of view about the Muslim religion into a positive outlook.

I was ready to defend my religion and educate my classmates, but I needed support to reach out to my entire 9th grade class. Therefore, I emailed our principal, Mr. Afriyie, and told him the problem. Fortunately, he gave me and my Muslim classmates permission to lead advisory sessions, and meet with other students during lunch to talk about Islam and the misperception of Muslims in America. During lunch, I went to the library and spoke to some students about the problem and I went to their advisory classes to encourage their teachers to discuss this issue as the topic of the day.

We knew it was not going to be an easy process, but our goal was to make at least ten to twenty students understand that Islam is a religion of peace. Surprisingly, before the end of the unit, it turned out that almost the entire 9th grade acknowledged the true facts about Islam. Now, in all my classes, Muslims can comfortably sit and pay attention in class without worrying about the judgement of others, we know that they now understand, and we have their support.

We often believe that education is only formalized through institutional learning, when in actuality some of the best pathways come from person to person interaction.
So, after thinking about the experience I had, I realized that the key to solving religious intolerance is through educating and understanding one another. Therefore, if education helped create open mindedness amongst my peers, then teaching people the truth about religion can increase tolerance and respect. Increasing tolerance not only improves communication, but also sparks continued growth and compassion. This small act helped my immediate community and school. Imagine how much better the world would be if more people took a stand to teach others about tolerance? – Zeinab ’19