By: Rachel Oliveira
April 17, 2015 Romaisa Khan invited two of her friends, Fawzia Nur and me, to celebrate her 18 birthday in Boston, Mass. After a long day of a Boston adventure, Romaisa and Fawzia dropped me off at South Station so I could take the commuter rail back to Attleboro.
We went to the bathroom before my train arrived, and there were a few women in there, particularly one Asian woman. When Fawzia Nur, Romaisa Khan and I walked in the bathroom, the Asian woman swung her umbrella, just missing Nur, but Nur thought nothing of it; it seemed like an accident.
When we walked closer to the sink, which was where she was, she started yelling loud comments; at this point we just thought she was crazy. Khan went to fix her hijab in the mirror, which coincidentally was near the women’s purse and that’s when this lady grabbed her purse in such a manner that it hit Khan.
She yelled, “Get away from me!” to which Khan answered, “Who me?” Then the woman said, “Yeah you! I know what your people do!”
At this point, Khan, Nur, and I were laughing because we were just so baffled by the situation. It was obvious that English was not her first language, which made things even more perplexing.
She left the bathroom, but then when she heard us laughing, she came back in, called us assholes and also threatened to call the police, to which Khan responded, “For what?” She then left the bathroom and the other woman in the bathroom just looked at us in awe, like “What just happened?” It was quite the experience.
Romaisa shared her initial thoughts with us: “Is this lady serious? It is crazy how ignorance has no language. It transgressed from white people to all people that night. I had never encountered hate for the hijab until this moment and it was just surprising especially because Boston has a very large population of hijabis.
“I was at a loss of words. I wasn’t sure how to process it properly and all I could think about was how crazy this lady seemed to me. But then, thinking back, it’s crazy that there are hundreds of thousands of people like her in this world.
“I was just an 18 year-old celebrating her birthday in Boston, but to be attacked and belittled by some lady who only defined me by what was on my head, really made me pity the future of this world. This lady did not know my name or that I was a born citizen and that, just like her, I condemn the terrorists just as much, if not more, as the next sane person,
“I brushed it off, but it frightened me to think that if this lady was capable of verbal abuse to someone much, much younger than her, then how does she treat others who are hijabis? Or people who beards, or wear religious garments?”
Thankfully this was Romaisa’s first and hopefully last time that she will be attacked for wearing her hijab. “I’m very blessed that I haven’t come across hatred for the hijab until that moment at the train station,” said Khan.
To Khan and many other Muslim women, the hijab symbolizes strength and faith in God. “It symbolizes freedom and integrity because, now, rather than being defined for the way I look, people are more focused on my personality and intellect. Wearing the hijab felt as if I became a new person, someone who was better in all aspects,” she said.
According to www.telegraph.co.uk, Muslim girls face many different issues when it comes to wearing the hijab in public. “Since the terrorist attacks on New York City that brought down the Twin Towers, it seems life has not been the same for Muslims that live in the western world. Suddenly there was a spotlight shown on Islam when most non-Muslims had barely given it a second thought before,” Ava Vidal wrote in the Telegraph, an English online newspaper.
Romaisa’s message to all Muslim women who wear a hijab is, “There’s so much I want to say to young girls and women wearing the hijab, but I’ll start with saying that the only judgment that should matter is Allah’s, especially because this life is really only temporary. Do not let the hijab dictate where you are going in life but instead use it as a way to show people who you truly are and what you are capable of.
“If you ever face discrimination, especially in America, you have every right to fight for equality. I find myself getting angry at bigots often but I think another piece of advice would be to educate and not attack people. The anger is not unwarranted but it’s more beneficial to spread love and awareness than to give into stereotypes of being hostile and impulsive.”