Stevie Martin | Staff Writer | Friday, 11 December 2015

The Weekend of A Muslim Girl

Here's What A Typical Weekend Looks Like For A Muslim Girl In London Right Now

The Debrief: What it's really like being a muslim woman in London after the Paris terror attacks

After the Paris terror attacks, Islamophobic violence spiked by 300%, a rise that occurs pretty much every time there’s a highly publicised terror attack conducted by Isis.

Oh, and following the shooting in San Bernardino by a married Muslim couple last week (and a stabbing at Leytonstone tube station by a Muslim man who claimed he was acting ‘for Syria’), Donald Trump has called for a ban on Muslims travelling to America.

The move might have earned him plenty of detractors in the UK (a petition calling for him to be banned from the UK has had over half a million signatories) but it’s also earned him praise – notably from Katie Hopkins, Daily Mail online columnist and purveyor of hateful opinions.

But amidst all this noise, what’s it actually like to be a a young Muslim woman in London right now? We spoke to Hanan, a 19-year-old waitress, and asked her to record what a typical weekend in the midst of the terror threats occurring across Europe and the West is like.

She wears a headscarf, but doesn’t wear traditional Muslim full dress because it makes her feel uncomfortable (more on that later) and has found that, since the Paris terror attacks, her friends have suffered more abuse than normal. Because normal, for Hanan, is being constantly confronted by strangers about her peaceful religious upbringing. 

Saturday 

3pm: I’m in a Pret a Manger in Wimbledon, wating for a friend. I'm feeling OK because Wimbledon is a pretty diverse area so I’m not really expecting any trouble. Suddenly, an old English lady comes up to my table from behind me and puts a newspaper on the table.

I, being very naive and slow reply: ‘Oh thank you!’ and she adds: ‘You're very close to becoming like that.’

I look down at the newspaper and there’s a large picture of a woman in the full black dress (abayah) and face veil (niqab). She’s saying I was a lot closer to being an extremist – but the woman isn’t an extremist, she’s just wearing Muslim dress. 

This sort of thing happens more and more. I wear a headscarf, usually black/navy or dark brown, with skinny jeans/trousers, loose shirts or tops that are around upper/mid-thigh length with a coat or a cardigan and boots or trainers. I don’t wear full black dress, and it’s annoying that people confuse this.

When some people see a person wearing a headscarf, it reminds them of terrorism, and some people choose to act on the anger they feel, while others hide it away. I’m really frustrated with myself for thanking her, and didn’t say anything to defend myself. 

5pm: Walking back home. I have my earphones in, so am distracted when a man in a bicycle cycles by and shouts, ‘Go back to your shithole!’. Lovely.

6pm: When I get home, the first thing I do is switch on the TV. I wish I hadn’t. There are more talks of terrorism alerts in London on the news. I feel like every time I hear about bombings I immediately think, ‘Oh god, it’s probably going to be Muslims again’, which is so bad, but the fact I think this and I’m a Muslim, makes me feel like there are a lot of people out there who assume the worst of all of us.

Sunday

1pm: Just on the phone to my mate, who wears a headscarf, and turns out she got spat on today and called scum. Another of my friends, who works in a store, recently got asked, ‘Why do they hire people like you?’ She wears a headscarf, too.

2pm At the cafe I work in, doing a shift, I’m ‘on the door’, meaning I have to greet and seat the customers. A woman with a European accent walks in with two small children, and she asks me to get her children some crayons so they can colour with them on the sheets that come with the junior menus.

‘Do you serve halal meat here?’ she asks. I tell her that the chicken is halal, but the other meat isn’t. She says, very loudly and rudely: ‘Why do you serve halal meat? You Muslims are too fussy, and if you don't like it you should go back to your country.’

I’m standing there for a full half-a-minute while she shouts at me in front of two toddlers and lots of other people – all the other tables can hear – and I don’t say a word to interrupt.

3pm I feel so frustrated I cry a tiny bit in the toilets.

4pm On the bus home, I’m still feeling a bit shaken from the incident at work. Right next to me is an old English couple, who are looking out the window at Edgware Road and talking about the fact that there are restaurants with Arabic names. The man points out a woman wearing a niqab and laughs: ‘What if a man marries that woman and then discovers she has a beard!’ I feel really sad and self-conscious.

It reminds me of a time my sister was coming back to the flat, and a guy said, loudly and aggressively: ‘She’s buttaz when she’s dressed like that.’ Buttaz is London street slang for ugly. She was really self-conscious, because nobody wants to hear they’re ugly because of the way they dress, but also because it’s hard enough to stick to being modest and Islamic now, without dealing with aggression. 

I think wearing things like the black long dress (abayah) is a lot harder these days, and personally I wouldn’t wear it because some people tend to wrongly associate more modest Islamic clothing with extremism. It makes me feel uncomfortable, and it really shouldn’t. Why should wearing a headscarf make people laugh or be rude? 

6pm When the Paris attacks happened, I was supposed to be going out with my friends the following evening, but cancelled it immediately. Normally, I don’t tend to go out past 8pm now, so I’m having a night in tonight. I don’t think people realise that when we hear news that highlights the perpetrators as ‘Muslims’, we not only become as upset and frustrated as everyone else is, but we also fear for our safety. Not only from terrorists, but also from people who act on their hatred for Muslims.

Postscript: Since the te Leytonstone stabbing last weekend, I’ve become more paranoid that there will be a non-Muslim person who would want to seek revenge for the attack and go about attacking Muslims. I was very upset about the incident and really angry when the attacker started saying ‘Allahu Akbar’ – it felt like he was only saying that so that everyone around him knew to associate the incident with Muslims, and it makes me furious to see my religion being hijacked in this way. 

At the same time I was thankful for the guy who shouted at him and told him he wasn’t Muslim. The hashtag #yourenomuslimbruv sums up exactly how I feel every time there’s another attack like that. 

You might also be interested in: 

Here’s What Generation Bataclan Means For The Young People of Paris 

The Day After The Paris Shootings Here’s Your Need To Know 

How Facebook’s French Tricolor Flag Is Dividing Britain’s Timelines 

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