Marwa Balkar is a 22-year-old Muslim college student from Corona, California, who made headlines last month for her Facebook post responding to Donald Trump’s call for Muslims to carry special IDs. Her post went viral within hours and has been subsequently shared over 170,000 times on Facebook.
“When I initially heard of Trump’s comments on mosques, my first instinct was to protect my religion,” Balkar wrote in a post on ATTN. “I wrote a Facebook post simply telling my story. I am your average American girl. My religious beliefs do not make me any better than you, nor do they lessen who I am. I wore a peace sign on my shirt because that’s what my true religion represents. Choosing the peace sign was an easy choice because it’s universal and already defined.”
Along with the rise of ISIS and the terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, there has been an increase of Islamophobia across the nation — something that Balkar is no stranger to. She told NextShark:
“I remember dealing with Islamophobia as early as third grade. I remember waiting at the bus stop in the morning hearing all the parents speaking terribly about Islam and just being confused.”
Balkar recounted the breakdown she suffered at work when news of the attacks in Paris first broke:
“On the day of the Paris attacks, I had a meltdown at work. I sat in my manager’s office and bawled. I couldn’t even tell him what was wrong because I couldn’t take a long enough break from crying to communicate it to him.
“It’s heartbreak and fear. It’s 9/11 all over again. It’s thinking to yourself, ‘What is the backlash going to be like? The only thing I can focus on right now is whether or not my family at home is safe. I’m scared.’
“But then it turns into: ‘Is there anything I can do to soften the backlash I’m about to get for something that I didn’t do, that my family didn’t do, that your local Muslim community didn’t do?’
“Since the Paris attacks, I’ve started experiencing discrimination in my workplace. I have family members who wear the hijab who are constantly experiencing it just being out and about.”
Balkar broke down some of the misconceptions about Islam:
“Islam is one of three Abrahamic religions. We believe that there is one God, and Muhammad is his messenger. People think God is actually called ‘Allah.’ Allah is just the Arabic word for ‘God.’
“The biggest misconception of my religion is that it breeds violent people. That couldn’t be farther from the truth. The Muslims I know with very strong faith are the most softhearted humans I know.”
While ISIS claims to practice Islam, Balkar emphasizes that comparing her religion to ISIS is like “comparing apples and oranges.”
“As a moderate Muslim, there’s absolutely nothing ISIS does that I could look and think, well, they’re just following the religion. ISIS has slaughtered thousands upon thousands of Muslims upon their origination. They are nothing but an insane, extreme, uneducated body of evil people.”
She also explains that it’s not fair to ostracize the Muslim community as a whole because of ISIS:
“It’s so easy for words to be misconstrued. By shouting ‘radical Islam’ and ‘Muslim extremists,’ there is no clarification on who exactly is being talked about. Due to ignorance, this clarification NEEDS to be made because there are a lot of Americans who have never even been exposed to a moderate Muslim. All they see is their television sets. If no one makes it clear who needs to be attacked, it becomes a dangerous environment for a normal Muslim like me.”
One of the things you might notice in Balkar’s photos is that she doesn’t wear a Hijab. When asked why, she said:
“Hijab is definitely in my heart and an aspiration of mine. That aspiration also comes with a life long commitment. It’s a commitment that holds a lot of responsibility to it’s image. I’m just not quite there yet to fully represent what it means to be a hijabi. Strength and courage go to the women that do. That takes real bravery.”
For non-Muslims to be better educated on what Islam is really about, Balkar says they should go through online outlets and even visit their local mosque to get the clarification they need.
Balkar is currently majoring in communications and minoring in TV/Film as a student in the Riverside Community College District.
“I picked that major because I wanted to major in something that would benefit me and my character. Communication strengthens relationships and builds bridges between different kinds of people. I saw skills I wanted to learn.”