Three Muslim Neighbors Share the Anguish of Islamophobia

One by one, three young Muslim women dressed in colorful hijabs shared their stories.

“It has been exhausting since Trump started his campaign,” one of the women said. “Islamophobia and hate crimes are in our own backyard. Even in this liberal bubble.”

The three women are in their late teens and early 20s, undergrads at Seattle University and part of the Muslim Student Association. Their experience with islamophobia has deteriorated so much since Trump entered the campaign trail that they are now hosting conversations like the one I went to called, “Allyship in the Age of Islamophobia”.

Twelve of us showed up to participate on this Tuesday night, I had just come from work. The small group was made up completely of Seattle University undergrads except for me and a white woman in her 60s who lives in the Central District. There were a couple women of color, but most of the room was white. I was the only man in the room which made me extra conscious of every word and gesture I made. I thought, this must be what it feels like all the time for the women presenting.

The young women described frustration with people who expect them to be their personal guides to Islam and Muslim cultures around the world. They described the attention they get, often unwanted, just by wearing a hijab.

“Complete strangers come up to me and ask, ‘Do you wear your hijab in the shower?’ or ‘Do you wear your hijab while you swim?’ or ‘Do you wear your hijab while you’re having sex?’,” one of the young women said.

Another of the three young women expressed frustration with her experience at Seattle’s Women’s March.

“There were a lot of strangers, white men and women, who came up to me. They were touching me, patting my back, hugging me without my consent.”

She explained that this can be especially problematic as Islam and Muslim cultures have rules around touching when it comes to the opposite sex.

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A handout they gave us to teach what to do when we see a Muslim being harassed or attacked.

Then, the third young woman shared a story that really hit me. She told of a time she was in a university class, she was the only person of color and also the only Muslim person. The professor said something along the lines of, “Islam is an oppressive religion.” She felt pained, she said she could feel that pain in her stomach immediately. She wanted to speak out. What the professor said wasn’t okay with her. But, she already felt uncomfortable being the only person of color, she didn’t want to have to be the one to stand up in front of a room of white folks to challenge this professor.

“I so wished in that moment that a white person would’ve stood up and said something because I would’ve been ready to be the second voice, but I wanted a white person to say something first,” she said.

She felt betrayed by her classmates. She felt like she was the only one in the room who was bothered by the comments. She said that made her question her own emotions, which presents its own kind of agony. In these types of situations, she texts her women friends of color and they share her feelings, she says that makes her feel better because with that validation she no longer has to question her emotions.

Their stories of micro-aggressions and outright discrimination come amid other stories of islamophobia in Seattle, including a mosque that was set on fire and vandalism to Muslim signs. Some of them have been especially violent, like the one that happened on the University of Washington campus in November, when a stranger smashed a glass bottle in a Muslim woman’s face, not long after Trump’s election win.

screen-shot-2017-03-01-at-6-25-41-amThe Muslim women I heard from spoke at the exact same time that Trump was giving his first speech to a joint session of Congress, the first time he’s given a speech in front of any group with a large section of folks who oppose him. When I got home I read multiple reports in The Washington Post about his speech. In light of all I’d just heard from my neighbors, his words felt slimy, fake and full of contrived optimism. Trump seemed to be aiming to pacify the silent majority of whites who are standing by as onlookers as people of color experience ramped up anxiety and anguish.

“We are one people, with one destiny. The time for small thinking is over. The time for trivial fights is behind us. We just need the courage to share the dreams that fill our hearts,” he said. “Everything that is broken in our country can be fixed. Every problem can be solved. And every hurting family can find healing, and hope.”

His words seemed even more disingenuous in light of other recent attacks on minorities, some of them inspired by, or dealt directly from, this Republican administration.

We’ve seen a string of bomb threats at dozens of Jewish centers across the country this week. In the Mercer Island area of Seattle a Jewish Center had to be evacuated following a bomb threat just one day before Trump’s speech.

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Then, the morning of Trump’s speech, parents in the affluent Ballard neighborhood, near the center of Seattle, found anti-semitic graffiti on Adams Elementary School among other businesses and homes nearby. Parents took to Facebook and Twitter to share their shock and photos.

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Trump’s words of optimism further enraged me because of what I’d experienced just two days prior to his speech. I joined people phone banking to raise money and support to fight anti-transgender legislation that lawmakers are attempting to introduce again in Washington state. The initiative, 1552, is very similar to North Carolina’s anti-trans bathroom bill.

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Transgender folks, allies, and organizations like Gender Justice League already defeated one such bill, WA 1011, just weeks ago. But, the national Republican administration has emboldened an anti-transgendered environment by having the Department of Justice rollback protections for trans folks in the first days of Jeff Sessions’s time in office. This is my community and I will fight, goddammit. If you’re not familiar, the “T” in LGBTQ is for transgendered folks.

Here’s a shot I snapped of my good friend and neighbor Daniel phone banking with Gender Justice League. I continue to be inspired by Daniel’s passion and drive to get in the weeds and do the hard work of activism.

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Now, to quickly catch you up on a few headlines from the past couple days. You’ll notice the headlines I’m sharing look a bit different than before in design and tone. I’m now sharing mostly from The Washington Post out of D.C. as Nick and I have paid for a subscription and are loving their calm, hardcore, in-depth reporting.

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