Islamophobic rhetoric has made me worried for my personal safety.
AS an Arab and Muslim woman who wore the hijab for 16 years, I am accustomed to experiencing hostility toward my religious and ethnic identity.
In particular, the covering of my hair seemed to draw out the worst in strangers, from the waitress at the restaurant taking my order and demanding to know if I was “hot in that,” to the man yelling obscenities at me from his car. Even in a city as progressive as Seattle, my hijab seemed to signal to others that I wasn’t entitled to respect and liberty.
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This year, for the first time, I felt compelled to stop wearing my hijab out of concern for my safety. In the midst of the 2016 U.S. presidential campaigns, I have experienced an unprecedented degree of anti-Muslim hostility. The statements made by Donald Trump, in particular, encouraging the shutdown of mosques and the development of a database to track Muslim Americans have direct consequences for people like me. Over the course of the past few months, Muslim women in my social circle have been assaulted, mosques and Sikh temples have been defaced and Arab Americans have faced intensified and unwarranted surveillance.
Practicing the hijab has never been easy. As the most visible symbol of Islam, the hijab occupies a provocative position in discussions of multiculturalism and tolerance in the United States. But when I wore the hijab, I was not motivated by politics, but by a desire to experience my faith on a deeper level.
Even when the challenges of being Muslim and Arab in the United States grew after 9/11, I did not succumb to the pressure to try to pass as non-Muslim and non-Arab. In fact, the prevalent ignorance of my cultural and faith background motivated me to volunteer in community-outreach activities with the hope of dispelling stereotypes.
But this year has been different. The environment that I and many other Muslims navigate has become increasingly perilous, to the extent that I and other Muslim women have to choose between our safety and our freedom of religion.
While I, setting the hijab aside, am able to pass as non-Muslim or ambiguously ethnic because of my light skin, my father, sisters and others in my community cannot. Their appearance marks them as people of color and targets for violence and discrimination.
My purpose in writing is not to encourage limitations on speech — even if that speech is designed to set apart my community. Rather, it is my hope that readers will reflect on our political climate and resist the inclination to be passive onlookers as the welfare of Muslims, immigrants, and communities of color is compromised by violence that is legitimized by racist political speech.