In the wake of the weekend bombings in New York and New Jersey, Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton says anti-Muslim rhetoric by her Republican rival Donald Trump is being used by extremists in their recruiting. Sept. 19, 2016. (C-SPAN)
I shrugged my textbook-laden backpack into the back seat of my mom's beat-up Toyota Avalon and opened the front passenger door. It was early December. I had just gotten out of a school Senate meeting, and I was already anticipating my mother's questions: How was it? Are you still doing the Chick-fil-A fundraiser? Do you have another meeting tomorrow?
Instead, the second I stepped foot in the car, my mom looked at me, eyes crinkled in concern, and asked immediately in Urdu, "Are you OK? Did anyone say anything?"
"There was a Muslim shooter in California," she said.
Immediately, I understood. "No one said anything." I sat down and buckled my seat belt. "I'm fine, promise."
I hadn't been lying. I have a close-knit circle in high school and had been taking classes with the same people for three years: They knew me; I knew them. No one criticized my religion or my beliefs — at least not in front of me.
Yet I still understood my mom's concern. As Muslims, we both carry the same fear that one day, we might run into someone who isn't as kind. One day, we might face the same fate as the other Muslims in this country, like the three people — a husband, wife and her sister — fatally shot in Chapel Hill, N.C., last year, or the two Muslim women and their young children assaulted in New York City last month by a woman screaming anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Recent statistics only confirm our fears. According to a study recently released by Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian understanding, anti-Islamic hate crimes have increased dramatically, with nearly 200 of them occurring last year — a dozen of them resulting in death.
California State University echoed these findings in another study, finding that hate crimes against Muslims have increased by 78 percent in the United States in the last year alone.
And although the FBI won't release their official statistics on hate crimes until November, there is little doubt that their findings will be similar to those of Georgetown and California State University.
In times like these, Muslim Americans need politicians to speak up. To be a voice for us. To protect us.
At last week's debate, I was not surprised that presidential candidate Donald Trump did not do this; he is, after all, the man who called for a ban on Muslims and the shut-down of mosques in the United States. Rather, it was the Democratic presidential candidate who disappointed me.
Although, arguably, Hillary Clinton is more of a champion of Muslim Americans than Donald Trump, she did not offer any overly friendly sentiments in the most recent presidential debate. Other than stating the need to "cooperate" with the Muslim American community, she did not attack Donald Trump's proposed ban on Muslims or his calls for surveilling mosques.
In fact, neither candidate even mentioned the recent rise in hate crimes against Muslims. Neither candidate said that Islam was a religion of peace or echoed sentiments about the unity of the country.
Some will shrug this off. They'll say there wasn't enough time — even though the debate was 90 minutes long — or that it's a minor, nitpicky detail that neither candidates mentioned the rising hate crime waves.
For that, I can only say this: Donald Trump's anti-Islamic remarks and rhetoric appear to coincide with the continued rise in anti-Islamic hate crimes. Therefore, if politicians like Hillary Clinton actively fight back against anti-Islamic bigotry, if they focus on Muslim American voices, and reiterate that Islam is not America's enemy, the levels of hate can, and most likely will, fall. The storm brewing on the horizon can fade.
So, I beseech presidential candidate Hillary Clinton as well as legislators and political pundits across the country to mention Muslim Americans often going forward. To remind the country that Muslim Americans are still Americans first and foremost. That Islam is a religion of peace, and that in the United States, freedom of religion is a constitutionally mandated right.
Will this stop all of the hate? No, perhaps not.
But at the very least, it will lessen my mother's worry about my safety in the school.