What Do You Want To Do With The Rest of Your Life?
“Why are Muslims so violent? Why do they want to take over the world?” asked Ko Maung, a ten-year-old from the orphanage I was teaching Social Studies. I was shocked by the question, not because of the question itself – since it was one of those anti-Islamic rhetorics I have heard plenty of times before, but because a ten-year-old orphan was posing this question. Has this misunderstanding been so widespread in Burma that even children ask about this?
At first glance, I didn’t know how I could explain that Islam sanctions limited violence within the context of defensive warfare to a ten-year-old Buddhist child. What type of language do I use? How can I justify a form of acceptable violence to a Buddhist whose religion is known for its pacifism? This was one of those challenges I constantly faced as a Muslim raised in a Burmese-Buddhist society, and now I face the same challenge as a volunteering teacher.
And there, on the cover of Ko Maung’s notebook, I saw a picture of Superman. Yes, that’s it! “Ko Maung, tell me, why is Superman a hero?” I asked. The child, confused, not knowing how it was relevant to the topic at hand, answered, “Because he fights the evil guys and protects the people.” “Exactly! We Muslims believe the same. We are allowed to fight when it comes to protecting the weak and defending ourselves, just like Superman,” I explained. And before Ko Maung could pursue the question further, I continued saying, “As for the claim that Muslims want to take over the world, Ko Maung, do I look like an evil villain who wants to take over the world?” and all my students went into laughter and the discussion ended.
That day I went back home feeling uneasy. It wasn’t just that I felt tired of defending my faith and identity as a minority Rohingya Muslim but also because I am sure other Muslims in my community felt the same. I wanted to understand why there was so much hate and conflict in my country and even broader society, where Muslims are generally the “bogeyman.”
Then in 2017, the Burmese military attempted genocide against the Rohingya people. This was what led me to plead asylum here in the United States. The event affected me so deeply that I couldn’t find the words to describe what it felt like. I couldn’t understand how human beings could be capable of such evil. It is one thing to read about genocides in history books, but another thing altogether to experience and live through it.
This was what made me major in philosophy. I wanted to understand human thought and the power it holds over us. A single thought of hate against another is what led to such mass horrendous slaughter, changing the lives of millions of people forever. And I wanted to have the power to influence people’s thoughts so that such thoughts of hate never affect another human being. And what better way to influence human thought than to become a teacher, a professor of philosophy?
Hence, I majored in philosophy, and after the successful completion of my bachelor’s, I aim to complete a master’s and doctorate program. This would enable me to become an academic within the discipline of philosophy, where I could conduct research and teach people about human thoughts and the power it holds over us. In doing so, I am to inform and convince them never to feel such hatred against a fellow human. This is my dream, and it would be my humble attempt to make sure such a fate I experience never befalls another human being.