By Mehdia Tariq
INDIANA — Why have they hijacked my identity? I look at myself in the mirror, my scarf wrapped around my head, my long coat, jeans and tennis shoes. My name is Mehdia Tariq, I am a Muslim, I am a college student at Indiana University of Pennsylvania, I am a mother, my parents are from Pakistan and I am an American citizen. It’s like I am reading the description of the San Bernardino shooters. I feel ashamed, saddened, cheated and angered. Then when I get past the similarities in outward appearances and background, I realize I could not be more different.
I am the girl who read the Declaration of Independence over and over again because it gave me goose bumps. I am the girl who has the Gettysburg Address up on her wall to inspire her writing. I am the girl who has always been in awe of our forefathers, who has been inspired by the words of Patrick Henry — “Give me liberty or give me death!” — and the words of James Madison — “Resistance to tyranny is service to God.” I am not the shooters or the terrorists shown in the media. They are my tyrants, they are oppressors of my identity and I will resist them.
In the news you hear there were calls of “God is great!” before a shooting or a bombing. I hear calls of “God is great!” before and in the midst of my daily prayers. They use that sacred call in the name of violence. I define it with the moments of peace I have in my conversations with God. The scarf they wear on their heads, accompanied online by hashtags full of hatred, is not the scarf I wear. My scarf is a sign of modesty, self-acceptance and inner peace.
I want you to know who I am. I am a proud Muslim-American who grew up in Texas with parents who taught me to always help others first. I am a member of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, where values of love and humility were instilled in me through my religion.
I know that the identity of Islam and Muslim-Americans have been hijacked by groups like the so-called Islamic State. With the power the media has to distort our perceptions of each other, we are in a great trial to stand as one. I am full of flaws — like sometimes binging on fast food, letting the TV babysit my kids when I am tired or writing my papers at the last minute with the help of energy drinks — but I am not a shooter or a bomber. I am an American who hurts every time her people are hurt.
Mehdia Tariq is a senior at Indiana University of Pennsylvania majoring in journalism and pre-med/biology. She lives in Indiana, Pa., with her three children.
This opinion piece first appeared in the Dec. 9 issue of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.