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A Marine's Experience With Muslim-Phobia

Updated on September 3, 2014

I have a Muslim friend whom I met in college. Her name is Sara, and she is a devout Muslim and wears a hijab and a very loose black dress. For a run down on how a Muslim woman dresses, the hijab is just a scarf a woman wears to cover her hair. The niqab covers the woman's face, and everything except the eyes is covered (most of these women almost always wear all-black clothes), and lastly, the burka. A burka covers the entire body, and the only way to see is through a mesh netting.

First off, yes, it is hard to have a Muslim friend after I have gone to war in Iraq. It's not politically correct to say this, but it's the truth. I still do associate Muslim garb with the deaths of my best friends, who were my close Marine brothers.

Sara, my friend, is a very nice, kind-hearted girl, who is also super-smart. We were put together by a Sociology class we were both taking, and had to do a final project together. This meant Sara, and I would be working very long hours closely together over a period of weeks. At first, I considered going to my college professor to tell him how I felt about being partnered with a Muslim. I thought to myself, 'What kind of person would that make me if I would ask such a thing?".

When Sara and I first met out of the class, we met at our local Chilis. Since I knew that Muslims don't drink, I showed up twenty-minutes early so I could order a drink in order to quiet my nerves, but it didn't work; a bottle of Jim Bean wouldn't have accomplished the mission.

When Sara sat down she was wearing this beautiful silk pink hijab, which had a thick brown headband to protect her bangs from being seen. Sara had on a pair of stylish brown jeans, and a pink long-sleeved shirt that matched her hijab, She looked super fashionable, and that just made even more nervous. I just spat it out. "I'm sorry if I seem awkward, I'm a US Marine. I've been to Iraq in a combat capacity, and all that entails (you can read between the lines. I use this sentence when I just don't want to state the blaring obvious)." She looked at me like I was crazy and told me that her family was originally from Canada and that they have lived there for four or five generations. Her lineage was comprised of Irish, Native American, and German. I thought "Okay Alli, you're a moron. Way to start the project."

Sara and I did the project and got an A+ for it. We became close friends afterwards, even though the first meeting was super awkward at best; we both laugh about it now. If we meet-up to go out to eat, and I happen to show-up early she will joke and say something like "Goodness grief, are you still nervous around me?". Then we both laugh.

Sara has invited me to go her house and meet with some of her relatives. I will go eventually, but honestly, I'm not there yet. I can't get past thinking I killed one of Sara's long lost cousins. I guess maybe that is a Vietnam veteran feels when comeback home to the States, then have to talk, work, or be friends with a Vietnamese person. I wish I knew how they did it. What if they ask me if I killed anyone in Iraq? Do I lie, tell the truth, or be vague and try to change the subject? Will they be offended by my uncovered hair? What if they start praying on their prayer mat? What if they want stories about my time in the desert? There are a lot of "what ifs."

I do want to get rid of any Muslim bigotry I may still harbor in my heart. There are a lot of good, kind-hearted, peaceful Muslims all over-the-world, even in Iraq and in America. I think a lot of this bigotry is due to how we were trained in the Marine Corps to think about Muslims as if they themselves were the enemy, our version of "Charlie". One reason I was likely trained this way is because I left for Marine Corps boot camp on September 11, 2002; the one-year anniversary of 9/11. At that time, America had not invaded Iraq or Afghanistan yet, and we were told that the war would last no longer than a year, but we would have heavy causalities. We were expecting nearly a one-third casualty rate; much higher than the one-out-of-9 my unit experienced.

When I was in Iraq, I saw people wearing Muslim attire killing my best friends. My battle partner had died right beside me before I was medically evacuated from the scene after an improvised explosive device (IED) blew-up our truck. I was the driver, and I should have been the one killed, but it was my partner who had all the crush injuries. Remember, we were told the war would only last a matter of months, so we only had armored plating only on the driver's side of the vehicle. It wasn't until the third year over there that we received the passenger's side plating, but, by then it was too late for my partner. Even these many years later, I ache inside when I think of him. I wear a black bracelet, like the Lance Armstrong one on my wrist that says "REMEMBER." I wear it so I can remember the happy times when we joked and pulled pranks on each other, and not the day he died, and I was nearly mortally wounded.

I have to remember that Sara didn't kill my friends, and I didn't kill anyone in her family. One day, hopefully soon, I can finally rid myself of the hurt, anger, guilt, anxiety, and fear, which I still feel today. Even though I am getting better, I am a work in progress. I realize that my problem isn't because of Muslims, it's because of me. I know that the reason I am having a hard-time forgiving those Muslims because I am having a hard-time forgiving myself.

Thank you for reading my article. I have only been able to write about my time in Iraq for about 6-months ago, and now it's like a dam just broke. Writing is very cathartic; it's my personal therapy session.

Don't forget, please support the troops.

If Your a Service Member Who Has Deployed to the Middle East, Do You Still Have the Same Feelings?

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    • Naveed Ahmed 624 profile image

      Naveed Ahmed 

      4 years ago from Bahrain

      Alli Rose, thanks for coming up with an article expressing sympathy for the Muslims and denying the generally assumed image about them in most of the non-Muslim societies. I agree with you that most of the views expressed about the Muslims are not based on reality or facts, but are stereotyped and based on misguided information.

      Islam teaches peaceful co-existence and allows free practice of any faith and belief (the other non-believers of Islam may have). It discourages attacking anybody's faith, believes, self-respect, property and anything else of interest. Jihad being expressed as extremism and terrorism is totally misguiding the innocent. Islam doesn't ask its followers to enforce their views on others, but it permits peaceful preaching or Dawah. For a short further reading about Dawah, you can visit;

    • Alli Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Alli Rose Smith 

      4 years ago from Washington, DC

      That is some very good points, thank you.

    • word55 profile image

      Al Wordlaw 

      4 years ago from Chicago

      Hello A Rose, First of all, I give homage to All service men and women defending the goodwill of America and the world. This was meant to be a holy world nation. We should all be one society. I admire and understand your feelings. You are blessed to be alive. It is important to make the best of your life and others. Before you go too far with the relationship that you have with the sister, understand her customs and that she also should understand yours so that you two can decide wether or not it is worth consequences and hassles. I'm going to pray for you and her. May God be with you always. Thank you for sharing :-)

    • CrisSp profile image


      4 years ago from Sky Is The Limit Adventure

      Thank you for sharing your experience Alli. Your service to the nation is highly appreciated. Salute!

      Keep well! Keep writing!

    • pocono foothills profile image

      John Fisher 

      4 years ago from Easton, Pennsylvania

      Thinking about a stressful situation before it actually occurs, causes more stress than the actual situation itself. This promotes oxidative stress in your body, which is bad for you body.

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      4 years ago from Texas

      Alli, I think we all feel that way, which really confuses me. I don't know how I should feel, a part of me is Cherokee, but which part? A Irish, but which part? A part of me is Dutch, but which part? German, Swede...etc.

      My friend and fellow hubber Wrench Biscuit just a few days ago wrote a forum question For The Indigenous, Separate But Equal Schools A Better Alternative that deals with prejudice, and I am thinking how to answer his question in the forum.

      I am glad you became friends with Sara.

    • profile image 

      4 years ago

      nice to meet ya Alli - great - I try to not treat anyone differently but strange as it may seem, it is Muslims I have the most fraught time with because of my background - because in associating with Muslims I think I leave myself open to suspicions from others so I remain independent and just treat everyone as a human being no matter their color, class or creed. While reading your article, I was reminded of another article I came across on the web titled - 'all Muslims are terrorists except the 99% that aren't! Unfortunately, we don't seem to hear much about good Muslims so their reputation goes ahead condemning before the individual has arrived! So wrong, when you think about it but 9/11 has left this world severely traumatized, and the perpetrators of such crimes have just made life so much worse for all the peaceloving and good Muslims out there. It's hardly fair.

    • bodylevive profile image


      4 years ago from Alabama, USA

      Don't worry about meeting Sara's family, she already told them that you're military. The "what if's" will only keep you with a nervous stomach, something you don't need. Be yourself and be truthful. What ever happened during your tour, you were following orders, meaning doing what you had to do. You said Sara is smart, okay--he parents are smart too. If you are not truthful, you'll need one lie to cover the first and so on. Go ahead and meet the family and get it over.

    • Msbuthelezi profile image

      Amy Buthelezi 

      4 years ago from DFW

      Very touching story. I can't imagine what people go through defending the freedoms we take for granted everyday. And yet, on the other side of the battlefield are other humans with their own reasons for fighting. Although they may be misled by the war and violence they are too familiar with, these people have lives too. And then these people may have relatives who live in the US who have escaped the negativity, just trying to live life like everyone else. I always say, "Don't ever look down on others for their skin color or class, you did not get to choose these things when you were born." It's the choices we make that define us, not the physical characteristics.

    • DreamerMeg profile image


      4 years ago from Northern Ireland

      Very inspirational. My father fought in World War II and was blown up by a shell in the desert war. As a child, I asked him if he hated Germans and he said "no". I found it hard to understand but understand more now.

    • jlpark profile image


      4 years ago from New Zealand

      You comment that you've only just started writing about your Iraq experiences. It's part of your healing. And it also helps those of us who have not experienced war in the way you have to understand what goes on for you on your return to non-warring times.

      By putting this into words, you are healing and teaching at the same time. We don't understand what its like, and often only see it when it goes wrong - eg War Vet Kills (add type of person/themselves here) and we wonder what could have gone so wrong.

      You talk of battling the islamophobia when working with your friend, but at the same time battling the guilt that you may or may not have been involved in the death of a family member or more of hers.

      Thank you for your honesty. I have learnt a great deal from you today.

    • Pico Triano profile image


      4 years ago from New Brunswick, Canada

      This is an honest well written article. I appreciate that. I got to work next to a Muslim in a call centre. I will admit to making sure he took his backpack with him at the end of the work day when we first met. We actually found we had a lot in common over time. We got along well. There were others who did not even regard him as human.

    • Sue826 profile image


      4 years ago from Albuquerque

      Thank you for your service and your honesty. It's refreshing to see someone who has the intelligence to realize we're just people. You can't judge a whole group of people by the acts of a few individuals.

    • jcressler profile image

      James E Cressler 

      4 years ago from Orlando, Florida

      For those who've never been there, and most of their life experience is from high school and college, it's easy to say and believe the easier-softer way. But for the rest of us, like me, a former enemy has to prove they don't have contempt for me before I trust anything about them. We need some time and proof.

    • pcharboneau profile image


      4 years ago from Oklahoma

      Your article is very moving, and writing, as you say, can be very cathartic. My brothers and I all served in the military, though my brothers were the ones who served during war time. Both suffer from PTSD and have some difficulty associating with Arabic people in general, let alone Muslims, so I understand how difficult it was for you to overcome your aversion to your classmate. However, I commend you on your bravery and tenacity. Those are the qualities that made you a good Marine and served you well in the Corps.

      Now, about your writing, and I apologize for the critique, but you should go back over it and look for grammatical errors, of which there were several. Also, keep an eye on your photos and make sure they stay up. At the time I visited your article, there were no photos, which was distracting. As a general rule, you should regularly check on your articles for regular “maintenance.”

      I gave you an “awesome” and voted you up.

    • DaveOnline profile image

      David Edward Lynch 

      4 years ago from Port Elizabeth, South Africa

      Thanks for what you have shared here, I wish the people of the world could see that we are all human beings worthy of being given a chance in friendship no matter our belief system, we should be able to get along unless there is an outright threat to our lives.

    • Hummingbird5356 profile image


      4 years ago

      This is a very good article. I used to listen to the media hype about Muslims but then I lived in Germany for a long time. While I was there I met people from all countries and religions. I had many Muslim friends and visited their homes. I witnessed more love and respect for each other than I did in many non-Muslims families. I also learned that people are no different from each other whatever country or religion they come from.

      Media like to portray Islam and Muslims as bad, how could anyone fight them if they knew they were good? This is what people need to think of. Newspapers write these shocking stories because they sell papers, most people don't educate themselves about the true situation, they just follow like sheep.

      I look forward to reading more of your articles.

    • profile image


      4 years ago

      Hello Alli, writing is healing. I like how you have opened up in this hub putting your utmost private thoughts. It is really sad how a few extremists has manage to turn the view of the world against muslims. I have many muslim friends in Malaysia. They are mostly, gentle, kind people and nothing like the extremists you sadly had to encounter in the line of duty.

    • profile image

      Olga Khumlo 

      4 years ago

      Good Allison. Trust Jesus He will heal you by and by.

      A nice article.

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 

      4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Interesting article Alli! First, as an American, I thank you for your service in the Marines. I am grateful for all that you did.

      Second, as an American-Israeli and the mother of 2 Israeli children, I completely understand your conflicted emotions. I, too have difficulty separating the person from the etnicity/religion, etc. It is sometimes a fine line. I try to be fair and objective but in the current climate, I find myself even more conflicted.

      Welcome to Hubpages! I look forward to reading more of your hubs!

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      4 years ago from Philippines

      I admire the fact that though you were inclined to ask for a new partner, you decided not to. I also admire how you were open with your Muslim friend from the start. Being a US Marine in Iraq can be traumatizing. I hope that you continue to write about your experiences there, and that in this way you find catharsis. This is a wonderful hub and a true eye opener.

    • cfin profile image


      4 years ago from The World we live in

      Great article. Thank you for sharing your mind.

    • GuitarGear profile image

      Walter Holokai 

      4 years ago from Youngstown, Ohio

      What a courageous piece. I feel the same way sometimes and I'm not a veteran. I have a hard time trying to rationalize the violence and subjugation of women associated with the Muslim religion. I go back and forth. Thanks for sharing your inner thoughts.

    • BrianRS profile image

      Brian Stephens 

      4 years ago from France

      I probably can't imagine how hard it is to deal with this sort of situation when you have been through the experience you have. The problem is the minority extremists want the whole world to harbour thoughts of mistrust and doubt, basically so they can get their own way. Very brave of you to write about this and show to an extent that they will never win and will never get their way.

    • sallybea profile image

      Sally Gulbrandsen 

      4 years ago from Norfolk

      It is always good to look at things from both sides. I imagine that this subject must have been a difficult one for you to write about but I am glad you did. Thank you for sharing.

    • Alli Rose profile imageAUTHOR

      Alli Rose Smith 

      4 years ago from Washington, DC

      I agree with you. Thank you for your brother's service.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      4 years ago from USA

      My brother-in-law is retired army and served several tours of duty in Iraq and Afganistan. I would say that what you are struggling with is not at all abnormal. It is good that you could break through your fears and talk openly to her about your feelings, fears, (mis)perceptions and that she was equally tolerant. You have a solid basis of a friendship. Many people do not have the foundation that you two have. I enjoyed reading about your experience here.

    • profile image


      4 years ago from Mumbai India and often in USA

      Very nicely written feelings Alli! you have indeed expressed so nicely this dilemma, we so often face. I live in India, where people following Islamic faith is even much higher, about 15%. We also often wonder a lot about such issues.

      I overall feel from my experience that average Muslim is not any way much different from us. They also face such problems. Some of the things they also do not even like but are almost forced to do. Many women do not like wearing hijab, nikab, burqua, even their husbands may not want them to wear. But people who rule mosques etc. in their locality, where they visit often are too powerful and some of them violent too. Add to this the too powerful feudal lords and army rulers in these countries, who manipulate religion institutions and such clergy. It is this type of fear generated thus, may be even social boycott generated by such clergy is in their mind too, apart from violence and harassment, which affects them.

      Even in a place like USA they may be affected like this. I have stayed fro long periods in USA often and I have talked with some of them, some times. One good aspect in USA is not all of them visit such mosques regularly.

      Did you know for example that in some of Muslim countries, even with some democratic traditions, if a non-muslim marries, a muslim girl, then he can be given a death punishment.

      Western countries have not helped the situation much. In many of these Muslim countries the regimes of violent army and feudal lords who support terrorists with finance and arms are actually armed and financed by western countries. Also then western countries have to send soldiers to fight the same terrorists, who are financed and armed thus indirectly by them. Thus in a way western countries today have been put in a quagmire situations by their decision makers, where they seem to be fighting war, from both sides. How can any country with democratic traditions and some of best decision making minds, can get in such quagmire situation- even we in India worry about similar aspects. This dilemma is in a way part of dilemma you face in dealing with your friend.

      Add to it a general insecurity feeling all over world for people has been increasing day by day due to terrorist problems. Way we have to travel by air today and comparing it to freedom at airports in past, just indicates that.

      I once wrote an article about it - these signs are very similar to signs just before dark ages in europe. Hope you may enjoy that.

      It just discusses these issues.

      Let me give one example, it gives some idea of dilemma some of muslims face. One of my muslim friends, a doctor living and practicing in a Muslim locality in Mumbai, where I generally live, told me "you people are very lucky. You have no binding about any ritual to be followed no compulsion religion forces you on your daily life. If I do not go on one day to Mosque, 10-15 persons may come to ask me why I did not come. If I do it regularly, my medical practice may come to nil. "

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 

      4 years ago from Stillwater, OK

      You're healing, Alli, and the first step is to begin talking about it, which you just did here. It will be a process, but you will get through it. Good work!

    • LailaK profile image


      4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

      Wow what an inspirational story Alli! I have a lot of Muslim friends and like you said, a lot of them are friendly and nice. Voted up!


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