Mnar Muhawesh, 24, Maple Grove
All eyes were on Mnar Muhawesh as she stepped through the door of her Maple Grove junior high classroom the morning of Sept. 11, 2001. The room was silent except for the TV. Her teacher stared at replays of planes crashing into skyscrapers, the ash cloud billowing. Mnar watched in horror. "I was looking at everybody else, like, is this real? Are there really two huge buildings about to fall to the ground?" She heard the words "terrorist attack" on the TV. Then, some equally disturbing words were directed at her. "One student looked over at me and said, 'This is your people. They did this to us,'" she said. "I was like, 'your people?' I'm one of you." The daughter of Palestinian immigrants who were secular Muslims, she was born and raised in America. But now she felt attacked.
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That day in her social studies class propelled Muhawesh more deeply toward her faith.
"After that day, my life was not Mnar, some kid in class. It was Mnar, the Muslim, the Arab, the Palestinian, the girl from the Middle East. That's who I became."
Within a few weeks of the attacks, she decided to make a bold statement about who she was. Against her parents' wishes, she wrapped a white scarf around her head, masking her curly brown hair, and went to school. "No one talked to me that day," Mnar recalled. "Not even my friends."
She returned the next day without the scarf, but something inside her was changing. Before 9/11 she knew little about Islam. Now, she yearned to learn more and judge it for herself.
She started reading the Qur'an, asking questions and praying regularly. She shared her research with her family and answered questions from other students.
At 18, she started wearing hijab in public. Now 24, she holds a degree in broadcast journalism and hopes her image will help change more people's perceptions about Muslims.