A young girl walks into her high school dreading it. She walks down the halls filled with school-goers who snicker at her as she passes by. She gets to her classroom, and goes to her designated place at the back of the room. She listens attentively as the teacher speaks, but when the teacher has her back to the class, the boys throw trash at her, laughing and giving her hateful looks. All of this just because she decided she wanted to wear a headscarf, also known as the hijab to complete her faith.
A girl is running late. She rushes to her car and speeds off to her college, in an attempt to not to miss her class. She is stopped by traffic, when a man rolls down his window and indicates that she should roll her window down as well. The girl is under the impression that he is asking for directions, because that action usually indicates that someone is in need of help. He then says, “try not to blow anything up, and if you have any ideas…” he lifts his gun to show her. She immediately switches into the next lane and hightails out of there. The man continues to follow her and flashes high beams behind her until he finally exits off the highway. She was targeted, because of her hijab, because of a piece of clothing she decided to wear on her head.
The bell rings, indicating the end of the school day. The students rush out of the classroom and into the hallways of the school, eager to get out of the warm, stuffy building and into the Southern Georgia air. A female teacher makes her way out of the school and into the school parking lot so she can get home. As she approaches her car, she spots a paper on her windshield, fluttering in the breeze. She opens it, and inside it says, “Mrs Teli, your head scarf isn’t allowed anymore. Why don’t you tie it around your neck and hang yourself with it.” The teacher is taken aback. All of this, just because she wears a hijab? Because of Trump being elected people hate her now?
The walls line with chairs, trying to get the maximum amount of seats to accommodate the people. About 20 people sit in the room, wrapped up in their own thoughts.
A woman walks into the hospital waiting room and sees two open chairs. She sits on the one farthest from the man, leaving a gap between them. As she sits, the man pulls out a pocket knife and places it on the chair in-between them. The silver of the knife glints in the bright lights of the hospital waiting room. The young woman fears for her life, scared of what the man will do. She feels threatened and terrified. Finally, the man puts the knife away, stands up and walks away, but not without saying, “deport them all”. No one asks the woman if she is okay, no one stops to ask if they would like them to call someone for her. The entire hospital room sees the showdown, yet no one does anything.
Now, I know you’re thinking that there is no way these stories can be real, but they are. These are things that Muslim women face on a daily basis. The women who go by the names Mariam Latif, Maleeha Shakoor, Mairah Teli, and Alaa Basatneh in their respective order, have all faced this alienation and utmost disrespect, simply because of the headscarf they choose to wear on their heads, as a part of their faith.
Proud. Strong. Modest. Representative. Anxious. Paranoid. Discriminated. Alienated. These are the words that come to mind when I speak to anyone who wears a hijab. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a hijab is “the traditional covering for the hair and neck that is worn by Muslim women.” Many young and old Muslim women alike will tell you that they enjoy wearing the headscarf and that it becomes a part of them, it becomes who they are, and what they stand for. If these women enjoy wearing this head covering as part of their faith, I need to ask the question: Why does America think it’s okay to tell these people that they don’t belong? Why do people think they can discriminate against others? This is something that I have always wanted to know, because of the great deal of Muslims living in the United States. In a survey done by Pew Research, they concluded that 3.3 million Muslims live in the United States. Some of these people are friends of mine who have encountered these things and continue to do so till this day.
Before I got into the specifics of why people felt this hatred towards Muslim people, I wanted to see how this happened. There had to have been a starting point to all this drama and discrimination. There are many occurrences in which people have been made to fear Islam and its followers. The first instance where this apparent fear displayed itself, would be with Al Qaeda, a militant Islamist organization that was founded in the late 1980’s by Osama Bin Laden. In the beginning, its purpose was to support Muslims fighting against the Soviet Union during the Afghan War. After the Soviets retreated from Afghanistan, the leaders of Al Qaeda continued to resist the corrupt Islamic regimes and foreign precedent in Islamic lands, for example, the United States. They attacked many of the US embassies in different parts of the world, further panicking the people of the western world. Al Qaeda went on to declare war on the United States, and later on went about the 9/11 attacks. On the Britannica website, I read that on May 2, 2011, Osama Bin Laden was killed by US military forces after the US intelligence forces found him in a hideout. His death was then confirmed by the president at the time: Barack Obama. I remember this vividly as it was a huge event in the history of the United States. As soon as my dad heard the news, he called me downstairs and said, “Arisha, look at what happened, he’s gone… they killed him, he can’t hurt anyone now.” It had played on CNN for weeks, but I didn’t truly understand what this meant. I knew about the 9/11 attacks and that Bin Laden had caused them— but I didn’t understand, being a twelve-year-old, it was hard for me to process that the US government had killed him, regardless of him killing all those people.
A second time a so called islamic terrorist organization came about, was in 1999. It was called the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, better known as ISIS. It is also adamant on being referred to as the Islamic State because of its recruits all over the world. According to MSNBC, a collaboration of Microsoft and NBC news, The Islamic State is a “jihadist terrorist network controlling large swaths of territory across Jordan, Lebanon, Syria and parts of Iraq.” The beginnings of the relations between the Islamic State and the United States can be traced back to when the US invaded Iraq in 2003. The Islamic State has gone on to accept responsibility for most of the terrorist attacks that have happened since then. For example, the Paris attacks, the Ohio State University attacks, the Minnesota mall stabbings, San Bernardino shootings, and the Orlando nightclub shooting. In total, approximately 200 people were killed over the course of 2 years, all because of a lone wolf attacker. All of these occurrences have made people fear Muslims. With the mass amounts of people being killed in the name of Allah, the Arabic name for God, people began to fear Muslims as an entirety. It isn’t hard to see why people would feel this fear, because it’s warranted. If the media is telling people sitting at home that a Muslim person is hurting innocent people in the name of their religion and their holy god, they automatically assume all Muslim people are out to hurt people. It is apparent to me as to where these assumptions are coming from because it looks scary, and the way the media portrays it makes it as though all Muslim people are out to hurt you, when in reality, they aren’t.
An estimate by the Pew Research Centre stated that as of 2010, there were 1.6 billion Muslims in the world. Islam is the second largest religion in the world with a large following of its faith. It is slowly taking over the world as it is the fastest growing religion as of right now. The United States has 1.8 million people who identify as followers of Islam. Because of the 9/11 attacks in 2001 people began to fear Muslims. Individuals were scared of what Muslims would do. People failed to understand that the 9/11 attacks were done by a terrorist organization and not by the religion at whole. Because this group identified as Muslim, every Muslim in the western world was targeted, discriminated against and had to undergo gruelling hours of interrogation by police and airport security simply to enter or exit a country. Muslims with names such as Mohammad or Ahmad began to have difficulty finding jobs or even be considered to hire for a job. In my research, I came across a blog where this woman’s last name was Muhammad and she was fresh out of grad school and was applying for jobs. She hadn’t gotten any responses to her job applications, so one of her friends jokingly said that if she changed her name from Muhammad to something else she would get more job prospects. She decided to experiment and dropped her last name and replaced it with her middle name, Sade. This was more of a Western name and soon enough she received job offers from several different companies. When her interest was further piqued, she decided to change her name to a “white name” to further see if she would get a call back. She changed her resume and created a new email and sure enough, there were responses to her resume and she got numerous calls back, even from companies that she had previously applied to with her former last name. For me to read about this makes me feel disappointed in the human race, as they would stoop so low as to not hire someone because of their last name. They are also usually the first ones to be fired. According to Abdul Malik Mujahid, Muslims have also “lost about 40 percent of their businesses post 9/11” as was found in research done by Sound Vision. Their companies have either been taken from them or they have gone out of business because of the fear that people lived in. In another study done by SouWhile, “nearly 75 percent of Muslims Americans either know someone who has or have themselves experienced an act of harassment, verbal abuse, or physical attack since September 11.” Mayesha Manzoor, a woman that I interviewed stated that when she was in high school, a classmate called her “Osama” in connection with Osama Bin Laden just because she wore a hijab and identified as Muslim. Her classmate may have meant it as a joke, or he may not have, but regardless of his intentions, it was wrong for him to say that because one person does not and should not represent a religion at whole.
After I had learned about the history of where the fear and hatred stems from, I wanted to see where the practice of wearing the hijab came from. As a follower of Islam myself, I know that wearing the hijab is a mandatory part of the religion. While some women and girls in Islam choose not to as it is ultimately their decision, but is a practice in Islam that should be followed. I wanted to however, discover where the practise was derived from and all the history surrounding it. Before Islam was introduced as a religion, only the high class elites in Ancient Greco-Roman, pre-Islamic Iranian and Byzantine societies wore the headscarf, as it was a symbol of social status for them. Women of higher class were veiled and secluded from other men because they did not need to be out in the open due to the lack of job or children to talk care of because they had maids who did all these things. Lower class women were forbidden from wearing the hijab because only women who did not work in the fields could afford to be secluded and veiled. I was surprised by this because this old practise didn’t actually have anything to do with Islam and instead had to do with status in the early years. This type of belief would not go over well in society today because of the Women’s Rights and society because society has recognized women as part of the workforce and not just for bearing children. In 627 C.E., the verse about hijab had been revealed. In Chapter 24, Verse 30 of the Holy Quran it states “Say to the believing women that: they should cast down their glances and guard their private parts (by being chaste) and not display their beauty except what is apparent, and they should place their khumur (head covering) over their bosoms (tied in such a way that the bosoms are concealed)” Women should be covered everywhere, excluding the hands, feet, and face. Islam preaches modesty, humility and dignity. To further my understanding of this verse, I had taken a class where they went over the meaning of the entire chapter, and I found that women love wearing the hijab. I spoke to someone who wanted to remain anonymous, however I learned that she was a convert to Islam and had chosen to convert because of how beautiful the religion is and because of the teachings that it preaches. Today, some women even go as far as covering their faces, as they have different interpretations of the Quran and what that entails.
Many women today choose to wear the hijab. They see it as a reflection of their faith to God, also referred to as Allah. Allah has instructed women to wear the hijab, as was revealed in the holy book: the Quran. It is perceived as a choice to honour one’s religion and is a highly respected and praised practice in Islam. However, with wearing a headscarf, these women encounter multitudes of discrimination and feelings of hatred each and every single day. These minor actions can be as simple as hateful glares, or as severe where people of the faith’s lives are put into danger. Examples include the scenario in which the woman had a gun pointed at her, or the woman who was shown a knife as a sign of intimidation. I was hooked, I wanted to find out more and understand how the people of the United States could have no morals? How could they do such things and get away with them? Then November 8th came along, this is the day that would mark history. We all watched the debates and saw the racist things that the now President-Elect Trump said. In a CNN article, it listed all the derogatory things President-Elect Trump had to say about people of colour, and Muslims specifically. Trump emphasized the need to deport all Muslims because they were the “main root of terrorism”. We all booed as he was elected, asking ourselves if it had been rigged. The election made me ask the question: Has the news of Trump’s win made it harder for followers of the faith to go about their daily plans and tasks? Someone I follow on Instagram had posted on the day the results came out that her mom texted her every hour throughout the day, just to make sure no harm had come to her, all because of the election of Trump. After the surprising win, Trump supporters acted out towards people of colour, showing discrimination and general feelings of hatred, while there were also violent approaches to his winning.
The question I had asked at the beginning of my search was: Why do American people believe it’s okay to discriminate and reveal feelings of hatred to people who choose to follow their religion? Quite honestly, they can’t. At the end of the day, these are people who deserve to be shown respect, and should be treated as any other human being regardless of the colour of their skin or the head covering they choose to adorn themselves with. The treatment of Muslims in the United States is uncalled for, and needs to be stopped immediately. As you all must be wondering, what can we do to help? Everyone I spoke to regarding how we, as humans, should go about helping and making a change all said the same thing. They encouraged people to get to know the religion better, whether that be through the internet, which can sometimes be misleading but could also have good information, neighbours, friends, and of course Muslim people, because they know about Islam, and want to share that knowledge with other people. The message of love needs to be spread because Islam is not a hateful religion, but rather one that promotes peace, humility and equality for all of mankind. We need to see past the media’s portrayal of Muslims, and go and see for ourselves what Muslims are like. Many would be surprised to find that Muslims are people just like everyone else. Wearing a hijab does not make them any less of a person, and we need to embrace the diversity that is present in our world.
– Written by Arisha Wadiwala