Carnegie Mellon University

"Proud to be Different" by Azizjon Yuldoshev

Third Place for High School Prose

Like it was yesterday, I remember seeing my mother walk out of the president of the school’s office. I sprinted out of my brightly painted 1st grade classroom in my blue turtleneck (that was a tad too tight) and my khaki pants covered in grass stains to see my mom slowly walking out of the first door to the left in the hallway of my school. With tears streaming down her face, she picked me up and smiled at me and then said, “It will all be okay.” As I heard the thunder in the background, she wiped off her tears, and that was the last time I ever stepped foot in that building. As a six-year-old, I did not understand why I was kicked out of Jewish school for being different, but as I got older I understood that it was not important why I wasn’t accepted. The important part of that experience for me was to understand that sometimes people are still holding onto the past, but change is good and being different is not be something to be ashamed about.

In the meeting, the president of the school informed my mom that they heard me tell another student that I was Muslim, and that I didn’t go to Sabbath. My mom confirmed that I was not Jewish, and the president told my mom that I was no longer welcomed in the school, as they were worried I would broadcast my Islamic views. Thinking about it now, the idea of a six-year-old threatening the religious values of a Jewish school seems utterly preposterous.

A couple nights ago, ISIS claimed that all of the attacks in Paris were a collaborative effort, planned thoroughly by the extremist group. This demonic group slaughtered hundreds of innocent unsuspecting people with no remorse for their actions. I felt extreme sorrow for the lives lost in not only Paris, but in Iraq and Lebanon as well. However, while using the social media network Twitter, I was shocked to see “#Muslims” trending 3rd worldwide after “#PrayforParis” and “#ISIS.” I knew instantly that these tweets there were going to be insensitive remarks directed at all Muslims, following those nefarious attacks from an extremely radical Muslim group, from people who believed that all Muslims, as a whole, were responsible for the terrorist attack by ISIS. I felt pain, anger, frustration, and confusion while reading and scrolling through thousands of these tweets. Twitter users described Muslims as violent and dangerous; to be exact, there were 255,000 tweets demeaning Muslims and completely belittling the principles of Islam. In reality, however, ISIS is only a very small amount of the whole Muslim population. Most of the people who made “#Muslim” trend are undoubtedly unaware that ISIS believes in a much more radical state of Islam, completely different from the beliefs of the majority of Muslims. Neither Sunnis nor Shiites, both different Muslim groups, believe in a religion as radical and cruel as ISIS. Although I knew this, I understood that those tweeting and insulting Islam probably did not understand these differing beliefs.

After 1st grade, I attended the Carlow Campus School of Carlow University. This was a Catholic school run by the Sisters of Mercy. For the next 6 years of my life I bonded and made connections with people who were from a different side of the hemisphere and believed in a different God. Looking back, I am so grateful for having parents who wanted me to feel different and wanted me to make relationships with people who came from a different kind of background. They knew that I would live in a generation that accepts diversity, and to succeed in life I would have to be able to make relationships with people whom I did not share similar backgrounds. At the Carlow Campus School I learned that being different was completely acceptable, and I learned how to make relationships with people from a different culture. Carlow taught me that some people have already learned to be accepting of a diverse culture, and those that have not will slowly learn to accept everyone for all of their differences.

After a long night of scrolling through what I thought to be an endless amount of hurtful and demeaning tweets, I decided to go to sleep in hopes that when I awoke Twitter would be a hate-free community that was accepting of all religions. I woke up to have my hopes and faith in the Twitter community fulfilled. The new number one trending topic on Twitter was “#MuslimsAreNotTerrorists.” This boosted my spirits, and showed me and all Twitter users worldwide that there a lot of people just like me, trying to spread awareness about Islam. Every single tweet I read with the hashtag “#MuslimsAreNotTerrorists” were from users attempting to teach the Twitter community about Islam and the vast differences between radical Muslims and regular Muslims. This experience showed me that even on such a large scale, with 255,000 people tweeting hateful things about Muslims, there are always people who care enough to try to stop racism and educate people. These individuals can prevent people from acting upon their own ignorance, and allow them to understand issues before discriminating further. The users who claimed that all Muslims are terrorists due to ISIS would also have to claim that all Jews are unaccepting and narrow-minded just because of the actions of the president of the school. I always understood that one school president did not represent all of the Jewish population, but for a long time he was the only vivid representation that was left in my mind of Jews. I now know that I was wrong.

I too reached out and spread awareness about Islam, similar to how Carlow taught me about Catholicism. Twitter can provide a diverse environment, allowing for the education of uninformed individuals. The Twitter community was taught that being different is acceptable. Gradually the “#Muslims” trends went away last night, and they were over taken by “#MuslimsAreNotTerrorists” today. Change and difference are inevitable in everyone, but to quote philosopher Edmund Burke, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

Read more award-winning entries.