Despite Muslim Discrimination, A Boy Lets Faith Become His Strength
Omar Salama opened the door to find an open black wallet in his face that read “FBI”. The men suspected his family’s decision to go back to New York was part of a terrorist plan.
“I bawled my eyes out. I said ‘This is not fair! You guys can’t do something like this to us! We’ve done nothing but be civil,” said a desperate 15-year-old Omar.
Omar Salama is a Sunni Muslim who is the son of Egyptian immigrants. His childhood years were spent in Astoria, Queens where he attended an Islamic school for nine years. He was at the top of his class and aspired to enroll in a prestigious high school. His family’s income came from a food cart that his father trekked up the Manhattan Bridge.
His mother’s work at a travel agency in NYC also added to their income. Money was not overflowing but it was sufficient. Life was far from upscale but stable. Omar’s future was uncertain but promising.
An undisclosed family event however, forced his family to leave the comfortable lifestyle they had, two years after September 11. They headed to King of Prussia, Pennsylvania where they became victims of discrimination in the predominantly white community.
Omar was attacked for his religion and it overwhelmed him. Suicidal thoughts lingered. An empty feeling grew in him. The source of Omar’s dejection however, became his only strength.
He had every reason to be hysterical when the FBI showed up at the front door. His family lost a battle to their real estate agent who sold their Pennsylvania house for much less than what it was worth. Their lawyer said they needed to fail inspection to get their house back.
“We did everything to fail the inspection. We tore down walls…we did everything,” said Omar.
The agent however, hired the inspector. The house that Omar loved was taken away. His immigrant parents were taken advantage of and Omar felt bitter. He refused to go back to New York and leave their agent a “nice house”.
The dining room became an indoor soccer field as a result. The walls dented and scuffed every time Omar kicked the ball. Their agent drove around their house to spy on what was happening inside. The FBI’s arrival the next day was Omar’s breaking point.
“You guys attack us -everyone here attacks us!” said an emotional Omar to the FBI.
Omar attended Upper Merion High School at the time, where he was discriminated against as well. He tried out for the basketball team but his love for the game did not rescue him.
“They froze me out. Nobody would pass to me.”
The women in his family became targets of discrimination too. His mother and sisters’ hijab, a head covering worn by some Muslim women, called the hateful attention of many passerbys.
“They called my mother a terrorist.”
He was filled with rage and depression. Omar felt helpless as he witnessed his family struggling for peace. The idea of suicide plagued his mind, but Omar said “no”. His religion, in the form of fear and hope, prevented him from taking his own life. Omar’s faith was unyielding, even when it was the reason for his suffering.
“My religion wouldn’t let me. I would have gone to hell. But I also knew things couldn’t get any worst,” said Omar.
Omar’s family emptied the Pennsylvania house, leaving only wall dents to decorate the interior. They packed the U-Haul truck painted in amber horses and headed to Syosset, New York. His family never looked back again.
They easily made their new home in Syosset where discrimination was absent. Omar and his sisters were provided a quality education as well. He graduated with top honors. Omar now attends Syracuse University where he is currently studying law on a scholarship.
“I want every person to see each other the way Allah does…as equals…so that one day, my children can open their front doors without their faces being met with FBI wallets.”