Muslims Are Sharing Their Experiences With Islamophobia, And It Happens Way More Than You Think
Wed, November 17, 2021
Warning: This post includes mentions of abuse and racist and harmful language.
Islamophobia is defined as prejudice or hatred against Muslims and Islam. However, it also applies to people who are often mistaken as Muslim, such as Sikhs, non-Muslim Arabs, and people who speak Arabic.
I asked people in the BuzzFeed Community to share their first experience with Islamophobia and here’s what they said:
1.”When I was 11 and new to secondary school, most of the girls in my [predominately] white school liked to call me a terrorist and asked if I personally knew the Taliban.”
2.”One [moment] that stands out was when I was in 8th grade and I failed a math test (I am extremely good at math). [My teacher] said that I was cheating off a girl who sat at the opposite end of the class. I went to my parents who went to the principal and [my teacher] goes, ‘she’s probably going to fail in life anyways. I don’t like Muslims and think they’re dirty in society.’ This was in 2000.”
3.”I was in grade 4 at the playground and asked my neighbor’s kid and a few other girls she was playing with if I could play with them too. They said ‘no.’ When I asked why, they said, ‘you’re Muslim. We don’t play with Muslims.’ My neighbor’s kid just stared at me. It was the first time I had conscious awareness of feeling alienated because of my religion.”
4.”It was just after 9/11, some kid in my 5th grade class called me ‘daughter of Osama bin Laden,’ just out of the blue. We were going back to the locker rooms and he just randomly yelled it at me. It was nice to see that the girls in my class rallied around me and told me to report it. Nothing really was done as the kid was already being expelled for other reasons, but it did help that the school took it seriously and even called my parents in to let them know that they wouldn’t tolerate it.”
5.”I went to an [Islamic] school from 1st-12th grade and 9/11 happened when I had just started 1st grade. In 3rd grade, our school received a bomb threat as ‘payback’ for 9/11 [so we had an] early dismissal. That wasn’t the only ‘retaliation’ threat we received while I went to that school.”
6.”I grew up near NYC when the Twin Towers fell. I was already bullied a bit for being an immigrant and I grew up in a mostly blue-collar, [predominately] white neighborhood. Afterward, it got really bad. People broke into Muslim shops and defaced them, others left a dead pig on the steps of our masjid. My teacher allowed my classmates to write out their thoughts on the experience and let multiple children get up in front of the classroom calling all Muslims ‘terrorists’ who should be executed.”
7.”I was one of two Muslim kids at my high school and I was a freshman when 9/11 happened. Long story short: I was forced to go into therapy at school for all four years to make sure I wasn’t ‘troubled.’ I think they meant ‘a threat.'”
8.”I went to a Catholic high school. Someone told me in my religious education class, in front of everyone and the teacher (who didn’t correct him), that it’s his country and I don’t belong here. My best friend at the time said, ‘Well she has a right to be here seeing as the British Empire invaded most of the world.'”
9.”I applied for a job at the NSA, I was qualified, and given an offer letter pending background investigation. After finishing the ‘psych test’ as part of the background assessment, I was pulled aside and told that after telling the group that I would be managing that I was born in a [Muslim-majority] country, they refused to have me as their boss. I was then asked to leave and my candidacy was dropped. The HR person that pulled me to the side admitted that it was based on my place of birth and this was her parting words, ‘We don’t want your kind here!'”
10.”I live in the UK. Lee Rigby, the soldier, had just been stabbed. I had parked my car and was walking to my workplace that was near a construction site. I was shouted at by about ten men. ‘Terrorist.’ ‘Go back to where you came from.’ Worse stuff. I was terrified.”
11.”As a Black Muslim woman who wears a khimar (hijab) daily, I had recently relocated to Atlanta, GA to be closer to family. I didn’t have a car and in order to purchase one, I needed to obtain a Georgia driver’s license. So I went to the DMV one day to get that taken care of and while I was taking my license photo, the woman working there had insisted that I pull my khimar back to ‘show my whole face.'”
“My khimar was showing my face just fine and they could see everything from just above my eyebrows to my chin. However, three Black women working there [proceeded] to gang up on me, insisting that I pull my scarf back even further as if they knew exactly where my hairline started??
Once I had left the DMV, the interaction replayed in my head over and over and I had realized that the aggression, the looks, the tone of their voices were all stemmed from one place. I think I made the mistake of thinking these women, because I was Black just like them, were on my side.”
12.”When I was 11, I had quite a talent for doing henna. I did some on myself for Eid and a neighbor’s mom found out, said it was so pretty, and asked if I could come over the next day and do her henna too. I said sure and went over, excited to share. It was strange because we went to her backyard and sat outside on the bottom step of the back staircase while I applied her henna. She then apologized that she could not bring me into her home because ‘her father does not like Muslims and won’t have them in their house.'”
13.”During Eid in between lockdowns, the news was predicting a spike in COVID cases because of Muslims getting together. My family all stayed at home and did nothing special [in order to] protect my Nan. While I was reading a book, I overheard the neighbours complaining about Muslims being irresponsible and spreading COVID. They were having a massive garden party just because the weather was nice but we were irresponsible disease spreaders.”
14.”When my mom immigrated a month after 9/11, she was ‘welcomed’ by people giving her death glares and somebody spitting at her face, just for wearing a hijab! She has since removed her hijab because of these threats.”
15.”This was in February 2017. I’m Jewish but I have a lot of family that practice Islam, and most of my relatives speak Arabic. I had a very ill grandparent and was talking with some of my Syrian family (in Arabic) about what our next steps were while I was waiting on a script at Walgreens. I said ‘Inshallah’ (God willing) and that caught some racist lady’s attention.”
16.”When the Yankee Candle store was still a big deal, I was asked by the lady at the register why I was a terrorist, as she pointed to my necklace that had God written in Arabic. I called the Better Busines Bureau. I was in high school.”
17.”I grew up in a small town in Kentucky. In the days after 9/11, my mom, sister, and I were followed by men at a K-Mart who kept calling us ‘terrorists’ repeatedly. We felt threatened and quickly left, but they went as far as to follow us the entire way home in their truck, sit at the end of our street, and wait there for what felt like forever. We were horrified to even get out of the car and go inside our house. It was very traumatizing to me, even as an adult.”
18.”This happened almost eight years ago, but still [sticks with] me today. I was a student and was out with my friend and sister. We all were wearing a scarf and an abaya. We were going to the city and decided to take public transport. We hopped on a crowded bus and didn’t notice a small dog crouched in the corner. My friend was surprised and shifted a bit away and the owner of the dog [said], ‘my dog is better than men of your religion.'”
19.And finally, “My family was having lunch at a fast food restaurant about 18 years ago. I was in year 5 and wasn’t wearing hijab yet, but my older sister had started to wear it that year. Our dad went to order our food. While he was away, a group of teenage boys approached us, calling us ‘towel heads’ and telling my sister to ‘take the rag off her head.’ We didn’t say anything, and they eventually left. I remember feeling so scared not necessarily because of what they said, but because I was worried Dad would find out and we would get in trouble, because I thought it was our fault.”
“I remember feeling angry with our family for ‘inviting’ this kind of interaction or ‘asking for it,’ by looking different, sounding different, and dressing differently to the people around us. He figured out something was wrong immediately when he returned, and confronted the boys, and made them apologise. The staff ended up getting involved, called the police and had the boys banned from the restaurant.
To this day, I still feel ashamed of the way I felt in that situation. I hate that I felt we were responsible for what happened. Islamophobia, racism, xenophobia, etc. is so strange in that way. Enough people question or ridicule you, that you start to question if you actually are the problem after all.”
Note: Submissions have been edited for length and/or clarity.