By Christina Zolnierowicz
Hassan Abuzeid moved to Massachusetts from Lebanon at the age of 16. He attended high school in Taunton and later continued his education at Northeastern University. Abuzeid excelled in science and recently acquired his Ph.D. His close group of friends would often tease him and call him “Abe the terrorist” and joke about his native Arabic language and accent. None of this seemed to phase him, since he never considered himself to be any different from his Bostonian friends and American colleagues.
Seven years ago, Abuzeid started dating Diana, a young woman who attended Boston University who has asked to not have her full name disclosed. Diana was born into a very conservative Catholic family. Although, for most, this would be the beginning of a happy and fruitful time in one’s life, the struggles that would follow were not that of normal couples.
Diana’s family did not approve of the relationship. After countless fights with Diana’s mother, the couple decided to keep the relationship to themselves. Abuzeid and Diana never told their families that they had moved in together. They never sent pictures of themselves as a couple to each others’ families or talked about their personal lives at all. Abuzeid would have to collect all his belongings and hide them whenever her family would come to visit. When Abuzeid’s family would visit from Lebanon, Diana would do the same.
Abuzeid recalled the time when he could not attend his girlfriend’s graduation because her parents would be present. He shows off a picture of him and Diana on his phone. “I wanted to marry her, but it would never work, her family does not approve that I am Muslim,” he said.
The couple continued with their relationship even from across the country when Diana continued her schooling on the West Coast. They constantly lived in the shadows, shielding the relationship from those closest to them, their families. “I never thought that these things still happen, that I am the black sheep to her family,” Abuzeid said.
However, it is not only Diana’s family that disapproves. Abuzeid comes from a large Lebanese family with many brothers and sisters, all of whom have married Lebanese men and women. All of his brother’s wives wear the hijab and are stay-at-home mothers. Abuzeid said his mother wishes the same for him. Upon meeting Diana, his mother did not approve because of her pale complexion, Catholic upbringing, and insatiable independence. Diana would never agree to be a housewife. It is because of this that Abuzeid and Diana now struggle to maintain relationships with their families as well as with each other.
“If we leave our families behind for each other, then we have no on but each other, we would be each other’s families, we are not ready to give that up.” Abuzeid continued, “Both of our families are stuck in the past, but it looks like the past never went away because I am still considered a terrorist since I am Muslim, and our relationship has been hard ever since.”
Abuzeid and Diana continue their long-distance relationship despite their modern-day Montague and Capulet love story.
Isra Hussain is a junior at Boston College. She is currently the head of the Muslim Students Association on campus. It is a rather important feat for her especially since Boston College is predominantly a Catholic institution. Hussain was born in Rhode Island, and although she follows Islam, she does not wear the hijab on a regular basis.
She says that “not wearing a hijab plays a really large role and that many people do not even realize that I am Muslim even though I have darker skin.” She also explained that as she became older, she began to realize just how much anti-Muslim sentiments exist in the community. “The general idea of knowing that a large percentage of the U.S. population hates Islam, and doesn’t want Muslims entering the country, has honestly taken a toll on me,” Hussain said.
Due to the recent political climate and devastating terrorist attacks, Hussain initiated an Islam Awareness Week on campus. She said the association has upped its awareness and events this year because of the world’s tensions towards Islam. During this week, the Muslim Students Association used this opportunity to educate everyone on campus about Islam. In addition, the association invited other religious-based groups on campus to participate in an interfaith dialogue. Her friends consist of many religions and backgrounds and Hussain says that she has never faced much anti-Muslim sentiments until recently. Hussain was pleased with how the week’s events were turning out until the very last day.
On the last day of the Muslim Students Awareness week, Hussain posted pictures on the groups Facebook page of students taking pictures of themselves in the “hijab booth,” a photo booth where all students on campus were free to take pictures of themselves wearing a hijab.
An internet troll had posted racially charged comments and then shared pictures of the students in their hijab on his own wall. He commented, writing “Boston College is a highly regarded Catholic university. Why would they let an extremist group of Muslims hold this event?”
Hussain said his comments were “completely uncalled for and we felt targeted. It really hurt because after a week of getting back really great feedback about our campaign, we were reminded that Islamophobia really does exist.”
When asked what she hopes for the future, Hussain said, “I just want to continue being an advocate. I want to educate people and give them a greater understanding about Muslims, I think that will be the key to acceptance.”
Jibran Malek, grew up in Maine, then moved to Boston to study politics at Suffolk University. He now does marketing for start-ups as well as their social media.
Culturally, Malek is a Muslim but he does not consider his religion to be Islam. He said it’s “interesting being a Muslim in a world with weird expectations of what Islam is. I have had to deal with a lot of micro-aggression.” Malek said he has found himself in countless situations where he has felt “otherness,” simply because a lot of people have biases towards those who are Muslim.
After the terrorist attacks in Brussels in March, social media generated #STOPISLAM. Malek said that because his job is largely centered on having a voice on social media and being a part of many different social media platforms, he became “greatly uncomfortable.” He found himself having to explain to people that he was a “moderate Muslim.” Malek found the hashtag disturbing. He suddenly found himself feeling like a minority.
Malek says that people began interacting with him differently on social media. “Privately, people would tell me that I had to be careful about voicing my opinions on Islam on social media,” he said. Malek added that “my comments on the #STOPISLAM made people very uncomfortable, but how uncomfortable did Muslims feel about it? Very.” Malek continues to post and market for MassChallenge despite warnings of being overly expressive with his support of Islam.