When I sit and think what makes me different than any other woman, there is one particular thing that comes to mind. I’ve read other answers to this question, and it’s always about how we can’t think of ourselves as something without applying it to women in general. “I am resilient…but so is every other woman.” “I am beautiful…but so is every other woman.” “I have been through hard times…but so has every other woman.” “I have conquered…but so has every other woman.” “I have a story…but so does every other woman.”
And I must say that while that kind of sisterhood is admirable, it is also important to remember that it’s okay to praise ourselves without feeling the need to apply it to the general whole. It is okay to acknowledge our own personal struggles and successes without feeling guilty that we didn’t include everyone else. Because, while everyone has a story to share, and even though some of those stories may be similar, the way you tell yours, what you choose to share, how you’ve overcome them, and the words, emphasis, and actions you use to describe it is all YOU and yours alone. Your story, your way. So here’s mine:
“Tears stung my eyes as they filled up and eventually blazed watery trails down my face. I sat in silence staring intently at the TV with shock, confusion, anger, and fear stirring up inside of me. As a seventh-grader at the time, I was not able to fully register the significance of what was going on and what it all meant, but I had felt what every other American had felt on that fateful Tuesday. The image of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers will forever be etched in my mind. America has never been the same since the morning of September 11, 2001, but little did I know that as a young Muslim girl who wore the hijab, my life was going to dramatically change in more ways than one.
Prior to 9/11, I never had a problem finding love, friendship, or acceptance from others. It was my decision to wear the hijab, which signified that I was seen as a woman first and a person second. My religion or way of life was never put into question or criticized. In fact, it was happily welcomed with open arms and eager minds to learn more. Ever since that day, however, it became a much different story. As I sat and shed tears while I watched a tragedy unfold in front of my eyes, the rest of the world started pointed at me and called me “terrorist.”
It was hard for me to deal with this huge transition in my life, especially at such a young age. One minute, I was loved and trusted by all. The next, I became their enemy. But while September 11 has affected me as a Muslim woman, it was also where I have found the most inspiration. In the face of constant criticism, abandonment, and ridicule, I never let my passion to help others less fortunate than me fade away. The snide remarks I’d often get from strangers only intensified my determination to want to better myself and make a difference in the world, no matter how small of a difference it may be. After all, in order to come up with an effective solution, one must fully understand the problem. Nothing is more satisfying to me than to know that I have helped to make a huge difference in someone’s life. I want to continue to be that difference, and I’m dedicated and willing to withstand the toughest times that may come ahead because that one small difference is always worth fighting for.
And at 29 years old, people are JUST starting to get comfortable around me again, even with all the hatred that still exists in the world today. But I continue to inspire through my words and actions. I continue to dream and to write…to become the booming voice for the people who have lost theirs or simply may have never had. I want to continue to inspire them by letting them know that even in the face of adversity, they must stay strong, confident, and keep fighting and standing up for what is right because if they don’t, the only person they are letting down is themselves. That is the lesson I learned since September 11. Many have doubted me, bullied me, and looked the other way, but this has only fueled my desire to stand up and speak out.
I am more than what others think of me, and perhaps more than what I think of myself, as I reach new heights I never thought I could be capable of reaching. The lesson I’ve learned and the wonderful quote I love to live by is, “Always stand up for what you believe in, even if you are standing alone because if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything.”
The journey of finding myself will never be over, but I am proud to say that as a minority woman, my values, dedication, beliefs, words, and actions are anything but minor. The journey will continue to be tough and work in progress, but no one said it was going to be easy because the journeys worth taking never are. I dream dreams, and I’m ready to pay the price to make them come true. Because I know who I am. I know what I want. And I know what I have to do to make a positive impact in this world that so desperately needs all the happiness and positivity it can get.
I am a walking story. A story that has no conclusion, only a “to be continued.” A story that I will not allow other people to write for me. A story that I will no longer apologize for the edits I choose to make to it. I am a strong, beautiful, resilient, and confident Arab American woman who wears the hijab, and I proudly own everything that I represent in my life and everything my life has come to represent. That is what makes me different. So to all the women of the world, be as you’ve always been. Be you. Be confident. Be beautiful. Be true to who you are and what you stand for. Be a walking personification of your dreams and aspirations. And most importantly, be a story worth telling. You never know when someone else can you use it to help them write their own.”
Huda Saleh, 2018
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