In the midst of attacks against women in hijabs and fear-mongering in certain tabloid news outlets it seems that now is a more relevant time than ever to discuss the issues facing followers of Islam in the wake of discrimination and bigotry. Sharmin Faruque, a student from London, describes her personal experiences as a woman who wears a hijab and the discriminatory abuse she has received on the basis of religion.

After the devastating news of the Paris attacks one would have expected a solemn atmosphere in the days that followed it; what is not expected is aggression and discrimination. Sharmin explains the reception she endured whilst working the morning after the devastating news of the attacks in Paris and the false misconceptions of the alleged connection between Islam and the terrorist actions.

“What is not expected is aggression and discrimination”

The morning after the devastating news of the Paris attacks Sharmin had not yet checked the news on her way to work. Blissfully unaware of the tragic events that had occurred the night before, Sharmin could sense the coldness in the air and overbearing intensity of animosity towards her. “I got on the bus, the same bus I take every morning. I was getting a few stares. I mean I usually get odd stares and dirty looks anyway, I usually don’t pay any attention. But that morning it was more than I am used to. I was a little confused. When I arrived at work some of the customers were being quite cold. I mean you get these kind of characters, especially in Notting Hill, everyone is always in a rush. But I even had regular customers, people I serve every other weekend, they had suddenly become so distant. Some snatched items from me, some threw money across the counter, it was like they did not want me around, it was like I was dirt.”

Asking Sharmin if she felt safe as a woman wearing a hijab Sharmin replied, “I don’t feel completely safe”, and began to describe the bigotry that she had been victim to in her time wearing a head scarf. She described what she defined as the “usual” name calling she had received throughout her life.

“They have called me a ‘terrorist’, a ‘Paki’, one kid riding a bike even called me a ‘fucking Paki ISIS bitch’…” At other times she has had a Qu’ran thrown at her from a moving van and in another event food. Recently, she explains, “Whilst I was shopping in Tesco an elderly lady made a comment about the refugees who were fleeing Syria on boats. She looked directly at me while speaking to another customer, saying, ‘Just let them all drown, all these Muslims. Let the others in but let the Muslims drown’. The gentleman she was talking to quietly asked her to calm down”.

Hijab

In times such as these everyone should be involving and engaging all members of society. Those few who endorse the misconceptions of Islam should be denounced and the majority should stand together to rebuke any expression of Islamophobia. Already petitions on Change.org have begun to show solidarity against such discrimination with their campaign ‘The Sun – Retract Your Misleading Headline’.

As Sharmin says, “Society is full of lovely people, who don’t generalise and blame a whole group for the actions of a minority. But you just don’t know who is going to react in what way. It’s scary. I just think if you love and respect everyone then hopefully they will love and respect you back… If you are of any religion or no religion, whatever race, ethnicity or sexuality you are, I will respect you. All I ask of you is to love and respect yourself and others around you.”

“Society is full of lovely people, who don’t generalise and blame a whole group for the actions of a minority. But you just don’t know who is going to react in what way”

On the same day Sharmin encountered such hostilities she also met with a woman from a Catholic church, a meeting that Sharmin has cherished from this day. She and the woman discussed Sharmin’s experiences; afterwards, the woman invited Sharmin to pray with her. “Her small gesture meant so much to me.”

Sharmin’s meeting with this woman highlights the importance of mutual tolerance and understanding between humans, regardless of the labels that surround us of race, religion and ethnicity. A religion does not define someone as a person or their sensibilities as a human being. Wearing a hijab does not connect you to terrorist activity and alienating an entire community certainly does not solve the problems of terrorism. If occurrences such as these continue it will only serve to exacerbate the further isolation of many people in our society.

In asking Sharmin for any other comments on her experiences and the troubles to which people of Islam are beginning to face she finished with this quote: “Do you know what is better than charity and fasting and prayer? It is keeping peace and good relations between people, as quarrels and bad feelings destroy mankind”.

Ellie O’Donnell

Embedded image: Haifeez via Flickr. Featured image: Hernán Piñera via Flickr

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