By Sneha Antony, Valerie Dekimpe, Ishika Gupta, and Krutika Pathi
The mass shooting in San Bernardino by a radicalized Muslim couple this month has galvanized anti-Muslim sentiment. Incidents of Islamophobia in the U.S may reach a record high in 2015, according to estimates from the Council on American Islamic Relations (the previous high was in 2010, with 53 cases). The advocacy group reported a spike following the Paris attacks, too, and both incidents set the table for an unprecedented proposal by the Republican frontrunner, Donald Trump, to ban all Muslims from entering America. New York City is no stranger to anti-Muslim violence: A man attacked Muslim workers at restaurant in Manhattan on December 8, while a man who pledged to “kill Muslims” assaulted a deli owner in Queens in on December 5.
Are Muslims in Brooklyn feeling all this? What is it like to be a member of that faith here now? The Brooklyn Ink decided to ask a few members of a group that is not often consulted: Muslim women. Here are some of their thoughts:
Shajeda Ahmed, 20, biomolecular science student at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering.
Before I had people coming up to me saying ‘Oh, it’s beautiful’ or ‘I like that you are wearing that [the hijab].’ Now it’s more a look of disgust. People look at me a lot differently. You can see people’s facial expressions visibly change. All you see is Trump’s racial slurs but you don’t see the effects of it. You never get the actual perspective of someone going through it.
I carry pepper spray now, just in case. I don’t go out as late as I used to. I don’t like taking the train alone as much as I used to. We are not what they portray us to be, but you don’t get that. All you get is Trump saying ‘Muslims were laughing on 9/11’.”
Manar Khalil, stay-at-home mom, Staten Island
Politicians like to say things to rile people up and get people on their side, but these comments have gone too far. These comments have increased suspicion and hate crimes against Muslims. Many people believe everything they hear on TV and in the media. A lot of people hear one-sided arguments and don’t do their research.
Keeping Muslims out of America does not solve problems against radical crazies who think they are Muslim. America was built by immigrants. Some people need to be reminded of that.
ISIS is a very tiny group of so-called Muslims. There are millions of Muslims in America and there are good, and bad people in every religion.
Azza Awad, 19, electrical engineering student. Born and raised in Brooklyn and current Crown Heights resident
A few years post 9/11, when I started wearing [the hijab], I used to get bothered a lot. I would be called a terrorist and all these other things—I didn’t even know what they meant. Now, after recent attacks that have been associated with the Islamic image, I haven’t been really experiencing to that degree of what I was experiencing before. Crown Heights has been changing. Brooklyn has been changing. Depending on where you are in Brooklyn, it affects how others perceive you. Or maybe I’m oblivious now that I’ve created such a shield that I don’t see when certain things happen to me.
[But] it is much harder being a Muslim woman in America. And then there’s colored Muslim women. We are at the bottom of the barrel. I don’t even know how I’m going to get a job.
Amna Rashid, 26, lives in downtown Brooklyn
I think [Donald Trump’s proposal] is unfair. It’s not right. Every person has freedom of speech, freedom of life. You cannot stop people just because they belong to a different ethnicity or different religion. I mean, Trump is like Hitler at this point. It shows us how low he is, his mentality.
People don’t know what exactly Islam is. They just have assumptions based on the media. Whatever the media is telling them, they think it’s true. They’re not going into details and getting to know Muslims and what they believe, and getting to know the right Muslims.
Because there are some people who say, ‘We are Muslims,’ but they’re not really practicing it. Let me just say the name—ISIS—they’re killing Muslims, because they feel like they are right and we are wrong… I’m upset with both the media and the leaders of Islam, because they need to step outside and explain that this isn’t us. Muslim leaders need to stop ISIS.
Sydney, originally from the Caribbean, has lived in Boerum Hill most of her life
The land is all one. It is politics which is separating us and labeling us as and having us look at ourselves as labels, like ‘you are Indian, you are black, you are white.’ We are all one people.
Ismalophobia is worse now. There is a high degree of fear in the minds of the masses. A lot of people who are migrating are people of color and that’s a threat. [Some people fear] that is what America is becoming—people of color, not a European nation anymore.
I love my people; you are made to believe the whole situation is about Islam but it is more than just Islam. The majority of the Islamic people are black people and that’s what they are targeting—the colored people. And it affects us only because we allow it to, because we forget, we stray from our culture. But if we start touching our culture again and start listening to the ancients we can avoid the fear.
Sobia Masood, 20, is a Modest Fashion blogger from New Jersey, and a student at Fashion Institute of Technology
I fear for my generation of American Muslims because we seem to be in an ongoing struggle to come to terms with who we are in such a negative environment. Like most Americans, American Muslim youth strive to be active and productive members of society, and core Islamic values and principles help us in that endeavor. Islamic values are in no way contradictory to American ideals, such as democracy and tolerance. In fact, they go hand in hand.
It is sad to think that as proud Americans, we are not welcomed in our own country. But guess what? We are certainly here to stay. I am also hopeful that engaging in dialogue and outlets such as social media can help eliminate some of that hate and replace it with understanding, peace, and love.
Houria Hethat, 44, receptionist at a law office in Downtown Brooklyn
[Trump’s proposal] is against the American Constitution, because here it’s free religion and freedom of expression. It goes against the principle of the United States of America. This is what I think—and not because I am Muslim.
I’ve been living in America for 18 years, and I think it is worse now. Because now there’s ISIS. Before it was al-Qaeda, but somehow it felt more easily controllable. With ISIS, we seem powerless. It’s more serious, it’s more scary. I understand the fear, but people need to understand that ISIS—they’re terrorists. But Islam is not terrorism.
I feel the rise [of Islamaphobia] in my daily life. Now, when they look at us, it’s not the same. They whisper or hold their kids closer to them. It’s not the same.