Putting up with students randomly pulling off my hijab became ‘normal’ practice. I was continuously called a “rag head” and had to always look over my shoulder, avoiding any confrontation with other pupils because it will undoubtedly lead to an outbreak of fights and violence.
My headteacher would often say my faith was “why I am the way I am,” implying I was to blame for the behaviour others imposed on me. I had to learn to physically defend myself as the school did little to combat the bullying I faced which affected my mental health and my ability to progress in education.
I’d seek refuge in a few pupils who understood my difference and we embraced them together. I also turned to my family who taught me that injustice is not something to be quiet about and my faith played a huge part of keeping me sane when going through the tough times. I have always believed that the experiences, even the traumatic ones, have made me the strong and confident person I am today.
When I was about 9 years old, I was in a car with my mum and sister when a man in a van drove passed our car and threw a portion of chips into my mum’s window and called her a “F***ing Muslim.” I remember feeling utterly confused, wondering why the man felt the need to pour his aggression on us, an innocent family. When I asked my mum why it happened, she said it was “because we don’t belong here.” And from then on, I lost my sense of belonging to a country I thought was my home.
The racist attacks worsened when I decided to wear the hijab just before I started secondary school. If I was to write a book about my experiences as a teenager and the racism I faced at school, there wouldn’t be enough pages to fill the traumatic and life changing events I had to go through in order to be talking about it today. Walking through the school gates every morning was like walking into a battlefield not knowing what the day will bring.
After the awful tragedies of 9/11, British Muslims feared for their lives. At the time, there were a number of reports about attacks on the Muslim community, especially towards women in hijab. I remember being out with my sister loading our grocery shopping into the car boot when a man on a motorbike shouted, “F***ing terrorist, go back to your country, you’re not welcome here” while onlookers just stood there and stared.
Even today, the attacks continue. I was recently on a bus when a man and woman called me a “rag head” and spat at me while I was sitting down minding my own business. Obviously, I didn’t keep quiet and asked him to leave me alone and to stop harassing me but the experience left me with a horrible sense of disgust and humiliation. Worst of all, onlookers just stared. No one came to my aid.
As a Muslim woman, there are so many stereotypes and preconceptions others hold, the most common ones that I’ve faced are that we are not educated, can’t write or speak proper English and that we are weak and vulnerable. People often think we’re oppressed, hold a subservient position in our society and are forced to wear our hijab and yet they couldn’t be further from the truth.
Last year, I felt compelled to involve myself when I witnessed the anti-sematic abuse on the London Tube because I knew what it’s like to be at the receiving end of discrimination. I couldn’t sit back while a man hurled abuse at a Jewish family so I stepped in and tried to placate him by saying, “These are children. You are on a tube.
Please calm down.” My actions were considered heroic after a video showing the attack recorded by a fellow commuter and film-maker Chris Atkins, went viral. My own dealings with personal abuse and racial attacks has led me to become ready to defend other people suffering racial mistreatment and I urge anyone who witnesses any sort of discrimination to try and do the same.
I’m extremely proud of the #BlackLivesMatter movement for standing up to the racism that has engulfed our society for centuries. While it‘s uncomfortable for some people to talk about it, we have to face it to make changes and to educate our wider communities so that the future generations can grow up in a multicultural and multi-faith society. In my opinion, a racial attack on any ethnic minority or religious group is an attack on us all.
It’s important we don’t allow the likes of Tommy Robinsons or Katie Hopkins to dictate what Islam is and who Muslims are. I’m certain these two public figures have never integrated in a multicultural or multi-faith society which is why they are so ignorant and full of hate when they talk about issues to do with Islam or other ethnic minorities or groups.
I urge you to respond to voices that seek to divide us and be brave enough to stand up for someone who is being discriminated against or racially abused. In my judgement, if we speak out, break down barriers and educate the community, then we can truly tackle the racism and discrimination that’s fostering in our society.