tasneem raja

Editor’s note: In the wake of terrorist attacks around the world, many Muslims feel called upon to publicly defend their faith, a faith many say is not accurately reflected in the stated or assumed motivations behind such attacks. Writer Beenish Ahmed has struggled with this responsibility all her life and shared her thoughts in this essay published by Code Switch as news was unfolding of the attacks in Brussels.

“Last week,” says Ahmed, “I messaged my cousins to make sure they were OK after a car-bombing in Peshawar. This week, I woke to news about a bombing in Brussels where my brother lives and immediately, frantically, contacted him.” Her brother was unharmed, but Ahmed’s essay has gained new poignancy as the conversation about the burdens of representation for Muslims around the globe continues. — Tasneem Raja, senior digital editor, NPR’s Code Switch


I remember attending Sunday school class one morning at my hometown mosque, sitting at a tiny school desk in a little yellow chair. The teacher said we were ambassadors for Islam, and to behave in a way that made others look favorably upon our faith and upon Muslims everywhere. But I was just 10 years old, 12 at the most. How could I be an ambassador for anything? I shifted in the hard plastic seat that I would soon outgrow.

It’s decades later, and the top Republican contender for president has declared, “Islam hates us.” Those of “us” who are Americans and also Muslim feel trapped. Even so, we can’t help but wonder what we can say or do to make the madness stop. The message is clear: Islam doesn’t belong in America, though one out 100 people living in the U.S. is Muslim, according to the Pew Research Center.

If some version of Trump’s plans to block on Muslims entering the U.S. were to somehow gain ground, or his willingness to consider placing us in internment camps were to prove contagious, where would we go?

Learning — And Unlearning — To Be An ‘Ambassador’ For Islam

Illustration caption: Writer Beenish Ahmed reflects on being a “mostly unwanted ambassador” for the only home she’s ever known.                                            

Illustration credit: Angie Wang for NPR