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Laila Alawa has written about the experience of growing up Muslim in America. (Facebook/Laila Alawa)

Muslim life

“I love riding airplanes but it’s not an enjoyable experience for me”

By WITW Staff on November 30, 2015

In a first person piece published on, Laila Alawa has given a raw account of growing up Muslim in America. Alawa, the daughter of a Syrian father and Syrian-Danish mother, migrated to the United States at the age of six. She recalled her mother telling her on the day of the September 11 attacks: “From this day forward you are an ambassador of Islam.”

Twelve years later, in 2013, she founded the Coming of Faith digital media company, to provide a platform for the stories and voices of minority millennial women. While proud of her Muslim identity, it has not been an easy path to tread. Alawa talked about living among people who wore “Kill All Muslims” T-shirts, the stares and intrusive questions her headscarf attracts, and how she usually wears headphones now just to deter people’s direct approaches. “People would tell me, ‘You’re in America, let me free you, I can show you how to be free,'” she said.

As a symbol, the headscarf can be complex, she observed. “To me it represents freedom, the American values of choice, of religious freedom, liberty, of independence, defiance.”

Alawa said flying the night of the Paris attacks was very unnerving. “It hurts, I love riding airplanes but it’s not an enjoyable experience for me because I know I’m perceived as a threat,” she said. “It’s always emotionally draining, sometimes I feel like crying, it feels crappy to be the one everyone’s staring at. I’ve never been on a flight where someone doesn’t look at me weird. I get the extra pat down every time.”

With family still in Syria, there are bigger concerns than her own, however. “In the few phone calls I’ve had, it’s heartbreaking, we no longer say ‘See you soon’ at the end of the conversation.”