Middle East Collective asked me about my experience as a Muslim-American living in the Southern United States. First off, I would like to say that there is no better place to grow up than the South. The amazing food, the friendly communities, the rich culture, the weather, the beautiful mountains, lakes and, of course, the music are all subtle reminders of how truly amazing it is to be Southern.
Yes, that’s right, I consider myself to be Southern, even though I was born in a country that many people in the South will most likely never visit (Pakistan) and with a last name that many Southerners will not be able to pronounce (Rahman).
I am a Southern Muslim-American and proud.
I was in elementary school when my family first moved to the South in 2000 from Boston, Massachusetts because my father was offered a position at Vanderbilt University as an ophthalmologist and associate professor. I had no idea what was in store for me, but I was promised that there were pools and tennis courts in our future neighborhood. I was very sad to leave my friends and a city that I loved, but I quickly grew excited for a new beginning.
My family moved to Franklin, which is a suburb of Nashville, Tennessee, so that my brother and I could have access to the best education. At first, I was surprised by how many farms there were and the scarcity of development compared to cities I had lived in before.
As a Muslim-American I was also astounded by the lack of diversity, but I grew to love Franklin very quickly. The neighborhood we chose was straight out of a catalog: identical houses, white picket fences, pools, tennis courts, friendly neighbors, and well-landscaped lawns filled with smiling children and their spoiled dogs.
Soon after settling in, the school year began. I still remember the first day of fifth grade. I was the “new girl.” I was introduced to the whole class and told them I was from Boston. It seemed that most of my classmates had never heard of the city, other than in history books or museums.
I learned that they believed all “Yankees” from the North were the same: rude, arrogant, and loud. I did not fit the stereotype.
I also noticed that I was the only Muslim-American and non-Hispanic “brown” girl in my whole class, which was slightly shocking as I came from cities like Boston and Detroit. The years moved along, I made friends and other new kids came and went, then before I knew it, I was in middle school.
Middle school had its normal ups and downs for my friends and I, but I finally felt like I fit in; Franklin, Tennessee felt like home. Then one day everything changed unexpectedly: September 11, 2001. I still remember the tragedy clearly. I was in my homeroom class and when my teachers turned on the news it showed horrible images of a terrorist attack on the World Trade Centers in New York City.
Two planes had hit the 110-story towers and they had collapsed. Another plane crashed into the Pentagon and a fourth barely missed the White House. I was in disbelief and it felt that a world so safe and peaceful had suddenly become a war zone. The administration at my school decided that it was inappropriate for us to continue to watch the news, so we continued with our day, but no one could focus on anything other than the image of the planes crashing into the towers.
Then the rumors started: the attackers were from Pakistan (MY COUNTRY).
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing and I still remember having an argument with one of my friends about the rumors that were spreading like wildfire. I said, “There’ s no way it was Pakistani terrorists. It can’t be.” Heartbroken, I went home crying on the bus that day, like most Americans across the country. It was difficult to believe how some people could be so cruel and void of compassion to take 2,996 lives, including their own.