November has always brought comfort and joy to my heart: the fall breeze, the colorful foliage, and the smell of damp air warning for a long winter to come. It’s always been a month of celebration as well. My husband and I both have November birthdays, and so do my brother and my sister in law, who live close by in Galena. But November 9th, 2016 happened to be the exception to my annual November euphoria. Waking up that morning to the news of the newly elected president felt like a strong punch in the stomach. My fast heart beats were back, except this time it wasn’t due to my overactive thyroid, but to anxiety that had built up during the campaigning years and climaxed on that bitter November morning.
Many people approached me after the “Muslim Ban” Executive Order was signed asking for my opinion on the issue. The Ban itself never threatened me directly. After all, I am an American citizen with no ties to the seven countries involved. However, as a Muslim American and as a human being I knew that the simple tactless stroke of a pen was about to change the lives of many around the world. The ban meant that basic human rights were being violated in the name of safety. The ban meant that freedom of religion, a first Amendment, had to be defended and fought for all over again. The rhetoric was not only threatening Muslims or immigrants, but it was an attack on everything this country stands for. It was a call to disseminate hate in echo chambers. I was so overwhelmed by the hype that I retracted socially, stopped watching the media, and just prayed for serenity and divine protection. The few days following the ban brought some comfort to me. I heard a loud America out there. I knew that the fight was going to be long, but that I was not alone. People stood together, though strangers at times, but united by purpose. Neighbors and friends reached out for ways to help and were there for support. Silent groups had recovered a voice. It did indeed feel like America was becoming great again. Yes, many of us have to step out of our comfort zone. Yes, we’ll have to communicate and disagree at times. But we will come out more resilient and we will help write tomorrow’s history.
I never came to this country as a refugee nor an immigrant. I was born and raised in Morocco, a country that is predominately Muslim. A country where the minority churches and synagogues are called “houses of God,” just like the myriad local mosques. A country where religious tolerance is practiced. I came to Dubuque in 1999 to continue my higher education and explore the “other side” of the Atlantic. As a 19-year-old, I didn’t find Dubuque appealing at all. I never wore a head scarf at the time but somehow people felt the need to speak slower and louder because my looks perhaps suggested that I didn’t speak English, one of the four languages I happen to speak. Some thought I came from the land of camels, but were always surprised to learn I had never seen one outside of a zoo! The big change in weather sure didn’t help my acclimation. Yet despite all my efforts to move to a big Metropolitan area, it seemed like I always ended up staying right here in Dubuque. As years passed, I’ve discovered that behind Dubuque’s rough surface was a live pulse and beautiful genuine people who just needed a chance to get to know the stranger. I started taking a more active role to blend in without losing my eccentricity. Being different suddenly was more charming than scary. I made my best friendships here, married my best friend and made a life here. I found more connections with the natives than I ever thought possible. I didn’t need to stay but I wanted to. Doesn’t everyone start as a stranger at some point in their lifetime? Isn’t it the people we meet along the journey and our experiences that personalize our biography?
Islam, one and the last of the three Abrahamic religions, equips me with a moral code that gives value to the sanctity of life. My mission is to love and coexist with others regardless of their color, gender, or religion. I was born a Moroccan and here I am now a naturalized US citizen. But most importantly I consider myself a citizen of the world. I was born a human first. In a new era of unprecedented political terms, I don’t think there will ever be an “alternative fact” to Love. Love of the creator and His creations. No fine print and no exceptions.