Sabrina Salam

Sabrina Salam

My Spanish teacher is at the front of the classroom when I hear a boy with dark skin being taunted, “How was your trip to Paris? Blow up anything?” My hands quiver, realizing that the comment is alluding to the bombing at Paris. Paris was left devastated by a vicious terrorist attack carried out in the name of my religion, Islam. The media was set ablaze and the fire of fury reached my classmates.

I come to understand these encounters are common in my school, but no one reports this bullying to teachers. “Stay silent. It’s safer,” my parents caution me referring to their experience dealing with these situations. But I can’t stay silent. To settle the fire within me, I use writing as a medium for my passion in educating others about Islamophobia in my community.

I submit my script, “Flawed Perfection”, for the Capital Repertory Theatre’s Young Playwrights Contest. Within months after my play is accepted to be produced, I find myself in a meeting room being advised by Christina Gorman, a renowned playwright, on how to make my words more believable. My script is then passed to the actors, who had been casted by Margaret Hall, the director of the theatre.

Sitting in on rehearsals, I feel the enormity of my words as they color the stage. I see the actors running my lines and want to give direction. I interrupt shyly, “Actually, Margaret, I want her to enter stage left.” After a few more read throughs, I feel more confident taking charge. The day of the show finally arrives. Friends, family, and strangers surround me. My heart races as the curtain opens and I see my lead actor in a pink hijab. The story follows two young Muslim girls who are trapped in their high school cafeteria by a boy with a gun. The boy has convinced himself these Muslim girls are a threat to him because of the violence he has seen on TV. The girls try to reason with him that they are just regular teenagers and that Islam is not a religion of violence. My hands are shaking as my actor says her last line, “As Salamu Alaykum. May peace be with you.”

My friends, teachers, and family are gathered outside the theater. I hear people interpreting the title of my play, Flawed Perfection, in different ways. The characters in my play are flawed, but by working with their flaws peacefully they head towards perfection.

The night after the show, I sit with my mom cleaning the vegetables from our garden. She turns to me and says, “You did a wonderful thing. You did us proud. You did this community proud. But don’t do it again.” I realize now what a scary time the aftermath of the Paris attack was, but staying silent will only fuel the fire of hate. The risk is equal to the reward because I have started the conversation in my community that we children will face Islamophobia. There is no shield, no barrier, no amount of hiding that can shelter us from this reality.

These circumstances have become too close for me to simply ignore. Rather than staying silent, I am taking action. I am trying to normalize the image of the Muslim American experience through writing and advocacy. At speech and debate competitions, I weave in faith and unity in my speeches. I create events at my high school where I teach my peers and others about Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting. Since writing my play, I continue to write books about these issues and print them through CreateSpace and share them with my community. I seek to gain more knowledge and strengthen my convictions to bring forth significant change. I want to share the fire within me – the fire that illuminates knowledge, replacing the fog of ignorance.