Being Muslim At Canyon

Siraj Bajwa, Writer

Being Muslim at Canyon is getting glaring stares while praying in the library, fasting from dawn to dusk during AP exam season (bringing on the migraines), and being linked to terrorism for no valid reason. It’s also finding peace in the bustling school environment, sharing a box of pizza while playing “Two Truths and a Lie” at the Muslim Student Association (MSA) club general meeting, and saying “Peace Be Upon You” to friends you pass in the hallways. Of course, this duality of experience is what I personally feel, and I don’t represent all American Muslims at Canyon. It’s crucial to acknowledge that Muslims at Canyon have a plethora of different experiences while also sharing many. In sharing the perspectives of multiple Muslim students at Canyon and my own, I intend to shed light on issues, experiences, and feelings of Muslim students at our school.

Simply being Muslim at Canyon is one thing, but being unapologetically Muslim is very much different. I can walk around campus minding my business just like anyone else, but do I have a guaranteed place to pray one of my five daily prayers? Do teachers accommodate me when I need to make-up a test because the Islamic holiday of Eid happens to fall on test day? Am I confident in telling people here that I’m Muslim without feeling their judgement? Six Muslim students at Canyon gave me their responses, with four saying that they feel they can be totally, unapologetically Muslim at Canyon, while two said they do not. Hana Abusair, an 11th Grade student who identifies as Palestinian, answered, “Praying at Canyon is a little bit more of a struggle, hence why we are working for a prayer room. I also feel that I tend to worry about my school when I miss school for Eid.” Haddy Bilal, 12th Grade Syrian-American, affirmed the struggles Hana and I experience with not being able to wholeheartedly celebrate our holiday, as “when Eid is during finals and AP testing time it is hard to take the day off.” This year, I have had to give up possible college credit in the form of my AP Government exam, as the test happened to be held on Eid, and the makeup exam is during a weekly Friday prayer I attend. In turn, Dalia Halwani, 12th Grade Palestinian American, said, “I feel like the school is really understanding towards other cultures and religions”, adding that the only Islamaphobia she has experienced has been “micro aggressions of people saying all Muslims are terrorists”, which does not affect her much. An anonymous 11th Grade student shared, “All of my peers/ teachers have understood when I explained it is due to religious reasons (that) I miss school or can’t do PE (due to fasting).”

While we’ve had negative experiences at Canyon, we’ll also definitely have wonderful ones that make us optimistic about our school’s progress. Ever since I was a freshman, Ms. Fisher has warmly provided me with a space to pray in the library. In sophomore year, Ms. Evans, as the previous advisor of the MSA club, opened her classroom to me and my friends to have a short sermon and prayer on Fridays. Ms. Amaya is the current MSA club advisor and even though her room is always filled with her students working, our club can regularly have meetings. “I believe being able to open an MSA is already a very welcoming step. The Principal has also been very helpful and supportive in aiding (the) MSA”, said Hana Abusair. Mr. Abercrombie has definitely been a much-appreciated aid to the club’s quest for a temporary and permanent prayer room on campus. I am immensely grateful to all of these staff members for making me and other Muslim students feel safe and accepted at school.

Canyon is where we spend so much of our day, inevitably making it a second home of sorts. Everyone wants their home to be a safer, more comfortable place, and I definitely believe Canyon can be better. One key way is for students and staff to educate themselves, as one of the respondents mentioned that a student they talked to didn’t know what Islam was. I’ve been told by a friend that Pakistan, the country my parents hail from, is where terrorists are from. Then there’s Simrah, a hijabi Freshman, who gets weird stares for how she chooses to dress. “I choose to wear hijab and dress modestly just like how you choose to wear the clothes you love… If you stare at me while walking past me, at least smile. Wave or smile at me if you know me from your class, it makes me feel more comfortable and welcomed.” Hana Abusair adds, “Creating a wellness or prayer room that does not need to be opened or limited to Fridays would be very helpful.” An anonymous respondent proposes, “Make Eid a day off at school”, and even though that may not be within the school’s control, it would be truly amazing if Muslim students were not made to feel guilty for practicing their faith. Haddy Bilal thought it would be interesting for ASB to acknowledge the holy month of Ramadan through some sort of event. So, please, open your hearts. No one appreciates being connected in any way to terrorism. No one wants to struggle to find a secure location to pray. No one wants to be asked “Not even water?” (okay actually, I do find this hilarious occasionally). Peace and total acceptance for all at Canyon is the goal, so let’s work together to make this school the best and most welcoming campus it can possibly be.