Rewan Abdelwahab: The Creature

Rewan discusses her journey from fear, to pride, to activism as a Muslim woman.  Her story illustrates the power of bravery and persistence in the face of fear and terror.  

Temporarily paralyzed, I stared into the creature’s feral eyes and feared for my life. My body trembled as it approached me viciously. Its owner stood and watched, laughing wickedly as my mom and older sister stood with me equally terrified. I tried inching away from the animal, hoping not to provoke it. My mother then cried for help as the animal began pacing back and forth in front of the three of us. We shrieked. The owner turned her back to us as the dog opened its mouth, showing off its sharp white teeth. It continued inching forward menacingly, yet the woman’s words were just as piercing: “Attack the sand ni@@a!”

My mom screamed at the woman, saying she would call the police if the attack was not called off. Only when my mother repeated this threat the third time did the woman call off her dog. Looking at my mother with wide, admiring eyes, I only hoped that my words would someday have as much power as hers.

As a young teen, I walked around my neighborhood in fear and paranoia. Beyond the normal insecurities that every middle schooler feels, I was also bombarded with the constant reminders of how I was uncommon, dangerous, and unwanted. As I matured and built healthy friendships, I slowly realized that the hatred against Arabs and Muslims was also coming from a minority viewpoint. I told myself that all of the hateful words, attacks, and encounters were due to a childlike, ingrained ignorance and misguided fear.

Despite this, I was still afraid of what would happen if I informed and educated others on the reality of Islam. Having experienced all sorts of unprovoked physical and verbal abuse, I feared the consequences of standing up to other people’s viewpoints and stereotypes. I built up my confidence by gaining knowledge and pride in my faith, my skin color, and my ethnicity. By wearing the hijab to school, I passively taught my peers the proper religious attire for a Muslim. Wrapping the cloth around my head served as a visual reminder of my values, my ethics, and my identity.

I was now a young woman. My voice rekindled, I embraced newfound confidence and self acceptance. I stood with pride. I would serve as a symbol of my faith and have people witness for themselves the doctrines of Islam. During my junior year of high school, I was asked to be a speaker at a Boko Haram protest. Although I was initially reluctant, I accepted the invitation to speak on the misrepresentation of Islam in the media and how terrorist groups are unrepresentative of Islam. My hands twitched with anticipation as I stood in front of a crowd of hundreds. Lips quivering, I thought of backing down, but I stayed. I spoke. My voice filled with urgency, passion, and purpose. I cried for justice, delving into the details of my topic.

The crowd leaned forward, as if they feared my words would escape their reach. I heard cries of approval. Then, it was done. There was a moment of silence before the area exploded with applause. The protestors even used my words in a new chant: “Boko Haram is not Islam.” My speech was posted on social media so that it could reach even more people. No longer inching away from fear, I realized the value and purpose of my voice in speaking out on important issues and presenting a perspective that needs to be heard.

I know how even the most menacing of creatures can be contained with our voices. These creatures are merely opportunities that empower us to find solace, strength, and excitement in teaching others and leading by example. As this internalized power and influence grows, the creatures’ influence and power will diminish, allowing our society to find common ground to live peacefully in.