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Muslim Women Who Wear Hijabs Are Fearful Of Backlash After Attacks


These are tense times for many American Muslims after the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, which were both carried out by Islamic radicals. Some Muslims say they're worried about displaying outward signs of their faith, praying in public or wearing the hijab, the women's head covering. This is Hosai Mojaddidi. She's a mom in Irvine, Calif.

HOSAI MOJADDIDI: The day of the unfortunate incident in San Bernardino, I received a text message from a good friend of mine who's been wearing hijab for 20-plus years, almost as long as I have, and she basically expressed to me that her husband told her that if these suspects did turn out to be Muslim that he wanted her to remove her hijab. And she was very distraught and clearly just emotional even in the text.

GREENE: Now I asked Hosai if her friend was angry at her husband for telling her what to do, and she said no. Her friend was worried about her own safety and angry that she might have to stop covering her head because of events that had nothing to do with her. Hosai decided that she was going to write a Facebook post that ended up being shared more than 2,400 times. She offered advice, suggesting that women might want to, say, keep a baseball cap or a wrap with them in case they wanted to cover the hijab.

GREENE: So you're suggesting that women keep wearing a hijab but do things to sort of...

MOJADDIDI: Disguise.

GREENE: ...Make it less obvious? Disguise, OK, what do you mean by that?

MOJADDIDI: Yes, absolutely. I mean, I felt that, you know, Muslim women who cover, we obviously do it. It's our own personal conviction for God. So I didn't want to tell anybody to change their beliefs. You know, cover as you do, but if you're feeling unsafe, especially - I really focused on in the car because myself and many people that cover, we've had a lot of incidents actually happen on freeways and on roads, where people just, you know, drive up to you, drive behind you, honk, flip you off just because you look differently. And I didn't want to have anybody go through that.

GREENE: Does that happen all the time that, I mean...

MOJADDIDI: It does happen very frequently. Just recently, this man drove up behind me. He sped up really quickly behind me in a big pickup truck, and I - it came out of nowhere. I was with my kids, they were in the back seat, and I didn't know what had happened. He started honking, and then he got into the lane next to me, rolled down his window, cussed at me, called me a terrorist and a bunch of other things. Then he turned right and just drove off.

GREENE: Now, Hosai Mojaddidi brought a friend of hers, Shahzia Rahman, with her into the studio when we were speaking yesterday. Shahzia didn't wear a hijab all that often. She has started to at the mosque where she and Hosai run a preschool group.

SHAHZIA RAHMAN: For the last couple of years, I found myself, you know, not only wearing it to the mosque but keeping it on for the rest the day, and I really felt empowered and that I was truly embracing my Islamic identity. But after the Paris attacks happened, I wondered, you know, about how many people actually knew Muslim women and how many people in my neighborhood, in my community even knew that I was Muslim. With Islam, we go at home. We pray. A lot of it is done inside our home, inside the mosque, but it's not something that I would go up to my neighbors and say, hi. By the way, I'm Muslim.

GREENE: You started feeling this is something I'm proud of, so let me let my neighbors and everyone know that I'm Muslim.

RAHMAN: Exactly.

GREENE: And these feelings became even stronger after the attack in Paris. Shahzia began wearing the hijab more and more. It felt like a deep expression of her faith. But she was also sending a message in these times. She wanted people to look at her and know she's an observant Muslim and then also see how she's an outgoing, happy person who plays with her kids and is friendly to people around her. Then came San Bernardino. Shahzia is still wearing the hijab, but she does remember the emotion she felt when she saw the picture all over television of Tashfeen Malik, the woman who carried out the massacre.

RAHMAN: She looked like every other Muslim women. I mean, I know so many Muslims who just kind of fit that exact, you know, the look. And I have to say the biggest impact that has been for my family because they very much are fearful for my safety. My husband on a daily basis sends me stories of women in hijab who have been attacked, whether it's being thrown in front of a train, whether it's having your face smashed in with a beer mug. And especially having two young children with me most of the time, he is very much scared for me and my safety.

GREENE: And how have you reacted yourself to your husband's fears?

RAHMAN: I'm trying to be really empathetic. His reactions are completely out of love and concern for me. But at the same time, I feel like I have to take a stand. I have to do something about it in my immediate community to at least be able to show them that, you know what, I - open discussions, you know, seem approachable, and maybe one of the human interactions that I would have with someone on a daily basis might actually make them think twice when they listen to sort of the hate speech that, for instance, is being spewed by, you know, Donald Trump right now.

GREENE: Hosai, you wrote in your Facebook post that now is not the time to unleash your inner G.I. Jane...

MOJADDIDI: (Laughter).

GREENE: ...And walk around acting tough...


GREENE: ...And hard. Do you worry that that's what Shahzia's doing?

MOJADDIDI: You know, no, because I know Shahzia personally. She's beautiful, first of all, and she has a smile on her face everywhere she goes. First impressions, I think, should be positive, and they should be uplifting. And, for example, I was on a plane from Irvine to Oakland. And when I got onto the plane, there was a couple that joined me in the seat that I was sitting at, and I could tell that they were a little bit, I don't know, concerned maybe. So I pulled out my phone, and I just showed them a video that was funny, and it was something that - it was a human, you know, experience that we all shared or could relate to and...

GREENE: What was the video?

MOJADDIDI: It's this, a women - and it went viral - who gave birth in her car. And her husband is the most calmest birth coach ever. He's completely calm and telling her, oh, honey, should I remove your seat belt, and it's OK, do this. So I just thought it was such a funny video to see this woman screaming her head off in labor while her husband was driving and asking her, should I stop the car or continue/

GREENE: So you were feeling like at just this very basic level, like, hey, here's a funny video. I watch...


GREENE: I watch funny videos and laugh just like you do.

MOJADDIDI: Yes, totally. And I mean, honestly, the first step was, hey, I speak English. So it was a great way to just put them at ease and, you know, just kind of take the initiative. And I feel that that's what they - we should be doing. We should be going out and meeting our non-Muslim friends and neighbors and just putting them at ease because the media has taken over in terms of our narrative, and they've really just maligned us in so many ways by making us seem to be these negative, violent people who are just bloodthirsty, and we should - everybody should be afraid of us. That's not at all true, and anybody who has Muslim friends, they'll know that.

GREENE: That's Hosai Mojaddidi. She and her friend, Shahzia Rahman, joined us from Irvine, Calif. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.