The M Word seeks to elevate, amplify, and celebrate the contributions of Muslim Americans to our country’s varied and inspiring cultural landscape. To help us, we are inviting audience members, online followers, panelists, and others—both Muslims and non-Muslims alike—to share their personal experiences with what it means to be Muslim in America.

Today, we share Kaighla Um Dayo’s story on being a Muslim American. The piece is Um Dayo’s response to The M Word’s questionnaire

Do you identify as a Muslim? Or have you been identified as a Muslim? If yes, please tell us about it.

Yes, I am a Muslim convert. 

Describe what it means to be Muslim in America.

Being Muslim in America is to be misunderstood, feared, loathed, and even hated, merely for practicing your faith and sticking to your conscience.

Given the current climate and public discussions about Muslims in America, what responsibility do you feel you have to the larger conversation?

As a white American Muslim from a small town in Illinois, I am probably the only Muslim some people will ever meet in their lives, so I feel an overwhelming burden to be as kind and smiley as I possibly can. I smile more, am more polite, and even more careful how I drive, all because I feel worried that if I were to be too human, too real, to have a bad day here and there, it would reflect poorly on the entire Muslim population, which is a ridiculous worry to have. Rather than thinking, “Man, she’s rude!” if I am curt in my response or if I cut someone off, I know people look at my hijab and think, “Man, those foreign terrorists! Not even safe on the road with them around!” I need my neighbors and community members to know that me and my family are just as kind (and rude), just as giving (and greedy), and just as concerned (and worried) as anyone else, because we are HUMAN.

We want to hear your stories! For the chance to be featured by The M Word, submit your own video story with us on Facebook or submit your story in writing here. By submitting your story, you grant PEN America the right to use all still and motion pictures and sound recordings you provide in furtherance of its nonprofit charitable mission, including the right to advertising, promotion, and future marketing of PEN America and its activities via radio, television, video, DVD, the Internet, podcasts, PEN America publications, or any other use, by any means now known or hereafter devised, in perpetuity, throughout the universe. 

The M Word is generously supported by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art’s Building Bridges program.