9 Of The Most Powerful Quotes From Muslims In 2016

It's been a difficult year, but Muslim communities have risen to the challenge.

Ask anyone their thoughts on 2016 and chances are they will say things could have been better. Syria continues to descend into chaos; the refugee crisis persists unabated; heightened anti-immigration and anti-Muslim sentiment gave way to Brexit and a contentious U.S. election.

It's an irrefutable fact that Islamophobia has gained validation and legitimacy this past year. President-elect Donald Trump called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States, a country that enshrines freedom of religious expression in its Constitution and purports to welcome "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free." Reports of anti-Muslim hate crimes spiked after the presidential election, as they did post-Brexit. In France, a more subtle form of anti-Muslim sentiment prompted a wave of burkini bans in coastal towns under the guise of women's rights advocacy. 

But 2016 was also the year that Muslims unequivocally fought back against the onslaught of attacks on their identity. Faced with widespread ignorance and oppression, Muslim communities around the world stood up and spoke out in defense of their rights.

This is what perseverance looks like in the face of intolerance.

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1. "There is a strange feeling that you must almost prove yourself worthy of feeling sad and scared like everyone else." — Aziz Ansari

Comedian and actor Ansari, known for his roles in Parks and Recreation and Master of None, penned an op-ed in the New York Times criticizing Trump's "vitriolic and hate-filled rhetoric." Though not religious himself, Ansari is brown, the child of practicing Muslim immigrants. 

Addressing how Muslims faced increased distrust following the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, despite being in mourning alongside the rest of the country, Ansari wrote, "There is a strange feeling that you must almost prove yourself worthy of feeling sad and scared like everyone else."

2. "We mourn with you, we celebrate with you, and we want to do our part to build bridges and acceptance." — Heera Hashmi

After a classmate asked her why Muslims didn't condemn violent acts done in the name of their religion, Hashmi decided that she'd heard enough of such questions. She decided that the best way to respond to that is with documented proof, so she went home and created a spreadsheet detailing all the times Muslim figures spoke up against extremist attacks.  

Hashmi told A Plus, "When people ask, why don't Muslims condemn things, it paints a faith of 1.6 billion people with the same brush. Any sane human condemns violence and such awful attacks... Muslim and Islamic organizations are often the first to release press statements following attacks, and [we] encourage our communities to donate and volunteer our time to help."

3. "We are the first and biggest victims of ISIS, always." — Iyad El-Baghdadi

In June, Istanbul's Ataturk airport became the target of a shooting and suicide bomb attack. Officials said there was evidence that ISIS was behind the terrorist act, though the group was not quick to claim credit. Outspoken author and activist El-Baghdadi pointed out shortly after the attack that Muslims are ISIS' biggest targets, and that holding up the group as representative of the values of Islam legitimizes their actions. 

"ISIS kills Muslims. It crushes Muslim lives. It wants to dominate Muslims," El-Baghdadi tweeted. "You give extremists an automatic and big win when you accept their claim that they represent tradition and that the tradition equals Islam."

4. "These rights of women are not given to them in the form of charity. It is their right." — Ziauddin Yousafzai

Ziauddin Yousafzai is the father of renowned teenage activist Malala. In an interview this year, he spoke about the importance of raising her brothers as feminists

"As a man, I sometimes feel ashamed when I see man's history filled with oppression of women," he told Newsweek Middle East editor Arfa Shahid. "And this is a sickness, when men fail to believe in a woman's ability."

5. "My beliefs, my religion, my faith — they're a part of who I am and I've never felt the need to explain it to anyone." — Ibtihaj Muhammad

Team USA was a spectrum of color at the Rio Olympics this year, with an exceptionally skilled and diverse group of athletes. Among them was Muhammad, a fencer, who became America's first-ever hijabi athlete at the games. In an interview for MINI USA, Muhammad talked about her struggles as a black Muslim woman, and how she's always been unapologetic about who she is. 

6. "This isn't just about me." — London mayor Sadiq Khan

After Khan's triumphant election victory, Trump backpedaled on his Muslim ban, suggesting that he would make an exception for London's new mayor. Khan, who had been critical of Trump before, firmly rejected his conciliatory remarks.

"This isn't just about me," he said. "It's about my friends, my family, and everyone who comes from a background similar to mine, anywhere in the world."

7. "We can't solve our problems by building walls and sowing division. We are stronger together." — Khizr Khan

The most powerful moment in the tumultuous presidential election came during the Democratic National Convention, when Khan, the father of fallen war hero Capt. Humayun Khan, took the stage with his wife to talk about their support for Hillary Clinton.

"Hillary Clinton was right when she called my son 'the best of America,'" Khan said, his voice wavering. "Donald Trump, you're asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you: have you even read the United States Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy," he thundered, whipping out his pocket-sized Constitution in an unforgettable challenge to the then-GOP nominee Trump.

Khan's extraordinary speech spread across the internet like wildfire.

8. "At times like this, it was hard to swallow that I felt like some of my own people hated me." — NPR reporter Asma Khalid

Covering this election, with all its theatrics, proved challenging for many journalists. But much more so for an identifiable Muslim woman with a headscarf like Khalid. At NPR, Khalid covered the intersection of demographics and politics, so her job was to go out there and speak to voters — even those who, at one glance, developed assumptions about her. 

She had grown up in a predominantly white and conservative Indiana town, and largely felt like "part of the club" growing up, selling Girl Scout cookies and playing basketball. In an insightful piece about her experience as a Muslim journalist on the campaign trail, Khalid recalled an incident in Ohio while shadowing a canvasser who was talking to a woman about issues she was concerned with. The woman's mom, Khalid wrote, approached them from inside the house, demanding that Khalid, a Muslim, get off her property. 

"At times like this, it was hard to swallow that I felt like some of my own people hated me," she wrote in her piece. "And they are my people. I know them, even if they don't know it. I was born in the Midwest, grew up in the Midwest, went to college in the Midwest. This neighborhood where we were door-knocking even looked like the neighborhood where I had lived as a kid."

9. "All we — men and women — want is freedom to choose what we wear." — activist Masih Alinejad

As an Iranian woman, Alinejad is one of the many women who oppose the rule requiring women to wear hijabs in public. As part of her protest, Alinejad created the page My Stealthy Freedom, encouraging other Iranian women to post photos of themselves without the headscarf. This past summer, she invited Iranian men to wear hijabs themselves as a show of support and to better understand what the women in Iran go through. 

"I wanted the men to experience wearing compulsory hijab in the suffocating heat of Iran's summer. I wanted to poke fun at the dress codes for women but get the men to join the women to challenge these repressive laws," she told A Plus. "In Iran's cultural wars, Iranian people crave greater social freedoms. This is our way of fighting back. And the most obvious way is to challenge the enforcement of headscarves and other coverings for women. All we — men and women — want is freedom to choose what we wear."

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