Naked Opinion

NOT Just A Hashtag: My Dhaka, My Islam

My Islam is everything that ISIS isn’t.

I want you to close your eyes. I want you to picture Dhaka, Bangladesh. I want you to remember what you envisioned. Now open your eyes.

20 people were killed on July 1, 2016 in the Holey Artisan Bakery in the Gulshan District of Dhaka. Seven educated, wealthy, and Bangladeshi attackers stormed the upscale establishment in an ISIS-claimed act of terror. The victims aren’t just hashtags, and the terrorists most certainly do not represent Bangladesh.

When I heard the news of the Dhaka attack, my heart shattered. I strive to value all lives equally, and I believe that I do, but knowing that the evil that is ISIS had infiltrated my homeland provoked a stinging sensation that I can’t quite shake. It’s often easy to see a hashtag attached to a calamity, and to picture the circumstances of that horror in a way that is convenient. This time was different though, Dhaka is not just a hashtag to me.

My Islam is everything that ISIS isn’t

Dhaka is the home of my grandparents, rich with love, and a place that is bursting with life. When I think of Dhaka I see hues of vibrant green, I smell my Grandmother’s freshly cooked biriyani, and I feel at peace. That may seem to be clearly juxtaposed against the atrocious terror that was committed in the city just a few days ago, but perhaps nuance is exactly what we need right now.

I feel as if it has been said in all the variations that exist that Islam is not a religion of terror, but yet so many continue to believe that my religion is the root of so much hatred in this world. In short though; my Islam is everything that ISIS isn’t.

We need a reality check

This piece is not a refutation of Islamophobia, but rather it is a call to confront reality. Dhaka is not a breeding ground of “radical Islam,” but rather it is remarkably moderate, secular, and peaceful. Islam is not a religion of terror, but rather it is a faith shared by over one billion people who want to impart more goodness in this world.

Furthermore, we can’t begin to talk about the implications of the Dhaka attack if we don’t understand the geopolitical circumstances. Currently, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wazed’s party is using any semblance of “radical Islam” to implicate their opposition party, BNP, in order to further their quasi-authoritarian rule. This has created a space for politicized Islam in a way that is uncharacteristic of the nation and religion, so if we are talking how to make this world a safer place — we have to know our politics.

I want to shift the narrative, and that is exactly my goal here. When you picture Bangladesh, I want you to to get a whiff of the aroma of my grandmother’s samosas. When you think of Islam, I want you to see my grandfather’s serene piety. That’s a big ask though, so for now — I want you to #staywoke because this world cannot afford more interventionist attitudes that stimulate false senses of security. This world desperately instead needs more truth, unity, and most importantly — compassion.


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  • Thank you for sharing this personal insight into your culture! I’ve always been sympathetic to socially ostracized Muslims since the 9/11 attacks, because (to a lesser extent) I know what it is to have the name of your faith dragged through the mud, first by those claiming the faith, and second by the enemies of the faith looking to show you in the worst possible light.

About the author

Ziad Ahmed

Ziad Ahmed

Ziad Ahmed is a junior at Princeton Day School. He is an American-Muslim, Bangladeshi, and passionate social justice activist. Ziad founded a teen organization, redefy (, committed to defying stereotypes, redefining perspectives positively, embracing acceptance and tolerance, and creating an active community in 2013. Redefy has grown immensely with over 150 students internationally on the team, over 2,000 likes on facebook, and over 50,000 hits on His work has been commended by President Barack Obama personally, PBS, the Boris and Nicole Show, and other notable sources. MTV has named him of one of the top nine teens changing the world, and a High School Trailblazer. Insofar as community service, Ziad sits on multiple youth boards, serves on the Executive Board of Not in Our Town - Princeton, and volunteers at many local organizations. As part of his interest for social change, Ziad is also a Youth Ambassador for Everyone Matters. At school, Ziad holds the position of Secretary and Treasurer of the Class of 2017, leads as the Secretary General of PDS Model UN, tutors students in Science and Math, heads the PDS Muslim Club, and plays varsity squash. He has also recently co-founded a cutting-edge youth consulting firm in the form of JÜV Consulting ( in the hopes to empower Generation Z with a real voice in the marketplace. Overwhelmingly though, Ziad is just your average teenager trying grappling with identity, struggling to balance it all, and pursuing his passions.


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