If you’re reading this article, chances are you’re probably friends with a Muslim — one you probably don’t talk about religion with often, and if you do, it’s with polite curiosity while they butcher (pun intended) the concept of Eid-al-Adha.

You trust each other. You’ve gone to coffee shops and parks, and cried together over that test you both flunked. But there are still many things you don’t understand about them, and they about you. And that’s okay.

You don’t have to know everything about a person to respect them and their identity. You don’t have to attend halaqas to understand why your friends disappear come lunchtime on Friday but, at the same time, Fatima doesn’t need to hear for the umpteenth time why she looks so much better without her hijab. Different lives make for different perspectives — perspectives that can and should coexist with each other. You have your way, and I have my way.

Many Muslim youth often find themselves bridging the gap between the oft-stigmatized East and the oft-villainized West, unintentionally acting as delegates between their two communities. Their joint Muslim and North American identities can, sometimes, feel like a paradox.

Muslims exist all around the world. One way or another, people have heard of Islam — be it in a positive or negative context. In the melting pot of the Western world, we’ve seen and will see clashes in ideologies — it’s expected when different people inhabit the same place. But a difference in religion and practice is never something to incite violence over, and as a minority group in a non-Muslim majority population, all Muslims will feel the heat of Islamophobia in some capacity over the course of their lifetimes, be it politically motivated or out of ignorance.

This isn’t unique to Muslims — every day, minorities can feel the sting of stigmatization seeping into their daily lives, with barely any control on how their demographics are presented. It’s disheartening to Google your religion and find waves of tragedy in the top ten hits alone. France’s rising Islamophobia. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The Yemeni famine. It feels like Islamophobes love namedropping anything and everything wrong with the Muslim world, in order to prove we’re both violent and helpless — something any of us can definitively say we’re not.

There are multitudes of differences between us, but just by offering a hand in friendship you’ve recognized that Muslims are just normal humans. You’ve seen the floral-patterned scarf and the coming-of-age novella at the same time. You’ve seen the prayer mat and the algebra binder in the same backpack. And after some time, the word ‘Muslim’ will stop feeling so foreign, and fall into place beside ‘shy’ or ‘funny’ or ‘studious’. If you want to support your Muslim friends, then simple: just listen. Listen to our side of the story, our frustrations, and see that we are not the stereotypes and the assumptions — we just need someone to hear us out. And if you do, know that we thank you, for sticking by our sides and our identities.

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