After the recent mass shooting at a mosque in Christchurch, New Zealand, new attention has been called to the fears that Muslims experience every day. Just ask Sanaa Kahloon, a first-generation Pakistani-American from Lexington. Sanaa points out that while the Christchurch shooting was gutting, persecution isn’t exactly new to the Muslim community. For her, no Friday prayer passes without a moment of dread when she hears the door open to her apartment-turned-mosque. Sanaa is Muslim, she wears a hijab, and she’s a sophomore at Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. But if you spend any amount of time talking with Sanaa, you’ll quickly realize that she has refused to let hatred or fear win. During the climax of last year’s March For Our Lives rallies across the country, Sanaa made the bold move to share her story on the steps of Kentucky’s State Capitol Building. In the aftermath of the horrific shootings in Parkland, Florida and Marshall County, Kentucky, Sanaa called out legislative complacency and made the case for stricter gun regulations. As a Muslim, Sanaa also felt compelled to speak out about her faith and how it has convinced her to stand up for improvements in school safety. Speaking from the capitol steps in Frankfort, she shared a verse from the Quran.
Oh you who believe! Stand out firmly for justice as witnesses to Allah [God] even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin, and whether it be against rich or poor, for Allah can best protect them both.
With the Muslim community left reeling yet again as a result of the brutal attacks in Christchurch, Sanaa is still speaking out on where we go from here. “Now is the time for our non-Muslim allies to reach out and voice their support for us and their condemnation for the attackers. It’s hard not to see the double standard that exists when there’s an attack carried out against innocent Muslims, especially in non-White countries, contrasted with attacks carried out by extremists in White majority countries.” “That’s the most major issue I see,” Sanaa adds, “and it’s what needs to be addressed to make the Muslim community feel more respected and taken care of.” As we continue to celebrate Women’s History Month this March, Kentucky should be honored to have extraordinary young women like Sanaa leading the way for inclusion and equity. But we cannot let it end there. It’s on all of us to build a better Kentucky—one that’s fair to everyone, regardless of their faith. Let’s all take a page from Sanaa’s advocacy work and stand up to hatred, fear, and injustice, wherever it may appear.
Garris Stroud is an award-winning educator and writer from Greenville, Kentucky whose advocacy and scholarship have been recognized by USA Today, U.S. News and World Report, Education Post, The Louisville Courier-Journal, and The Lexington Herald-Leader. He served as a Hope Street Group Kentucky State Teacher Fellow from 2017-2019 and became chair of the organization’s editorial board in 2018. ...