The youth-written stories in Represent give inspiration and information to teens in foster care while offering staff insight into those teens’ struggles.

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Walking While Arab
Sara Said

Some names have been changed.

As a devout Muslim, I wear a scarf that covers my hair and neck. After the September 11 attacks, I became an object of attention.

Walking to school in Brooklyn about a week and a half after 9/11, a man in his 30s or 40s riding his bike saw me and yelled, "I will kill all Arabs and I will show you!"

He yelled so hard I thought my eardrums would break. I felt like bursting into tears and running home. If he hadn't kept riding past, I would've been running like crazy.

Strangers Were Kind to Me

But when strangers heard and saw the man screaming those terrifying words, they asked me, "Are you OK?" or said, "Just ignore him." Some smiled and tried to make me feel safe, which helped a little.

I felt relieved that they didn't act against me, and happy and thankful that they understood how I felt at that moment. I couldn't look up at their faces because I was trying to keep myself from crying. Still, I really appreciated their kindness.

At school, I felt that my mind was somewhere else. The man's screaming kept bothering me when I was in class. I was shaken, but I wasn't shocked by his hateful message. Ever since September 11, I've had a feeling of being hated because I am a Muslim.

Hundreds of Attacks

After September 11, many Muslims and Arabs all over the United States were discriminated against and attacked. Some were kicked off airplanes because other passengers didn't like the way they looked or dressed. At least six people were even murdered because their killers wanted to strike back at a Muslim or an Arab.

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), a national organization that defends the rights of people of Arab descent, confirmed reports of 520 violent incidents and hundreds of cases of discrimination against Arab-Americans since 9/11.

In school I heard about people in New York City who were attacked both physically and verbally while going to their mosques or who had their stores or cars attacked and damaged. And many, like me, were verbally harassed.

After that man's threats and the looks that people gave me after the tragedy, I wanted to go back to Yemen where people accepted me as a Muslim and an Arab. I didn't want to be in a place where people saw me as a terrorist. I didn't want to live someplace where every day I walked in the streets feeling like an alien in fear of being attacked.

After 9/11, I was afraid to go to school and leave the house wearing my veil. All my friends who wear veils had a hard time deciding whether we should keep our veils off until we got to school.

The first day back to school, I decided to wear mine, but I made my brother come with me. And in case my father couldn't pick me up, I kept jeans and a hat in my backpack to change into so people wouldn't realize that I'm a Muslim.

24-Hour Fear Movie

When we weren't in school, my Arab Muslim friends and I locked ourselves in our homes and the Arabs and Muslims that I knew in my neighborhood deserted the streets.

After a few days, though, my friends and I thought we were wrong to fear anyone but God and that helped us conquer our fear of attackers. However, our parents were strict about the time we came home. We had to be home exactly at 4 or they'd be ready to call the cops because they'd think something had happened to us. It was like living in a 24-hour fear movie.

Made a Joke About It

After I got screamed at, I told my mom what happened, but first I told her the story as a joke because I didn't want to scare her.

image by John Gaston

"You know what, mom? Today, right, I heard this as a joke, right," I said. "There was this man who screamed at a Muslim and told her-ha ha-that he would kill all Arabs. Isn't that stupid?" Telling her that way helped me keep myself from crying.

But then I told her in a low voice, "Well, to tell you the truth, it happened to me." She looked at me as if she wanted to know if I was for real. She was upset but not surprised, because she'd heard about similar attacks on the news.

She wanted me to be strong, so she didn't want to show that she was scared, but I think she was scared and concerned. She prayed for our safety.

"Ahmudi Rabic ineik ahsan min kahric," she said, meaning, "Be thankful to Allah you are in a better position than others." I should be thankful that I wasn't physically hurt like others have been. My mom said to have faith in Allah for he is the Protector.

Friends Given the Finger

My friends who wear the veil were also harassed around the same time.

Lamya, 19, said two people gave her the finger, including a woman in a car who opened the car door to stick up her middle finger. "I felt really bad when they did that," Lamya said, but it didn't surprise her.

Similarly, Khadija, 18, went out with her friends in the first week after the tragedy and saw three teenage guys. One said, "Oh, check this out, a terrorist is living in this neighborhood too."

"It hurt me," Khadija said. She also felt that she'd been harassed in school. On her locker, she'd had a sticker that said, "I love Allah." One day, she walked out of science class and saw that her sticker was torn and thrown on the floor.

"I went to my teacher, and before I finished telling her what happened, I was crying and screaming, 'Why did they do it?' I was so disheartened," Khadija said.

In another class, they were discussing a poem about the World Trade Center and the discussion led to religion. Khadija's teacher mentioned that she'd been to Arab countries. One of the students said, "Oh, my God, how could you go to such countries?"

The teacher ignored him. Then another student said something like, "Oh yeah, Muslims believe in killing, and their religion teaches them that." Khadija was angry, but she didn't say anything. The teacher just gave the student a bad look.

Later, Khadija found a way to respond. She, I and the president of the Bengali Society at our school, Brooklyn International HS, organized a meeting where we talked about what Islam really is.

Knowledge Crushes Stereotypes

We explained that Islam in Arabic means peace and submission to God. Islam is based on the teachings of God as revealed to his last prophet, Mohammad, and teaches only peace, justice and righteousness.

As Khadija said, "Be open-minded and ready to learn about other people's culture." We organized the conference because we believe that education is the enemy of discrimination. When you know about people's culture and religion, you don't depend on stereotypes, which are often negative, to form your opinion of that particular group.

Teachers and students who came to the meeting were glad we'd organized it. It helped them understand what we were going through and how we felt the media was playing a big role in creating hatred against us by focusing so much on Arabs and Muslims who are terrorists.

I Won't Let Ignorant Hate Be a Barrier

These days, people still stare at me on the street, but not as much, and I'm no longer feeling scared. The fear that was caught in my heart has faded because I learned to never allow fear to rule my life or conquer my dreams.

I keep in mind the nice people who supported me, helped me think more positively and made me believe that there is more good in the world than there is bad. I will not let people's ignorant hate become an obstacle and a barrier to living my life the way I want--as a Muslim, in the U.S.

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