About this iReport
  • Approved for CNN

  • Click to view MehnazM1210's profile
    Posted September 21, 2015 by
    McKinney, Texas
    This iReport is part of an assignment:
    I am a Muslim in America

    More from MehnazM1210

    American Spirit, Bangladeshi Roots, and A Muslim Heart


    CNN PRODUCER NOTE     Mehnaz Mahmood remembers sitting in her third grade class, years before the September 11 attacks, and another student saying to her, “You’re a Muslim? You guys are terrorists.” That comment has been burned into her memory. “I think the word ‘terrorist’ to a Muslim is like the N-word to an African-American,” the 33-year-old homemaker in McKinney, Texas says. “I feel that in America people feel that we Muslims support some form of hate towards others who are not Muslim,” which Mahmood says is a misconception she has faced. Recently, she has started wearing a hijab, a veil worn by Muslim women as a sign of modesty and privacy, and has noticed a change in the way strangers interact with her. Before people who smile back to her, but now, she says she senses more hostility from strangers. “I just want [people] to know that I am a human being just like them, and for the most part, I want the same as them,” she says. “I am so proud to be both an American and a Muslim. I want to have a nice life and practice my faith as I see it right for me.”
    - Jareen, CNN iReport producer

    American Spirit, Bangladeshi roots, and a Muslim Heart
    By Mehnaz Mahmood

    I would describe myself as having the American Spirit, with Bangladeshi roots and a Muslim heart. I am the daughter of two immigrant parents that came to the United States in the early 1980’s at the age of 3. I am a born Muslim, but I honestly did not really experience my faith and my strong belief in my faith until the attacks and terrible incidents of 9/11. The constant media coverage and the portrayal of negativity towards Muslims set me out on a quest to discover my faith.
    I am from Houston, TX, I went to a school in the posh Houston neighborhood of Bellaire, but I was not posh or well-off by any means, just was zoned to that public school. My parents were immigrants from Bangladesh, hard-working, highly-educated, highly –driven to provide my brother and I a good life. My mother is a professor, back then she did not have tenure, so she had many adjunct and associate part-time jobs at the local Community colleges teaching Mathematics, my father was a successful businessman in Bangladesh that held an MBA but no matter how hard he tried he was not very successful financially in America (Some say an honest man does not make a good businessman) I do not know if that is true but for my father’s case it was. My father eventually lost his battle with heart disease and passed away in 1994 of a heart attack when I was 13 years old. My career in school was for the most part uneventful; my faith did not really play a part in my life until much later, at this point in my life I was just struggling to “fit in.” I wanted to be with the “cool kids,” that had packed lunches of string cheese, and perfectly cut turkey sandwiches, or lunchables, not school bought cafeteria food, or even worse a bowl of rice with curry in my mom’s Tupperware. I wanted to wear the colorful shorts and clever t-shirts and jeans, instead of my homemade dresses and dressy shoes that made me look like I was wearing my Sunday best all the time.
    September 11, 2001 is a pivotal point maybe in all people’s life, but myself as a young Muslim, it made me wake up to my faith. I was 20, before this I would take part in my religious duties like the bi-annual Eid celebrations, the fasting for Ramadan, as something I just had to do. I was Muslim, but I would say not a very good one, or maybe not very religious one. I actually did not look into my faith or start to follow it until the media and all the negative hate became apparent in America. I turned towards Islam when I actually started reading the Quran and its translated meanings. I spent years, analyzing Islam and all the other major religions. I studied the life of the Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be Upon Him), and the thing that made me the happiest is the fact that he was the biggest feminist! The way he told his people and companions to treat women, the way he treated his daughters and wives, that is one of the tenets of Islam very quickly won over my thirsty heart. That is what I want people to know about Islam that is truly is the religion of Peace and equal rights not just among men and women but also of race and creed. I learned how Islam eradicated slavery, discrimination; the burial and mistreatment of female babies were all put to justice after Islam came. Women were given rights to property, and a voice, they were given a place to be admired, looked up to and respected, instead of just sex slaves like they were before Muhammad (Peace and Blessings be Upon Him) brought Islam to Arabia in the 7th century.

    In recent years I started practicing my faith the way it was taught in the Quran, I started the five prayers, the more I see on social media hate towards Muslims, the more I cling onto my faith because I know what they say, and the typical prejudices about Muslims is simply not true. Most importantly however, I was working towards this ever since September 11, I started wearing the veil, the dreaded Hijab for the past two months. I can see the apprehension in many people’s faces, some people straight out do not smile back when I smile at people passing by ,and then there are people who are genuinely respectful towards me and I really do appreciate that and it feels good to be reciprocated for my good manners. The reason I started the Hijab is not just to follow the doctrines of Islam like a blind sheep, but more importantly it gives me confidence. Confidence and self-esteem is something I was lacking while growing up, but when I go out with my Hijab, I am basically telling the whole world that I reject being defined as another pretty face, or sexy body, or the most well –dressed woman to walk the Earth. I am saying please judge me for me, for my heart, for my personality, for my intellect, I wanted to be this version of me not only for myself, but for my beautiful 9 year old daughter., what a better example for her than a strong confident mother. I also was telling the world, please come and approach me and ask me questions so that I may clear any misconceptions you may have about me and my faith. I would gladly answer questions as long as I was not being threatened or disrespected, I have a open door policy when it comes to asking about my faith please ask away and I will try my best to answer. My last reason to start wearing the Hijab is that I want non-Muslims to know that Muslim women are not oppressed. What you read about and what you see on TV maybe somebody’s reality but I’m pretty sure the oppression has to do with the culture and society of the place that particular woman or women live in and I can guarantee it has nothing to do with the teachings of Islam. I am not oppressed because I cover myself, it is quite the opposite, I am not on display for all to see me. If a woman has her prerogative of wearing a miniskirt and not being veiled, than my choice of wearing a veil and covering myself should be a non-issue.

    I am so happy that CNN has asked us for our side of the story, as you will learn most of us American Muslims are just like you, we want the same things. We believe in the American dream, we love our nation, the best nation on Earth America we want the best for our children. We want a good life, we like good food, good company, we like to tell jokes, laugh with good friends, build houses and pickets fences have 2 cars and maybe a goldfish and a cat. We are the same in so many ways, the fact that I pray to Allah and you pray to God should not matter at the end of the day because all religions preach Peace and love for all. I feel that more Americans need to get to know Muslims so that the gap can close, when CNN aired “Black in America,” I actually was thinking you know it would really be great if they had a docu-series about us Muslims called “Muslims in America.”

    Thank you for giving me the chance to tell my story on being a Muslim in America, we love this nation, this is the reason we choose to live here and do not plan to go or live anywhere else. We too can make America even better when we have a deeper understanding of each other.

    Add your Story Add your Story