The following is a continuation of an earlier post, in which I address secular Muslims, in letter form. As stated in the previous post, this is based on conversations and experiences that my husband and I have had with individuals who tend to be extremely secular in their interpretation and understanding of Islam.
Dear Secular Muslim,
As promised, here is the follow up to my previous letter. In this letter, InshAllah, in this letter I will discuss something that you staunchly deny exists: discrimination against Muslims. I will give examples from my own life, and not just hearsay.
I have been Muslim for ten years, Alhamdulilah. I accepted Islam at the age of 26, which means that I spent two and a half decades in this country (America), living as a non-Muslim. As such, this gives me a unique basis of comparison that life-long American Muslims, and immigrant Muslims do it necessarily have.
I have attempted to touch a bit on my experiences as a Muslim woman living here, but you have shown either an unwillingness to listen, or a great discomfort in discussing the subject. You have tried, on many occasions, to suggest that perhaps my less-than-positive experiences were due to the location in which I live. While I will not argue that places like Florida may not be the most “Muslim friendly” parts of the country, I think it is imperative that you know and understand that I spent six years living in Chicago, where I suffered a great deal of discrimination. For purposes that may seem pointless and irrelevant to you, I will share a couple of those instances with you now.
When I first became Muslim, I felt a great need to be around other Muslims, for the purpose of finding a community and people who could foster me in my journey as a new Muslim. Friends encouraged me to go to Chicago, citing it as perhaps the best, most vibrant Muslim community in America. I will tell you, based on my experiences there, that this is very true. MashAllah, I met some wonderful people there. People who seem to really understand Islam, and take very seriously their duties as Muslims to help one another. There were many times, when I first became Muslim, that their help and support made all the difference in the world (like whether I would eat or not, or have a place to stay). May Allah reward all of those who have helped me, and others, especially when we needed it the most. Ameen!
The first few months were good. I had no issues with anyone, and I felt as though I could just go about my life, as a Muslim, without being bothered. I moved out to a small town, where there were many Muslims, and an active little masjid. It was quiet there, but I liked it. All the Muslims knew one another. And the non-Muslims didn’t seem to mind us being there at all (not that they should, because one should be allowed to safely live wherever they want). I suppose I was there a year or so when I had my first taste of Islamophobia.
I had stopped at a convenience store, and as I was getting into my car, another pulled up, with two men and a woman. They were your typical “classy” white trash sort of people. The men looked at me, and called me some offensive names (“rag head,” “sand n*****,” etc), and then told me to “go home.” I got mad, and shot back at them in a loud, angry voice, “THIS IS MY HOME!!” They shrunk back into their car (they were hanging out of the car windows, having not actually removed themselves from the car), and waited till I left before getting out and going in the store. Some days later, I saw the same group of people, as I was driving into a store parking lot. They were driving out. They immediately recognized me, and the men actually slumped down in their seats, in an attempt to hide from me. I felt elated! I had stood up, and did not allow them to intimidate me!
After some time, I got a job in a town about 35 miles away, which required that I commute down a two lane back country road. Since this road was the most direct route between the two towns, it was busy almost all the time, especially in the morning and evening (many people lived in one town, and worked in the other). It was not uncommon to encounter aggressive drivers, who did not seem too pleased at the thought of a hijabi passing them. I got rude gestures on a regular basis. Then, one day, I passed the wrong person. Someone who, a flip of the finger was simply not enough.
It was on a Saturday, and I was going in to work for some overtime. I approached a white pickup truck, going slowly down the road. I passed him. As I was passing, he honked his horn, and attempted to hit the gas to accelerate. I accelerated, and successfully got around him. He then got as close to my bumper as he possibly could, without actually touching it, and just put his hand down on the horn, causing it to blast continuously. I was going about 80 to 85, on a road where 65 to 70 was pushing it, trying to stay ahead of him and away from his bumper. Then, I decided to slow down, to get him to go around me, hoping that he would just leave me alone. He shot around me, then slowed to about 20 to 25 miles per hour. I was running late for work, so I tried to pass him. I got around him, and then he leap frogged around me, swerving and slowing down, to keep me behind him. I got ahead of him again, somehow, and tried to put some distance in front of us. I also turned off the road, hoping that he would just go away. He followed me.
I was in full panic mode now. I was speeding, and shaking, and crying. He was tooting his horn and yelling at me, and making rude gestures the whole time. I turned down another road, he followed. I grabbed my cell phone, and called 911 to report him, and to try to get some help. I felt my life was now in serious danger. You will never guess what the 911 operator told me. I am still in shock to this day.
“Yes, we are talking to him right now. He has called to report you as a wreckless driver. we told him to follow you.
Great. The cops have given this guy permission to harass me??
The 911 operator told me to pull over, and they would tell him to go on about his business, and leave me alone (only after I hysterically told her what he was doing to me. At one point, He had actually tried to run me off the road!). An officer came along finally, and spoke with me. He treated me as though I were a criminal, and wanted to give me a ticket. I cried and sputtered, telling him all that that great oaf had done to me. The officer didn’t buy any of it, and just looked at me with something between disgust and disdain. He only let me go, after giving me a very harsh verbal warning, “next time, just call the police.” Uh, you bonehead, that’s exactly what I did!
By the time I got to work, I felt sick. I told everyone what happened, and they were immediately sympathetic. Alhamdulilah, at least there were some people who didn’t feel that I was somehow “responsible” for what happened to me!
I tried to file this away as an isolated event, and that most people are good. I tried to forget it completely. It worked, until I started being harassed at my job a couple of years later. I think I will leave that story for the next letter, InshAllah. It’s best if I dump this on you little by little. Let you digest it all slowly.
I don’t know if you will ever come to realize that you are lying to yourself and to others, by saying that Muslims have it “good” in the west, but at the very least, I can attempt to help you understand why someone like me would not wish to continue living here. Discrimination is very real, despite what you may think.
The Hijabi Who is Tired of Being Scared to Drive